A card I wrongly ignored

I don’t know how I missed this.  Last weekend I was at the “West Coast DO,” which was a meet-up primarily for people interested in manufacturing spend.  At the DO, there was naturally a lot of talk about the semi-demise of the old Amex Blue Cash card (see “Amex shuts down “old” Blue Cash accounts”).  During one of many enlightening conversations, one person told me that his Wells Fargo Visa Signature card gets 1.75 cents per point value towards airfare rather than the advertised 1.5 cents per point.

Wait… 

What?!

First some background: Wells Fargo offers two cards that get 5X rewards for gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for 6 months.  One is the cash back card, the other is the Visa Signature card which earns points instead of cash.  Up until now, I’ve mostly ignored the points-based version of the card.  I had thought that points were worth, at most, 1 cent each.  If that was true, then there was no reason to prefer points over cash back.

I was wrong…

WellsFargoVisaSignature

The Wells Fargo landing page for this card, clearly shows the enhanced benefit for airfare.  They write:

  • Receive 50% more value when you redeem for airfare through mywellsfargorewards.com.2
  • 30,000 points is currently a $450 value toward airfare redemption or a $300 value toward cash redemption options.

And, the footnote says:

2. Flights must be redeemed through the Wells Fargo Rewards Program. For airline ticket redemptions, the number of Points required to be redeemed is equivalent to the ticket costs divided by .015, rounded up to the nearest whole Point. For airfare redemptions, a separate $24 per airline ticket processing fee will apply. Certain restrictions and limitations apply. See the Summary of the Wells Fargo Rewards Program Terms and Conditions and Addendum to the Wells Fargo Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for the Wells Fargo® Visa Signature® Card for further details.

Wow. This means that, for 6 months, the effective return for purchases at gas, grocery, and drug stores is approximately 7.5%.  Keep in mind, though, there is a separate $24 processing fee per airline ticket.  So, these points aren’t as great for extremely cheap tickets, but for moderate to expensive tickets, they’re apparently pretty awesome. 

Let’s look at two examples:

$150 flight

In the case of a cheap flight, the $24 processing fee is a pretty big percentage:

  • Points required: $150 / .015 = 10,000
  • Value of points = ($150 – $22) / 10,000 = 1.28 cents per point (still better than cash back!)

 

$600 flight

At the $600 price point, the $24 processing fee becomes less significant and the points approach their top 1.5 cent per point value:

  • Points required: $600 / .015 = 40,000
  • Value of points = ($600 – $22) / 40,000 = 1.45 cents per point

 

1.75 cents per point?

The person I talked with at the DO last weekend didn’t seem to know why he was receiving a better than advertised 1.75 cents per point value from his points, but of course he was thrilled to get it.  Regardless of how he lucked into this extra bonus, for the first 6 months of card ownership he is able to earn the equivalent of up to 8.75%, towards airfare, through gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases!

Regardless of whether points can be redeemed for 50% more value or 75% more value towards airfare, this is a sweet deal.  This card has suddenly moved high on my list of “must get” cards even though my Blue Cash card is still alive and kicking.

Applying for the card

It turns out that this isn’t something you can just apply for on a whim.  They’ll only approve your application if you already have an existing relationship with Wells Fargo.  And, if you open an account now (such as a checking account), I’ve been told that you have to wait at least 30 days after opening the account to apply for a card.  Also, they say that they’ll look for “continued deposits” to that new account, so make sure to make regular deposits to your new account.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. Had this card earlier. They would not give points for any purchases related to Gift cards or any other kind of cards. Which pretty much mutes the point of using this card. The 5% also work for only instore purchases of items that are not related in any way to reloadables or any form of debit tender.

      • They look at the purchase code and also the banks can see what is being purchased which is what they display to you when you login to the website. They know that a GC has been purchased for $500 or so..

        If you are getting the 5x, then great. For me, they guessed it right that it was a gift card and mentioned that points do not count for gift card purchases. But this was way back 1.5 years ago. Not sure if that has changed now.

  2. Honey badger, are you saying that WF can tell what your purchases are? All credit card T + C say that they don’t give rewards for cash equivalents, but I have never seen or heard of any bank that actually is able to enforce that.

  3. No sign up bonus? I don’t see anywhere that there is any bonus for sign up and spend. The 30K appears to be just an example to explain a hypothetical value.

    Am I missing something?

    If there is no sign up bonus, I think I will pass.

    • no, there’s no sign up bonus…but this card is BY FAR the best for anybody doing MS. It basically paid for my Super Bowl ticket last year

      • @james with no sign up bonus you probably missed the Diner’s deal also……..but please the most insulting form of self righteousness is when it is combined with a lack of intellilectial curiosity……….that it like mixing matches and kerosine and something that should be avoided for the safety of all………stand down………….

