Money at 30: Bilt Rewards Mastercard Review
A few months back, I was introduced to the Bilt Rewards Mastercard when it was announced that Wells Fargo would be issuing the card. What interested me in the product was that, at long last, it would reward cardholders on one of their largest monthly expenses: rent. Looking more closely at the card, I found that I had a lot of questions — and ones that I likely couldn’t answer unless I got the card for myself. So, that’s exactly what I did.
Now that I’ve added the Bilt Mastercard to my wallet and had the chance to explore different aspects of this unique option, do I think it’s a good pick? Let’s go through what the card has to offer, what some of the pros and cons are, and get my overall thoughts on the Bilt Mastercard.
What is the Bilt Rewards Mastercard and What Makes it Unique?
About Bilt Rewards
The Bilt Mastercard is actually a subset of the Bilt Rewards program. Apparently, the Bilt Rewards Alliance is a collection of apartment management companies, allowing tenants on select properties to earn points just for paying their rent. Meanwhile, those of us whose apartments aren’t part of this alliance can pick up the Bilt Mastercard.
Before I go into detail about the different rewards categories featured on the Bilt Mastercard, let’s take a brief overview of what they are:
- 1x on rent payments (up to 50,000 points per calendar year)
- 3x on dining
- 2x on select travel (direct purchases from airlines, hotels, etc. – or using the Bilt Travel portal)
- 1x on all other purchases
Normally, I wouldn’t list a 1x category at the top — but that category happens to be what makes Bilt unique. With the card, customers can earn 1x points on rent payments. This is done using a clever method I’ll discuss more below, which also helps cardholders avoid the fees that typically come along with paying rent via credit card. Since this can be quite a lucrative benefit, Bilt does put a cap on this, allowing you to earn up to 50,000 points per calendar year via rent payments.
Next up, the Bilt Mastercard also features a solid multiplier on dining. The 3x applies to purchases at restaurants, fast food establishments, etc. One thing that’s not exactly clear is whether this also applies to delivery apps, such as Uber Eats or Grubhub. Nevertheless, this category is pretty good for a no-annual-fee card.
The travel category with Bilt is a bit confusing and, honestly, not as broad as the generic “travel” tag on the site might lead you to believe. Because of this, here’s the exact description from the Bilt Rewards Mastercard terms:
2 rewards points (1 base point plus 1 bonus point) are earned per $1 spent on qualifying net purchases made directly at retailers whose Merchant Code for MasterCard is classified as airlines, hotels, motels, resorts, cruise lines, and car rental agencies (bus lines, passenger railways/ trains, taxicabs and limousines, rideshares, ferries, timeshares, travel agencies, online travel sites, real estate agents, vacation rental platforms (e.g. VRBO, Airbnb), campgrounds, boat lease/rental, motor home/recreational vehicle rental, toll bridges and highways, parking lots, and garages are not considered travel).
Funny enough, not mentioned in that parenthetically overdosed write-up is the fact that you can also earn 2x points on travel booked via Bilt’s own travel portal (which is powered by Expedia). To be fair, this feature did launch after the card, so that might be why it’s excluded. Either way, while confusing, it’s still a fairly handy multiplier — especially when the travel portal option is added. Then again, with so many flat 2% cards available, this category may be moot depending on what else is in your wallet.
One important note is that, in order to earn any points during a given billing cycle, you must make at least five transactions on the card during the month. Presumably, this is to prevent people from using the card purely for rent and “sock drawer-ing” it otherwise. I’ll share my thoughts on this policy a bit later — but, for now, just know this rule exists.
As I mentioned, in addition to rewarding renters with 1x points on rent payments, the Bilt Mastercard offers ways to pay rent while getting around credit card payment fees. If you’re not familiar, although many rental portals will allow tenants to make payments with credit cards, they often tack on a steep fee that would more than nullify the 1x you’d get in return from Bilt. For example, the fee for my rent ends up being around $36 (a percentage of my rental amount) if I wanted to use a credit card. So, how does Bilt avoid this?
Instead of using your actually credit card number on your landlord or management company’s rent payment portal, Bilt will provide you with an account and routing number akin to a checking account. In fact, to your platform, it will look as though you are indeed linking a checking account and payment will be made via ACH. Thus, when you use this option, no fee should be applied.
As clever as this is, I did run into one small hiccup. When linking the account to my rental portal, I was informed that the portal would be making two test deposits for verification. Looking at Bilt’s FAQ, it stated that I’d receive an email when test deposits arrived in my account. Unfortunately, no so notification came and I couldn’t find anything on the site that showed them. Luckily, shooting a quick email via support resulted in me getting a quick reply with the deposit amounts, allowing me to complete the linking process. While it all worked in the end, I do wish this was a bit more streamlined lest others go through the worry that I did.
In the event that your landlord doesn’t accept ACH payments, Bilt says they can mail a check on your behalf instead, still allowing you to earn points. I didn’t have a chance to personally try this option so I can’t speak on exactly how it works. However, it may be worth looking into beforehand if that does end up being your only available route.
