CardsFTW #108: Digging Deep on Bilt

Plus, Virgin’s Card & Loyalty Play and Amex + Emburse = Amexburse

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Virgin Announces the Red Rewards Card

Virgin, the brand that does a little bit of everything, announced a new co-brand Mastercard for the Virgin Red rewards program issued by Synchrony Bank. The card will be released later in 2024 and enables earning in Virgin’s proprietary point platform, which you can use across cruises, hotels, airlines, and various other Virgin brands. In the U.S., where this card will be issued, Virgin has a more limited footprint, although we learned Virgin has wines, trains, phones, and more in its vast portfolio of companies.

We’re not sure if many U.S. consumers are aware of Virgin Red. We expect a huge challenge in building a cardholder base.

Amex and Emburse Integrate

With growing competition for advanced technology commercial cards from programs such as Ramp or Brex, American Express announced a new partnership with fintech Emburse to compete. The new partnership enables American Express commercial card programs to manage spending with Emburse and issue virtual AMEX cards on the platform. The press release highlighted many of the same motivators that startups like Ramp have emphasized, such as time savings and budget management.

It doesn’t appear that cardholders can turn on these features inside Amex, as companies will need to schedule a demo and sign up for the two programs separately. That certainly has an old-school feel.

Build Your Bilt Knowledge

Bilt Mastercard
Is this a bricklayer joke?

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been asked many questions about the Bilt program and the Bilt Mastercard, from how paying rent works and how points are earned to what the travel portal is like. So, this week, we’re doing a deep dive into the program. 

It’s not surprising that so many people have questions because the program is tough to keep track of. It has many similarly named things and features that are obfuscated, so even as a cardholder, I had to piece together how they worked from announcements, the Bilt support site, and a very active subreddit full of rewards maximizers. 

Of course, there’s the Bilt Mastercard, which includes a membership to Bilt Rewards, the rewards and loyalty network you can join without being a cardholder. Earning opportunities and bonuses come with being a cardholder and other perks and offers, including card-linked offers, that can be redeemed through your Bilt Rewards account. 

The Basics

The big draw to Bilt is earning points on your rent payments without paying a credit card surcharge fee. Bilt is working hard to use rent as an entry point to becoming top-of-wallet for their cardholders. One of the ways that they are shifting spending onto the Bilt Mastercard from others in their cardholders’ wallets is requiring at least five non-rent credit card transactions each statement period (with no minimum spend requirements) to earn points during that period– on rent or card transactions. Admittedly, when I opened my Bilt card, I expected that it was going to become my “coffee card” – just a handful of low-value transactions that I didn’t mind shifting away from my other rewards cards – but their bonuses and transfer partners have had me meaningfully moving spending over. (I’ll dive into more of these later.)

The Bilt Rewards Mastercard uses a simple standard rewards structure:

  • 3 points per dollar spent on dining
  • 2 points per dollar spent on travel (booked directly or through their portal) 
  • 1 point per dollar spent on rent payments (up to 100,000 points per year)
  • 1 point per dollar spent on other purchases

On the first of each month, “Rent Day,” Bilt will double your points on all non-rent transactions. 

Rent Day has been one driver of my spending shift. In addition to becoming my dining card on the first of the month, I’ve updated my payment card to Bilt for all of my utilities and subscriptions that I can schedule to charge on the first, earning me around 1,000 points per month on top of my rent points. Each month, Bilt offers additional perks or bonuses on rent day, including transfer bonuses, status matches, point accelerators, rent giveaways, and more. I earned 2100 points in March and April from their Rent Day promotions. 

As a Mastercard World Elite card, additional features include cellphone protection, no foreign transaction fee, rental car collision protection, and other Mastercard concierge and travel services. 

Paying Rent

Several rent payment options are available, with varying point-earning levels for Bilt Mastercard cardholders, non-cardholders with a Rent Rewards account, and those who live in a Bilt Alliance property. Again, it is a bit tough to keep all of the options and permutations straight with the different “rewards” and “Bilt” names they use across the program suite. 

Digital Payment Options

With a Bilt Mastercard, cardholders can use their regular credit card number to pay rent through any online portal. These transactions are subject to the credit card transaction fees these portals usually charge, often about 3%. 

Bilt Mastercard cardholders and regular Bilt Rewards members can sign up for a “Rent Rewards” account. With Rent Rewards, Bilt creates a unique routing and account number that members can use just like their regular bank account information and put into their landlord’s payment portal. 

So many options!

In the Rent Rewards section, members can then select where they want the rent charge to be routed, with varying transaction fees and point-earning options. On the credit card side, you can charge your rent to a Bilt Mastercard to earn 1 point per $1 or to another credit card with a 3% transaction fee and earn 250 points for each rent transaction. My rent would have to be very low to find those 250 points valuable enough to pay the transaction fee. Bilt only allows one rent payment per month, and some validation of your rental agreement may be required, though I didn’t have to do that, I’m assuming, because my landlord uses a property management portal. 

Screenshot of Bilt dashboard
I appreciate how clear they make the points and fees across payment options

For those who don’t want their rent charged to a card, they can enable BiltProtect and initiate a BiltProtect Rent ACH, which will pay your monthly rent by transferring funds from a linked qualifying deposit account without using any of your Bilt Mastercard credit line. This allows cardholders to turn their Bilt credit card into a debit card. 

Without BiltProtect enabled, rent payments will be applied to your credit line and be included in your monthly account balance. For users who use their credit cards to optimize their cash flow, this effectively means that you can float your rent payments for 30+ days, depending on when your statement closes, and your payment is due, without paying any interest if their balance is paid off each month. For those who don’t, though, a 21%+ APR on rent payments is a fast track to a painful amount of debt. 

Bilt also advertises the ability to pay rent via Venmo and PayPal. This option functions similarly to the ACH option above, where users enter the account and routing information Bilt provides as a bank account in Venmo or Paypal. In this use case or ACH, Bilt does support microdeposits for account verification. 

But wait, there’s more…

Bilt also offers the ability to pay rent via cash or check.

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