Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students: 2014 Review

After discontinuing its Citi Forward Card for College students in March, 2014, Citi has a new offer – a student version of its ThankYou Preferred card. Like the regular preferred card, the student version has no annual fee.Citi ThankYou student card

For some student cards, the only reward is the ability to build your credit. But the Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students kicks in some extra rewards as well. Our review will help you understand what the card offers – and help you compare it to other student credit card offers on the market.

While we don’t offer this card on our site currently we felt it was worth reviewing since it is the newest  product in the student credit card market.  Read below to see how it stacks up to the competition.

Rewards

The rewards structure of this card is identical to that of the regular Citi ThankYou Preferred:

  • 2 ThankYou points  per dollar on dining and entertainment (“entertainment” encompasses purchases from sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, video rental stores and record stores, according to the card’s terms and conditions)
  • 1 ThankYou point  per dollar for other purchases

There’s currently a sign-up bonus of 2,500 ThankYou points for cardholders who spend $500 in the first three months of opening the card.

So what are these ThankYou points? They’re currency in Citi’s ThankYou rewards system. They can be redeemed for cash back (in the form of a check or statement credit), gift cards, travel, online shopping, experiences and merchandise. A new option is the “Select and Credit” option, which allows you to get refunds for past purchases in select categories.

As you can see, there are tons of options to redeem your points – but how much value you get for your points varies. If you opt for cash back, your points are worth only half a cent each – with other cash-back cards (including the Discover it and Capital One Venture), your points go twice as far (they’re worth 1 cent when redeemed for cash back). Your points go a bit further if you use the “Select and Credit” option – they’re worth 0.75 cents each when redeemed that way.

Other redemption options give you a better return. For example, your points may be worth 1 cent each if you redeem for gift cards with Citi’s partner retailers and for travel. When it comes to merchandise, redemption value varies. Redeeming for both a NINJA Mega Kitchen System blender and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (8GB) gets you a redemption value of 0.8 cents per point – better than redeeming for cash.

Application requirements

This is a student credit card, so you must be a currently enrolled college or graduate student and over 18 years of age, according to the card’s terms and conditions. Depending on your creditworthiness and income, the credit line may be as low as $500.

The real question with student cards is whether you have to be earning a steady income to get one. The CARD Act of 2009 required issuers of student cards to make sure applicants under 21 earn enough on their own to pay back charges. The application is vague when it comes to income requirements, saying only that it will review your annual income. What the application does make clear is that, if you’re under 21, the income you declare on your application must be your own. Only those over 21 can include income from others that they can access:

Citi ThankYou student income requirement

Protections and extras

Even if your credit limit is woefully low, you’ll still get some benefits from this card:

  • EMV chip
  • Rental car insurance
  • Travel protections (lost luggage, travel accident, trip cancellation/interruption, travel emergency assistance)
  • Extended warranty coverage
  • Citi Price Rewind

Such extras make this card a better deal than a debit card, which wouldn’t provide travel insurance or extended warranty protection.

How does it compare?

There are a few other student cards that offer rewards (and have no annual fee):

  • Discover it for Students: This card offers 5 percent cash back in rotating quarterly categories and 1 percent back on everything else.
  • Journey Student Rewards from Capital One:  This card lets you earn 1 percent cash back on all your purchases. If you pay your bill on time, you get a 25 percent bonus. In other words, you’re getting 1.25 percent back – a rate that’s pretty competitive even for non-student cards. Check out our review for more information.
  • Citi Dividend Platinum Select for College students: This card is similar to the Discover it for Students, as it offers 5 percent back in rotating categories and 1 percent on all other purchases.
  • Upromise World MasterCard: The cash back you earn on this card goes into a Upromise college savings account. You’ll earn 1 percent on most of your purchases, but you can earn more by making eligible online purchases through Upromise.com – or by making purchases at participating restaurants, gas stations or movie theaters. Check out our review to learn more.

As you’ll notice, some other student cards offer more cash back (up to 5 percent). However, you’ll get that higher rate only if you shop in the right categories each quarter –or shop with participating merchants. Some of the categories aren’t exactly student friendly. For example, gasoline, home furnishing stores and fitness clubs (all 5 percent categories offered by either the Citi Dividend or Discover it student cards) may not be that fruitful for a student who doesn’t have a car, lives in a furnished dorm and uses the campus gym.

