One of the biggest headaches in the miles game is figuring out a transaction’s all-important Merchant Category Code (MCC). This can be the difference between earning a ton of miles, or walking away empty-handed.
The problem is: MCCs are often opaque to the customer, at least prior to spending. Cardholders therefore have to rely on community-sourced data points (which are far from comprehensive) or test small transactions (if that’s even possible).
Opaque MCCs make spending a gamble. Should you try for 4 mpd with a specialised spending card and pray the MCC comes out right? Or play it safe with a general spending card and a more muted 1.2-1.6 mpd? Is the MCC even eligible for rewards in the first place?
But there’s another way.
Checking MCCs through DBS
I previously wrote about how the DBS digibot can be used to check MCCs for transactions charged to DBS cards. However, you can only do this after the fact. In other words, you have to spend first, then make an enquiry about the transaction.
Or do you? What if I told you there’s a way to confirm MCCs before paying?
The first step is to temporarily block a DBS card via the DBS digibank app. You can do this by tapping More on the bottom right hand corner, then scrolling down until you see Payment Controls.
Select the card you wish to use, then toggle the card lock option.
Now go to the merchant and swipe your locked card (or enter your details online, as the case may be). The transaction will fail since your card is locked. That’s exactly what we want to happen.
Return to the DBS digibank app or login to DBS ibanking and summon the digibot (for the app, tap the question mark on the top right corner and scroll down to tap “ask digibot”, for desktop, click the icon at the bottom right corner).
Navigate to Check My Recent Transactions > Credit Cards > Select the card you used > View Transaction History > Declined Transactions
You’ll then see your failed transaction, together with the MCC! You can match the description to the 4-digit code in this file if necessary.
Now that you know it, you can proceed to unblock the card and make the transaction for real (or use a different bank’s card, whichever is more suitable).
Here’s a recent use case: the MileLioness has a five-digit dental course to pay for. I was toying with the idea of using this to hit a sign-up bonus for a CIMB card, but now that I’ve confirmed the MCC belongs to Schools & Educational Services, I know I’ll need to use an American Express or Maybank card if I want to get any points.
Remember: this doesn’t just work for online transactions. You can do the same thing for a brick-and-mortar merchant, provided you don’t feel embarrassed when your card is declined the first time (oh, how did that happen?).
And, you know, step aside while you do your checks. Don’t hold up the queue.
By using DBS Payment Controls and the DBS digibot, anyone with a DBS/POSB card can check MCCs without needing to spend a single cent, which should hopefully avoid any costly miles mistakes. Once you’ve confirmed the MCC, you can use whichever card you think is best.
It may not be worth doing all the steps for a small transaction, but I know I’d definitely make the effort for a big ticket purchase.