Something else I want to mention in regard to paying rent with Bilt is the BiltProtect Debit feature. When this option is enabled, Bilt will automatically pull money from your linked checking account once a rent payment is processed, thus preventing the large payment from impacting your credit limit. Again, this strikes me as being a smart, thoughtful feature and could be useful for those concerned about their credit utilization.
At the time that I’m writing this, there is no public welcome bonus offered for the Bilt Mastercard. That said, once my card was activated, I got a text from BIlt saying that I could earn 5x points on eligible purchases (read: not rent) for the five days. Sure enough, my purchases during that time did yield bonus points. It’s unclear whether this is standard or just occasional, but it was a nice surprise.
Speaking of surprises, Bilt recently added an extra rewards category to the card. Through October 31st, 2022, Bilt Mastercard customers can earn 3x points on gas purchases or electric vehicle charging stations (up to $1,250 in purchases). Like with that 5x deal, these points are awarded as 1x for the purchase itself and then 2x issued as a separate bonus. Personally, I’d be quite pleased if Bilt continued to offer these occasional bonus categories — but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not that ends up being the case.
Bilt Rewards Status
Part of the Bilt Rewards program involves different status tiers. Everyone starts at the Blue tier but those who earn 25,000 points in a year can earn Silver status, those who rack up 60,000 in a year gain Gold, and those who amass 100,000 points or more move up to Platinum. At each level, more perks come in — including the ability to have on-time rent payments reported to credit bureaus, earning interest on points, and more.
I was hoping that I’d be able to reach Silver status before writing this review so I could share more details on the “interest earned on points” feature. Alas, I’m still quite a ways away from that goal. Ultimately, I have to assume this interest doesn’t really add up to much. However, I’ll be sure to update this post if/when I do make it to Silver.
Redemption Options with the Bilt Mastercard
One major way that Bilt Mastercard customers can utilize their earned points is to transfer them to a growing list of travel partner brands. These include a number of airlines along with a couple of hotel chains. Here’s the current line-up as of September 2022:
- British Airways
- American Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air France/KLM
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Cathay Pacific
All of these transfer options are available at a rate of 1:1. So, if you have 15,000 Bilt Rewards points, you could turn them into 15,000 points with any of the above-mentioned loyalty programs.
To begin the transfer process, you’ll first need to link your loyalty account using the Bilt app. Oddly, this functionality is not available on the site. In the event you don’t already have an account, you can also create one. Once an account is linked, you can select how many points you’d like to transfer.
On that note, as a Blue member, you’ll only be able to transfer points in denominations of 2,000 points. However, if you reach Silver or higher, you’ll be able to do denominations of 1,000 points instead, offering greater flexibility.
With a card that earns points for rent payments, it only makes sense that you could redeem earned points toward rent payments. Sure enough, that is a feature of the Bilt Mastercard. Sadly, though, it’s kind of a rip-off. My rough math has prevented me from landing on exactly what the exchange rate for this one is — but it’s not very good, coming in at 0.55¢ per point.
Now for what I think is probably the best way to redeem Bilt points — and it’s one that didn’t even exist at the time the card launched. Earlier this year, Bilt added a travel portal powered by Expedia. Not only did this feature make it much easier for cardholders to book travel with points while avoiding transfer partner headaches but the portal also values points at 1.25¢ each! That’s an awesome deal and one that’s currently unmatched by other options on this list.
In the BIlt app, customers can browse a number of items that are part of the Bilt Collection. From home goods to artwork, there are some unique and interesting items available, with each bearing a set number of points you’ll need to redeem in order to claim it. Since Collection items have their own prices, it’s hard to say what the actual per-point value is with this option. But, if you see something nice and determine it’s worth it to you, who am I to say it’s a bad idea?
Like a few other cards on the market, Bilt Mastercard customers can link their account to Amazon and redeem their points at checkout. Sounds cool, right? Well, the downside here is that the points redeemed on Amazon are only valued at 0.7¢ each. While convenient, this option isn’t a very good value, so I’d stay away if possible.
Home down payments
Okay, so one of the redemption options touted by Bilt (more so on the Bilt Rewards than the Bilt Mastercard side, to be fair) has been the ability to redeem points toward a down payment on a house. While this option is listed, details are scant. Thus, I can’t say whether the valuation would be good or not. Overall, this is an interesting idea… but not one I see many people really using. Oh, hey, that’s probably why Bilt doesn’t make much of an effort to share details, huh?
Update: after I posted this review, the Senior Director of Travel at Bilt Rewards tweeted me to let me know that points are worth 1.5¢ each when used toward home down payments. That would actually make this the best value. Of course, its limited application means that, while it may be the most bang for your buck, it may not be the best option overall.