The verdict

The no-longer-available Citi Forward card offered 5 percent in a variety of categories (including restaurants), so this new offer may look less enticing in comparison. Yet it’s still competitive, compared with other current student card offerings. It gives a steady 2 points per dollar on restaurant and entertainment purchases year round – that means you’re getting double points on two relatively easy-to-reach categories year round without having to keep track of rotating categories.

There are two important caveats, however.

  1. ThankYou points might not be the best fit for a student. Many students may find cash back most useful. It’s immediate and can be used toward pressing needs, whether they be books, pizza or caffeinated beverages. ThankYou points are a little less concrete. If you don’t have time to shop around the Citi ThankYou site for the best gift card and travel deals, you’re stuck redeeming cash for a less-than-stellar rate, as discussed above.
  2. If you’re a student without a co-signer, chances are your credit limit will be low. Unlike a globe-trotting executive who can route thousands of dollars in restaurant purchases through a card, you might be trapped within a $500 credit limit. Plus, if you have a campus meal plan or a tight budget, you might not even be spending regularly at restaurants – so there go those double points.

If you can maximize your ThankYou points and dine out frequently, though, this could be a good starter card to build your credit before you graduate to more lucrative rewards cards.

Should You Get One of AmEx’s New ‘Everyday’ Cards?

By now, you’ve probably heard about American Express’s two new card offerings. There’s been a lot of buzz (read our forum discussion here) about the Everyday card and the Everyday Preferred card since the commercial starring Tina Fey debuted during the Oscars.

But is this duo a game-changer? Does one of them deserve to be your go-to card? And how do they stack up against other rewards cards? Read our review to find out.

Two versions

There are two versions of the card: the American Express Everyday and the American Express Everyday Preferred.

Use this chart to compare them:

Compare AmEx Everyday Cards
EverydayEveryday Preferred
Annual feeNone$95
Rewards2 Membership Rewards Points (MRPs) per dollar at supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar)3 MRPs per dollar at supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar)
N/A2 MRPs per dollar at gas stations
1 MRP per dollar on other purchases1 MRP on other purchases
Extra pointsEarn 20% extra points after 20 purchases with card in billing periodEarn 50% extra points after 30 purchases with card in billing period
Sign-up bonus10,000 MRPs after spending $1,000 in first 92 days15,000 MRPs after spending $1,000 in 92 days

Although the cards have their differences, here’s what they’ve got in common:

EMV technology: You can request “smart card” chip and signature technology for both cards.

MRPs for no (or low) annual fee: Both cards let you earn Membership Rewards Points. This is an interesting twist, since these cards will be outliers in the exclusive club that is AmEx Membership Rewards. They’ll be the first credit cards (not charge cards) in the program that have a low (or no) annual fee. Other AmEx fan favorites that get you MRPs include the Gold Card ($125 annual fee) and the Premier Rewards Gold Card ($175 annual fee). Its entry-level charge card (the Green card) does get you in the Membership Rewards door for $95 (just like the new Everyday Preferred), BUT it gives you double points only on eligible travel expenses booked through AmEx’s travel site.

The Membership Rewards program lets you do quite a bit with your points, from using them toward charges you make, to redeeming them for gift cards and merchandise, to using them to shop on Amazon, to transferring them to a variety of frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs (more than 20 as of March 2014). This ability to transfer points is generally considered the best use of your points, because your MRPs (which are each generally worth 1 cent or less across other redemption methods) can be worth more when you change them into hotel loyalty or frequent flier points.

Extra protections and perks: Both cards have a suite of extra protections, including access to the AmEx Roadside Assistance hotline, rental car insurance (secondary coverage), access to the Global Assist Hotline, travel accident insurance, extended warranty coverage (one extra year added to warranties of five years or less), purchase protection and return protection.

You’ll also get exclusive access to event pre-sales and and special member-only events.

Getting the bonus points

The stand-out factor of these cards are their bonuses – the extra points you get for making a certain number of purchases in a billing period – 20 with the basic card and 30 with the Preferred card. This system is pretty Pavlovian. AmEx is basically conditioning cardholders to reach for the Everyday card first to “get their 20,” as Tina Fey puts it in the commercial (or 30, for those with the Preferred card). There’s no dollar-per-purchase minimum to qualify, so if you’re five short of your 20 (or 30) purchases, you could potentially run out and get five candy bars before the billing cycle ends. AmEx will offer a counter app so that you can track each month’s progress.

A lot of shoppers tend to use cash or debit for smaller, routine purchases, and it seems that AmEx is trying to give them an incentive to use their Everday cards instead. And why wouldn’t it? AmEx gets a cut of every purchase made with the card via swipe fees.

