Ink evolution, Ink rules, and an insider tip

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The original title for this post was simply “Ink Rules.”  I realized after writing the title, that it could have multiple meanings.  “Ink” could refer to Chase Ink credit cards.  Or, it could refer to the stuff used in pens and printers.  “Rules” could be a cheer like one you’d hear at a sporting event (“Michigan rules!”), which in turn would really be using the word to indicate authority (one who “rules” has authority over others).  Or, “rules” could refer to regulations, principles, guidelines, etc.  With this title, I meant to discuss the former and the latter: Chase Ink credit cards, and the rules for getting signup bonuses.  I realize that sounds boring, but the details are interesting to me and hopefully to you too…

First some background (AKA the boring stuff)

Chase currently offers three versions of the Chase Ink business cards: Ink Plus, Ink Bold, and Ink Cash.  They used to also offer the Ink Classic, but that one disappeared (Like New Coke. Editor: insert Coke Classic pun here.  Editor?  I need to get an editor).

The Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards are virtually identical in every way. Both earn Ultimate Rewards points.  They both have the same 5X and 2X category bonuses (5X office supplies, cellular/landline/ cable; 2X gas and hotels), the same annual fee ($95 after first year free), the same 2 free Lounge Club visits per year, the same ability to use points to purchase travel at 1.25 cents per point, and the same ability to transfer points to airline, hotel, and train partners.  With both cards, the bonus categories are capped at $50K spend per cardholder year (not calendar year).  The only difference between the cards is that the Ink Plus is a credit card (in which the balance can be paid off over time), and the Ink Bold is a charge card (the balance must be paid in full monthly).  Oh, and the cards are each a different shade of blue.  If your card is a wee bit purplish, it is the Ink Bold, whereas the Ink Plus is more of a pure blue to my eyes.

Despite its name, the Ink Cash card earns Ultimate Rewards points.  If the Ink Cash is the only Ultimate Rewards card you have, then redeeming points for cash at 1 cent per point makes sense.  However, if you (or your significant other in the same household) have a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or the JP Morgan Palladium card, then you can transfer points first to that card, and then use those points to purchase travel at 1.25 cents per point, or transfer points to airline, hotel, and train partners.  While the Ink Cash has mostly the same bonus categories as the other Ink cards, one difference is that it earns 2X at restaurants instead of hotels. Other differences from the Ink Plus and Ink Bold duo include: no annual fee, $25K per year cap on bonus categories, and 3% foreign transaction fees.

Three generations of Ink

The Chase Ink cards didn’t used to have 5X category bonuses.  Instead, they offered incentives for big spend.  In those days, if you had an Ink Bold and a Chase checking account, you could average 1.675 points per dollar “simply” by spending $100,000 annually on your card (thanks to the card’s multiple tiered bonuses).  Then, around mid-October 2011, all new Ink applicants received cards with the 5X bonus categories that we know and love today.  Then, sometime in the summer of 2013, Chase began issuing new Ink cards as Visa cards (all previous cards were MasterCards).  This has led to three generations of Ink cards:

  • Generation 1: Ink cards acquired prior to mid-October 2011.  No bonus categories, but generous big spend bonuses.  Issued as MasterCards.
  • Generation 2: Ink cards acquired between mid-October 2011 and mid-summer 2013.  All current 5X and 2X bonus categories.  Issued as MasterCards.
  • Generation 3: Ink cards acquired after mid-summer 2013.  All current 5X and 2X bonus categories.  Issued as Visa cards.

 

MasterCard Easy Savings vs. Visa Savings Edge

Both MasterCard and Visa offer savings programs for business cardholders.  With both programs it is necessary to signup and link your business card to get the savings.  Once you are signed up, most savings are automatic: if you use your card at certain merchants, you’ll automatically receive a cash back statement credit.  Both programs offer savings at various hotels, gas stations, and merchants.  You can find full details at their web sites:

One great aspect of these offers is that they can be used in conjunction with credit card rewards (including category bonuses) and shopping portal bonuses.  At the time of this writing, the most exciting offer is via Visa Savings Edge: Get 1% cash back when you spend $200 or more at Staples.  Since Staples is widely available through portals, and it is an office supply store (5X with Ink cards!), and it sells gift cards online, the possibilities are nearly endless (see “Staples Rocks” and “Best ways to buy $200 Visa gift cards”).

