Finding out the MCC (Merchant Category Code) is paramount to determining whether you receive your cashback or miles. Visa’s latest tool goes a long way in making this nigh impossible task a thing of the past.
Regardless of whether you play for team miles or team cashback, there’s a little four digit code that’s the all-important arbiter of whether you earn your rewards: the MCC (Merchant Category Code).
MCCs are used to classify the nature of a particular merchant’s business. For example, Crystal Jade would use MCC 5812 (Eating Places and Restaurants), while Harvey Norman would use MCC 5732 (Electronics Sales).
Hotels.com would use MCC 4722 (Travel Agencies and Tour Operators), while Adidas would use MCC 5655 (Sports Apparel).
MCCs matter because banks rely on them when awarding category spending bonuses. To illustrate, the OCBC 365 Cashback Card awards 3per cent cashback on groceries.
How does OCBC know when you made a groceries transaction? It looks at the MCC, and if it sees MCC 5411 (Grocery Stores), you’ll be awarded the bonus cashback (subject to other conditions like minimum spend and caps, of course).
Banks don’t just use MCCs to determine which transactions earn bonus rewards. They use them to decide which transactions earn no rewards at all. For example, most banks exclude MCC 9399 (Government Services) and MCC 6300 (Insurance) from earning credit card rewards, on account of these merchants paying lower than usual processing fees.
What’s the problem with MCCs?
The problem with MCCs is that they’re completely opaque from the consumer’s point of view.
Search the merchant’s website, and I guarantee you won’t find the MCC listed. Ask a cashier what the MCC is, and you’re likely to be met with a blank look. The only way to learn this is by calling your bank after the transaction has been posted to your account, or scour the internet hoping some kind-hearted soul has posted their experience.
Otherwise, you’re groping in the dark, and this has the potential to create some major anxiety. Case in point: suppose you’re taking the office for a Chinese New Year lunch at Yan Ting, a pricey Cantonese restaurant at the St Regis Hotel. You’re about to pay the (sizeable) bill, but what card should you use?
If Yan Ting codes as a restaurant, you might use your Maybank Horizon Visa Signature to earn 3.2 miles per dollar.
But if Yan Ting codes as a hotel (because it’s part of St Regis), using the Maybank Horizon Visa Signature would earn a paltry 0.4 miles per dollar. The difference of 2.8 miles per dollar, multiplied over a big ticket purchase… I wouldn’t want to be in that position!
But thankfully, you don’t need to be anymore.
Visa supplier locator
The Visa supplier locator is an online tool that painstakingly indexes each and every Visa-accepting merchant. This tool was previously only available in the USA, but has recently been expanded to cover Singapore as well.
All you need to do is provide it with a location and merchant name. It’ll then trawl through its database and show you potential hits, together with the MCC.
To illustrate, suppose I want to buy some ChopeDeals vouchers, but don’t know which card I should be using. I’ll just enter ‘Singapore’ in the location field, and ‘Chope’ in the supplier name field.
Voila! Chope’s MCC is 5812 (Eating Places and Restaurants), which means you could maximise your rewards by using:
- HSBC Revolution: 4 miles per dollar
- UOB Lady’s Card: 4 miles per dollar (must declare ‘dining’ as quarterly bonus category)
- Citi Cash Back Card: 6per cent cashback (subject to minimum spend)
- UOB YOLO Card: 8per cent cashback (subject to minimum spend, for weekends only)
Or perhaps you’re about to buy a laptop at Inforcom, and think it might be a good idea to use your OCBC Titanium Rewards Card. After all, it earns 4 miles per dollar on electronics purchases, right?
Perhaps not. All of Inforcom’s stores code as MCC 5734 (Computer Services). As per the OCBC Titanium Reward’s terms and conditions, only transactions made at MCC 5732 (Electronics Stores) earn 4 miles per dollar. This simple check could have saved you a whole bunch of buyer’s regret!
I could go on and on, but I hope these use cases are painfully clear to you. You could use the Visa Supplier Locator to look up e-commerce merchants, clinics, educational institutions, department stores, restaurants, you name it.
This takes the guesswork out of what card to use, and will help you maximize your rewards, regardless of miles or cashback.
While the Visa Supplier Locator is indeed useful, you’ll sometimes need to exercise common sense when interpreting the results. For example, suppose you’re looking up Deliveroo’s MCC. The results show four possible listings:
Deliveroo can’t possibly be coding as MCC 4215 (Courier/Shipping Servies/Freight). Instead, it’s much more likely to be MCC 5812 (Restaurants and Bars). My theory is that MCC 4215 comes in when restaurants make payment to Deliveroo; from their point of view, Deliveroo is acting as a shipping service of sorts.
If your first hit doesn’t generate results, you may need to get a bit creative with the search terms. Suppose I want to look up the MCC of cleaning service Helpling. Entering ‘Helpling’ in the search field yields nothing:
So I try ‘Helpling Singapore’, and like magic, the results appear.
Obviously, I can’t tell you whether this will work in every individual scenario, but it does mean you might want to try different permutations if you can’t find what you want at first.
The Visa Supplier Locator adds a much-needed dose of transparency for consumers in Singapore. Never again will you need to ‘pay and pray’, hoping that your transaction will code the way you think it might.
So invest some time playing around with the interface and looking up your most-visited merchants. Then pair it with the right cards, and watch the rewards come piling in.
This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg.