If their cars are the ultimate driving machine, is the BMW Visa the ultimate credit card? You need to pay close attention…
Where I grew up in Michigan, you might go days without seeing a single BMW on the road. However where I now live in Los Angeles, I am willing to wager there are more BMWs on the road than say, Fords and Chevys combined. If I had a dollar every time I saw a 3 or 5 series in black, I’d be a very rich man.
On a per capita basis, I don’t think there’s any disputing that this is the most popular city for BMWs in the US. Therefore I thought it would be fitting to finally do an in-depth review of the BMW credit card. The card can be a good – or not so good – deal depending on how you spend the points.
To pay or not to pay?
Issued by BMW Financial Services, their credit card comes in two varieties:
- No-Fee BMW Rewards – With this version you pay no annual fee.
- Performance Plus Rewards – For a $50 annual fee, the application describes it as a way to “earn valuable travel, merchandise, and spa rewards”. Think of this as the M-Series of their credit cards.
Both of the BMW credit cards have interest rates which are quite low; the application lists the prime rate + 6.99%-17.99% (depending on your credit score/creditworthiness). Since the prime rate is 3.25 as of 2014, that means your interest rate ranges from 10.24% to 21.24%. On the bottom end, that’s a low APR.But what about the rewards? As you can probably guess, the second version offers more rewards and benefits… but is it worth $50?
The no-fee BMW Visa card
The good news? I applaud BMW for being transparent and upfront regarding how much the points are worth during redemption. Unlike most credit cards, they don’t use tiers and tricks to obscure the value. Rather, they simply use round numbers so you can clearly calculate what you’re earning (examples in a moment). The less than pleasant news? The value you’re getting does not quite provide BMW-level exhilaration. If you apply for the basic BMW Visa you will earn:
- 1 point per $2 spent on purchases
- Double points for gasoline purchases
- No caps on how many can be earned
So. how much are these points worth? Well you have the option of redeeming them for lease/loan rewards, car maintenance services, and BMW merchandise. Maintenance and Accessories: You can cash out points for “BMW Center Dividends” which can be applied towards service, maintenance, and accessories from the dealer of your choice. They convert like this: As I said, they’re clean conversion ratios but since you’re only earning 1 point per $2, these Dividends calculate out to mean a 1/2% rebate on regular purchases and 1% on gas. Lifestyle Merchandise: This is what they call their apparel, accessories, and gifts.
$100 certificate = 10,000 points $200 certificate = 20,000 points
That means the value realized is the same as the maintenance/accessories. Excess Wear & Use: Same conversion as the above two options. Each 10,000 points = $100 towards excess wear and use charges on your lease. Additional Lease Miles: This option appears to be the best deal if you have the regular Visa card from BMW, because your points will be worth more. Let’s look at the last one, since 100,000 points is an easy number to work with. Last I checked, the price BMW charges for extra lease miles is $0.16 on the 3 series, 5 series, and SUVS. $0.22 for the 7 series. 0.16 x 5,000 miles = $800 0.22 x 5,000 miles = $1,100 Your BMW credit card rewards (from non-gas spending) will be worth 0.8% to 1.1% when used for miles, depending on what you drive. Obviously that percentage may skew up a tiny bit once you factor in the double points on gas. Regardless, it appears to be the wisest way to use points if you have this card. Of course, if you don’t lease this option won’t be avail.
When there are so many other no fee MasterCard and Visa credit cards on the market that pay 1% to 5% cash back, I don’t see how getting this version of the BMW credit card would be optimal. While it does have platinum benefits like warranty manager, auto rental insurance, emergency cash and card replacement, etc. the customer service rep I spoke to told me these benefits are administered through Visa. If that’s true, there are a number of no fee credit cards on the market with comparable benefits for Visa Signature, but better rewards value than what the BMW Visa offers.
The $50 BMW Visa card
The “Perfomance Plus Rewards” credit card offers more points:
- 1 point per $1 spend on all purchases
- No cap on how many points can be earned
As you are about see, the value of these points will convert to at least the equivalent of a 1% rebate on spending and sometimes more, if redeemed strategically. Since I can’t login to a BMW credit card account to give this a full test run, I am relying on the information supplied with the card application/marketing material (and fortunately, it’s quite thorough). The focus of the rewards is travel and here are 5 examples:
35,000 points can get 1 night at 33 Ritz-Carlton locations worldwide. In addition to the free night, there’s also breakfast for two, access to the Ritz-Carlton club, and 5 food and beverage presentations (if you’re not familiar with these, read the Ritz Carlton Visa Signature card review). Deal Or No Deal? They don’t list the 33 locations so without knowing them it’s hard to determine the value, but I would say this is still a deal because the conversion value is most likely going to be at least slightly above $0.01/point.
2. Hyatt or Wyndham Hotels/Resorts
10,000 points will buy a $100 gift certificate that can be used at the aforementioned hotels. Deal or No Deal? With 1 point per $1 this is like getting 1%. That’s pretty average as far as credit card rewards are concerned.
3. Air Travel
With the high price of airfare these days, this is probably going to yield the highest value: Deal or No Deal? This has the potential to be a good deal, as long as your flight isn’t in the wee hours of the morning or with unnecessary layovers. Unfortunately I can’t use the BMW credit card login to check how this works (what your flight options are). But if you have the $50 BMW Visa Platinum card, I’m willing to bet this will probably be the best way to spend your points if you want maximum value.
4. Merchandise Rewards At Partners
For a minimum of 20,000 reward points you get a $200 gift card from over a couple dozen partner retailers like Macy’s, Coach, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, and Toys R Us. You can get gift cards of higher amounts too – add increments of 10,000 points for each additional $100. Deal or No Deal? This is straightforward 1% conversion. Not bad, but not great… just middle of the road when it comes to credit card points.
5. Marriott Rewards
You can get Marriott gift certificates at the ol’ $100 for 10k points conversion. But you will probably be getting a much better deal than that if you go with another available option… redeeming 50k points for a 3-night stay at a Marriott Gold Villa (10 domestic locations to choose from). These villas are 2 bed, 2 bath, complete with a kitchen and whirlpool tub. Deal or No Deal? Divide 50k points ($500) by 3 and you get about $133 per night. Does renting one of these villas cost more than that? I would certainly say so. You will most likely be getting more than a 1% conversion with this, making it a good way to spend your BMW Visa card rewards.
This version does come with a number of additional travel benefits such as lost luggage assistance, emergency ticket replacement, trip planning assistance, and others. Although nice to have, I would not consider them to be especially unique since many hotel, airline and travel credit cards offer similar benefits. So I wouldn’t recommend applying just for the BMW Visa benefits. However with the rewards, you are going to be getting at least 1.0% and sometimes even higher. Is it worth it for you? Well I would recommend basing your decision on the airfare and hotel reward options and whether or not you want to pay $50 to get them.
- Blue Cash Preferred from AmEx – earn 3% cash back at US gas stations
Written or last updated June 11, 2014