Published on January 27th, 2017 | by sirtheta89
Redeeming Merrill Points: A Guide
In the comments of our posts about the Merrill+ Visa Signature card, and elsewhere on the interwebs, there’s a lot of confusion about how the card works & how you redeem for airfare. To top that off, there is an abundance of incorrect information out there (including my original post on Reddit and here on DOC) because the way rewards work changed in 2016. (I believe—as I recall, the benefits guide I referred to when writing my post was from 2015, and DOC has covered Merrill Points for a while). Rather a rarity, the changes made to the Merrill Points program were extremely good.
This is a guide to help people understand how redeeming Merrill Points works, as well as the current state of the program. For the sake of completion, it is rather long & can be skimmed.
You can read our review of the Merrill+ here.
You redeem points via the Merrill+ portal, which can be accessed in two ways: (a) signing in to Bank of America online banking, selecting your Merrill+, going to the rewards tab, and selecting “Redeem Points”, or (b) going to the website and signing in to your Bank of America account by selecting “Merrill+” from the “Sign in to your account” dropdown menu.
There are three categories of redemptions: (a) Travel, through the Merrill Lynch Travel Center, whose backend is Orbitz – “redeem for air travel, hotel stays, car rentals, and more”, (b) Cash, through calling 1 (800) 419-0000 – “Redeem points for cash back into a Merrill Lynch CMA, Bank of America checking or savings account, or statement credit”, (c) Gift cards, through the Merrill Lynch Gift Card Center – “Redeem for gift cards from your favorite merchants”. In all but one case, these options convert your points to cash at a rate of 1 ¢ (or worse, in the case of $25 gift cards – 0.91 ¢). For example, it is possible to redeem points through the Travel Center at a rate of 1 ¢ for anything, including airfare. I will forego discussion of these options so that we can get into the redemption option that everyone actually cares about.
Anytime, Anywhere™ Air Rewards
The exception to this rule, and the major draw of the Merrill+, is Anytime, Anywhere Air Rewards, with which you can redeem 25,000 points for a ticket that is up to $500 in value (inclusive of taxes & fees). Prior to 2016, these rewards were limited to major carriers (American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and British Airways) and other carriers started at 30,000 points, which is why you may see that stated by as august a source as Bank of America’s website. A quick reference of the 2016 Benefits Guide, however, shows that Anytime, Anywhere Air Rewards on all available carriers start at 25,000 points.
Depending on where you are flying to & from, available carriers may include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin America. Domestic & international redemptions are possible, making a complete listing of available carriers infeasible—I see 15 unmentioned available carriers for a JFK-CDG route. All of them are 25,000 points for up to a $500 ticket. (I have no points left, so the Travel Center only shows me the cash price – thanks to u/mat_red for confirming this for me). Reader Noah was told that all but four (4) airlines are available: Southwest, Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit.
How Does “25,000 points for up to a $500 ticket” Work?
Some examples to make this clear are in order. I selected weekdays in mid-March to come up with prices.
- Round-Trip Tickets
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $244.90 economy class ticket from BWI–CLT–BWI on American.
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $270.40 business class from DCA–JFK–DCA on Delta.
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $378.40 economy class ticket from IAD–LAX–IAD on United.
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $466.40 economy class ticket from IAD–CUN–IAD on United.
- One-Way Tickets
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $294.94 business class ticket from BWI–ATL–MEX on Delta.
- You can redeem 25,000 points for a $420.44 business class ticket from BWI–CLT–DFW–MEX on American.
Hopefully these examples are sufficient demonstration: a ticket is a ticket, whether it be round-trip, one-way, multi-city, or even one leg of a longer trip that you are booking part of elsewhere. Two tickets is not a ticket, so two one-way tickets eat up 25,000 points each.
What About Tickets Over $500?
Prior to 2016, the way tickets over $500 worked was stupidly complex. You can read one of the links in the introduction if you want to figure out how they worked. The new way this works is very simple: if you want to book a ticket over $500 with points, any amount over $500 must be paid for with points at a rate of 1 ¢. $600 ticket? 25,000 points covers the first $500, leaving $100, which adds 10,000 points for a total of 35,000 points.
The best part about tickets slightly or greatly over $500 is that you may not have enough points to cover them, but that’s okay! You can pay the remainder in cash. Want to book a $600 flight, but only have 26,000 points? That covers $510 and you can put the remaining $90 on any damn credit card you like—including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, where it codes as travel.
nota bene: I have noticed a discrepancy in the way this is supposed to work. From all the fares I have been able to check via other screenshots, you actually get up to a $510 ticket for 25,500 points—if the ticket is over $500. You can run your own calculation on the second screenshot below. I do not know whether this is intentional, nor whether this carries through when proceeding to the review & booking screen. If I recall correctly, no point or cash amounts changed for me when booking two over-$500 flights, which would mean that it does carry through to the review & booking screen.
How is the Merrill Lynch Travel Center?
There are two reasons you might ask this question: (a) does it have the same prices as elsewhere? or (b) is it easy to use? I would give a resounding yes to both questions. It uses Orbitz for its backend and is no different from any other flight aggregator in that regard. And the user interface is very well done; I like it better than Google Flights because all of the parameters are exposed instead of hidden in drop-downs.
Especially useful is the grid of airlines & stops at top. You can click on “Delta Air Lines” to filter the results to just Delta. You can click on “Non-Stop” to filter the results to just non-stop flights. And you can click “$1,041.44” at the intersection of “Delta Air Lines” and “Non-Stop” to filter the results to just non-stop Delta flights. Primo.
The Merrill+ is a fantastic card, and once you understand how redemption works, it’s a no-brainer. If you have any further questions about redemption, drop them below!
Q. JP: So I can’t have two tickets whether one way or RT in one booking? This is good for only “one, uno, single” ticket each time you want to use 25k points?
A. You can book multiple tickets in a single booking, but they will cost 25,000 points each (for up to a $500 ticket). I booked two round-trip tickets that cost $522.21 each using my signup bonus, spending points, and a $2.43 charge to my CSR.
Q. Alejandro: If I wanted to get two tickets (one for me and one for someone else), am I able to do that? Or can I only get tickets in my name?
A. You can buy tickets for anyone you please; as with any travel portal or airline website, you can enter their information on the booking screen. I do not know if you can complete a booking using points for some tickets and cash for others (i.e. 4x $400 tickets, using 2x 25,000 points and 2x $400 for booking).