For a while now, the Sam’s Club credit card has been one of the last-standing rewards cards with a tiered program (if you didn’t spend enough on the card, you’d earn a lower percentage cash back).
But the card (formerly co-branded with Discover) has made some big changes to coincide with its new partnership with MasterCard. Sam’s Club is debuting a new rewards program on June 23, and the card (which will still be issued by GE Capital) will be sporting the latest must-have credit card accessory — an EMV chip.
The new version of the card (like the old one) will have no annual fee. However, a Sam’s Club membership is required. Currently, a Sam’s Plus account costs $100 per year, and a Sam’s Savings account costs $45 a year.
What’s new with the rewards?
Sam’s is calling its new rewards structure the “5-3-1” program, and it works like this:
- 5 percent cash back on fuel at gas stations (for the first $6,000 spent on fuel each calendar year). That’s good for all gas stations located in the U.S. (including Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart gas stations). The only exclusions are gas stations that are part of other warehouse clubs and supercenters. After the first $6,000 in fuel spending each year, you’ll earn 1 percent back.
- 3 percent cash back on restaurants worldwide (including fast food, but excluding dining services at other warehouse clubs) and travel. Travel purchases include merchant categories like rental cars, airlines, hotels, passenger rail, bus lines, cruise lines, time shares, travel agencies (although not those offered by other warehouse clubs), travel sites and tour operators.
- 1 percent back on all other eligible purchases.
Each year, you’ll receive a check to cover all the cash-back rebates you’ve earned. You can earn up to $5,000 in cash-back rewards every year. After that, you will earn no rewards on purchases until a new year starts. Only big spenders (those spending more than $100,000 per year on the card and charging tens of thousands of dollars in travel) would need to worry about hitting that ceiling, however.
For comparison, here’s what the cash-back structure on the Sam’s Club card used to look like:
- 0.25 percent cash back for qualified spending up to $1,500 per year
- 0.50 percent cash back for pending between $1,500.01 and $3,000
- 1 percent cash back for spending between $3,000.01 and $250,000
The first two reward brackets are the same as above. After that …
- 1 percent cash back for spending between $3,000.01 and $5,000 per year
- 1.75 percent cash back for spending between $5,000.01 and $10,00
- 2 percent cash back for spending between $10,000.01 and $250,000
Those who consistently spend above $5,000 per year on their Sam’s card may be disappointed by the new program, as they’ll no longer be able to earn above 1 percent on all purchases. However, a year-round 5 percent back on gas and 3 percent back on restaurants could make up for that – not to mention the fact that you’ll start earning 1 percent right away without paying your dues in the 0.25-percent-back bracket.
You might also notice that, unlike the old version, the new card evens the playing field for those with different Sam’s membership status. Assuming spending is equal, those with Savings status will earn just as many rewards as those with the more-expensive Plus status.
So do Plus members have anything to gain with the new card?
Plus members (with or without the Sam’s credit card) get access to another reward system exclusive to them, the “Cash Rewards” program. Every $500 spent on Sam’s Club purchases (regardless of payment method) earns a $10 rebate – up to $500 in rebates per membership year. These rebates (which are automatically loaded onto the shopper’s membership card) can be redeemed for cash, Sam’s Club purchases or membership fees. Current Plus members will be automatically enrolled in the Cash Rewards program June 12.
EMV Chip – with PIN capabilities
With issuers facing an October 2015 liability deadline (a big incentive to switch from magnetic stripe cards to EMV technology), more and more cards are getting upgraded with an EMV chip. The Sam’s card is the latest, and it’s the first major retailer to officially roll out EMV cards. Target announced back in April that it would be implementing EMV on its REDcard and other co-branded cards by early 2015. However, Sam’s Club beats it by making the upgrade on June 23, 2014, when it sends cardholders their new MasterCards. Wal-Mart cards (which are also switching over to MasterCard) will follow later in the summer.
As with most U.S.-issued EMV cards, the new Sam’s card will be primarily chip-and-signature (meaning you’ll insert the card into the card reader and then sign for your purchase). However, just like the newly released Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, the new Sam’s card will be PIN enabled, meaning, once you set a PIN, it can be used in situations where a PIN is required (for example, at unmanned kiosks in transit stations overseas).
For now, not many U.S. merchants have implemented EMV at check-out – but, as the Sam’s Club card will also have a magnetic stripe, you’ll be able to use it anywhere MasterCard is accepted. If you want to test drive the EMV chip on the new Sam’s card outside of their stores, you can also take it to Wal-Mart, as select stores have already installed EMV card readers.
Updated June 10, 2014