  4. The 1.75% I’m not sure about, but the official change from 1-1.5% came within the last few weeks. I recently signed up for the Propel World Amex, and when they called to ask if I had questions I specifically asked about redemption values for the points. At the time he said the propel was 1%, the signature was 1.5% for travel, that they could be transferred back and forth between rewards programs, but wasn’t clear if the propel points could be redeemed for 1.5%…

    I’m not sure if this offer is available to people without an existing relationship with WF, but I was able to get the visa signature card with a 20,000 point bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months. An equally important attribute to this card is that it has the WF cell phone protection plan. In my case, I bought a phone full price out of contract at verizon with a 5x card and was reimbursed for the entire amount minus taxes and deductible.

  5. FM, Lately you’ve been just scouring for anything that’s left related to ms so you can publish it. I understand your motive for profit, but can you at least allude to these things and not be so obvious ? and then when things get shutdown you think it has nothing to do with you.

    Exposure isn’t a bad thing but when your exposing these things so obviously your going to get the spoon feeders coming in and ruining it, Which they don’t care if these deals continue, at least make people put a little thought into your posts.

  6. I just got this card with a targeted 20,000 point bonus same as Brenton referred to. After 5 weeks still no problem making large grocery purchases every other day at the same grocery chain. There are several FT threads about it. When I crunched the numbers, the ticket price needs to be around $500 or higher for the $24 fee to cancel out any savings from the cost of MS. Even w/o the bonus it is great if you know how to max spending at grocery or drug stores for six months. From FT, it looks lie you need to have some relationship with WF in order to get approved.

  7. FWIW

    I have had an on again off again relationship with Wells Fargo for over 20 years. FLaKy…

    Here is the latest…I specifically notified them (Propel card) of a Hong Kong trip with a travel notification. Can you guess? Fresh off the jet, into HKG to purchase my MTR airport express ticket (for $20 mind you). BAM…declined card. Gee thanks. I have used all kind of Amex, Chase, Barclays cards all over Hong Kong and Macau in the past with no issue. I even regularly use my local yokel credit union card there. I am still mad about this…then to add insult, my husbands Propel card was allowed to be used for $350 in fraudulent grocery purchases across town while we were in Hong Kong.

    I guess I am trying to tell you these people don’t know what they are doing in my opinion…I have other examples from over the years too…proceed with caution:)

  8. My 6 month bonus ended in July, but got letter in March for the better redemption value that stated it was based on spending $50,000. I don’t know the criteria or reasons, but I have never been charged the $24 booking fee when making flight reservations. For those who MS, even with no bonus, it is still a great card for 6 months.

  9. The answer for the 1.75x is because he probably spent $30k on it in a year. WF sent me a letter in the mail saying that because I spent over 30k on it, I *too* would be bumped up to 1.75x. The problem is that they sent me that letter *after* I already cashed out my rewards during the 5% initial period. But i’m not sure it would have mattered anyway…I get a better return with SWA because of my companion pass.

  10. I have the SWA CP and a ton of new points that transferred in from AirTran. Large balances in the big 3 airlines as well, so I rarely pay for a ticket. The straight cash or straight payment to mortgage versions would be our choice. I had already got the propel card and cashed $425 out as checks, but waited on getting wife one, because of the language claiming you wouldn’t get 5% if you had another WF CC. We have new savings and checking with them and our mortgage, so shouldn’t be a problem getting whichever one we want.
    I did notice the fraud dept is jumpy with multiple lockouts for people doing MS to the point of being a pain, but for 5% I can keep them on speed-dial for 6 months.

  11. Just had a very interesting call with Diner’s……ended up with a supervisor to have the Pin reset fees eliminated and she mentioned that the response to the card had been overwhelming……..they obviously did not foresee the volume of new business or the volume per account according to this agent…….she says they are “overwhelmed” by the response……I had 2 drug store runs and the first agent indicated that my account was under fraud review……the supervisor said “everything” is under review…….it feels like a small bit banker trying to play with the big boys and got slammed……..she also mentioned that all the response in new accounts has been with ZERO marketing…….so FM I think they owe you some marketing money or at least give you a (heaven forbid) a referral link…….Hang on for the ride…….they pony may crumble quickly………

  12. As far as the comment on the credit card company being able to see what you purchased, they sure can. I got questioned extensively about my gift card purchases by Chase when I called customer service for another issue related to a charge. I had no idea!

  13. FM, one minor thing to point out. You’ll get the 5X in your account for 6 months, but you can still keep the points and the card after that and then redeem them at 1.5X. That’s what I plan on doing since I don’t have any immediate travel plans in the next 6 months. So earn now, and burn later.

  14. Wow, so 6 months of free Redbird refills at a Target coded grocery = $2250 in travel or $1500 in cashback?! I need a Wells Fargo checking account so I can get this card ASAP!

  15. That’s strange…..I went to the “Southwest DO” as there is no coast in Phoenix……..perhaps one day there will be a “WEST COAST” Do…….but the lack of coast was somewhat overcome by visiting the spring training grounds where World Series Champions are bred….Champions that do indeed live on the “coast” and would welcome a DO in their backyard…….but the fellowship was divine………..

