Make The Most of Your Vacation With a Travel Card
As someone who always hunts for a travel deal, I often go to online travel sites to compare the best prices. Many of these sites happen to offer credit cards that allow me to earn points on trips booked through the sites. So is it better to get a travel credit card that lets you get points at one place or is it better to just get a good general travel rewards card?
I looked at MyBankTracker's top choice among travel-site credit cards (Priceline Rewards Visa) and the top recommended travel credit card (Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®) to help answer that question.
Here are the factors that I considered when analyzing the two cards:
The great thing about travel is that it allows you to see new things and capture new experiences, but it can come with its fair share of headaches. Travel perks can help minimize those inconveniences and make your trip a more comfortable experience.
- Priceline Rewards™ Visa®: No pre-set spending limit, personal concierge, no foreign transaction fees and EMV chip technology; travel upgrades and discounts at select Visa partners (Visa Signature)
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: No pre-set spending limit, personal concierge, no foreign transaction fees and EMV chip technology; travel upgrades and discounts at select MasterCard partners
The Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® have a nearly identical lineup of travel perks. The no pre-set spending limit allows you spend more freely during your travel while personal concierge acts as a handy personal assistant for booking trips and reservations at popular restaurants and more. With no foreign transaction fees, you don’t pay the typical 3% fee for using your card abroad. And, the EMV (named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) chip technology provides better security when using your card for purchases, especially abroad.
WINNER (Travel benefits): Tied
Earning rewards is what makes rewards credit cards so special. When those rewards come in the form of free trips, I'm a very happy traveler. So, lets see how each of the two cards can make that happen:
Priceline vs. Arrival Plus rewards
|Card||Priceline Rewards Visa||Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®|
|Rewards program||Earn 5 points per dollar on priceline.com purchases; 1 point per dollar on all other purchases||Earn 2 points per dollar spent on all purchases (including travel)|
|Redemption options||Statement credits, gift cards and merchandise||Statement credits, gift cards and merchandise|
|Redemption rate||For Priceline purchases, 1 point per 1.5 cent (ex. 10,000 for a $150 statement credit); For other purchases 1 point per cent (ex. 10,000 for a $100 statement credit), starting at $25; for gift cards and merchandise, varies||1 point per 1 cent on travel statement credits, 2 points per cent on all other statement credits, starting at $25; for gift cards and merchandise, varies|
|Scenario A: $1,000 spent at Priceline.com||5,000 points (worth $50 travel statement credit + 500 points back)||2,000 points (worth $20 travel statement credit + 100 points back)|
|Scenario B: $500 spent at Priceline.com and $500 spent on other travel purchases||3,000 points (worth $30 travel statement credit + 300 points back)||2,000 points (worth $20 travel statement credit + 100 points back)|
From the sample scenarios above, you can see that the Priceline card will rack up points more quickly, and therefore allow you to redeem travel statement credits quicker. (Statement credits are almost like refunds on purchases -- pay first, then “delete” the purchases with statement credits.)
But, when you step away from strictly Priceline travel purchases, the value of the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card falls off immensely and the edge begins to sway in the favor of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. This goes for any of the other online travel-site credit cards.
The dilemma here is that I would only use the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card for Priceline purchases because I could probably carry a card like Citi® Double Cash (pays more than 1% cash back) for my other purchases.
If I’m not booking through Priceline, I’m not maximizing what the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card was designed for, whereas the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is a good choice regardless of what I spend on.
Now, before you go basing your decision solely on the rewards program, note that there are also fees and perks to consider. Keep reading to find out how these two cards stack up in those areas.
WINNER (Rewards program): Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
- Priceline Rewards™ Visa®: $0
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: $89, waived for the first year
Most of the credit cards that you come across won’t have an annual fee (what you pay every year for the privilege of having any particular card), which is great -- I prefer not to pay any fee if I didn’t have to. But, you’ll eventually run into some cards that charge an annual fee because they have a very good rewards program or handy perks.
While the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® has a decent rewards program, it isn’t quite enough to justify an annual fee. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® does have an annual fee because of the added value from its rewards program and travel benefits.
However, I tend to favor the cards with no annual fee because you don't have to worry about extracting the value from a rewards card that has an annual fee. It’s a strict numbers game that puts the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® ahead in this category.
WINNER (Annual fee): Priceline Rewards™ Visa®
- Priceline Rewards™ Visa®: 15.24%, or 20.24% or 25.24% APR
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: 16.24% or 20.24% APR
The scary aspect of interest charges is that it has the tendency to keep you in debt for longer periods of time. With a lower interest rate, you pay less interest and are more likely to eliminate card balances.
Travel credit cards, however, are notorious for carrying relatively high interest rates. So, you should not carry a balance on these cards. If you do, you’re negating your rewards when you pay interest.
Although it is always a good idea to pay off card balances and avoid interest charges, it may not always be possible. That’s why I’d still prefer the lowest APR possible to minimize those charges.
Of the two cards, the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card has the potential to come with a relatively high interest rate.
WINNER (Interest rates): Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Did your flight just get delayed by bad weather and you have to fork over more money for another night at the hotel? Luckily, some cards have a perk called trip delay reimbursement, which pays you back for hotels and meals that you paid for during the time that your trip was delayed. You may get home later than expected, but you're not losing money for an unexpected delay.
It is just an example of the many travel-related card protections that a credit card can offer. With travel cards, like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® and Priceline Rewards™ Visa® card, you can expect even more protections. Here is the list of card protections that are offered by these two cards:
The Priceline Rewards™ Visa® can come in two different versions: Visa Platinum or Visa Signature. Visa Signature is the better version because it has all the Visa Platinum benefits plus additional perks. The version that you receive will depend on your credit.
Priceline vs. Arrival Plus benefits
|Card||Priceline Rewards Visa||Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®|
|$0 liability fraud protection||Yes||Yes|
As you can see, both cards come with a very similar suite of card protections. The differences are that only the Priceline Rewards™ Visa® has trip delay insurance and lost luggage insurance while only the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® has baggage delay insurance and identity theft resolution service.
Given that their card protections are about the same with very slight advantages for each one, I’ll call this an even matchup.
WINNER (Card protections): Tied
Verdict: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Let's be frank here, unless you are a loyal Priceline customer who can maximize the Priceline Rewards™ Visa®, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® stands as the better travel credit card. The same verdict applies to all the other online travel-site credit cards.
Right now, there is an attractive introductory on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. That’s equivalent to $400 in travel statement credits.
If you happen to actually have a Priceline Rewards™ Visa®, or any of the other travel-site credit cards, we'd love to hear how you're making it work for you -- please share in the comments below.