No more 3X for gift cards: Rakuten (formerly Ebates) Visa with Membership Rewards. Everything you need to know.

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UPDATE: The magical Rakuten Visa card will no longer earn 3X for gift cards purchased through the Rakuten portal.  As a result, I no longer recommend this product unless you frequently shop through the Rakuten portal.  Rakuten has been sending out the following email to cardmembers:

Dear Member,

Starting February 15, 2020, Rakuten Cash Back Visa® Credit Card purchases made through Rakuten on GiftCardMall.com, GiftCards.com and Raise.com will be eligible for 1% Cash Back instead of an extra 3% Cash Back.

Due to circumstances unique to the retail card business, Rakuten is no longer able to offer an extra 3% Cash Back for purchases from these stores.

All other benefits remain the same. You’ll continue to earn an extra 3% Cash Back on qualifying purchases made through Rakuten.com, In-Store Cash Back offers, Rakuten Hotels and Rakuten travel.

The Rakuten (formerly Ebates) portal suddenly became exciting when they introduced the ability to earn Amex Membership Rewards points instead of cash back.  The combination of the Rakuten portal with the Rakuten Visa credit card is arguably the most exciting event in the points & miles world since… um… Redbird maybe?  Regardless, it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything this interesting.  You can read all about it here: In one fell swoop, Ebates shakes up portal and credit card rewards.

OK, are you already back from reading the “Ebates shakes up portal and credit card rewards” post?  Great.  So now you know why you want the Rakuten Visa so that you can earn an 3X points on all of your Rakuten shopping in addition to the points offered by the portal itself.  But before you sign up, there are some things you need to know:

Follow these steps

  1. First, you need an Amex card that earns Membership Rewards.  There are lots of good ones (found here), but if you want one with no annual fee then go for either the Blue Business Plus or the Everyday CardPreviously it was necessary to have a consumer Amex card, but that requirement is no longer in place.
  2. Next, you need an Rakuten portal account.  If you don’t already have one, you can sign up here (this is not an affiliate link): www.rakuten.com/american-express.  At the time of this writing, there’s a signup offer of 1500 Membership Rewards points after making $25 or more in qualifying purchases through the portal.  If you already have a cash back version of the account, you can change it to a Membership Rewards account (see below for details).
  3. Next, make sure you apply for the Rakuten Visa with the same email address as the one linked to your Rakuten portal account.  Best bet is to log into the Rakuten portal first and click on the Rakuten Visa ad.  Yes, it is advertised as a cash back card, but as long as it is linked to a Rakuten account that earns Membership Rewards, it will earn Membership Rewards.  If you don’t see the ad when you log into your Rakuten account, you can find a current signup link here.

You can now change your cash back Rakuten account to a Membership Rewards account

To switch your Rakuten portal account to Amex Membership Rewards, log into the Rakuten portal, select Account Settings (found in the menu under your name), and change how you would like to get paid:

The Rakuten card is surprisingly hard to get approved for

My son (a college student) was denied.  A retiree that I know was also denied.  It’s not surprising that they were denied credit in general, but I expected that a portal branded credit card would be easy to get.  I was wrong.

A number of readers (see the comments in this post) have also been denied despite having high income and solid credit scores.

There is a trick for getting approved

Readers report success getting approved for the Rakuten Visa card after freezing Sagestream and ARS credit reporting.  You can find instructions for freezing your reports here:

A great resource for how to freeze both Sagestream and ARS can be found here: Two Credit Bureaus You Should Freeze Before You Apply For A U.S Bank Credit Card (even though the Rakuten Visa isn’t issued by US Bank, the instructions are relevant).

It is possible to go from nothing to earning points in a matter of minutes

Once you are approved for an Amex card that earns Membership Rewards, you should be able to sign up for Rakuten with Membership Rewards immediately.

Then, if you are instantly approved for the Rakuten Visa, you will be presented with a temporary card number instantly.  You can start shopping right away as long as your purchase is under $1,000.

The Rakuten Visa’s 3X rewards are based on the entire purchase price

This may seem like a stupid statement.  After all, all credit cards reward you based on the entire purchase price, right?  Right, but I wasn’t sure in this case.  After all, the Rakuten portal itself doesn’t usually reward the shipping and handling and sales tax portion of a purchase.  And remember that the Rakuten Visa offers 3X rewards for purchases made through the Rakuten portal and only 1X rewards for other purchases.  So, it seemed logical to me that the Rakuten Visa may work in any one of these three ways:

  1. 1X rewards applies to the entire purchase amount, and the additional 2X rewards apply only to the purchase amount tracked by the portal.  Wrong answer #1.
  2. 3X rewards applies only to the amount tracked by the portal.  Wrong answer #2.
  3. 3X rewards applies to the entire purchase amount inclusive of shipping and handling and taxes.  This is the right answer.

Thanks go to members of the Frequent Miler Insiders Facebook Group for helping to answer this question definitively.

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