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Wells Fargo introduced its new Autograph Card this month. It’s an above-average product but not best in class. What’s struck me most about it is that Wells Fargo is making marketing claims that just seem wrong – and that actually undersell other products they have in the process.
The no annual fee Autograph card offers,
- Initial bonus: 30,000 points after $1,500 spend in first 3 months
- 3x earning: dining, travel (including transit and gas), streaming services, and phone plans [1x everywhere else]
- Redemption: points are worth 1 cent apiece with redemptions in $25 increments ($20 at Wells Fargo ATMs)
These are nice 3x categories, but it’s basically a cash back card with minimums to cash out. You’ll never get better than 3% back on any of your spend. That’s better than a 1% card, and it has no annual fee, so a lot of consumers out in the world would do better with this card than they already have. But it’s hardly top of market.
So here’s what I see in an ad when I Google the card:
Wells Fargo claims Autograph is their “best points card ever.” I’m surprised their lawyers allowed the claim, because it’s so obviously not accurate.
- The Autograph card is basically the old Wells Fargo Propel card but running on the Visa network instead of American Express. The Propel World card used to come with baggage and trip delay; trip cancellation and interruption; return protection and extended warranty and more.
- The most direct comparison for Autograph at Wells Fargo would be to their Active Cash card which is a no annual fee 2% back card on everything. Autograph has some nice 3x categories, but that’s not obviously better than 2% across the board (just ask Capital One!). Active Cash is probably the more lucrative standalone card, and one of the best cash back cards.
- Wells wants to call Autograph a points card, rather than cash back, putting it in a different category from Active Cash. Sure, they’re bonusing travel spend, but it’s not a points card the way we usually think of those. There’s no elevated redemption option for travel and no transfers to other points programs. Instead you redeem points for cash, or for other options like merchandise. Yet even on that technicality the claim doesn’t hold water.
Let’s grant them that they’re trying to define Autograph as a ‘points card’ and not claiming it’s their best cash back card ever (even though that’s really how to think about the Autograph card).
Do the Wells Fargo marketing people not realize they have a much better actual points card than Autograph right now? Wells Fargo issues the Bilt Mastercard.
- Bilt has 3x points-earning too (dining) as well as 2x points-earning (travel) also at no annual fee, with richer protections like trip delay and cancellation; primary rental car collision damage waiver (versus secondary with Autograph)
- More importantly it’s going to earn far more points for most cardmembers than Autograph will – certainly for anyone who rents rather than owns their home, and especially as consumers keep and use the card year after year.
The Bilt Mastercard lets cardmembers earn 1 point per dollar spent on rent at no cost. It’s the biggest expense item for most people who rent, and the Autograph card will generally earn zero points for that spending while the Bilt card earns up to 100,000 points per year. Bilt will earn more points for most than Autograph will.
- An Autograph point can be cashed out at a penny apiece. In contrast I’ve valued Bilt points at 1.7 cents each (others like The Points Guy use a higher value) thanks to Bilt’s valuable transfer partners like American AAdvantage, United MileagePlus, World of Hyatt and more.
I still can get 8 to 10 cents per point or more in value against the retail cost of a ticket when redeeming transferred points for international business class travel, and I use Hyatt points on especially expensive hotel nights and for the kind of suites you won’t be getting with points off a cash back card that earns 1% on much of your spend.
Bilt also offers spending points through their travel portal at 1.25 cents apiece which, while not how I prefer to use points, is still 25% more value than straight 1% redemption value. Bilt’s points are worth more than Autograph’s.
At the end of the day, Wells has a card that earns points in a category no one else can match (rent) that’s the biggest expense item for most customers who spend in the category. Each of their points is far more flexible and worth more. And somehow it’s the Autograph card Wells Fargo is spending money to shout from the rooftops as their best points card ever. What could possibly be going on here?
- Big bank marketing claims go through extensive legal review. This isn’t a claim Wells Fargo is making lightly, but I’m trying mightily to make sense of it. I’m confident they’re well-meaning here, but that makes this even more of a mystery.
- Wells Fargo has one of the best, most innovative products that’s been introduced in the last year in the Bilt Mastercard. That’s a real coup for Wells because until now the bank hasn’t been a player or even competitive in the ‘points’ space.
- Maybe it’s just so new to them (their launch party was just in March) that their executives don’t actually realize what they have? Perhaps marketing and legal just don’t know they have a much better card than the one they’re promoting as their best?
Regardless of the reason, the consequence is the same: Wells Fargo is advertising in a way that points customers in the wrong direction, that will earn many consumers fewer points and deliver less value. And that’s not something Wells Fargo wants to do as it builds its reputation in consumer cards.
Wells already has the very best no annual fee consumer points card offered by any bank in their portfolio. Think of it as Chase Sapphire Preferred but without the annual fee and better transfer partners too – that earns points on rent at no charge, but doesn’t offer a signup bonus. Too bad the card is a well-kept secret even inside their own bank!