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Merrill Lynch Octave: A ‘black’ card with 5% unlimited rewards possible?

by on Tue January 27, 2015 • 5 Comments

Users on FlyerTalk are reporting that The Merrill Lynch Octave American Express Card is a new, invitation only card from Merrill Lynch for its highest net worth clients ($10 million in assets with Merrill Lynch).

Here are some of the benefit highlights:

  • Earn 2.5 points per dollar on all spending
  • $950 (!!) annual fee
  • $350 annual travel credit OR Delta SkyClub Executive membership
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% off the base fare of up to 2 roundtrip coach tickets per itinerary
  • Select international first / business class fare discounts
  • Premium concierge


While it looks like the Centurion Black Card from American Express, its benefits are more in line with the less exclusive JP Morgan Palladium Card, which makes sense since American Express is the network on this card, and they are unlikely to allow a true competitor to the Centurion ride on its rails.

And there are cheaper ways to get SkyClub access and an annual travel credit like The Platinum Card from American Express, though the Ocatve’s SkyClub membership is at the Executive Level, which allows you to bring 2 guests. The Platinum Card’s version requires you pay $29 per guest.

The point earning and rewards

The earning is the intriguing part if you want the simplicity of one high earning card with no hassle basic flight rewards.

The 2.5 points per dollar actually understates the power of the card.

That’s because the Merrill Lynch Rewards program lets you use 25,000 points for up to $500 in airfare on American, British Airways, Delta, or United flights, or $0.02 per point if you redeem for a flight of exactly $500.

So this is up to a 5% reward card on all of your spending if you use it to redeem for airfare and hit the $500 mark on your tickets.

Tickets higher than $500 can be redeemed at a rate of 2,500 points = an additional $25, or $0.01 per point, so you lose value as you book more expensive tickets. There is also a 5,000 point surcharge for reservations made within 21 days of departure.

You can travel on other airlines at a rate of 30,000 points = $500 in airfare, so the maximum value there is 1.67 cents per point, or just over 4% in reward value on card spending. And you can add to your airfare at the same 2,500 points = $25 rate.

Is it worth it?

The annual travel credit  brings the annual fee effectively down to $600 a year, which is pretty steep.

Merrill Lynch offers another card, the MERRILL+ Visa, which has the same rewards program, but with only 1 point per dollar earned and no annual fee for Merrill Lynch clients. It also lets you earn SkyClub membership with $50,000 in spending in a year, and has the same international first / business class fare discounts from Delta.

So the value of the Octave comes in the extra 1.5 points per dollar you earn over the MERRILL+ Visa. And to get $600 in extra value you’ll need to spend $40,000 or more a year on the card.

Other brokerage based cards like the Morgan Stanley version of the Platinum American Express offer you a $500 bonus after $100,000 in spending a year, and real Membership Rewards points, with much broader lounge access.

But if you’re targeted for this card, you’re a high net worth client, and it’s possible putting $100,000 or more a year on the card is not hard to do. So it’s worth considering if you value run of the mill domestic flights. If not, look elsewhere for value.



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5 thoughts on Merrill Lynch Octave: A ‘black’ card with 5% unlimited rewards possible?

  1. Ron

    Usually BofA cards have some kind of waiver of the annual fee with a certain amount of assets. Does such a thing exist for this card? Anyone happen to know if there is a card in between Merrill + and Merrill Octave?

  2. Octave Guy

    There’s also a $100 Global Entry credit on this card, which helps with the AF (at least one year out of five). The First/Business discounts are legit, as is the 20% “run of the mill” discount. A few coast-to-coast roundtrips in economy and the card repays itself. I find it to be a welcome addition to other cards in my portfolio. Spend levels over about $25k make this card neutral to the AF, not including any of the benefits listed above.


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