I've been thinking a lot about the Merrill+ Visa card (issued by Bank of America), due partially to the perk they offer whereby you get a free Delta Skyclub membership after spending $50,000 on the card. (The membership is one of the perks of what they call "Plus" status, although I'm not sure what else you get for achieving Plus status. If Plus status offers amazing benefits, then most of the calculations I'm about to do into won't mean much, since they don't take into account said amazing benefits.) Skyclub membership is actually something I've considered buying for myself, since I'd get a lot of use out of the SFO and SEA Skyclubs, though I don't often fly Delta from either airport. Having access when flying Delta (via my Amex Platinum) is great, but being based out of SFO means I'll rarely maximize any perk contingent on flying Delta. (As an aside, I really wish the Delta Reserve from Amex offered Skyclub membership like the United Club and American Airlines Executive cards, rather than just access when flying Delta.)
Anyway, given my interest in Skyclub membership, my ears perked up when I read about a credit card that offered it after hitting a particular spending target. Then I read this post over at Miles Per Day about how to maximize the value you get from Merril+ rewards points, basically locking in 2 cents per point when redeemed for airfare on Alaska or JetBlue (as long as you have elite status with either airline). Obviously, this would be the ideal circumstance and not directly applicable to me, but let's assume the best case and peg the value of the points at $0.02. That means that spending $50,000 on the Merril+ would get you points worth $1000 on airfare plus a Skyclub membership, which you would otherwise buy outright for $500, bringing the total return on spend up to 3%. Is it worth trying to hit the spending target on this card to get that kind of return?
Here are a few other scenarios to consider:
- $50,000 on the Chase Freedom Unlimited = 75,000 points, which, when transferred to the Sapphire Reserve, become worth $1125 toward travel. This is significantly more flexible than the Merrill points, which only yield 2x when applied to airfare on Alaska or JetBlue or when used in 25,000 increments on tickets that cost exactly $500 from any airline (if you're confused about this, go read the Miles Per Day post and then come back here). Would you rather have $1125 to spend on airfare/hotel/rental car or a fairly restrictive $1000 plus a Skyclub membership?
- $50,000 on the Amex Blue for Business = 100,000 Membership Rewards points. You can buy a Skyclub membership by transferring 47,000 points to Delta, leaving you 53,000 MR points. If you happen to have a Business Platinum card, those 53,000 points could be used for airfare up to $1060. Or, you could spend a couple thousand more dollars and transfer 55,000 points to Aeroplan, which is enough for a business class ticket to Europe. In this scenario, you get a Skyclub membership either way, so you're basically choosing between 50,000 Merrill+ points or 53,000 MR points. That's a no-brainer to me.
- Factoring in the current sign-up bonus of 50,000 Merrill+ points, you'll have 100,000 points after completing the $50,000 spend. If you instead sign up for the Amex Business Platinum card and put your spending there, you'll earn 150,000 points, or 103,000 after you transfer over the points to buy the Skyclub membership. Again, I'd rather have 103,000 Amex points than 100,000 Merrill+ points.
Of course, this isn't apples to apples, since a proficient manufactured spender would max out the $50,000 limit on the 2x-on-all-points bonus on the Blue for Business, the $15,000 spend requirement on the Business Platinum, and the $50,000 spend requirement on the Merrill+. If you can run up that much spending, good for you. Honestly, you deserve a Skyclub membership at that point. But if you're more limited in what you can or are willing to spend across all your cards for a year, the Merrill+ seems like a waste of spending. Even looking at bonus opportunities that aren't capped, if you spent $50,000 on an Everyday Preferred, you'd end up with a minimum of 75,000 MR points, or 27,000 after you buy the Skyclub membership. I'm not sure I'd rather have 50,000 Merrill+ points than 27,000 Amex points, to be honest. I'd have to work pretty hard to get almost 4 cents per point out of them (which would make them equivalent in value to the Merrill+ points), although their flexibility vs the inflexibility of the Merrill+ points is worth something as well.
One final consideration is where you want to manufacture your spend. Amex has gotten a lot tighter about it (I'm to understand, since I don't manufacture spend personally), and I'm pretty wrapped up with them, so I wouldn't really want to bend their rules. However, I'm not really in bed with BofA at all, so if they banned me, I wouldn't mind (except that I'd miss my Alaska cards). Just in terms of the numbers, though, the more I think about it, the less of a great deal the Skyclub perk seems.
Does anyone even have this card? Articles are bubbling up around it, but it still seems pretty esoteric. If you know more about the secret "Plus" perks, let me know in the comments.