One Quick Hack for Startups to Make the Most of Business Credit Cards

John Ganotis

John Ganotis | Blog

Apr 20, 2015 | Updated Nov 23, 2018

Many business credit cards offer a hefty introductory cash back or point bonus for spending a certain amount after getting the card, usually several thousand dollars within 3 months.

If your company pays for web hosting, you need to know about this simple (and perfectly legal) trick to help you reach that spending threshold quickly while also paying for the hosting services that your startup needs.

Prepaying for Web Hosting Services

Here’s the trick. You’ll use your credit card to prepay for months of hosting ahead of time. Some hosts will give you a discount for pre-paying, while you’re simultaneously fulfilling some of the spending requirement on your credit card, getting you closer to a nice little bonus.

But wait, there’s more. If you use the right combination of hosting company and credit card, you’ll also earn rewards on your purchase in the form of points or cash back. Most cards will provide 1 point or 1% cash back for purchases like these, but if you use the right card you can potentially earn up to 5% cash back on your purchase.

This means that you’ll be saving money

  1. when you prepay
  2. when you earn the introductory spending bonus
  3. when you earn credit card rewards on your purchase (a small discount, but repeated purchases will save more over time)

Sound ok to you? As our model card for this explanation, we’ll use the Chase Ink Plus Business Card. At the time of this writing, the card typically comes with an offer for 40,000 to 60,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points, which you can get by spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. This is the equivalent of $500 when redeemed as a statement credit or $625 when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for travel expenses.

Using Merchant Category Codes to Get the Most Rewards

The Ink Plus also has an important 5X point reward category that we can make use of: cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services. Purchases of hosting service from merchants who are classified in this category will provide 5 points for every dollar you spend, which can quickly add up to a lot of points with the more expensive hosting plans. The 5X category is available for the first $50,000 you spend in it each year, after which you’ll earn 1 point per dollar.

Prepaying for web hosting won’t always make a huge dent toward your $5,000 goal but it will help, and with other business spending you should be able to reach the threshold with no problem. If you’re having trouble, consider prepaying in a more general way through Amazon.

An important part of credit card rewards is the coding system that card networks use to classify merchants. There are hundreds of Merchant Category Codes (MCC’s), as they are called, and most retailers are assigned one. When you make a purchase, the MCC tells the credit card companies what type of purchase is being made, and your card issuer will use that MCC to determine the rewards category for your purchase. Each card network has their own classifications, but there can be some sharing going on between them, particularly between Visa and MasterCard.

The world of Merchant Category Codes is shrouded in mystery and confusion, and in many cases merchants will not be classified as you might expect.

The only way to truly know if a particular retailer at a particular location is classified in a particular category is to have evidence in the form of a credit card statement, either your own or someone else’s.

One way to figure this out the MCC of a merchant is to make a small purchase and then check your credit card statement to see how you were awarded, or to make a purchase and then return it.

You can also use Visa’s Supplier Locator tool to look up merchants by name and address and find their MCC, but this information is not completely reliable, making it necessary to double-check. A complete listing of the codes and their associated categories can be found here.

Using the Ink Plus to Buy Web Hosting

The Ink Plus is a Visa card, so it uses the Visa MCC’s. In an odd correspondence with Chase over Twitter, we learned that the MCC’s they use for the internet services reward category are: 4813, 4814, 4815, 4816, and 4899. Of these, we believe the relevant MCC for web hosting in particular is 4816.

So, how do you make use of all this to save money?

We know that “web hosting” is not a commodity, and there are obviously different types that are a fit depending on your business needs. This isn’t meant to be a review of the many ways hosting companies vary, like customer service and target customers, but rather an attempt to round up new information we haven’t seen around the internet.

We’ve researched 12 popular web hosting companies for you, including the possibility of discounted prepaid options and Merchant Category Codes, so you can easily see what to expect if you want to buy their services with a credit card. We’ve included screenshots of our evidence showing the MCC of each merchant.

