Compared to the big competitors, perhaps you haven’t heard much about the FlexPerks Travel Rewards card from U.S. Bank. However, you might start hearing a little more, since U.S. Bank recently introduced a version of the card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) as a counterpart to its long-standing Visa Signature version of the card.
So are these cards a hidden gem? Our review will show you the differences between the Visa and American Express versions of the card and how to compute the value of your points.
The Visa Signature version:
- Get 20,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $3,500 in net purchases within the first four months.
- Award travel starts at just 20,000 FlexPoints (for up to a $400 ticket value) on over 150 airlines with no blackout dates or online redemption fees.
- Earn 1 FlexPoint for every $1 of eligible net purchases charged to your card (for up to $120,000 in purchases each year — after that, earn 1 FlexPoint for every $2).
- Earn 2 FlexPoints for every $1 spent on gas, grocery or airline purchases – whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle – and on most cell phone expenses.
- Earn 3 FlexPoints per dollar for your charitable donations.
- $0 intro Annual Fee the first year, after that $49
- Earn 3,500 bonus FlexPoints each year when you spend $24,000 in Net Purchases.
- You can redeem these FlexPoints for your annual fee or combine them with other FlexPoints for travel or other rewards options.
- $25 airline allowance each time you redeem for an award travel ticket. This allowance lets you get statement-credit reimbursements for things like baggage fees or in-flight refreshments.
- No foreign transaction fees
- EMV chip technology
- Discounts at National Car Rental and complimentary Emerald Club membership
- Discounts for chauffeured car service with BostonCoach
- Suite of benefits, including concierge service, secondary car rental coverage and travel and retail protections
The American Express version:
The American Express version of the FlexPerks Travel Rewards card has all of the above, with the following difference:
- 2 FlexPoints per dollar on restaurants
As you can see, the cards are virtually identical, except for the American Express card’s more generous rewards (double points on restaurants). The travel and retail protections, concierge service and rental car coverage may also differ because they’re administered by different networks (Visa and American Express).
But how much are those points worth?
Anyone who plays the credit card game knows that the number of points/miles you earn is meaningless, if you don’t know how much they’re actually worth.
So how do the US Bank FlexPoints stack up? It depends on the circumstances, but the value is, overall, good.
For hotels, car rentals and cruises, you get a value of 1 cent per point.
With airfares, the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards program allows you to book with more 150 airline partners. The the price of the ticket will dictate how much points it will take…
- 20,000 FlexPoints = Up to $400 ticket value
- 30,000 FlexPoints = Up to $600 ticket value
- 40,000 FlexPoints = Up to $800 ticket value
- 50,000 FlexPoints = Up to $1,000 ticket value
If you do the math, that means the value can be as high as 2 cents per point. That’s twice the baseline value of 1 cent per point that you should generally shoot for with these general-purpose travel rewards cards.
Here’s the catch though: Check out the tiered redemption structure above. Say the flight you want is $405. You’ve surpassed the $400 threshold, meaning you have to redeem 30,000 points (the next tier) for the flight. Instead of getting a per-point value of 2 cents, you’re getting 1.3 cents per point. That’s still more than the 1 cent per point you’d get with many general-purpose travel cards, but it might still be an unpleasant surprise to have to hand over 10,000 more points to cover an extra $5 in fare.
Another possible inconvenience is that you have to redeem your points through U.S. Bank’s online reward portal (or by phone, for a fee). Other cards allow you to comparison shop, book any type of travel (hotel, flight, cruise) anywhere you want and then request a statement credit. Take the Capital One Venture card, for example, which lets you earn 2 miles on every purchase and then cancel out any travel purchase with a statement credit.
Redemption-inconveniences aside, if you redeem FlexPerks points in the most favorable manner possible, you’re getting an above-average rate of return on your spending.
- up to 4 percent on either airlines, gas or groceries (whichever you spend the most in)
- up to 4 percent on cell phone expenses
- up to 2 percent on everything else
But wait, it gets better…
- Annual Bonus: Every year you spend $24,000 (that’s an average of $2,000 per month) you will receive a bonus of 3,500 FlexPoints. US Bank will let you redeem those to offset the $49 annual fee. So if you spend at least $24,000 per year, this credit card can basically be free for you. But since the fee is already waived year one you get to keep all those points to yourself.
- $25 airline allowance with each award ticket: Obviously they added this benefit to compete with the free-first-checked-bag benefit found on airline cards.
- You still can earn frequent flier miles: With most airline cards, you don’t earn miles on award flights. But with the FlexPerks Travel Rewards, your award flight is no different than a regular purchase in the eyes of an airline. So you can still use your frequent flyer account to earn miles on those flights.
- No blackout dates or redemption fees: Obviously if you buy a ticket last minute it will probably cost more (and therefore require more points) but at least you have the ability to redeem for any ticket, whenever you want.
The tiered rewards program for flights can be a little confusing at first glance. But if you play around with the numbers, you will see that it’s possible to get a good return on your spending. I especially like the 3x points on charitable contribution, which can get you up to a 6 percent return on your donations.
If you’re wondering which version of the card to get, the American Express version gives you double points on dining. That’s a common category for a lot of people, giving this card an advantage over the Visa Signature. What the Visa has going for it is the wider acceptance abroad.
Updated Oct. 30, 2014