Ink Metamorphosis

Many people today have MasterCard versions of Chase Ink cards.  Chase plans to replace MasterCard Inks with Visa cards in 2014.  I received the following information from a Chase insider who has offered me valuable and reliable tips in the past:

…per new updates, INK customers with no deposit relationship will have their MC turned into VISA this year. Those with a deposit relationship will happen at a later time.

… the ink conversion is happening in 2014. The conversion letters are being sent out this year.

In other words, if you have a Chase Ink MasterCard, it will be converted to a Visa card (with a new card number) sometime this year.  If you also have a bank account with Chase, you may have longer to wait for the conversation than others.

I also asked my source about the 1st generation Ink cards.  Would they also be converted to Visa cards?  He said yes, but that their benefits would not change.  Those with generation 1 cards will still get the old benefits (no 2X or 5X categories, but with big-spend bonuses) but their MasterCards will be replaced with Visas.

By the end of the year, we should be down to two surviving generations of Ink:

  • Generation 1: Ink cards acquired prior to mid-October 2011.  No bonus categories, but generous big spend bonuses.  Issued as MasterCards Visa cards.
  • Generation 3: All Ink cards acquired after mid-October 2011.  All current 5X and 2X bonus categories.  Issued as Visa cards.

 

Ink Rules

I often get asked variations on the question “I already have an Ink card, can I sign up for another one?”  There are two important aspects to this question, the first is whether or not Chase will allow a person to have multiple Ink cards.  The second, is whether or not a person can get the signup bonus again.

Here are the rules, as I believe them to be, based on my own experience and input from readers.  I have absolutely no inside information from Chase about any of this.  Also note that when I say that a person can signup for one or more cards, I’m not suggesting that they would be approved for each card.  That depends upon each person’s situation.  So, without further ado, the rules as I believe them to be:

  • A person can have, and get the signup bonus, for each variant of Ink: Ink Plus, Ink Bold, Ink Cash, and (previously available) Ink Classic.  So, for example, someone starting now could get three signup bonuses: one for each available card variant.
  • A person with multiple businesses can have, and get the signup bonus, for each business and each card type.  For example, a person with two businesses could signup for two of each type of card: Ink Plus for business 1, Ink Plus for business 2, Ink Bold business 1, Ink Bold business 2, Ink Cash business 1, Ink Cash business 2.
  • A person can have, and get the signup bonus, for each generation of Ink.  So, a person with an Ink Plus MasterCard, for example, could now signup for the Ink Plus Visa. 

I assume (but don’t know this to be true for certain) that once the generation 2 MasterCards are upgraded to Visa cards they will become the same product as generation 3 cards and so it will no longer be possible to signup (and get the signup bonus) for the same card type / business. That suggests that people with generation 2 cards may have a limited window to get new signup bonuses, if that’s what motivates them.  For those that want to keep their options open longer term, they could cancel their generation 2 MasterCards before they get converted to Visas.  That way, new signup bonuses should always be a possibility going forward. 

Caution: The “rules” described above may or may not be correct (as I said, they are derived from personal experience and reader input, not from official word from Chase).  More importantly and more likely: the rules could change at any time. 

Recommendations

Based on the above information, here are some recommendations:

  • If you have a generation 1 Ink card and you take advantage of its unique benefits, then keep it.  It will be converted to a Visa card sometime this year, but it shouldn’t otherwise affect your ability to get new Ink cards.
  • If you have a generation 2 Ink card and would like to get a signup bonus for the same card and same business a second time, then either 1) cancel the card and wait until you are ready to signup for it again (but as a Visa card); or 2) Signup for the Visa version of the card before it is converted to a MasterCard.

See also:

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