Lastly, if you tap the Fitness tab in the Bilt app, you’ll see a few other redemption options. As you can probably guess, they all involve fitness. Specifically, you’ll be able to redeem points for classes at SoulCycle, [solidcore], Y7, and Rumble Boxing. These classes range in price and vary by location. Like with the Bilt Collection, this assigned point price makes it hard for me to say what the conversion rate really is without doing too much research. Again, this is a unique feature but one I’m less excited about overall.
Use the button below to start earning rewards for paying your rent as well as dining, travel, and more.
My Thoughts on Bilt So Far – Pros and Cons
Pro: No annual fee
This one’s simple: with no annual fee to worry about, the Bilt Mastercard instantly becomes easier to recommend.
Con: No welcome bonus (probably)
One of the best parts of applying for new credit cards is getting a sweet welcome bonus. Well, with the Bilt card, you probably won’t enjoy such perks. This could change in the future or you could get a bit of a surprise as I did, but it’s no guarantee.
Pro: Rent payment system works well
I have to say that a major reason why I wanted to get the Bilt card before trying to review is that I wanted to try out the rent payment system for myself. Well, I’m very happy to report that I’ve been impressed with the solution the card came up with. Aside from that micro-deposit hitch, it’s been smooth sailing for me and I love being able to pay with the card while avoiding any fees. This part of the card is a definite win.
Con: Five purchases a month are required to earn
Earning 1x on rent is a cool unique perk of the Bilt Mastercard — but needing to make five purchases per month in order to earn any points during that period is a unique pain. Initially, I thought I might struggle to hit this requirement each month. However, that hasn’t been the case at all as it’s easy to sub in a 3x card for my 4x Amex Gold if the price of the purchases isn’t that high. Still, I do wish this wasn’t even something I needed to worry about at all and I feel others will see things similarly.
Pro: Physical card is metal
When my Bilt card arrived in the mail, I was surprised to learn the card was actually made of metal. Had I known this, I probably would have called it out on my list of such cards. C’est la vie. Anyway, the card isn’t quite as heavy as my Amex Platinum or Karat card, but it feels quite nice nonetheless.
Con: Physical card (seemingly) doesn’t have tap
Just as I was surprised to learn that my card was made of metal, I was perhaps even more surprised when I tried to tap the card for the first time… only for it to not work. Oops. In the many times I’ve tried since, I still haven’t had any luck and, probably more importantly, I don’t see the tap technology logo on the card anywhere. All this leads me to believe it’s not available. So, if you want to be able to use your Bilt card with tap, I’d recommend adding it to Apple Pay or similar wallets.
Pro: 1.25¢ per point with travel portal
Similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Bilt Mastercard gives cardholders the option of increasing their point value by redeeming via a travel portal. In turn, those who use this redemption option exclusively can effectively earn 1.25% back on rent payments, 2.5% back on some travel purchases, and 3.75% back on dining. That’s pretty darn strong for a no annual fee option.
Con: Bad redemption rates on some other options
Outside of the travel portal and transfer partner options, Bilt’s redemption rates are definitely lacking. Redeeming points for future rent payments would seem like a no-brainer for the card, But, by cutting the rate to less than 0.6¢ per point, there’s no way I can recommend that — especially when the travel option literally doubles the value. Meanwhile, the Bilt Collection has some interesting options, although it’s hard to say whether the value on these items is actually any good.
If I could make only one change to the Bilt card, I think I’d have to go with “introduce a 1¢ per point cashback option.” Honestly, I didn’t even realize this wasn’t a thing before applying. So, learn from my mistake and think this one through if travel isn’t your thing.
Final Thoughts on the Bilt Rewards Mastercard
Overall, when it comes to the BIlt Mastercard, I’m of two minds. One of those minds is extremely interested in the concept of the card, impressed with the rental portal, and pleased with rapid-fire additions to the card — including a 1.25¢ per point travel portal redemption option. Yet, my other mind is a bit annoyed by the five transactions requirement, lack of a sign-up bonus, and poor redemption value of non-travel options. So which mind wins out?
Personally, I think the Bilt card makes a lot of sense for me. The ability to pay rent with a card and score rewards earns it a place in my wallet while that travel portal option makes it icing on the cake. And, as for that five transaction nuisance, the other multipliers the card offers make it easy enough to make those transactions without sacrificing much opportunity cost.
For others, the decision to get the card may be more complicated. At the top of the list, those who don’t have rent payments to make should almost assuredly skip this one. Additionally, if you don’t plan on using your points for travel, then you’re not going to be getting very good value from this card either. And, if you’re a welcome bonus hunter, I’m sure you’ve already stopped reading about two dozen paragraphs ago.
Ultimately, the Bilt Rewards Mastercard is a fascinating card and I’m excited to see how it develops. On top of that, the card in its current form could be a good pick for the right person. Yet, the card isn’t for everyone — so don’t be too wooed by its unique aspects and be sure to really take a look at what it offers before jumping on board.
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Also published on Medium.