Even though these tricks are meant to save you money, if you use your credit card irresponsibly you will end up on the losing end. Never put more on your card than you can pay off, and never forget about incoming interest charges. Interest can quickly reverse any discounts you may find, so we recommend paying off your balance in full by the due date and avoiding interest altogether if possible.

Keep other cards in mind

We’re just using the Chase Ink Plus as an example in this post since it’s a popular business card and has a relevant bonus points category. Not all of the following hosting companies are classified in the Ink Plus’s 5X point category, so purchases from those merchants will only earn 1 point per dollar. If you’re looking to earn more from one of those companies, check out the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business (Review), which offers 2% cash back on every purchase you make and a $500 introductory cash back bonus for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also get an additional $1,500 cash bonus for spending $50,000 in the first 6 months, which could help make this strategy quite profitable.

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
Apply Now

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

For People with
Good Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Interest Rate: 19.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earning unlimited 2% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Earn up to $2,000. Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • Plus, earn $1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first 6 months. Limited Time Offer
  • Use Spark Cash across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
  • Get employee cards at no additional cost, and earn rewards from their business spend

Help Us Improve This Post!

When we realized the complexity and variety of how merchants are categorized, we realized it would be best to publish our findings so far and ask readers to help us track down the relevant Merchant Category Codes so we can verify what’s what and identify inconsistencies for the remaining hosts.

Have you paid one of these hosts with a credit or debit Visa card recently? Other cards can provide useful information too, especially MasterCards. Email me and let me know how it was categorized!

Web Hosting Companies

All of the following hosting companies offer some kind of prepaid payment plans. Check out the descriptions of each company below the following table, which describes the merchant classifications as we believe them to be true based on our research, as well as whether we have been able to verify the information with a transaction.

Hosting Company Prepaid Discount 5X Points Category Point Category Verified
Amazon Web Services
A Small Orange
WP Engine

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

The MCC of Amazon Web Services is 7399, based on a purchase I myself made with a Visa card. This means that it is not available for the 5X point category of the Ink Plus, and purchases will only earn 1 point per dollar.

Amazon Web Services on my Visa debit card

Amazon Web Services on my Visa debit card

AWS has been an infrastructure favorite of many developers and companies for years, and has grown from basic computing resources and storage to a plethora of services, including some non-computing resources like warehouse space. This would have been an awesome place to see an MCC that multiplies rewards since there are so many ways for businesses to utilize Amazon services. Perhaps in the future we’ll uncover some different ways to get extra rewards through AWS.

Even though you can’t get a point multiplier here, you could still use prepayment to maximize your initial business credit card spend and trigger an introductory bonus offer while getting a discount for paying in advance.

There are a wide variety of service levels to choose from, and several billing options. Here, we’ll look at a relatively large EC2 instance. Hosting can be prepaid in part or in full, up to 3 years in advance. Here are prepayment prices for an r3.large instance, which typically costs $128.10 per month without prepayment ($1,537.20 per year).

Plan Length Upfront Price Price-per-Month Total Price Discount From Base Rate Initial Points Earned with Ink Plus
1 year, partial prepayment $541.00 $69.18 $830.08 46% 541
1 year, full prepayment $813.00 $67.75 $813.00 47% 813
3 years, partial prepayment $1,033.00 $47.68 $1,716.00 63% 1,033
3 years, full prepayment $1,613.00 $44.81 $1,613.00 65% 1,613

A Small Orange

Customer service reports that they do not know their MCC. The Visa lookup tool lists the company as 7372, so if that is correct you will not earn rewards at the 5X rate with the Ink Plus. I was able to verify with a friend that American Express uses the “Business Services – Employment Agencies” category. However, it’s possible that Visa recognizes this merchant in a different way, and we’re working to verify that for you. If you have information on this, please email me.

