As airlines continue to lose rewards altitude on their frequent flier programs, a trend has developed over the past few years toward generic travel reward cards that are untethered to specific airlines. These programs can be quite lucrative and provide a level of redemption flexibility not afforded with cards co-branded with major air carriers. However, the downside is that any “miles” earned with these cards can’t be combined with branded airline frequent flier miles. Some popular examples are the Capital One Venture and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
A few years ago, Barclaycard US decided to join this travel rewards party with the Barclaycard Arrival cards. There are two versions of the card in the wild, but only one is still open for new applicants.
- Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® ($0 annual fee) — this card is no longer available for applications, but current cardholders are still grandfathered in.
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® ($89 annual fee)
Both versions function as generic travel-rewards cards. You earn generic “miles” that you cash in at a fixed value to cancel out travel purchases. You can redeem for cash-back statement credits, too, but the value of the points gets cut in half. So it’s best to redeem against travel purchases.
There is one important issue to be aware of with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus — you must redeem at least 10,000 miles ($100 worth of rewards) every time. That’s a relatively high redemption threshold compared to other cards. That can leave you waiting a long time between redemptions — and means you can’t redeem for small travel expenses.
So how do they compare?
Obviously the reward design team took a page from the Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred playbook. Compare them side by side, as well as their best current bonus offers to see how similarly they stack up:
|Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® - Earn 1x on All Purchases||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®|
|Annual Fee||None||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $89|
|Restaurants||2 points/dollar||2 points/dollar||2 points/dollar|
|Travel||2 points per dollar||2 points per dollar||2 points per dollar|
|All Other Purchases||1 point per dollar||1 point per dollar||2 points per dollar|
|Bonus Offer||Unavailable||50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in first 3 months from account opening||Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days|
At first glance, the $89 Arrival Plus and Sapphire Preferred appear to be almost the same… until you get to that line about all other purchases.
If the bulk of your spending probably falls under “all other purchases” this could be an advantage for the Arrival Plus.
Here’s a closer look at how the cards differ:
1st difference: The value per point
When it comes to the regular Arrival card, each point has a value of exactly 1 cent per mile when redeemed for travel (the redemption value for cash is cut in half). So thinking of these “miles” as cash back might be a simpler way to think of them.
Keep in mind, however, you get a 5 percent redemption bonus, so your points are really worth 1.05 cents each (for a return of 2.1 cents on every dollar spent).
However there’s a BIG DIFFERENCE between the point value on the $89 Arrival Plus and the $95 Sapphire Preferred.
- Barclays gives 5 percent of your miles back when you redeem for travel. Chase gives 20 percent off on travel you book through Ultimate Rewards (their travel booking website).
- Only the Chase Ultimate Rewards found on the Sapphire Preferred (and the Chase Preferred Business Ink card — also $95 a year) also offer the option of converting points to participating frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs on a 1-for-1 basis.
While it’s true some travel loyalty programs are less than rewarding (like Spirit Airlines) the ones that are transfer partners with Chase are some of the better ones (British Airways, Southwest and United, for example).
With the Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer to its partners at 1-to-1 ratio. That means you might be able to get more value per point when you do this, if you transfer them to the right place and redeem them strategically.
But guess what? The $89 Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard could still beat Chase.
Why? Even though Chase allows you to convert points to frequent flier programs on a 1-for-1 basis, you won’t always get a return of 2.1 cents per dollar spent. That’s the value you ALWAYS get with spending on Arrival, since you earn an unlimited 2 miles on everything PLUS you get 5 percent of them back to use again (which nets you a 2.1 percent rebate on your spending).
2nd difference: World Elite MasterCard vs. Visa Signature
These two tiers of benefits have some similarities. They each offer:
- Concierge service
- Purchase protection
- Extended warranty
- Secondary collision coverage on eligible car rentals
- Trip cancellation insurance
- Travel accident insurance
- Travel assistance services
Consult the respective issuer for the rules and restrictions surrounding each benefit, though. The average traveler probably won’t find too many differences between World Elite MasterCard and Visa Signature benefits.
What’s the verdict?
The Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard may not be the game-changer it was, when it first entered the market, especially because there’s now a no-annual-fee cash-back card that offers up to a 2 percent return on spending (just hair shy of the 2.1 percent return on the Arrival Plus). So make sure your spending still justifies the $89 annual fee.
Trying to decide between the Arrival Plus and the similarly-priced Chase Sapphire Preferred?
If you want the ability to maximize rewards (and have the patience for it), the Sapphire Preferred is probably your card. The ability to transfer into frequent flier programs is powerful and flexible. If you don’t want loyalty points for your frequent flier or hotel program, I would go for the Arrival. True, you max out at 1.05 cents per point, but you don’t have to worry about maximizing.
The chip on the Arrival Plus is PIN-capable, too. Most U.S.-issued EMV cards require a signature for verification, meaning they won’t work in some unmanned payment terminals overseas. But the Barclaycard Arrival Plus allows you to set a PIN, just in case. That benefit is rare among EMV cards issued by U.S. banks – and makes it fully EU-compliant.
Why we gave it 3 out of 5 stars
This card’s rating is based on our standards for Generic Travel Rewards cards, as it earns generic “miles” that can be redeemed at a fixed value.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earned stars for its high return on spending and the simplicity of its rewards program. It lost some for its high redemption threshold and lack of perks that alleviate the cost of the annual fee.
|Rewards-earning rate: This card meets our standards for annual-fee cards by offering at least 2X miles on regular spending OR at least 3X miles in at least one bonus category. The Arrival Plus offers 2 miles per dollar spent.|
|Bonus-earning opportunities: The Arrival+ card offers an advertised sign-up bonus, redemption bonuses and a bonus-shopping portal.|
|Rewards simplicity/flexibility: Points are easy to use, but we docked half a star for the high ($100) redemption threshold.|
|Unique perks: This card offers free FICO score access, but no other notable extra perks.|
|Fair annual fee: This card has no perks with monetary value that cancels out the annual fee. Spending (and thus earning rewards) is the only way to “earn it back.”|
Written or last updated December 2016