In part 4 of my series “What’s in my wallet?” we discuss Bank of America. Though it is one of the largest banks in the USA, unlike rival Chase, it is not a big player in the credit card game. It has had a couple of cards that had a cult following (Merrill Plus, MLB, Alaska, Virgin Atlantic) and recently released a more mainstream awards card.
- Merrill Plus
This card was actually discontinued in September, thankfully I grabbed it in July before this happened. This card was unknown to most besides the most knowledgeable of card enthusiasts, because it wasn’t promoted at all and the application had to be done by phone with a particular promo code. It had an unbelievable signup bonus of 50,000 points, where 25,000 points could be used for a ticket of up to $500, and no annual fee. I used my bonus for two $500 tickets to Oaxaca which I am actually going to this weekend. Also, being able to use points for cash tickets is more flexible than points tickets, which come and go sporadically based on availability. A $1,000 signup bonus is impressive and holds its weight against nearly any card on the market. Bank of America probably realized this and as a result chose to discontinue it.
- Premium Rewards Card
Rumors swirled in the summer of 2017 that Bank of America was going to enter the premium card market after the releases of Chase’s Sapphire Reserve and US Bank’s Altitude Reserve. However, the end result wasn’t really in the same league. The premium rewards card did have a bonus of 50,000 points, however the redemption was only 1 cent per point. This makes sense as the fee is $95 instead of $450, with a $100 calendar year airline fee credit. I used this fee credit a few weeks ago for economy plus on United Airlines; the fee credit can only be used on US based airlines. Since the fee credit is on a calendar year basis, the first year actually gives a $100 profit if the fee is used for both years. This card benefits those who have large balances at Bank of America, as the cash back percentages increase depending on status at Bank of America. Depending on your status at Bank of America, travel/dining gives 2-3.5% cash back, while regular earnings give 1.5-2.625% cash back. The tiers are split from less than $20,000, 20-$50,000, 50-$100,000, and more than $100,000, with the best benefits for the highest balances. The idea is that Bank of America is trying to reward its best customers with better cash back values. Though the card is available to anyone, it seems targeted to said customers, and approvals are more flexible based on history with the bank. At one time, Bank of America approved cards like candy, even multiple approvals for the same card over and over. Suffice to say, it has cracked the whip and getting approved is no longer so simple. There are some other side benefits to having the card like a $100 Global Entry/PreCheck credit. I have a long history with this bank, so though I wasn’t particularly enamored with the bonus, I took it anyway and simply applied it as a statement credit, as there is no advantage of using the points toward travel when 1 cent is the value regardless of redemption option. This card has no foreign transaction fee.
In conclusion, Bank of America has a surprisingly small presence in the credit card market in comparison to its gargantuan status as a bank overall. It took a dip in the shallow end with a moderate rewards card mostly targeted towards its own customers. One wonders if Bank of America will evaluate the response to this card and perhaps release a more premium oriented card in the future. My guess is no time soon, as the average person balks when seeing a $450 fee, even if it is credited back with fee credits.