UPDATE (10/31/19): It finally happened! It is now possible to convert cash back account to Membership Rewards accounts! Click here for details.
One of the most significant recent developments in miles & points is the new ability to earn Membership Rewards points from Ebates rather than cash back. For many of us, Amex Membership Rewards points are worth considerably more than 1 cent per point, especially when those points are transferred to airline miles for a high value award ticket. For details about Ebates with Membership Rewards please see: In one fell swoop, Ebates shakes up portal and credit card rewards.
The biggest downside of this new feature is that there is currently no way to convert a cash back Ebates account to a Membership Rewards Ebates account. Instead, members have to cancel their cash back account and sign up for the Membership Rewards version. Again, details can be found here. For some members, cancelling and setting up new is not an option. For example, if you have an Ebates Visa card (which earns 3% on purchases that track through the Ebates portal), cancelling your current Ebates account would be a disaster. There’s no way to change which account it is linked to. See: Ebates Visa with Membership Rewards. Everything you need to know.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Shawn Roberts, the Director of Corporate Communications at Rakuten Rewards (Rakuten owns Ebates and is in the process of rebranding Ebates as Rakuten). Shawn is new at Rakuten and so he wasn’t able to directly answer too many of my questions. Instead, he talked mostly about the ways that Rakuten is planning to offer rewards for all transactions. They already offer in-store rewards when you link your credit card, and some rewards when using Lyft, but they’re looking to do far more of that sort of thing going forward. What I really wanted to know, though, more than anything else, was whether they would make Membership Rewards earnings an option for existing cash back members.
“We are working with American Express…”
Shawn got back to me via email with this:
We are really happy to see how excited Rakuten members are to earn Maximum [sic] Rewards points. We are working with American Express to make this program available to our current members.
I’m sure he meant “Membership Rewards” not “Maximum Rewards”. Anyway, it seems that they need Amex’s help to make it possible to convert existing members.
Will this really happen?
I think it’s likely that Ebates does need Amex’s help to make this happen. After all, signing up for Ebates with Membership Rewards requires logging into your Amex account to link Ebates to Amex. So, something similar would be required to convert existing customers.
Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing whether Amex wants this to happen. What’s in it for Amex? Why did they get into this arrangement in the first place? There are a few answers that come to my mind:
- Amex recognizes that, unlike Chase, they no longer have a points-earning shopping portal and so this was an easy way for Amex to get a good one
- Amex sees this as a way to get their customers more fully tied into the Amex Membership Rewards ecosystem. If their customers earn points rather than cash back with their shopping, they’ll have to stay within the Amex environment to use those points. As a result, maybe their customers will also be more motivated to use and renew their Amex credit cards
- Maybe Amex is counting on its members primarily redeeming points for low value rewards. For example, members can redeem Membership Rewards points at Amazon, but they get less than 1 cent per point value. If this is a common use of Membership Rewards then Amex can earn a profit by indirectly selling their points to Ebates for 1 cent per point.
Assuming Amex wants existing Ebates customers to have the option to earn Membership Rewards, it’s reasonable to expect that it’s only a matter of time before they introduce the ability to convert existing Ebates accounts to Membership Rewards accounts. If/when this happens, it will be great news for anyone stuck with an old cash-only account.
So, will this really happen? My best guess is yes.