A Small Orange American Express purchase

A Small Orange purchase with American Express

A Small Orange has a number of dedicated hosting plans available: Starter, Standard, Professional, and Ultimate. You can prepay for service in 1, 2, or 3-year increments, but unfortunately there is no discount for prepaying. They’re a relatively small  and not very well known hosting company, but I’ve heard very good things about their customer service.

Here are prepayment details for the Standard dedicated hosting plan, which costs $135.00 per month:

Plan Length Total Price Points Earned with Ink Plus
1 year $1,620.00 1,620
2 years $3,240.00 3,240
3 years $4,860.00 4,860


Bluehost customer service guesses that their code is 4816, making it eligible for the 5X point category of the Ink Plus. We’re working to verify this for you. If you use BlueHost and pay them with a Visa, please email me!

We do have a transaction from a Visa but this is from a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which doesn’t have the relevant point category, and the MCC of BlueHost is not shown here.

BlueHost Sapphire Preferred purchase

BlueHost Sapphire Preferred purchase, but no MCC

They allow prepayment, and credit card is the only way you can prepay. There are 1, 2, and 3-year options, with the 2 and 3-year options providing the deepest discounts.

The current rates and discounts on their dedicated hosting plans are as follows:

Plan Length Total Price Price-per-Month Discount From Base Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus
3 months $434.97 $144.99 3.33% 2,174.85
6 months $809.94 $134.99 10% 4,049.7
12 months $1,499.88 $124.99 16.67% 7,499.4


Digital Ocean’s MCC is 5734 and/or 7372, according to the Visa lookup tool. This would mean that it is not classified in the Ink Plus 5X point category. We’re working to verify this for you, so if you use DigitalOcean and pay with a Visa, email me!

I first heard about DigitalOcean in 2013 as they gained momentum in the developer community and became a favorite alternative to quickly spinning up an EC2 instance on AWS. The are one of the first hosts I remember boasting all-SSD hosting.

While you can prepay for service, unfortunately there are no discounts for prepaying with Digital Ocean, and they do not allow you to prepay directly with a credit card. If you pay with a credit card, it will automatically charge you each month instead.

However, you can get around this limitation by prepaying with PayPal, and you can indirectly pay with your credit card by linking your card to your PayPal account. This lets you effectively prepay with your credit card.

There are a number of monthly plans available with different levels of service. Here are just a few of their SSD Cloud Hosting plans, and the more expensive versions will get you pretty close to or over the $5,000 threshold.

Memory SSD Disk Size Processor Price-per-Month Price-per-Year Points earned with Ink Plus
1 GB 30 GB 1 Core $20 $240 240
4 GB 60 GB 2 Core $40 $480 480
16 GB 160 GB 8 Core $160 $1,920 1,920
32 GB 320 GB 12 Core $320 $3,840 3,840

While they may be an awesome host, DigitalOcean misses on the MCC for earning extra points, pre-payment to hit a bonus faster, and a discount for prepaying.


The MCC of DreamHost is 5968, according to their customer service, so you won’t earn 5X points with the Ink Plus. A reader told us he had DreamHost categorized as MCC 4816 on a Chase Ink card, which is also not a 5x point-earning category. If you pay DreamHost on a Visa card, please email me and let me know!

Several hosting options are available from DreamHost, but only their shared hosting plans, which are expectedly inexpensive, can be prepaid. The further you pay in advance, the bigger your discount. Here are some details for the shared hosting plan:

Plan Length Total Price Price-per-Month Discount From Base Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus
1 Year  $119.40  $9.95 9% 119.40
2 Years $214.80 $8.95 18% 214.80
3 Years $286.20 $7.95 27% 286.20
5 Years $417.00 $6.95 36% 417
10 Years $714.00 $5.95 45% 714

Dreamhost can be a nice place to host a small site or get started. I used to host there years ago after hearing about them on some podcasts in the mid-2000s. You won’t be getting much as far as credit card rewards, and I’m guessing you won’t need to prepay a decade of shared hosting for your growing business, so unfortunately DreamHost is not one of the most attractive hosts in this context.


