Wells Fargo Bank has introduced a credit card that rewards small- business owners with air miles for making purchases on the card. But there is some question whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
Employees using the BusinessMiles MasterCard will earn points for round- trip travel on most commercial flights in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, Wells Fargo said. One account will be used to track all the miles earned by each card issued to a particular business.
Lucy Reid, senior vice president in the business banking group, said Wells Fargo is the only bank in the country to offer small businesses a credit card that accumulates air miles.
Business owners can use their miles to order airline tickets issued in the name of anyone they choose or themselves. The bank would not say how it calculates air miles earned.
The program has had pilot tests in California, and the San Francisco- based bank said it will be offered nationally sometime this month.
"Although others have tried this, Wells Fargo is the largest and has the clout to make it successful," said David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif.-based industry newsletter. He noted that Wells Fargo "has over 25,000 merchant clients," many of which are small businesses.
Mr. Robertson said that "with small businesses, you're selling to an entity that has a combination of consumer and corporate personality. You're appealing to personal benefits, and that adds to the marketability of the card."
But Stan Dale, editor of the Phoenix-based newsletter Mileage and Points, cast a wary eye at the Wells Fargo offering.
"It's better than nothing, but I wouldn't encourage small businesses to drop what they're doing and call Wells Fargo to get it. There are better ways to get miles," Mr. Dale said.
"The cost of the card is very steep," he continued, citing its $55 annual fee, combined with a yearly $50 membership charge. "The interest rate is also high, around 19.8%, plus the award schedule is very limited."
The Wells Fargo BusinessMiles MasterCard comes with an annual mileage cap of 180,000 per business, or 60,000 per card.
Miles will not be earned for cash advances, balance transfers, finance charges, travelers checks, bank fees, and unauthorized charges due to lost or stolen cards.
"You'd have to spend about $4,000 just to break even on the value of the card," said Mr. Dale.
Wells Fargo, in a press release announcing the card, would not reveal its interest rate. When asked to explain why small businesses would want this card, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined comment.
Most frequent-flier programs, designed for consumers, award tickets at the 20,000-to-25,000 level.
But with the Wells Fargo BusinessMiles MasterCard, "at 25,000, you can just get coach travel within the U.S.," said Mr. Dale, "while Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean require 35,000, and Alaska and Hawaii take 45,000. Plus these tickets are nonrefundable, require a Saturday night stay," and have to be purchased 21 days in advance.