Spoiler Alert: The best rewards credit card offers are not hyped in the blogosphere.
This is the story of how I learned to sit back and wait for the superior targeted credit card offers to roll in.
In a typical week, my husband and I receive a dozen offers in the mail for new credit cards. The banks even try to induce our kid to apply for credit cards on a regular basis. My usual habit is to toss out these envelopes without opening them.
That is, until I learned how lucrative sign up bonuses could be.
I am careful with my credit. I always pay my bills on time. I pay off my balance in full each month.
It would be foolish to apply for credit card offers for the miles if you carry a balance on your credit cards — that is just giving money to the banks.
Because I am conservative with my spending and pay my credit card bills in full and on time, I could be an attractive customer for the major banks that issue credit cards. At least that is the sense I get from all those direct mail offers for new credit cards.
My philosophy had been, the simpler the better. I had one credit card for personal expenses, and one credit card for my business.
All that changed about six months ago. I previously told the story of how I learned to stop worrying and start enjoying free travel. Because I need to travel a lot to visit family, the offers of frequent flyer miles for opening a new credit card are very enticing.
I began to read the travel blogs to learn the ins and outs of the credit card game. In about six months time, I managed to accumulate enough miles and points to pay for roughly six domestic round-trip flights. My focus is on “earning” enough miles and points to make these trips possible.
What I learned during that time was that the credit card offers I received in the mail, the so-called “targeted offers,” generally had more generous terms than the credit cards being hyped on the internet. The offers you receive in the mail often come with a special code that can only be used by the recipient. These codes could unlock fantastic opportunities for free travel.
In January 2013, I received one such offer from Barclays Bank. The offer was for a new product — the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 1x on All Purchases. The offer was for 40,000 “miles” upon spending $500 in the first three months after opening the card. There was no annual fee — ever. There were no foreign transaction fees either. The card earns 2x miles on all travel and restaurant purchases. The so-called “miles” were really a points scheme which could be redeemed for any travel expenses, without restrictions on seat availability or blackout dates.
There are many versions of the Barclaycard Arrival and many different offers. This version of the card would earn two points for all spending on restaurants and travel. (A public offer for another version of this card with an $89 annual fee earns two points for all spending.) Travel includes rail, airplane tickets and ancillary charges, airport charges like parking, hotels, car rentals, even cruises, and all charges made to travel agencies. Everything else earns one point. The agent I checked with before applying indicated that Priceline charges would count as travel expenses. This was key for me because almost all my hotel reservations and most of my car rentals are made through Priceline. According to the offer, points can be redeemed for statement credit and 10 percent of the points are rebated back if credited toward travel expenses.
This seemed too good to be true — the bank is giving away $400 after spending $500 in three months time and there is no annual fee? This was way better than the offers I was reading about in the blogs.
I scoured the internet for information about the “Arrival” credit card and could find almost nothing. And there were no mentions of an offer seemingly this good.
So, what’s the catch?
I did not learn the full details of the redemption program until my application was approved.
If points are redeemed for statement credit (essentially cash), they are worth half a cent — so the 40,000 miles/points were worth $200. The points can also be redeemed for various dining, retail, or travel gift cards at the same value.
However, if the points are assigned to specific travel charges of greater than $25 on your statement, you can receive the full $400 value.
If you spent the full $500 initial spend requirement on travel or restaurants, you would have 41,000 miles/points. Theoretically, these could be applied to repay $400 of travel expenses. With a 10 percent rebate in points, you would have 4,000 bonus points in the account, plus 1,000 points from the initial spend, for a total of 5000 points. This would be enough for another $50 statement credit toward travel expenses. And you would be awarded 500 bonus points back into your account.
Furthermore, the points don’t expire as long as you keep the account open and active — and since there is no annual fee, there is no reason to close the account. All told, the initial bonus might be valued at as much as $455 in free travel.
There are a few caveats.
Travel charges must be for $25 or greater in order to use the points to offset charges.
You must have sufficient reward points in your account to offset the full cost of a travel charge. For instance, if you have a car rental charge for $75, and you only have 6,000 points in rewards, you cannot use your points to partially offset this charge. With 7,500 points, you would be good to go, and receive 750 bonus points back, to boot.
You can apply for the Barclaycard Arrival through my links for the no annual fee card, which offers a 20,000 point sign up bonus, or my links for the card which offers 40,000 miles as a signup bonus, and waives the $89 annual fee for the first year. Thanks if you do!
Priceline and Hotwire Charges Qualify for Travel Rebates
A substantial benefit of this credit card over some other travel reward cards is that charges to discount online travel agencies like Priceline and Hotwire receive two times bonus points. Additionally, points can be used to offset these Hotwire and Priceline charges on your bill. It took several calls to customer service at Barclays to verify this, but it was worth the effort, as almost all of my hotel expenses and some of my car rentals are made through Priceline. Heck, that’s why they call me the “Priceline Queen.”
As with all credit card offers, your miles may vary.
UPDATE – November 20, 2013: I have noticed that airport parking and Priceline charges are not automatically showing as travel purchases eligible for two times points and rewards redemptions. This may occur if the merchants do not correctly code the charges. You may need to call customer service and ask to speak with a supervisor who can manually adjust these credits.
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