Grab

What happens when there’s no more credit card rewards for GrabPay top-ups?

It's surely only a matter of time before all credit cards stop rewarding GrabPay top-ups. What happens then?

Late last week, the IUCN updated its list of critically endangered species. At the top of the list:

  1. Hawksbill turtle
  2. Amur leopard
  3. Sumatran rhinoceros
  4. Recording devices at SCCCI events
  5. Points for GrabPay top-ups

What’s the difference between the hawksbill turtle and points for GrabPay top-ups? The turtle has a greater chance of surviving 2020.

The current state of affairs

Back in December 2019, AMEX and Mastercard changed the MCC for GrabPay top-ups to 6540. 6540 designates a stored value facility, which meant a whole swathe of cards ceased awarding points or cashback for top-ups overnight.

Example of exclusions list from UOB

In a way, this just continues the general trend we’ve seen over the past couple of years. One by one, banks have either explicitly or implicitly excluded GrabPay top-ups from earning rewards.

Off the top of my head, the DBS Woman’s World Card did away with this at the start of 2019. The BOC Elite Miles World Mastercard followed a couple months later. UOB killed it on the PRVI Miles Mastercard and AMEX on 30 November 2019 (jumping the gun really, because of the MCC changes in December). Come March 2020, we’ll lose rewards on the UOB One and American Express credit cards.

As it stands, the only cards that earn points for top-ups will be:

Visa still uses MCC 7399 (Business Services Not Elsewhere Classified) for GrabPay top-ups, but don’t count on this staying the same for long

Now, it clearly makes sense to use a specialized spending card to top-up your GrabPay account. After all, that’s how you turn a general spending situation into a specialized spending one. You normally can’t earn 4 mpd at the dentist, but you could by topping up your GrabPay account with the Citi Rewards Visa and paying with your GrabPay Mastercard .

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But it can also make sense to use a general spending card to top-up your GrabPay account, in certain cases. Perhaps you’re at a hawker stall which has a GrabPay QR code but no other cashless payments. Perhaps you’re making an insurance or government payment which will not earn any points on your credit card. Topping up your GrabPay balance with a credit card and then spending it allows you to at least earn some rewards on these transactions.

You only earn points with AMEX cards till 1 Mar 20, and the Platinum earn rate drops to 4 points per S$1 from 2 Mar 20. Let the good times roll.

In any case, GrabPay and credit cards are not either/or propositions, for now. That’s to say, I could earn both credit card points for topping up my account, and GrabRewards points when I spend my balance.

What happens when the music stops?

GrabPay and credit cards are not either/or propositions for now, but it’d take a brave man to predict the status quo continuing.

At first glance, it may seem confusing why banks are cutting off points for GrabPay top-ups. After all, unlike charity or government entities, Grab doesn’t enjoy a discounted MDR (merchant discount rate) on its transactions. The bank still earns whenever customers use their cards for GrabPay top-ups, so what’s not to like?

But there’s much more to a transaction than just the MDR. Data is equally valuable, if not more so. When you spend on your credit card, the bank collects information about your spending habits and preferences, which can be used for targeted promotions. You like to spend on dining? Great, we’ll push you additional dining deals. You frequently use your card overseas? OK, here’s an offer for travel insurance.

When you use your credit card to top-up a GrabPay account, all the bank knows is that you really like GrabPay. It’s a black box, and the bank loses out on data it would otherwise be collecting.

Moreover, the general principle for banks has all along been to award points for retail transactions. Topping up a prepaid account (even if it’s subsequently used for retail spending) doesn’t count, so a better question might be “why have banks awarded points on GrabPay top-ups for so long?” (not that anyone minds, I’m sure)

Therefore, points for GrabPay top-ups are living on borrowed time, and when the music stops, I don’t think it’ll bode well for Grab.

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Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that one day, all the banks stop issuing any sort of rewards for GrabPay top-ups. No miles, no points, no cashback, whether you’re using a generalized or specialized spending card.