If you make the required number of purchases, it could really pay off. Say you spend $10,000 a year on the card. With the Everyday version, you’ll end up with 12,000 MRPs – and with the Preferred version, you’ll end up with 15,000. Depending on how you redeem, 15,000 MRPs could get you:

  • Up to $150 in gift cards (from various retailers)
  • A weekend in a Starwood Category 1 hotel
  • A free one-way ticket within the continental U.S. on Frontier Airlines.
  • A set of Bose speakers

The verdict

So should you carve out some wallet space for this card? As with all rewards cards, it depends — on how many cards you already have, on how often you make credit card purchases and on what you want to redeem your rewards for.

Ask yourself these questions before applying:

What’s my existing rewards strategy?

This card basically demands to be your go-to card, considering that you need to use it 20 to 30 times a month to get maximum rewards. If you have a few other rewards cards in your AmEx Everyday card screen shotarsenal, that might be inconvenient. For example, if you’ve got the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred, you might prefer to get 6 percent in straight-up cash back on your groceries. If you have a card with 5 percent rewards in rotating categories, you’re probably trying to milk that quarter’s category. If you have an airline card that earns miles toward elite status, you’re probably trying to use that card as much as you can. In other words, adding this card to your lineup could split your focus and dilute your rewards – depending on your current strategy.

Could I use it to replace or complement another card?

If you like the Membership Rewards program, either of the new Everyday cards could be a good replacement for a more expensive MRP-earning AmEx charge card. If you have the American Express Gold card, you could lower (or eliminate) your annual fee AND increase you rewards earnings by closing it and switching to an Everyday card.

Or perhaps you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which lets you transfer points into some frequent flier and hotel programs that don’t partner with AmEx. With that card and your AmEx Everyday (just two cards) you essentially have the ability to dispatch your points to more than 30 programs.

Do I have the time to maximize my MRPs?

What’s a bit strange about the card is that it’s being marketed toward the busy-parents market (in the commercial, Fey plunks the card down for everything as she navigates a chaotic day with her kids in tow). But the rewards are MRPs — and it can take quite a bit of strategizing to make sure you’re getting the most out of them. Often, maximizing your points involves shuffling them into frequent flier and hotel loyalty accounts. That means not only do you have to travel, you have to have a bunch of frequent flier and hotel loyalty accounts open – and be savvy enough to know which accounts will get you the most bang for your buck on a particular trip.

So, while the card is being marketed at harried consumers, getting the most out of it requires a strategy. For customers who don’t have time to play around with MRPs, a cash-back card (such as either of the Blue Cash cards from AmEx) would provide higher earnings with less fuss. If redeeming for travel is your thing, you can get low-maintenance rewards from the Barclaycard Arrival ($89 annual fee), which gives you 2 miles on every purchase, along with 10 percent of your miles back each time you redeem. That’s 2.2 percent back on all your spending, and you can redeem for statement credits against travel expenses.

The bottom line: If you are a fan of the Membership Rewards program, can put the work into maximizing your rewards and know that you’ll make a certain number of transactions each billing period, the Everyday cards will be hard to beat. However, there are cards out there that will give you a similar rate of return for less work.

Last updated March 24, 2014.

2014 Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card Review

After disappearing in late 2013, the Hawaiian Airlines credit card (formerly issued by Bank of America) has re-emerged as the Barclaycard-issued Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard. Those already holding one of the old Hawaiian Airlines Visa cards can expect to automatically receive the new version by mid-April 2014.

What’s changed?

In the past, there were two different personal versions of the card: Visa Signature ($79 annual fee) and Platinum ($50 annual fee). Now, there’s one personal version (although there’s a business version, too). It’s a World Elite MasterCard, and it’s got a (higher) annual fee of $89.

The rewards

One thing that hasn’t changed is the rewards structure. Cardholders still earn:

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Hawaiian Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • 2 to 10 miles per dollar spent at participating partners (these include various resorts, hotels and car rental companies)
  • Miles for flights taken on partner airlines. The amount you earn varies by airline and route.

There’s no limit on the number of miles you can earn.

The card is running a sign-up bonus of 35,000 bonus miles (after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days), but that may not be quite enough for a round-trip flight. Cardholders do have access to discounted fares — but if there aren’t any available for the flight you want, you could end up paying 40,000 miles and up (sometimes WAY up) for a round-trip coach ticket between ticket between Hawaii and the continental U.S. You can also get one-way tickets between the islands for as low as 7,500 miles.

