USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Review: High Cash Back on Gas for Military Families

Oct 07, 2016 | Be First to Comment!

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express for groceries and gas

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® is designed for active duty and retired military members and their families. That’s the case for every USAA credit card. But, for this particular card, it's ideal for those who spend frequently on gas, groceries, and purchases on a military base. The spending pattern is common for members of military families who are in charge of these everyday purchases.

See if this card is the right choice for you:

Major cash back on gas, groceries, and military-base spending

With USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®, rewards are paid out at three different levels. Members earn:

  • 5% cash back at gas stations, commissaries, exchange, and shoppette locations on base (up to the first $3,000 in combined purchases each year)
  • 2% cash back at supermarkets (up to the first $3,000 in purchases each year)
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases

Again, this card is best suited for someone who does most of their spending at gas stations, supermarkets, or on base. If you were to max out the 5% and 2% cash back rewards each year, that’s $210 in cash back combined.

Once you hit the $3,000 spending limit for the 5% and 2% cash back categories, you’ll keep earning cash back on those purchases at a rate of 1% back per dollar. For any purchases you make anywhere other than gas stations, grocery stores, or base locations, you’ll always earn unlimited 1% cash back.

The cash back you earn never expires. You can redeem it for a statement credit against your balance or as a deposit into your USAA checking or savings account.

Exclusive card perks for military members

The cash back rewards program is already a great incentive to sign up for USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®. But, it offers even more benefits for military members. As long as your account is open and in good standing, you can take advantage of perks including:

  • Military campaign benefits - If you took part in a qualified military campaign, USAA will refund all interest charges.
  • Special SCRA rate - Members who go on active duty with a balance on their cards are eligible for a 4% annual percentage rate (APR). The rate applies for one year after they complete active duty.
  • Reduced rate for deployment/PCS - If you get deployed or receive PCS orders, USAA can reduce your APR to 4% on any balance you’re carrying for up to 12 months. After that, you’ll go back to paying the regular variable APR.

If you want to score these or other special bank benefits USAA offers, you’ll have to request them specifically. You can do that online or by visiting your nearest USAA branch.

Adding up the APR and fees

While USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® doesn’t have an annual fee, there are service fees that are typically found with most other credit cards. You’ll pay 3% of the transaction amount for balance transfers and cash advances. The late fee and returned fee both go up to $35.

On the plus side, there’s no foreign transaction fee with this card. That means if you’re using it outside the U.S., you don’t have to worry about USAA adding on any extra charges.

Another feature that this card lacks is a 0% introductory APR period for purchases or balance transfers. That may be a disappointment if you were hoping to finance a large purchase interest-free or transfer some high-interest debt onto the card.

The regular variable APR has a fairly broad range and the higher your credit score is, the better the rate you’ll qualify for. That could make a big difference if you’re planning to carry a balance from month to month.

Tip: If your credit isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, check out these quick but aggressive ways to boost your score in a hurry.

Other card extras

Beyond the cash rewards and the military member benefits, there are even more reasons to consider getting USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®.

Security features

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® includes an EMV security chip on the car. It helps protect your card information when you’re shopping in stores. As long as you dip your card at the chip reader terminal, hackers will have a tougher time stealing your information.

This card offers identity theft resolution services in someone ever tries to steal your identity. You’re also covered by identity fraud expense reimbursement if fraudulent charges show up on your account as a result of identity theft.

Travel benefits

While this card isn’t designed specifically for travels, it does come with benefits you’ll appreciate if you’re taking a trip. You’ll get things like:

  • 24/7 concierge service
  • Emergency travel assistance services
  • Roadside assistance
  • Legal referral service
  • Medical assistance services
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Trip cancellation insurance

All of these features are included at no additional charge but some of them do have separate fees. If you need to use roadside assistance to have your car towed, for example, you’d pay a fee to the towing company. Fortunately, the fees for many services are based on a pre-set rate and they’re billed straight to your card so you don’t have to worry about coming up with cash on the spot.

