Credit Cards Reviews The Basics

Best Credit Cards for Domestic Award Travel – Part 2

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Written by Charlie

Last week, I shared Part 1 of Best Credit Cards for Domestic Award Travel by discussing some thoughts on the valuations of points and miles and what makes for a good card to get for use on domestic award travel. I wrote a lot about it so make sure you go back and read last week’s post to get my thoughts on it before we head into my 2nd pick for the best credit card for domestic award travel.

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My Picks for Best Credit Cards for Domestic Award Travel – #2

My first pick had been the Southwest Airlines Rapid Reward cards for domestic travel considering the fact that you get over $900 in direct ticket value due to Southwest’s fixed value point system. However, maybe you already have the card, maybe Southwest does not serve your home airport or the airports at your destination, or maybe you have your limit of Chase cards – what do you do then? I discussed the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the strength of its bonus, but it is again not ranked as one of my top two cards for domestic award travel. Pick #2 goes to:

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard

I have written about this card before and spoke on how great of a sign-up bonus it offers. It offers 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. These 40,000 miles (or, what should really be called, points) are worth a fixed value of $400 given that Barclay’s Arrival miles are worth 1 cent each.

Barclaycard Arrival Point System

These points can be redeemed for any type of travel that you book using this card – as long as the vendor codes the transaction as travel. These points are redeemable after you have put the charge on your card. After the charge posts, you login in to your account and select to have the points be applied towards that transaction. If it is under $400, you will have the remainder left over for another purchase. If it is over $400, it will take $400 off the total price of the travel. After you have made the selection, you will receive a rebate of 10% of the points used. That means that after you redeem 40,000 points, you will receive 4,000 points to use again (value of $40). This puts the effective value of the credit card bonus at $440.

Reasons for Barclay Arrival for Domestic Travel

Since you are actually purchasing tickets/travel with this card, it sounds strange to say award travel but you are still using award miles to be redeemed for travel. The difference between this card and every other travel point card is that you are redeeming the miles after you purchase it instead of using it as a currency towards purchasing. The end result is the same – you actually never have money come out of your pocket to pay for the travel (up to $400).

So, here is a scenario of why you should get this card to use for domestic award travel: say you want to fly to Florida for vacation/race. The ticket costs $170. If you were to use airline miles from a legacy airline, it would require 25,000 miles for a $170 ticket making those miles worth less than 1 cent each. Maybe Southwest does not fly to your airport or maybe it is requiring too many Southwest points. Using the Barclay Arrival card, you can get 2 full tickets a part of a third ticket with the points from the sign-up bonus. After you use the miles, you receive 10% of your miles back making you have more miles for your next redemption – or even booking a rental car or hotel room!

Tickets purchased with the Barclay Arrival card count as revenue tickets, meaning they are the same as if you used cash for them so you can earn miles for your trip! Or you can use the miles to stay at a hotel (if you are not flying or do not need the miles for flying) and the stays would count towards elite status with the hotels (providing you booked it through a qualifying site). Most of all, you have a choice to purchase your travel from any travel site/company as long as their purchases are coded as being for travel (which all major online travel agencies and airlines/hotels/rental agencies are).

It’s Not Just About the Sign-up Bonus

Though the sign-up bonus is great (you are getting $440 worth of travel with any airline or hotel you like), the real strength of this card kicks in when you start using it. You receive 2 miles per dollar spent everywhere. This means that you are getting a 2% rebate towards travel with this card’s spending (actually a 2.2% rebate with the 10% rebate upon redemption). Let’s say your put $3,000 on this card per month. That means you will earn 72,000 Arrival miles throughout the year, redeemable for $720 towards travel (plus a $72 rebate). If these were traditional award miles, it would give you just about 3 round-trip tickets in the US. With Arrival miles, you are only limited by the actual ticket cost as to how many tickets you can get. Back to our example above of a $170 ticket, you could actually purchase 4 tickets plus have $40 leftover for your airport shuttle :). In my cases, tickets to NYC are normally around $110. With $720 worth of miles, we could have 6 people get tickets with this card as opposed to the almost 3 with a regular miles card. Not only that, but we are not restricted to using a particular airline.

What if you plan on driving and not flying? Yep, these points can be used for car rentals and hotels as well! So it is really very well situated as a top card for domestic award travel.

Why the Barclay Arrival card over the Chase Sapphire Preferred?

You get the same bonus with the Chase Sapphire Preferred – 40,000 points – but these points are actually worth $500 toward travel booked through Ultimate Rewards. This is $60 more than the total value of the Barclay Arrival card when used towards travel. However, in order to use the Ultimate Reward points towards travel, it has to be booked through the Ultimate Rewards booking engine. Not all deals and tickets are available through it (especially rental cars and hotels). As a result, you may have to pay more for the same ticket than if you bought the ticket at some other online travel agency (though that is rare).

So, why do I rank the Barclay Arrival card over the Chase Sapphire Preferred for domestic travel? Because of the flexiblity in booking engines and travel agencies, and because of the 2.2 miles per dollar that you receive (vs Chase’s 1.07 points per dollar except for bonus categories of travel and dining where you earn 2.14 points per dollar). For domestic purposes, the possibilities of the Barclay Arrival card for bookings outweigh the Sapphire Preferred as does the daily earning numbers.

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard – 40,000 Points after $3,000 Spend in 3 months –application link  (I do receive a commission if you use the links for this card in this post)

So, those are my two recommendations for best credit cards for domestic award travel. Both are solid cards and can get you around quite a bit of the USA. If it is for races, the Barclay Arrival card alone is enough to get you to most races, pay for the hotel, and rent a car!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.