Redemption options and value

How much your rewards are worth depends on how you spend them. Because ticket prices and rewards availability are always fluctuating, the worth of your miles will fluctuate as well.
Say you’re flying coach from Los Angeles to Honolulu in May. If you fly out on Monday May 5, your miles will each be worth 0.73 cents (40,000 miles required for a $293 ticket):

May 5 Hawaiian airlines dollars

May 5 Hawaiian airlines miles

Flying on May 5: mile value = 0.73 cents each

But if you wait two days and fly out May 7, your value per point will increase to 1.8 cents each if you take an evening flight:

May 7 Hawaiian airlines dollars

May 7 Hawaiian airlines miles

Flying on May 7: mile value = 1.8 cents each

You can also redeem for flights on Hawaiian’s partner airlines (including American, All Nippon, JetBlue, China Airlines, Korean Air, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia). Value varies when you redeem this way, but it allows you to use your points on a variety of itineraries, both within the continental U.S. and in a variety of Asian countries.

If you don’t want to use your rewards for air travel, there are some other options…

You can redeem for merchandise, as well as car rentals and hotel stays. For example, 10,000 miles will get you a $50 gift certificate for Alamo Car Rental or National Car Rental. You can also take advantage of the card’s partnership with Hilton to get 1.5 Hilton HHonors points for each HawaiianMile. You have to redeem in 10,000-mile increments. That means you could use 30,000 of your 35,000-mile sign-up bonus to get 45,000 Hilton HHonors points — enough for one night in a Category 6 hotel (or three nights in a Category 2 hotel).

Extras

Airline cards aren’t just about the miles you earn each time you swipe, but about the extra perks that make travel more pleasant or that accelerate your rewards earnings. This card will get you:

  • One free checked bag: This is for the primary cardholder only (other airline cards kick in a free bag for a companion or two).
  • 5,000 bonus miles: You get 5,000 bonus miles each year you send $10,000 or more on the card.
  • Companion discounts: There are two companion discounts. As with the old card, you get a one-time 50 percent companion discount on a round-trip ticket. With the new card, you also get a $100 discount on a companion coach ticket on each account anniversary. There are some restrictions, however. These discounts are available only on round-trip fares between North America and Hawaii. You also can’t use either discount on code-share flights – or on any kind of ticket besides economy class. And, as is the case with most companion discounts, you have to pay any necessary taxes and surcharges associated with your ticket.
  • World Elite benefits: World Elite benefits generally come with cards that sport high annual fees (take, for example, the Citi Prestige, which has a $450 annual fee). So paying $89 for the suite of World Elite benefits isn’t bad. These include a suite of travel insurance protections, concierge service and travel perks (such as room upgrades and free breakfast, if you’re staying at participating hotels).
  • No foreign transaction fees: Paying an extra 2 to 3 percent with each purchase overseas can add up. This card waives those fees.
  • EMV chip: Not all travel-related cards have this, but this card includes an EMV smart chip, necessary for purchases overseas.

The verdict?

The travel perks of this card don’t really stand out – there are no free checked bags for companions and no priority boarding (a staple on similarly priced cards from other airlines). However, the companion ticket offer is quite competitive. Quite a few airline cards offer companion ticket discounts or straight-up free companion tickets. But many limit those offers to the continental United States. The World Elite benefits are the icing on the cake.hawaiian-airlines

Just watch out for the redemption value – it can dip pretty low, depending on the day and time you fly. Plus, because flights to Hawaii require so many miles in the first place (many more than a domestic round-trip fare), it could take you a while to earn a free round trip, with your regular spending earning only 1 mile per dollar.

Benefits and rewards aside, you must look at the big picture with this card: Unlike a lot of other airline cards from bigger carriers (American, Delta, United), this card is built for very specific routes. With other airline cards, you have a certain amount of flexibility to maximize your points. If the reward flights for your intended vacation destination cost a fortune in miles, you can always decide to vacation somewhere else. Hawaiian airlines, however will get you only to and from Hawaii and select destinations within the continental U.S.

The card makes up for that somewhat with its airline partners, which offer you the flexibility to redeem for routes Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t fly. Still, you have to go through the hassle of booking by phone when redeeming this way. Plus, the value isn’t always the best. Round-trip flights within North America start at 30,000 miles when you redeem HawaiianMiles for an American Airlines flight, even though they start at 25,000 AAdvantage miles when booked directly through American.