For the insurance coverage, you get $500,000 in travel accident insurance, $100 per three-day period for baggage delays, and up to $1,500 per event in trip cancellation insurance. Terms and limitations apply so be sure to read the fine print so you know what’s covered and what’s not.

Shopping protections

USAA offers purchase protection and an extended warranty program to cardmembers. If you buy something with your card and see it advertised for a lower price within 120 days of the purchase date, you can get up to $250 of the difference refunded.

The extended warranty program doubles the store’s or manufacturer’s warranty coverage for up to one year.

Who can apply for a USAA credit card?

To get a USAA credit card, you need to be a USAA member. Eligibility is limited to:

  • Active, retired, and honorably separated officers and enlisted personnel of the U.S. military.
  • Officer candidates in commissioning programs (Academy, ROTC, OCS/OTS)
  • Adult children of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy
  • Widows and widowers of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy

USAA also extends membership to spouses of eligible military members.

Tip: Not eligible for a USAA credit card? Find the best cash back credit card that provides similar rewards for non-military members.

Alternatives to USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®

USAA has several credit cards to choose from and they’re all designed for different types of spenders. We’ve included three other cash rewards cards below so you can see how they stack up against the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card.

USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

Card features:

  • Earn up to 1.25% cash back on purchases
  • No penalty APR
  • No annual fee

USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature® pays you up to 1.25% cash back on the things you buy but there’s a slight hitch. To qualify for that rewards rate, you’ll have to spend more than $17,000 a year with the card. Anything below that amount will earn you between 0.45% and 1% cash back instead. By comparison, USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® gives you a bigger bang for your buck without having to spend as much.

USAA Cash Rewards American Express®

Card features:

  • Earn up to 2.25% cash back on gas and groceries
  • Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everyday purchases
  • No annual fee

The USAA Cash Rewards American Express® is another cash back rewards card that’s great for everyday spenders. You can earn up to 2.25% cash back on gas and grocery store purchases, along with 1.25% cash back on all other purchases. That’s more than USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature® but still less than USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®. Once again, you have to meet that $17,000 annual spending minimum to qualify for the highest rewards rate, which may work against you if you don’t make purchases as often.

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® Visa Signature®

Card features:

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • No annual fee

If you want to earn the same amount of cash back on everything you spend, you might like the USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® Visa Signature®. This card pays unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, with no minimum spending limit that you have to hit to qualify. The fact that cash back is unlimited may mean you could get more mileage out of it than the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® over the course of a year if you’re a heavy spender.

Here is a quick breakdown of USAA's cash back credit cards:

USAA Cash Back Credit Cards Comparison

Credit Card Cash Back Program Annual Fee
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Earn 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent combined annually in gas and military base purchases. Earn 2% cash back on the first $3,000 spent annual on groceries. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. $0
USAA Cash Rewards American Express Earn up to 2.25% cash back on gas and groceries. Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everything else. The actual cash back rate varies depending on annual spending -- requires $17,000 in annual spending to get the highest cash back rate. $0
USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Earn 1.5% cash back on everything. $0
USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everything else. The actual cash back rate varies depending on annual spending -- requires $17,000 in annual spending to get the highest cash back rate. $0

Final Verdict: Great for Military Families

The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card’s best feature is undeniably the 5% cash back you can earn on gas and commissary purchases and the 2% back earned on groceries. Unfortunately, it's only available for people who can meet USAA’s qualifications for membership. If you can qualify, this card is one of the best cash back credit cards for gas purchases that you can get. It’s also very rewarding for heavy shoppers at military bases.

To find out if the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® is right for you, review your spending in the past 6 to 12 months. Ultimately, the card is recommended for USAA members who spend at least $250 a month on groceries and $250 a month in combined gas and military-base purchases. Members of military families who make a majority the household purchases and commute often will most likely have this spending pattern.

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