Alternate Bank Program Showdown Part 1: Barclays vs USBank vs Bank of America vs Capital One



Note: This post was updated on 6/21/2018 to reflect the following new changes:

  • Air Canada’s Aeroplan was just added as an additional transfer partner to the Arrival Premier card;
  • The Arrival Plus card is being re-introduced to new applicants on 7/1/2018 with a 60,000 point sign up bonus!

Now that we’ve covered the big three bank miles programs, we now move on to the next 4 alternatives. Although not as well known, there is certainly no reason to ignore any of these as each of them is highly competitive in their own right and the right mix of cards can still offer you a competitive if not superior return on your spending. Keep in mind that I am covering each of these programs as unified systems, but the reality is that most of these rewards are tied to a particular card and cannot be pooled or transferred between accounts save for a few exceptions, which I will indicate when appropriate.

 
 
 
 

Barclays Rewards: Background
Barclays Cards that Earn Rewards
Earning Barclays Points
Spending Barclays Points
Using Points for Transfer to Partners
Points Expiration
Barclays Program Summary

 
 
 
 

Barclays Rewards: Background
In the first post of this series we’ll focus on Barclays, formerly called Barclaycard. Although not really a unified ecosystem, each of the cards covered has their own miles, which can be redeemed in various ways and compared among themselves. Being a primarily Europe-based institution, Barclays is the main US institution offering built-in Chip and PIN capability on the majority of its’ cards, which can come in very useful during international travel. Most other issuers use Chip and Signature as their default, which can be an impediment to using your card, especially in foreign machine-based transactions such as purchasing train tickets or gas at the pump. Through its’ main offerings, Barclays offers several interesting and valuable cards that allow you to take advantage and earn superior returns on multiple spend categories.

 
 
 
 

Barclays Cards that Earn Rewards
The following is a list of the cards, which earn Barclays rewards:
Arrival Premier
Arrival Plus#
Arrival*
Uber

*Not accepting new applications; may be available as product change only
#Accepting new applicants as of 7/1/2018

Unlike the other issuers covered to date, all Barclays cards have relatively low annual fees. This comes with fewer ancillary benefits, but competitive bonus earning categories. Note, however, that there are no applicable business cards – only personal cards are available for these products. The Arrival Premier is currently the issuers’ top tier card, and carries no foreign transaction fees. For reference, this card competes with the AMEX PRG, the Citi Premier, and Chase Sapphire Preferred – Barclays does not have a true top-tier competitor to the Big Three’s premium offerings at this time. The details for the cards are illustrated in the spreadsheet below:

Barclays Credit Card Summary

None of these cards carry any foreign transaction fees, which is a huge bonus for frequent international travellers. As mention in the introduction, all of these also feature Chip and PIN capability, making them accepted at self-service terminals around the world, such as unmanned gas stations and train ticket machines. This is another big selling point for frequent international travellers, especially to Europe where these are more common than you think. Barclays is the only major issuer to have this features as compared to the vast majority of US banks, which default to (and may not be able to change from) Chip and Signature for their cards.

Note, however, that the Barclays Arrival Plus and regular Arrival cards are not currently available for new customers. Although it is not clear if you can call and request a product change to one of these from another card, Barclays, in particular, is known to be very dynamic in shuffling their card portfolio and frequently opening and closing cards to new applications. So just because a particular card is not currently available does not mean that this will be the case in 3 or 6 months.

In fact, according to Gary Leff from View from the Wing, the Arrival Plus card is expected to be re-introduced and open to new applicants once again on 7/1/2018. There is no word yet on the regular Arrival card but I would not rule this possibility out.

Since the Arrival Premier is part of the Arrival card family, I am including all of the cards for comparison. In addition to this, the recently launched Uber card is also very interesting – despite the co-brand with the ride-sharing company, this card actually offers its’ highest earning rate on dining and has several possible redemption options. As it mimics some of the other dedicated miles cards available, I think its’ only fair to include it in this comparison.

 
 
 
 

Earning Barclays Rewards
As each credit card technically earns different miles/points currency that cannot be transferred or pooled, Barclays does not have a true unified program like the other banks we covered to date. However, as many of these points can be redeemed for similar things and at equivalent value, I am combining them together in one overview for simplicity. The ability to earn points is summarized below:

Barclays Credit Card Points Earn

A unique thing about Barclays is that the Arrival Premier and Uber cards offer additional bonuses based on aggregate annual spend; in the case of the Arrival Premier, you get extra miles for each threshold you meet (up to 25,000 extra miles for 25,000$), and a statement credit for the Uber card (50$ good for online subscription services after 5,000$ spent annually). This is a great touch that encourages you to keep the cards in rotation and would be a great thing for other issuers to consider.

