Sam’s Club® Mastercard® review: Cash back for filling up

Family standing nearby and thinking about the Sam's Club Mastercard as smiling mother handing credit card to cashier at grocery store.Image: Family standing nearby and thinking about the Sam's Club Mastercard as smiling mother handing credit card to cashier at grocery store.

In a Nutshell

The Sam’s Club® Mastercard® offers high cash back rates. But the card is only worth getting if you’re already a regular Sam’s Club shopper.
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Pros Cons
5% cash back on gas purchases (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%) Earned rewards can only be redeemed at Sam’s Club
3% cash back on dining purchases Sam’s Club membership required
1% cash back on all other purchases  

Core features of the Sam’s Club® Mastercard®

Cash back categories

The high point of the Sam’s Club® Mastercard® is the whopping 5% cash back earned for gas purchases at Sam’s Club and Walmart gas stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and at other eligible gas stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. But you can only earn that 5% rate on the first $6,000 you spend on gas each year. After that cap, you’ll only earn 1% cash back on those eligible gas purchases. With the average American household spending about $2,000 on gas in a year, the purchase cap doesn’t seem like a major drawback.

Purchases on dining can also earn cardholders 3% cash back, which is similar to earning rates for comparable credit cards.

Redeeming your earned rewards

There’s at least one major drawback of the Sam’s Club® Mastercard®: Your redemption options are limited. Very limited. You’ll receive your rewards once a year to spend only at Sam’s Club.

Cash back rewards begin being issued in February for the previous year’s earned rewards. Those rewards are automatically loaded onto your Sam’s Club membership and can only be used at a Sam’s Club location. It’s a clever maneuver by Sam’s Club to encourage you to spend more in store.

One more thing worth mentioning: There’s a cap on earned rewards. You can only earn a maximum of $5,000 in one calendar year. This probably won’t be a deal-breaker — unless you plan to spend well into six figures on this card each year, as that’s what it would take to be limited by the cap.

Annual fee vs. membership fee

Sam’s Club® Mastercard® advertises that there’s no annual fee, which is sort of true. While there’s technically no annual fee on the card, applicants must have a Sam’s Club membership in order to be approved for and use it. An annual membership costs $45 for Sam’s Club members and $100 for Sam’s Club Plus members.

By applying for the card, you might be able to get most of your Sam’s Club membership fee covered for the first year. That’s because it’s common to see sign-up bonuses that offer a statement credit offsetting the Sam’s Club membership cost. In fact, for a limited time, when you open a Sam’s Club® Mastercard® account online and make an eligible $30 purchase at the same day you open the account, you could earn a $30 statement credit.

Landing a sign-up bonus like that is a practical way to dodge fees for the first year — just be sure to pay attention to the details of any sign-up bonus offer, like the date the offer ends.

What else you should know about the Sam’s Club® Mastercard®

  • It has a variable purchase APR of 14.9% to 22.9%
  • Your Sam’s Club® Mastercard® doubles as your Sam’s Club membership card, so no need to juggle cards when entering or paying at the store
  • Rewards cash is only paid out if the account and club membership are in good standing, so if you plan to cancel your membership, wait until you receive your rewards check to do so

Who this card is good for

The Sam’s Club® Mastercard® offers pretty good cash back rates for gas and dining. Getting 5% cash back on gas purchases at eligible gas stations is a huge perk — the daily hustle and bustle that drains your tank can earn you high rewards.

The lack of options to redeem your rewards can leave consumers with much to be desired. If you’re a die-hard Sam’s Club fan, this card could work for you. But if deciding when and where you use your earned rewards is a must-have, then you can cross the Sam’s Club® Mastercard off your list.

Not sure this is the card for you? Consider these alternatives.

  • Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: This card is good for frequent shoppers who love wholesale clubs and want more redemption flexibility.
  • Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: This card is a good option for people who want to earn cash back with a $0 annual fee. Check out the available categories in our review.

About the author: Sarah Schaut is a Canadian living in sunny Florida. She’s an economic crimes detective at a city police department and an expert in credit, fraud and mortgages. Read more.