Last year, I spent a lot of time researching travel rewards credit cards as we prepared for our trip to China. Though my airfare was covered by the study abroad program I was leading, we knew we would have a lot of travel-related expenses to cover (Jesse’s airfare, our lodging and travel costs after the study abroad trip ended, etc.)–and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to earn points on those purchases. The cards we used to use in our day-to-day lives didn’t offer great rewards points or cash back, and I knew that many travel credit cards offered big sign-up bonuses. So, I set out to find the best travel rewards credit card for us.
Two cards kept popping up as I read review upon review, blog upon blog: the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus cards. Both cards came with attractive features and big sign-up bonuses, but there was one catch—both had annual fees. We never carry credit cards with annual fees, but both of these cards offered one year fee-free and huge sign-up bonuses, so I decided to do a little experiment. I signed up for both of the credit cards, used them throughout the year, and redeemed my points for free travel—all to decide which card I would keep in the following year. (If we would keep either one.)
My decision? Surprisingly easy. One of these cards came out way ahead of the other.
All in all, I got a lot of free travel out of this experiment. Between the two cards, I redeemed more than $1,600 worth of completely FREE travel, which helped pay for part of my travels in China and in Maine.
(Disclaimer: I’m no financial analyst, but I know it’s a bad idea to open and close a bunch of lines of credit. We made the decision to open these accounts and close one after careful consideration of our specific financial and credit situation. This post isn’t intended to be financial advice of any sort—I’m just sharing what I think about both of these cards after using them for a year.)
Here’s the break down:
- 40K points when you sign up and spend $4K in 90 days
- 2x points per $1 on travel and restaurants; 1x per $1 on everything else
- Redeem points through Chase.com (which offers discounts)
- Nice, heavy card that feels pretty cool
- Miles accumulate at the end of each month/pay cycle
- 40K points when you sign up and spend $3K in 90 days
- 2x points per $1 on everything
- 10% point redemption bonus (redeem 2,000 points, get an automatic 200 back)
- Miles accumulate in real-time
- Purchase travel on your own and then reimburse yourself with your available points
After a year of use, I’ve decided to keep the BarclayCard for two main reasons:
1. I earn more points on daily purchases with the two-points-per-dollar rate than I did with Chase.
2. I love shopping around for travel deals, and the flexibility to find the hotels (or hostels) I wanted and the cheapest airfare available was indispensable. I didn’t like having to redeem points through Chase’s website, and loved the flexibility of the BarclayCard.