Recently, corporate card and expense management software company Airbase announced that it is adding a free tier of service. That puts it squarely in competition with other free corporate cards like Brex, Ramp, and Divvy—or, at least, that is their intent.
But is Airbase really a better alternative to these other cards? More importantly, when choosing a corporate card, should Airbase be in the mix?
In particular, we were interested in what Airbase had to offer over relative newcomer Ramp. Ramp prides itself on its ease-of-use and declares it is the only card with the goal of helping companies spend less. So it makes sense that, as it announced its free tier, Airbase has gone after Ramp aggressively, positioning itself as a more robust and scalable solution.
That’s all well and good, but readers might want a comparison from a neutral third party. We’re happy to do so.
(In a hurry? Skip down to the comparison chart.)
What Airbase’s Free Tier Really Means
Airbase has always been a software solution aimed at the mid-market, and until November has acted as such. They provided robust tools for expense management and spend management, and charged an ongoing subscription for those tools. Both the tools and the pricing model were meant to appeal specifically to the mid-market.
By introducing Airbase Essentials, a new free tier of service, Airbase is appealing to SMBs and startups. The strategy is to get into these companies early and become indispensable; as some of them mature and grow, they will upgrade to the paid tiers of service.
That puts Airbase much more squarely in competition with Brex, Divvy, and Ramp. These companies offer the same market corporate charge cards, with their own free expense management tools thrown in. Ramp, Brex and Divvy make money off the interchange rates on the cards themselves, taking a small sliver of every transaction.
Airbase’s move is significant because they apart from the free software tier, they have also done away with interchange fees—or rather, are giving them back to their customers. So,for some companies, Airbase will be cheaper than free! These companies will get a significant chunk of each transaction as cash back.
To compete, other cards will either have to give up a significant chunk of their margin, or find some other means of value to stay competitive.
And that is why Airbase is on everyone’s radar these days.
Airbase vs. Ramp: Differences in the Details
While that all makes for good business headlines, it doesn’t directly answer the question: “Which solution should we pursue for our company?”
While both are great solutions, there are some big differences worth noting:
#1: The Cashback Offer
Perhaps the biggest news here is the cashback offer. Ramp offers a straight 1.5% cash back on all transactions on its corporate charge card—a simple way to reward users without a complicated rewards program, which fits Ramp’s style.
Airbase, however, has gone one better, offering 1.75% cash back on their charge cards, and 2.25% cash back on their prepaid cards. Again, it appears that Airbase is handing back the interchange fees almost entirely and planning to make their margin on their software suite.
1.75% on charge cards, 2.25% on prepaid cards
1.5% on all transactions
#2: Bill Payments
If you are looking only for a charge card and expense management software to go with it, Ramp is a good choice. But, as the recent acquisition of Divvy by Bill.com portends, bill payment software and charge cards are merging. This is where Airbase has an advantage.
Yes, Ramp does have tools for invoice/bill creation and payments. Airbase offers that plus a full Purchase Order (PO) module with PO matching. It also offers a vendor self-service portal (see below). Finally, Airbase prides itself on making international payments easy, boasting multi-currency support in over 200 countries.
It also claims to handle approval workflows, auto-categorization, scheduling of payments, and amortizations with international payments as well.
Both Airbase’s tools and Ramp’s tools will let you automate many of the steps your company might be doing manually now—like processing receipts and handling reimbursements, or routing spend approvals. But this is Airbase’s home turf, and it appears they offer more value here, with things like:
- OCR and auto-matching for both receipts and invoices
- A subscription management tool
- Batch bill payments
- The self-serve vendor portal
- Advanced reimbursement policies
Naturally, some of these features (such as advanced reimbursement policies) are available only with a paid tier. But, if your company’s expense management landscape is rather complicated (or you expect it to be so in a few years), those kinds of automation are well worth getting.
Airbase vs. Ramp
Virtual, physical, or both?
Qualifications and requirements
Visa...but has a deal with Silicon Valley Bank to allow customers to keep current cards within their program
Corporate charge card based on drawable reserves
Set by admin and based on business limit (drawable reserves)
No fees—customers pay for the software at higher tiers
No annual fees
Foreign Transaction Fees
No fees—customers pay for the software at higher tiers
No foreign transaction fees
Yes: 100+ integrations
Email, phone, training (live or virtual) also available
Email (dedicated manager)
Best Used For
Expense management for growing companies
Simple charge card and expense management for SMBs
Airbase vs. Ramp is a tough choice. Both solutions make expense management easier, especially for startups and small businesses. Both companies also have an excellent track record when it comes to customer service.
Airbase has the more robust set of expense management, spend management, and billing tools. This makes sense, given the company’s origin story. These tools are great for companies looking to grow/scale/expand, and with that cashback rate, it’s hard not to be tempted. Just be aware that some of the more complex tools will require a paid subscription.
On the other hand, for small business owners who want expense management simplified, Ramp is a great way to go. Ramp’s philosophy is to keep things simple and easy, and customer reviews attest to the fact that they largely succeed.
And of course, if you are looking for a solution aimed more specifically at managing SaaS spend, we have an expense card focusing on SaaS purchases that is worth checking out. The Quolum SaaS card saves time, cost and effort, and solves a problem that is only getting worse by the day.