The MCC of GoDaddy is 4816, according to the Visa lookup tool, but customer service was unsure of their classification. We were able to verify the MCC to be 4816 with the help of a friend who recently paid for the service, meaning that you will earn points at the 5X rate with the Ink Plus.

My friend's purchase of GoDaddy hosting

My friend’s purchase of GoDaddy hosting

There are several levels of hosting available, and it can be bought in a number of different increments. The website only gives options up to 5 years, but you can get up to 10 years in advance by calling their customer service. There is a 50% discount per month for paying in advance.

Here are the prices for their Deluxe package, which provides hosting for unlimited websites with unlimited storage and bandwidth (unless your service exceeds their limits, which is rare).

Plan Length Total Price Price-per-Month Discount From Base Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus
1 Year  $53.88 $4.49 50% 269.4
2 Years $107.76 $4.49 50% 538.8
3 Years $161.64 $4.49 50% 808.2
4 Years $215.52 $4.49 50% 1077.6
5 Years $269.40 $4.49 50% 1347

Personally, there are quite a few hosts I’d prefer over GoDaddy, but they do offer a compelling discount and the multiplier potential is pretty big for points. I don’t expect many startups serious about their hosting to go with GoDaddy, but there may be opportunities for less tech-focused companies to combine this with other spending, get some discounts, and get closer to a minimum spend.


The MCC of Heroku is 7372, according to both the Visa lookup tool and Heroku customer service. This would mean that you would not earn 5X points with the Ink Plus. We’re working to find an actual transaction to verify this for you. If you’ve paid Heroku on a Visa, email me!

We have an example transaction, but the MCC isn’t shown with this Bank of America card:

Unfortunately, the MCC isn't shown with this Bank of America Visa card

Unfortunately, the MCC isn’t shown with this Bank of America Visa card

They are willing to work with you to set up a prepayment plan through their parent company, Salesforce, but there is no standard discount for prepaying. The full year is pre-paid on a credit card with net-30 terms. The sales representative I spoke with said Salesforce may be able to offer a discount.

Here is pricing for a 2 – 2X dyno system (a dyno is a unit of computing power on Heroku), which comes with 1,024 MB of RAM and 2X CPU share.

Plan Length Total Price Price-per-Month Points Earned with Ink Plus
3 months $319.5 $106.50 319.5
6 months  $639.00 $106.50 639
1 year $1,278.00 $106.50 1,278
2 years $2,556.00 $106.50 2,556

Heroku is a favorite of developers, especially in the Rails community. I’ve always liked how it’s free to spin up lots of small Rails applications with 1 dyno, but then if one app actually needs more resources it’s easy to scale up. You won’t be able to earn a points multiplier here for the Chase Ink Plus, but if you’re a Rails shop and really trust Heroku you may be able to make a big dent in a minimum spend while locking in a discount.


On customer support, HostGator guesses that their code is 5045, so they would not be eligible. However, the Visa lookup tool says that their code is 4816, which would make them eligible for the 5X points, so we’re working to verify this for you and figure out which code is used. If you have paid HostGator with a Visa, please email me!

HostGator offers several dedicated hosting levels, which can all be prepaid in several increments, but unfortunately there is no discount for prepaying. The levels are Basic, Standard, Elite, and Pro. There is currently a 40% discount on the service but this will not be reapplied if you renew your service, creating an incentive to prepay for a longer period.

As an example, the Standard level comes with 3 dedicated IPs, 15 TB bandwidth, 1,000 GB RAID-1 drives, and 4 GB of RAM:

Plan Length Total Price Including Discount Points Earned with Ink Plus at 5X Rate
6 Months $792 3,960
1 Year $1,584 7,920
2 Years $3,168 15,840
3 Years $4,752 23,760

I haven’t personally used HostGator for anything other than some quick and cheap WordPress installs, but that went smoothly. If you truly can get a 5X return, need a dedicated host, and trust them, then pre-paying a year with HostGator could bring you closer to a minimum, give you a big discount off the bat, and earn you a giant multiplier on points.