As you can see, the potential earning categories are quite broad and are well represented although, compared to Citi, Barclays does not have an entertainment category. The Arrival Premier and Arrival Plus cards are designed for simplicity – in exchange for carrying annual fees, both cards net you 2 miles for all purchases. There are no categories to keep track off and no quarterly bonus points to plan your spending around. This rewards structure is analogous to the Blue Business Plus card from AMEX, which was previously covered, except in this case Barclays does not even specify a maximum spending limit – you can earn double points on any amount of spending!

The Uber and regular Arrival cards are more focused: they offer extra earnings on select categories only and 1x points on general spend. The Arrival card is more geared to frequent travellers, while the Uber card targets millennial and other younger individuals by offering excellent returns for a no annual fee product on dining, air travel, and online purchases.

The Hotel and Airfare Travel category including the below:
“Airfare, hotels and vacation rentals (including travel agencies and home share exchanges), as defined by merchant category codes”.

The broader “Other Travel” category is defined as follows:
“Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines and ferries.”

The following definition is applicable to dining, earning bonuses:
“Restaurants, as defined by merchant category codes, which includes restaurants, fast food restaurants and bars” in addition to UberEATS purchases specifically for the Uber card.

Finally, while the Uber card’s category of “Online Purchases” does not include many shopping options, it does apply to many other transactions, which are not considered for bonus rewards by other issuers:

“Video and music streaming services (including Netflix, Pandora, HBO Now, and Apple Music); Certain online services (including Instacart, Shyp, Angie’s List, Handy, Thumbtack, FlyCleaners and TaskRabbit); and Digital purchases of mobile applications and media on platforms (including iTunes and Google Play).””

The below purchases are specifically excluded from this last category:
“Utilities (such as cable, satellite, telecommunications, gas, water, and electric); Contracted Services (such as landscaping, general contractors, plumbing, heating/air conditioning, roofing, siding, carpentry, electrical, masonry, and concrete, and certain special trade contractors); Government Services (such as court costs, alimony, child support, fines, bail and bond payments, and tax payments); Professional Services (such as doctors, therapists, dentists, opticians, nursing care facilities, hospitals, attorneys, child care services, accounting, and architectural services).”

It is up to you to decide if you will be better served by keeping track of bonus categories and actively maximizing your rewards or getting one of the 2x-on-everything cards and putting things on auto-pilot. This decision should be driven by your spending habits and personal preferences as well as figuring out if you will come out ahead on non-bonus spend to offset the annual fee.

As a welcome additional perk, like Chase, Barclays offers the ability to earn extra points on top of defined category spend by using the RewardsBoost portal.

Barclays Credit Card Points RewardsBoost 1

As you can see, this consists of click-through links that you can activate and use with select merchants that allow you to earn the indicated number of points when using your card. These offers are limited only to only online purchases and do not apply in-store. Be sure to check the fine print for each of these as, frequently, even online pick-up orders are excluded from bonuses. Although the offers are the same, be sure to use the same card for your purchase as the one you had selected initially on the RewardsBoost page!

Barclays Credit Card Points RewardsBoost 2

Keep in mind that these bonuses are in addition to the category-defined bonus spend of the card: thus, if you are purchasing a travel reservation using a 2 points/$ link, you will earn a total of 4 points/$ with the regular Arrival card. Unfortunately, you cannot combine this with coupon codes or other portals that require a click-through (such as ebates) as only the last recorded click-through will be honored.

Finally, as I noted in my introduction, Barclays makes tracking your point purchases as well as any bonuses – both received and pending – very user-friendly and straightforward (are you listening, Citi??). After logging into your account, you will see information about all your recent transactions and the number of pending points, all on the same page:

Barclays Credit Card Rewards Pending Points

You can additionally click on the “Rewards activity” tab that will then display a list of all recent statements with earned point balances, as well as any redemptions and adjustments, as shown:

