The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® card promises a low-maintenance rewards structure, flexible redemption options and no annual fee. But how does it stack up with the other travel reward credit cards that promise the same things? Our review will help you decide whether to add this card to your wallet.
What kind of card is it?
This card belongs to the general-purpose travel rewards card category. In other words, instead of earning frequent flier miles for a specific airline, you earn points on your purchases, which you can redeem toward pretty much any travel purchase — airfare, hotel nights, car rentals, etc.
You’ll earn a steady 1.5 points per dollar you spend on regular purchases. If you make purchases through the Bank of America Travel Center, however, you’ll get up to 3 points per dollar, so it can definitely be worth your while to make that small effort.
So, you may ask… what’s the Travel Center? It’s simply a booking service offered to all Bank of America customers that lets you shop for flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises. For the most part, the prices you find there will be identical to what you’d find on Kayak and the like. But there’s a “deals” section with special offers on vacation packages. You can use the center even if you just have a checking account with Bank of America, but of course you’ll need the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card to get bonus rewards from your purchases.
There are no limits on the points you earn via other Travel Center purchases — or on the points you earn via regular spending.
Which travel expenses are considered eligible for reimbursement depends on the merchant category code assigned to the charge. Eligible merchant category codes, according to the card’s terms and conditions, include:
- Air carriers and airlines (including baggage fees)
- Hotels, motels and resorts
- Car rental agencies
- Cruise lines
- Travel agencies and tour operators
- Passenger railways
- Suburban and local commuter mass transit, including ferries
- Bus lines
- Campgrounds and trailer parks
- Motor home and RV rentals
- Tourist attractions and exhibits
- Amusement parks, carnivals, circuses and fortune tellers
- Aquariums and zoos
- Boat leases and rentals
As you can see, you have a lot of options. Would your branded airline card reimburse you for a fortune-telling at a circus or an RV rental? Don’t think so. With this card, though, you just make any one of the travel purchases above and use the points you earn to get a statement credit that offsets it. This flexibility makes the card a good fit for bargain-hunters; instead of having to stick with the offerings of the airline or hotel affiliated with your card, you can compare prices to your heart’s content, pick the lowest price and get reimbursed.
How much are points worth?
When you redeem for a statement credit toward travel expenses, each point is worth 1 cent. So, if you buy a $300 plane ticket, to offset that, you’ll need 30,000 points. Don’t have that many? You can use your points to pay for just part of the expense – for example, redeeming 10,000 points for $100 off the ticket. Note: You must redeem at least 2,500 points ($25) at a time. You have 12 months from the date of the purchase to redeem points for it.
If you don’t travel much, you can also redeem for gift cards and cash back. But, as you might expect from a travel rewards card, you get the best value by redeeming for travel. As noted above, points are worth 1 cent each when you cash them in for travel expenses. If you want cash back (which you can get as a check, a deposit into a checking or savings account, or even a contribution to an eligible IRA account), you get 0.6 cents per point. This was the cash-back redemption rate as of March 2014 – the terms and conditions of the card make it very clear that this rate is subject to change.
So, what’s the dollar-value return on your spending? Let’s do the math:
Say, for example, you spend $10,000 on the card (outside the Travel Center). That gives you 15,000 points. If you redeem those points for travel, they’ll be worth 1 cent each – so, $150. That’s a 1.5 percent return on your spending.
However, if you redeem for cash, those 15,000 points will each be worth 0.6 cents each – so $90. That’s a 0.9 percent return on your spending.
In sum: If you redeem for travel, you’re getting 1.5 percent back on the bulk of your spending (because, let’s face it, you’ll probably be doing the bulk of your spending outside the Travel Center). If you redeem for cash, you’re getting 0.9 percent back for your spending.
As far as gift cards go, you need to be logged in to your account to see the current offers.
With the travel rewards field as crowded as it is, each card generally has one or two perks that make it unique. For the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card, those perks are:
- 10 percent bonus each year: If you (or your joint account holder) have a checking, savings or retirement account with Bank of America or Merrill Lynch, you get an annual point bonus worth 10 percent of the amount spent on your BankAmericard Travel Rewards card. So, if you spend $10,000 on the card throughout the year and have a qualifying Bank of America or Merrill Lynch account open as of Dec. 31 of that year, you’ll get 1,000 bonus points (worth $10 when redeemed for travel).
- Sign-up bonus: If you apply using the current online-exclusive offer, you’ll get a 20,000-point bonus (worth $200 in travel) after making at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
- EMV chip: EMV “smart chip” technology is the norm in many other countries. In fact, you can expect card readers overseas to have trouble with your card if it doesn’t have an EMV chip. Surprisingly, not all cards designed for travelers have EMV chips. But the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card does. Check out our chart that shows which other U.S.-issued cards have EMV chips.
- No foreign transaction fees: A lot of cards will tack on an additional 2 or 3 percent for purchases you make overseas. This card doesn’t.
How does it compare?
As always, when you’re shopping for a credit card, it’s important to compare the competition.
Here are some the card’s biggest competitors. Both cards below are flexible general-purpose travel cards, meaning you “cancel out” travel purchases with your points. They also have no annual fee.
Capital One VentureOne: This is the no-annual-fee sibling of the Capital One Venture card. You earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent on everything. Miles are worth 1 cent each when you redeem them for any travel expense. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® – Earn 1x on All Purchases: The no-annual-fee alternative to the $89-a-year version of the Arrival, this card offers 1 mile per dollar spent on most purchases and 2 miles per dollar on travel and dining. Miles are worth 1 cent each when you cash them in, but you get 10 percent of them back each time you redeem. The card is also offering 20,000 bonus miles at the moment, if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Go here to compare both versions of the Arrival.
The bottom line
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is low-maintenance. You know you’re getting a steady 1.5 points per dollar on most of your spending, and that’s a respectable amount for a card with no annual fee. As you can see above, other no-annual-fee travel cards offer only 1 to 1.25 miles/points per dollar on normal spending.
A potential drawback with this card is that it could prove difficult to get beyond the 1.5-miles-per-dollar tier unless you take advantage of the Bank of America Travel Center. The Chase Sapphire and Barclaycard Arrival, for example, both offer bonus points in easy-to-reach categories (travel and dining). If you travel often and eat at restaurants (who doesn’t?), you’re getting 2 points per dollar with very little effort. This card, however, puts its bonus points a bit further out of reach, requiring you to book travel through its Travel Center to get up to 3 points per dollar. It’s an extra step — and something to think about. However, if you simply make this a part of your travel booking routine you can reap the higher rewards.
So, with its relatively high earnings rate, EMV chip (still a pretty rare perk) and waived foreign transaction fees, this card could be an excellent fit for both domestic and international travelers who want flexibility, simplicity and consistency.