Linode customer service confidently reports that their MCC is 4816, putting them in the Ink Plus 5X point category, even though the Visa supplier tool lists their MCC as 7372. We’ve received confirmation from one reader that he did get a 5x category bonus from Linode. If you’ve paid Linode with a Visa, please email me!

You won’t get any discounts for prepaying, but you are able to load credit onto your account with a credit card to be used later, which is incredibly useful for this technique. There are 4 levels of service available, with 1, 2, 4, and 8 GB of RAM. Here are prices for the 8 GB RAM plan, which costs $80 per month, comes with 6 CPU cores, and 192 GB SSD storage.

Plan Length Total Price Points Earned with Ink Plus at 5X Rate
3 months $240 1,200
6 months $480 2,400
12 months $960 4,800
18 months $1,440 7,200
24 months $1,920 9,600

Like DigitalOcean, Linode is a name I’ve heard again and again in the developer community. The offer robust dedicated options, and even power other hosts, like WP Engine. If you can actually get the 5x point multiplier, paying for credit on Linode can be a great way to consistently earn lots of points for your business.


Rackspace customer support reports that they are not sure what category they are listed under. The Visa supplier tool has them listed under two slightly different names for different services they offer, with different MCC’s for each: “Rackspace Managed Host” is listed as 7379, but “The Rackspace Cloud” is listed as 4816.

According to the lookup tool, if you purchase hosting from this company and it is charged to your Ink Plus as the first name mentioned, you will not earn points at the 5X rate; however, if your payment is charged to “The Rackspace Cloud” then you should earn points at the 5X rate.

We received a report from one reader who had a purchase show up as “Rackspace US Inc” on his Chase Ink Plus statement, and received the 5x point bonus. He said: “I recently got the Chase Ink Plus card, and paid $5000+ with Rackspace, paid through their portal at The charge was classified as MCC 4816: ‘Computer Network/Information Services’.”

This is a confusing situation, and we’re working to verify this information for you to figure out how the rewards will be allocated. If you pay for any Rackspace services on a Visa, get in touch!

However, there is something about Rackspace that we can be sure of. A different business credit card, American Express® Business Gold Card (Review), has a 4X point category called “U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers.” This applies to the first $150,000 spent annually. There are only a few providers on this list, but Rackspace is one of them. You can find the complete list of eligible providers for the Business Gold card here.

If you spend enough money, Rackspace provides several discounts when you prepay for cloud hosting service:

  1. a discount for prepaying
  2. a discount for paying in volume (requires at least $6,000 per month)
  3. a discount for committing to pay for a certain amount of time (which you’ll be doing by prepaying)

So the longer you pay for service the larger your discount, and the more you pay the larger your discount as well. Here is pricing information for a $6,000 per month cloud hosting service, which is the minimum amount required to prepay, with a commitment to pay that $6,000 each month:

Plan Length Total Price After Discount Price-per-Month Discount From Base Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus at 1X Rate Points Earned with Amex Business Gold
6 months $27,900 $4,650 7% 27,900 111,600
12 months $52,200 $4,350 13% 52,200 208,800
18 months $72,000 $4,000 20% 72,000 288,000
24 months $88,800 $3,700  26% 88,800 355,200
36 months $117,000 $3,250 35% 117,000 468,000

Rackspace might only be appealing to larger companies, especially since they tend to push for longer term contracts, but there may be ways for small startups to use them effectively. If Rackspace and the American Express Gold card are both a good fit for your business, though, it’s hard to find a deal that will earn you this many points.