Barclays Credit Card Points Rewards Summary

Barclays Credit Card Points Rewards Statement

If you see that a transaction did not award you points, even though it was not part of any published exclusions and should have been awarded, you can give their call center a try and ask that they address the shortfall. Note, however, that each credit card purchase is associated with a particular merchant code, that Bacrlays then uses to determine which category they fit into. If the purchase is misclassified at the point of sale, they may refuse your request. This is not just Barclays-specific but is true of all banks’ programs. I have the experience of going to a particular food truck, which is not classified as dining with either of the big three banks for some reason and I never get extra points for it, even though the truck literally next to it always codes correctly. At least with Barclays, I know within a couple of days if I will earn extra points and can factor that into my decision on future purchases, instead of receiving a much nastier surprise after a potential months’ (or more!) worth of purchases. My advice, especially for big purchases that you expect will earn extra points, is to make a small transaction with the same merchant to make sure that the points post correctly or use a different seller that you know has gone through without a hitch in the past. This will save you a lot of calls and potential headaches down the line.

 
 
 
 

Spending Barclays Points
Now, onto the fun part! By now you’ve hopefully amassed a ton of points from maximizing strategic credit card spend and getting in on an additional spending bonus, and are eager to redeem all that hard work for a first class ticket. Not so fast – there are, unfortunately, some additional quirks to note. Let’s begin with another spreadsheet, delineating what each Barclays mile/point is worth:

Barclays Credit Card Rewards Points Spending

Unlike Chase’s and Citi’s systems and similar to AMEX, Barclays points are created roughly equal in their redemptions values no matter which card you use to earn them! Since all points can be redeemed for cash value, let’s cover that first. The values listed for each redemption are in cents; that is 1 Barclays point is equal to that number of cents. As you can see, the best possible redemptions, without utilizing a partner transfer, involve getting 1 cent per point. For the Arrival card family, this maximum value is achievable by purchasing airfare or other travel. Note that the Uber card functions more as a general cash back card with the only travel being reimbursed being Uber services! The good news is that Barclays does not force you to use to dedicated portal for travel purchases; rather you can make travel-related purchases anywhere, as long as you meet the above-listed requirements, and then use your points as a statement credit to erase the charges. A particular quirk with Barclays is that the minimum amount of points you can redeem – and, hence, the minimum purchase amount that qualifies – differs between cards so be sure to keep this in mind! Rather confusingly, the regular no fee Arrival card allows you to make lower redemptions than the Arrival Plus, which comes with an 89$ annual outlay. Additionally, the Arrival and Arrival Plus will credit you 5% of the redeemed points back, slightly increasing your maximum value to 1.05 cents.

Actually, if you account for the fact that the airfare booked is treated much like any other ticket that you purchase and earns both award miles and award dollars from the carrier, you get even more than this in value and this is, arguably, your best use of points. Your ultimate value will vary slightly based on how many extra miles you earn but it’s only fair to account for them when figuring out the true net redemption value that you receive. However, it is also possible to inadvertently book basic economy fares, which may negate any of the above additional mile-earning benefits, depending on the carrier (looking at you, United!), and may come with nasty surprises such as inability to select a seat without paying extra. My advice for this is to always double check the fare code of the ticket you purchased with points and reference these with the fare codes for your carrier; if you risk getting stuck in basic economy, you have 24 hours to change or cancel your purchase. Using Barclays Arrival card family points for anything other than travel generally does not make sense; it is the opposite with the Uber card as both statement credits and gift card redemptions will allow for the value of 1 cent per point, adding flexibility to this product. Which card you prefer to use and better suits your needs and goals is up to you!

Barclays does not offer quite as many opportunities to redeem your points as Citi and some other programs. On the flip side, your points never expire, eliminating a potential headache and another thing to track. Barclays does offer the same trap as Citi and AMEX with redeeming your points for merchandise – this is typically a redemption to be avoided as it decimates point values twice – by overpricing items and then using a subpar value of 0.5 cents for each point redeemed. To finish this section, I will add that Barclays is fortunately not as stingy as Citi and has not been known to send 1099-MISC forms, characterizing redeemed points as income. That being said, I would still be conservative and avoid excessive redemptions per calendar year as this may change at any time and there is nothing that prohibits them from doing so.