Suppose you’re at a merchant which accepts credit cards or GrabPay. What would you do?

Well, you’d ask yourself: What do I get when I spent S$1 on my credit card, versus through GrabPay?

Credit Card GrabPay
Until 2 Mar 20 From 2 Mar 20
Rewards per S$1 1.1-4.0 mpd 5-10 points  2-4 points
Effective MPD 1.1-4.0 mpd 0.53-1.14 mpd  0.21-0.46 mpd
Effective Rebate ~2-7% ~1-2% ~0.4-0.8%

As you can see, the math does not favor GrabPay. With a credit card, you could earn anywhere from 1.1 to 4.0 mpd, depending on the merchant and card. With GrabPay, you’d earn 0.53 to 1.14 mpd until 2 March 2020, then a paltry 0.21-0.46 mpd after thanks to the upcoming GrabRewards devaluation.

All this while, GrabPay has been a beneficiary of the banks’ willingness to extend rewards to top-ups. If I can double dip on credit card and GrabRewards points, why not?

But take away the double dip, and it’s not even a contest- from a rebates point of view, there’s no compelling reason to use GrabPay when credit cards are also accepted.

The only exception is a scenario where GrabPay earns points, but credit cards don’t. GrabRewards has its own list of exclusion categories, but for the moment it still rewards certain transactions that most cards don’t, like government and education payments. I imagine the GrabRewards exclusion list will grow wider over time, so we may see this advantage eroded away too.

Current GrabRewards exclusion categories 
  • PayPal
  • EZ-Link App
  • Public Transport (Bus/MRT)
  • POI Funding Transactions
  • For Security Brokers/Dealers
  • Miscellaneous personal services
  • Financial Services
  • Insurance (except for any insurance plans purchased on Grab)
  • Wire Transfer
  • Business services not elsewhere classified
  • Money Send/Money Send intercountry
  • ATM Withdrawals

What can Grab do?

Where does that leave Grab and GrabPay?

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GrabRewards is simply not strong enough to take on the bank rewards programs, and things will only get worse from 2 March 2020 when the GrabRewards devaluation comes into effect. With earn rates getting slashed by up to 60% and award prices hiked by almost 40%, any reasonably-informed consumer would think twice about using GrabPay.

It follows that Grab needs to dramatically enhance the value of GrabPay should all double dipping opportunities be nerfed. I assume they’re not backtracking on the devaluation, so could we see…

  • Grab offering bonus credits for top-ups, e.g S$105 of value when you top up S$100?
  • Grab offering bonus points for top-ups, e.g 100 bonus GrabRewards points for a $100, top-up, on top of points from spending said balance?

Grab’s actually tried the former before, back in 2017. It has to be said that GrabPay usage has grown exponentially since then, so this would presumably be a lot more expensive to implement now. The latter model was a favourite of the now-defunct Mileslife, which saw it as a way of building up working capital and locking in future patronage.

Word on the street is that GrabPay recently increased its merchant fee from 0.8% to 1%- could this be a precursor to more incentives for GrabPay usage?

Conclusion

It’s a bit telling that 1 out of every 5 questions I get is “Does Card X earn points on GrabPay top-ups?” Such is the attractiveness of double dipping opportunities, and the uncertainty that they’ll continue.

For now, there’s absolutely no reason not to use GrabPay. The GrabRewards nerf will destroy a lot of value, but it’s still something incremental on top of credit card points, the icing on the cake if you will.

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The bigger question is what happens when (and it is when, not if) banks decide to close shop on GrabPay top-ups. What’s the use case for GrabPay then?

Make hay.

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Adam
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Adam

Another possible use case, with forex fees getting higher and higher, is to use Grabpay Mastercard abroad. I wonder how that would work on a cpm basis. Unfortunately the GPMC to multi currency card hack has been nerfed, so no more earning 4mpd plus mid market exchange rates on foreign currency transactions.