If you’re planning a trip between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, though, and can take advantage of the one-time 50 percent companion discount, this card would be a good choice. After you use up the sign-up bonus and that one-time offer, the card will remain a good value if you spend enough to earn the $5,000 bonus each year, fly often enough on Hawaiian to earn extra miles and can use the yearly companion discount.

Looking for a go-to card for other travel? Consider this one, which earns you the equivalent of 2.2 percent back on your spending (and lets you redeem miles for any travel expense) for the same annual fee ($89):


Written or last updated March 12, 2014

BankAmericard Travel Rewards Review 2014

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.

Earning points

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 card to get bonus rewards from your purchases.

However, there’s a limit when it comes to the extra points you can earn via the Travel Center: Only the first $6,000 in airline purchases you make per year qualify for the 3-points-per-dollar rate. But there are no limits on the points you earn via other Travel Center purchases — or on the points you earn via regular spending.

Redeeming points

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
  • Timeshares
  • 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.

Other perks

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 this online-exclusive offer, you’ll get a 10,000-point bonus (worth $100 in travel) after making at least $500 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’s a run-down of the card’s biggest competitors. All the cards below are flexible general-purpose travel cards, meaning you “cancel out” travel purchases with your points. They also all have no annual fee.

VentureOneCapital 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 $2,000 in the first three months.

chase-sapphire-vs-chase-freedomChase Sapphire: This card is the basic version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which costs $95 a year). Most of your spending will get you 1 point per dollar, but you can get 2 points per dollar spent on travel and at restaurants. Points are each worth 1 cent when you use them toward any travel expense. There’s a promotion right now for 10,000 bonus points if you spend $500 in the first three months.

barclaycard-arrivalBarclaycard Arrival (no-annual-fee version): The lesser known 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.

american-express-blue-skyAmerican Express Blue Sky: At first glance, this card seems to have a lower rewards-earning rate than any of the above cards – a flat 1 point per dollar spent on everything, with no bonus categories. But the redemption value on this card closes that gap. Most generic travel rewards points or miles are worth 1 cent when you cash them in. The Blue Sky card lets you cash in 7,500 points for a $1,000 statement credit toward travel – meaning each point is worth 1.3 cents. If you apply using this link, you can get a sign-up bonus of 7,500 points (worth $100).

The bottom line

The BankAmericard Travel Rewards 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.

American Express Serve Review: A Good Prepaid Card for 2014?

Although they don’t improve your credit, prepaid cards do have some perks. You don’t have to have good credit or a bank account to get one. The amount loaded on the card gives you strict spending ceiling. And you still get to make purchases online and avoid carrying around cash.

The biggest drawback? All prepaid cards charge fees. In fact, some are absolutely riddled with them: There’s often a fee for getting the card, another for making a call to customer service and more for adding money. However, if you’re going to go the prepaid route, the American Express Serve card is a good low-cost option that can be virtually free if you play your cards right.

Here’s what you need to know about it:

It has low fees compared to the rest of the industry

Like all prepaid cards, the American Express Serve has fees. But at least it keeps the nickel-and-diming to a minimum.

The chart below shows a run-down of the common fees reloadable prepaid cards charge – and where the Serve falls compared with other cards in the space:

AmEx Serve fees
Card purchase feeFree online; $2.95 in stores$0 to $9.95
Monthly maintenance fee$1 (see exceptions below)$4 to $9.95
Fee to add money$0 (third-party fees apply if using MoneyPak or similar)$0 to $2.50 (not counting third-party fees)
Customer service fee$0$0 to $2 per call
U.S. ATM withdrawal fee$2 ($0 at MoneyPass ATMs)$1.95 to $2.50 (usually free within card's own ATM network)
Foreign transaction fees2.7%2% to 3.5%

As you can see, this card leads the pack when it comes to keeping certain fees low – and, at worst, it falls in the middle.

Pay particular attention to the monthly fee. At $1, it’s already low, but you can eliminate it entirely by doing one of the following in a given month:

  • Receiving a direct deposit on the card.
  • Adding $500 or more to your account.
  • Adding your card to your Isis Mobile Wallet

Those hurdles are pretty low, and, even if they aren’t convenient for you every month, you’ll pay $1, worst-case scenario. Also, keep in mind that there are no monthly fees in N.Y., Vt. and Texas.
In addition to the monthly fee, another fee you can expect to pay on a regular basis is an ATM withdrawal fee. If you’re not near a MoneyPass ATM (there are 24,000 of them nationwide), you’ll be paying $2 per withdrawal, plus any fees charged by the bank that owns the ATM.