 
 
 
 

Using Points for Transfer to Partners
Now let’s explore the last, and arguably, most valuable use of Barclays miles – partner transfers. First off, this is currently only applicable to the Arrival Premier card (Sorry, Uber!). This card offers 9 airline partners 10 transfer partners to choose from, making it competitive with the Big Three miles programs covered previously. Here is a spreadsheet of current partners, updated on 6/21/2018, showing the value you will get from transferring 1 mile, which is the minimum amount you can move between accounts (although this can vary between partners!), and the average time it takes for a transfer to occur:

Barclay Travel partner chart updated

Barclays makes these redemptions relatively straightforward: almost every airline program gives you a single point of their currency for each 1.4 Barclays Arrival Premier miles you transfer with the exception of JAL the exception of JAL and Air Canada – as reported by Dan’s Deals – both of which require 1.7 Premier miles. You will also note that the average time it takes for the transfers to process is 3 days across the board; unfortunately, there are no consistent reports of instant transfer available. Please note, however, that your experience may vary with these transfers and the provided times are rough averages – while some peoples’ points processed faster, some unfortunate few experienced significant delays (Barclays claims the maximum transfer time should not exceed 15 business days in the worst case scenario).

Unlike AMEX and CITI, Barclays has not yet been known to run time-limited promotions, where they give an additional percentage bonus on transferred points, but this program is barely 6 months old and we will have to wait and see how they handle this in the future.

While I will not cover any of the individual programs in detail at this time and will leave this for future posts, I will note a couple of points about this part of the program. First, Barclays does not currently have any hotel partners for miles transfers. Thus, if you value hotel stays above other travel opportunities, I would definitely not recommend this program in its’ current state. Fortunately, you can still get 1 cent per mile value by booking hotels directly, but keep in mind that the minimum reimbursement amount for this is 100$ (10,000 miles). Depending on your booking method, you may also be eligible to earn hotel points and have the stay counted toward elite status, which is very welcome and differs from using other banks’ travel portals, which typically do not qualify for this.

In addition to the above, all of Barclays‘ airline partners either do not have a US presence at all or are quite limited. There is no US-based partner but at least all three main airline alliances – SkyTeam, OneWorld, and Star Alliance – are represented. This last point is important as it is this option that indirectly expands the potential list of airline redemptions; Barclays Arrival Premier miles, converted to any of the above carriers’ programs, can then in turn be used to book tickets on their respective partners. These redemptions will utilize each airlines’ respective partner award chart and rules.

 
 
 
 

Points Expiration
Much like AMEX, Barclays makes this section easy: your points do not expire! However, please note that if you close your account, Barclays takes away all your miles/points immediately – there is NO grace period. As these points do not represent a truly convertible currency, you will have to downgrade your account (but keep it open!) in order to us all your hard-earned credit card points.

 
 
 
 

Barclays Rewards Point Program Summary
Whew, you made it to the end and now know as much as I do about all the intricacies of Barclays miles and points! I hope this was instructive and serves as a helpful reference guide for you now and in the future. Despite some of this program’s quirks, I think it has a lot to offer someone interested in air travel or if you want a great no-fee cash back card, which the Uber card really represents as its’ use solely for Uber rides actually gives you subpar value. Based on everything I’ve covered, I can summarize the advantages and disadvantages of the program in the following:

MileNavigator Happy Face

  • Get up to 1.05 cents per point with airfare redemptions with the Arrival and Arrival Plus cards, utilizing the 5% point rebate perk, or 1 cent per point with the Arrival Premier
  • Alternatively, get 1 cent per point in statement credits or gift cards using the Uber card, making it a solid cash-back proposition with no annual fee
  • Cards have no foreign transactions fees and feature Chip and PIN capability, making them accepted at self-service terminals around the world
  • Barclays offers 9 airline transfer partners if you have the Arrival Premier!
  • Good bonus earning category definitions for earning rewards
  • Barclays makes tracking earned and pending points simple
  • Bonuses for hitting annual spend targets on the Arrival Premier and Uber cards
  • Points never expire
  • Value for transferring miles is not as good as other programs
  • No 1099-MISC form for redemptions

MileNavigator Neutral Face

  • No Entertainment bonus earning category
  • Partner mile transfers take an average of 3 business days
  • Points expire immediately upon closing your card account
  • No domestic US mile transfer partners make domestic redemptions more difficult
  • Bonus earning opportunities through Barclays RewardsBoost portal

MileNavigator Sad Face

  • No sign-up bonus available on Arrival Premier despite relatively high annual fee
  • No bonuses given for banking relationship
  • No hotel transfer partners

 

Please keep in mind that I did not have time to include any of the additional benefits of having cards with Barclays nor many ancillary benefits, such as the built-in cellphone protection plan with the Uber card, in this review. This will follow in the future and is just as important as their Barclays rewards program in determining whether they are a good fit for you!

 
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