CS Tan
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CS Tan

Interesting that GrabPay doesn’t enjoy MDR but they only charge 0.8-1% at the other end. What’s the business model for GrabPay then? Are they losing money on every transaction? They probably earn from having the idle cash but I doubt that covers the spread.

AED
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AED

Another reason why banks don’t like to reward GP topup:
As with all stored value / prepaid cards, it’s vulnerable to churning / MS
Hence you are right, it’s just a matter of time

Powell
Guest
Powell

Churning doesn’t matter as long as banks get their fee.

As long as they get their 1-2% they’ll be happy. The more you churn the more profit they get.

Churning only becomes a problem when say the merchant in question pay less or doesn’t pay at all.

phister
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phister

Surely at least one of the ex-MBB/M&A/Corp Strat guys they hired must have seen the mass exodus coming. Really curious as to their gameplan for making money going forward because I’m sure as hell not getting any insurance from them…

Barry Allen
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Barry Allen

There are less astute people out there who might! Just like how people use Citi Rewards card for their general spend.

CJ
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CJ

I would advise against massive topping up grabpay wallet as they are likely to run promos like Aaron mentioned once the incentive to top up by card is removed.

Joshosaurus Rex
Guest

Haha, love the IUCN reference.

But when the time comes, it’s nice knowing you, GrabPay. It was great while it lasted.

Jack
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Jack

I still get point paying thru pypal

K Tong
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K Tong

I believe Amex CashBack card will still rebate you 1.5% for topping up GrabPay after March. If I am not wrong Aaron actually mentioned it in his other article on Amex cards.

Flyfox
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Flyfox

Hi Aaron can I confirm that we still earn 3.2mpd for Maybank horizon visa?

PC
Guest
PC

Hi Aaron, regarding using specialised vs general spending cards to top up GrabPay, could you elaborate on why one would choose to use a general spending card if one can use a specialised card? Since payment will be made out of the same GrabPay account anyway, it makes more sense to use a specialised card to maximise the benefits one can get, right? Please correct me if I have misunderstood. Thanks!

PC
Guest
PC

Another grey area: what if one does not top up the GrabPay wallet, but spends directly from the credit card via GrabPay? Will this continue to earn rewards even after GrabPay wallet top ups (which can be likened to EZLink top ups) are excluded? Looking at the new terms for UOB One, it seems that GrabPay wallet top ups are excluded but spending directly from credit card via GrabPay isn’t. This could work out, especially since I never really saw much point in storing value in the GrabPay wallet unless the aim is to frontload future purchases and earn rewards/miles… Read more »

CJ
Guest
CJ

How do you pay directly from credit card via GrabPay?

PC
Guest
PC

Just link the credit card to GrabPay and set the primary mode of payment as the credit card instead of the GrabPay wallet. By definition, this is still considered using GrabPay as it is a cashless transaction routed through Grab, just not using the GrabPay wallet.

PC
Guest
PC

https://www.grab.com/sg/pay/

Scroll down to read the FAQ on the difference between GrabPay and GrabPay wallet.

CJ
Guest
CJ

Thanks! But that only applies to payment for grab offerings like rides and food. If you pay at grabpay merchants by scanning the QR code I don’t think you will be able to select payment via credit card.

Btw, has anyone tried the pay later function? Will points be awarded for that?

hwf
Guest
hwf

Hi Aaron,
I thought that Grabpay top ups were excluded from DBS Altitude cards based on the T&Cs here (no reward points for top-ups to prepaid accounts), or have you seen otherwise? https://www.dbs.com.sg/iwov-resources/pdf/cards/dbs_rewards_programme_tnc.pdf
Also, does Grabpay qualify for 10X points for Citibank Rewards? Again, doesn’t seem so from Citibank T&Cs https://www.citibank.com.sg/global_docs/pdf/Citi_Rewards_Card_10X_Rewards_Promotion_Terms_and_Conditions.pdf

K
Guest
K

No points Eunice.

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