Should I Ever Use a Card that Earns One Point Per Dollar?
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TPG reader Graham sent me a message on Facebook to ask about mile and point valuations:
“I use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus since it earns two points per dollar on everything. Is there any reason to use another card (like Chase Sapphire Preferred) if I'm only earning one point per dollar? Isn't it better to earn double the rewards?"
To maximize your spending, it's good to think about the quality of the rewards you earn, and not just the quantity. Your goal should be to get as much value as you can out of each dollar; sometimes that corresponds with earning as many points as possible, but not always. Learning to recognize the difference is important.
A major selling point of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is that it earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. That sounds good compared to most co-branded airline cards, which tend to offer just 1 mile per dollar on non-airline purchases. The flaw in that line of thinking is that points and miles are not created equal. You could get a card that earns 5 points per dollar on all purchases — after all, five is more than two! However, if those points are only worth 0.4 cents apiece, then you're not getting any better return on your spending. In short, sometimes less is more.
To decide which card to use for a given purchase, you need to know not only how many points or miles you stand to earn, but also how much each one is worth. Arrival miles can be redeemed for 1 cent apiece toward travel expenses, and since you earn 2 miles per dollar spent, your total return from the Arrival Plus card is about 2%. When you factor in the 5% redemption rebate, that number increases to around 2.1 cents per mile.
By comparison, I value Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points at 2.1 cents and 2.5 cents apiece, respectively. That means I'd generally rather be earning just one Starpoint than two Arrival miles, since my overall return would be greater. One Ultimate Rewards point gets me roughly equal value, but when bonus categories are in play (like travel and dining on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card), then it's no contest. Overall, I think Arrival Plus has fallen from among the top travel rewards cards, and there are better options for non-bonus spending.
To help you maximize your spending, I publish my monthly valuations of rewards from major loyalty programs, including airlines, hotels and credit cards. You should also check out the TPG To Go app, which recommends the best card to use for a given purchase. The app is updated each month with my latest valuations, or you can input your own for results tailored to your award travel preferences. Both of those tools should help you sort out which points and miles to target.