You might ask how AmEx is making any money off this card if the fees are so low. Each time you swipe, the merchant gets charged a processing fee. So, if this becomes your card of choice, AmEx will make money off of you (well, your purchases, anyway), even if you’re not paying much in fees.

Reloading the card is easy, but can get expensive if you’re not careful

Some prepaid cards will let you get direct deposits onto the card for free and then gouge you if you want to reload from a bank account, debit card or credit card. Others won’t let you load from a debit or credit card, period.Amex Serve

The Serve card, meanwhile, has a bunch of free options for loading money. You can load up for free with cash at participating 7-ELEVEN and CVS locations, via direct deposit, by depositing checks through the Serve mobile app, by routing money from a checking or savings account, or by using a using a debit or credit card.

The only time you’ll pay to top off is if you purchase a MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload — and that’s where things can get expensive. If you reload $100 via a $4.95 MoneyPak, you’re spending 5 percent of your own money for the privilege of … spending your own money. It’s easy to criticize people who get trapped in that cycle, but remember: A lot of people are drawn to prepaid cards because they don’t have bank accounts. MoneyPaks and Vanilla Reloads (available at a ton of discount chain stores) would be the most convenient way to get money on your card if you don’t have a bank.

It has protections and money-management tools

One of the biggest advantages of credit cards is that they come with all kinds of extra protections, from purchase protection to travel insurance coverage. While the Serve card can’t compete with the most perk-laden rewards credit cards, it does kick in some extras, including:

Purchase protection: If you buy something with the card, and it gets lost or stolen within 90 days, American Express will reimburse you, up to $1,000 per occurrence. It’s a common benefit on credit cards – but extremely rare among prepaid cards.

Protection for the money you load: If the money you put on the card is gone as soon as a thief steals it or if the bank holding it fails, you might as well just carry cash, right? Luckily, you can consider the money you load onto your Serve card safer than bills in your wallet.

These days, FDIC protection for the funds you load onto prepaid cards is par for the course with reputable financial institutions. With the Serve card, things are a little different because American Express is not a bank, so any funds placed with it are not FDIC insured. AmEx gets around that by placing your funds into custodial accounts at FDIC-insured banks, according to the card’s website. There is some fine print to be aware of, however: It takes AmEx about a day to put your funds into such an account, and during this limbo period, they’re not FDIC insured. Still, you can consider your money pretty safe unless AmEx happens to go insolvent the very day your funds are in limbo.

And what if a thief steals your card and tries to drain it? The card advertises its fraud protection – if a thief uses you’re card, you get refunded. Careful, though –That protection is available only to those who have registered for a Serve account with AmEx. If you’ve just bought a temporary card at a retail location, loaded it up with some cash and haven’t yet signed up for a Serve account (and a card with your name on it), you won’t be refunded for any fraudulent transactions that happened before you called customer service. It’s in the fine print:

Amex Serve fine print lost stolen card

Money-management tools: This is another common perk among prepaid cards. Most of them have ways to track your spending and set limits. The Serve card uses a program called “Reserve.” Essentially, you have the ability to move funds from your available balance to a special Reserve account that acts as a savings account for big purchases. That way, the funds stay out of the way – you can’t spend them unless you transfer them back to your regular Serve account.

Money-sharing tools: You can send money to anyone with a Serve account via your desktop or via the mobile app.

Roadside assistance: This is another rare perk among prepaid cards, but it’s not as good as it sounds. You have the privilege of calling American Express’s roadside assistance hotline, and they’ll send you a tow truck or locksmith. But AmEx isn’t paying for it – you’re responsible for whatever the help costs.

Access to the Global Assist Hotline: This hotline will help you navigate any medical or legal emergencies you run into while you’re more than 100 miles from home. As with roadside assistance, you’ll have to pay for whatever help you need. But this perk can be helpful if you’re in another country, in big trouble and can’t speak the language.

The bottom line

While prepaid cards offer the convenience of plastic, they won’t help you improve your credit. If you’re seeking out prepaid cards because you’ve been rejected for credit (and want to build up your credit rating), check out the secured card offers here.

If, however, you want a reloadable prepaid card for whatever reason, the American Express Serve is a good one. The fees are low compared to its competitors (as long as you rely on the free methods of reloading), and it has a generous suite of extras that are rare among prepaid cards.

Updated April 1, 2014