  16. Gabriel,

    I appreciate your reply. You said \ …this card is BY FAR the best for anybody doing MS.\ Why? For example, the Chase Ink Plus yields 5 UR pts/$ for spend at office supply stores. It seems that most folks are pegging the value of a UR pt at about 2.1 cent/pt. So, for MS thru office supply stores, the return is approximately 10.5%. That alone is better than the top end of 7.5% for this WF card and that is applicable only if the points are redeemed for air travel. Plus, the high rate of return really nosedives after 6 months. The Ink Plus keeps yielding the higher rate of return beyond six months. And, you get a 50K bonus to start, which is worth $ 1,050 if you accept that the UR points are worth 2.1 cents each. So, since the WF card does not have a sign up bonus, you would have to make an extra $ 14,000 of spend on the WF card, just to compensate for the Chase Plus bonus. Now I am not taking into account
    the activation fees for GCs, which I presume most of the MS would involve with either card, simply because they would basically be equal with either card (although you could say there is another, slight advantage for the Ink Plus from Visa rewards and Staples by shopping at Staples. I just can’t see that it is \By FAR\ better than the Ink Plus. Frankly, I don’t think it measures up. I’m not saying that the WF card is not a good deal, I just don’t think it is as good a deal, even for MS.

  17. More realistic UR valuation is closer to 1.5 cents. If allowed I would sell UR all day long to those who believe they are worth 2.1, lol. But the real reason Ink isn’t the better card to MS with is you can only find $200 Visa/MC GCs at office supply. At G/G/D you can find $500 Visa/MC for roughly the same fee, so you get 5/2 as many points for the same effort and cost. Also, Ink 5x is capped at 50K spend / year. From an opportunity cost it’s not really about what card is better – sooner or later MS will die. The optimal solution is to MS both until the gravy train ends.

  18. You make some very good points and I appreciate your perspective. I would offer though that the preference in one card versus another will depend largely on the individual. For you and those others who may be doing more than $ 50K per year in MS, and you value the UR points as low as 1.5 cents, then, yes, I can see why the WF card would be exciting. However, for those like me who think $ 50K per year is probably more MS than we will actually do on a single card and who do think the UR points are worth closer to 2.1 cents, the Ink Plus still looks better. If you value the UR points at only 1.5 cents, then, yes the difference in card fees could shift the overall \profit\ in favor of WF, but only after making up for the 50K sign up bonus the Ink Plus gives. And, even then, it only looks better if you value UR points that low. The value of the points really isn’t what you would pay for them. To wit, if you take the above example wherein it is established that using the WF points to buy $ 600 in airfare makes 40,000 points worth 1.45 per point, that doesn’t mean you would want to buy the points for 1.45 cents per point, that is just the value you can get. In short, why would you pay 1.45 cents per point for 40,000 points to get a $ 600 airfare (and you would have to cough up the $ 24 processing fee) when you could just use the $ 600 to buy the fare direct? Likewise with the UR points. Just because I would not buy them at 2.1 cents per point really is no indication that I don’t think I can get that much value from them. So, no I wouldn’t buy UR points at 2.1 cents each, but I doubt many folks would buy WF points at 1.45 cents each. Especially when the value drops even more on lower cost travel.

    Again, I appreciate your views but I still don’t think the WF is \BY FAR\ better. Maybe for some folks depending on their amounts of spend and how they value the points, but not for me. Especially with no sign up bonus.

    But I do wholeheartedly agree that its best to use as many of them as you can while the MS gravy train lasts. I suspect that may not be all that much longer.

    • @James It would be in poor taste to classify your comments as MS nube but I think the point that FM makes here is specifically to the 5X and further drill down to drug store 5X which is MS mania………your Staples comparison just doesn’t hold water but the idea of comparison is honorable…………

  19. I appreciate your discretion and not using poor taste (lol). Just kidding. Really, no hard feelings. Your points are well taken. Reasonable people should be able to accept when other reasonable people disagree.

  20. Hey Greg, I’m the one who told you about this. Wanted to add a couple things for clarification. 1) The increased redemption value comes after you spend a certain amount on the card, if I recall it was $50k. 2) I’ve made several travel redemption with these points and I’ve never been charged the $24 processing fee. Not sure why but I’m happy not to have to pay it.

  21. Can you redeem points for refundable airline tickets? Do you have to book the ticket through a WF portal or do you just credit your points for airfare purchases?

  22. Wonder if Wells Fargo travel will let you apply your AA gift cards to a reservation to cover any difference in the 1.5 points and the cash difference?

  23. If you had the 5% cash back Signature card previously can you still get the 5X points on the points version of the Signature card?

  24. I have both Visa Signature and Propel and spent over $30k, but only see 1x on redemptions on travel. Anyway to force it?

    • That’s too bad. I’m not aware of any such tricks to force it, but then I don’t have either card. Maybe call and say you’re thinking of cancelling the Propel and ask if they can move the points to your Visa Signature?

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