SiteGround does not seem to have an MCC associated with it. There is nothing to find in the Visa lookup tool, and their customer service also reports that they have no code, so we don’t think you’ll get any extra rewards for purchasing hosting here. We’re working to verify this, so if you use SiteGround and pay with Visa, email me.

There are 3 levels of dedicated hosting available: Entry, Power, and Enterprise. Service is discounted when prepaid, with longer periods getting a bigger discount. Up to 6 months of service can be prepaid.

The details for the Entry plan are below, and are in addition to a setup fee of $99. The total points earned do not include the setup fee:

Plan Length Total Price Price-per-Month Discount From Base Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus
1 month $229.00 $229.00 None 229
3 months $669.00 $223.00 2.5% 669
6 months $1,305.00 $217.50 5% 1,305

I don’t know a ton of people who use SiteGround, but those I know are very happy with it and cite customer service as the main reason. Their discounts are not very lucrative and we haven’t confirmed the MCC, so this is probably not a great choice if you’re looking to maximize points with this technique.

WP Engine

I’ve been able to verify the MCC of WP Engine to be 7372, based on my own purchase of their service, so you will not earn rewards at the 5X rate with the Ink Plus. However, the Visa supplier tool lists the MCC to be 4816, which would indicate the opposite. This is why it is important to verify the MCC of a merchant before making a large purchase! If you have any other experience with WP Engine, please contact me.

WP Engine purchase with Visa debit

WP Engine purchase with Visa debit

There are 4 levels of hosting: Personal, Professional, Business, and Enterprise. Higher levels come with more storage space, more visits per month, more WordPress installs, etc. If you’re an agency that manages hosting for clients and you build and maintain lots of demanding WordPress sites, their higher end plans may be a way to get points for paying for hosting on behalf of clients.

You can pay for WordPress hosting service by the month, or prepay for a year of service. If you prepay, you get 2 months for free. There may be more flexibility for the Enterprise plan, which you can call to speak to them about.

Here are the points you’ll earn when you prepay the first 3 types of plan for each year.

Plan Type Total Price Price-per-Month Regular Monthly Price Discount From Monthly Rate Points Earned with Ink Plus
Personal $290.00 $24.17 $29.00 16.7% 29
Professional $990.00 $82.50 $99.00 16.7% 990
Business $2,490.00 $207.50 $249.00 16.7% 2,490

I’ve been a happy WP Engine user since 2012 after meeting part of the team at their office at the Capital Factory in Austin, Texas. I really like how they offer git deployment of WordPress sites. Their support has been spotty at times, which seems to be somewhat related to their rapid growth.

Their discount for paying annually is nice, although unless you really need to host 10-25 WordPress sites, you’re not going to make a huge dent in your minimum spend this way.

Final Thoughts on Prepaying for Web Hosting

With a bit of planning you can capitalize on the hosting discounts available to you, saving money through the prepaying discount, the introductory credit card bonus, and the 5X or 1X rewards points.

Remember that all the normal rules about being responsible with credit apply here; don’t put more on your business card than you can actually pay off, and remember that interest charges can quickly negate any savings you earned through prepayment or points. We are not recommending that you spend more than you can afford just to get a few bonus points, only suggesting ways for you to shift your spending to take advantage of the available offers. We recommend that you try to avoid paying interest altogether whenever possible by paying off your balance in full, but, if you must, then you’ll need to calculate those charges along with your other expenses.

Want to learn more about business credit cards and see our picks for the best ones? Check out our page full of business credit resources.

In some cases, agencies or companies that pay for hosting on behalf of their clients can use deals like these to find more savings and earn even more points, as clients can be charged more than the cost of hosting for additional support services.

We would appreciate any help you can give in providing us with more data on the MCC of the hosts that we don’t yet have complete information for. You can email me by clicking here with any information you might have.

Would you like to read more articles like this? Let us know in the comments below and share this post to show that it was valuable to you, and we’ll do similar pieces covering other networks, like American Express, other service providers, other categories, and other types of cards!

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