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Earning and redeeming points from travel rewards credit cards can be a challenging endeavor. Whether it’s remembering which one offers the best earning rates at certain merchants or figuring out which transfer partner offers the best redemption rate, there’s a lot of complexity. Many of my friends and family members prefer simpler products, especially ones with points that can be redeemed for a fixed value. Today I want to compare the most popular and rewarding credit cards in this category.

Before getting into the analysis, a few notes about how I selected the below cards. This post focuses on cards for which the best redemption isn’t cash-back — after all, why not take the cash back when that’s the best redemption? As a result, the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card and Discover it® Miles are excluded since cash back is as good of a redemption as any other for these cards. Likewise, the Citi Double Cash Card and other cash back cards are excluded since the only redemption option is cash back. This post instead considers the best credit cards with points that can be redeemed for a fixed value.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

Sign-up bonus: 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Earning rates: 2x miles on all purchases (plus a 5% rebate on redeemed miles)
Redemption options: Redeem for travel credits/annual fee (1 cent per mile), gift cards/cash back (0.5 cents per mile) or merchandise (redemption values vary)
Additional perks: No foreign transaction fees, international chip and PIN
Annual fee: $89 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is a popular one for fixed-value redemptions and one of its most appealing features is the simplicity. Every cardholder enjoys the same earning rates: 2x miles on every purchase. No need to only use the card on certain purchases or worry about a merchant not qualifying as a bonus category. You’ll earn double miles every time you swipe the card.

The redemption side is also relatively lucrative, as long as you’re redeeming your miles to cover travel purchases or annual fee. Both types of redemptions are available at a rate of 1 cent per mile, but you’ll also receive 5% of your redeemed miles back. Thus, if you’re looking to cover $100 worth of checked bag fees, you’ll redeem 10,000 miles but then get 500 miles back. This boosts your overall redemption value to just over 1.05 cents per mile, so your overall return on spending is roughly 2.11%. Keep in mind, however, that the minimum threshold to redeem your miles for travel purchases is 10,000 points and the minimum to redeem your miles toward the annual fee (after the first year) is 2,500 miles. But, even with these limitations, the valuable sign-up bonus and having a card with a return of 2.11% on all purchases make the Arrival Plus quite attractive.

U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card

Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in net purchases within the first four months of account opening
Earning rates: 2x points at airlines, gas stations or grocery stores (whichever category you spend the most in each month will earn 2x, the others will earn 1x); 2x points with cellular providers and at charities; 1x point everywhere else
Redemption options: Redeem for airfare, hotel stays and car rentals at 1.5 cents per point, other lower value redemptions are available
Additional perks: $25 airline allowance per award ticket; no foreign transaction fees; real-time mobile rewards
Annual fee: $49 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: The U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card doesn’t look impressive at first glance. But, it is one of the few cards to provide bonus earning when donating to charities, and it is also one of the only cards to provide the same redemption value (1.5 cents per point) for flights, hotels and car rentals booked though the bank’s portal and independently. Indeed, if you set up the card’s real-time mobile rewards for these travel categories, you’ll receive a text message once eligible travel purchases post that asks whether you’d like to redeem points toward the purchase.

There are some restrictions though. You’re only eligible for the $25 airline allowance on award tickets booked through the bank’s travel portal. And, there’s a minimum of $250 for car rentals and $500 for lodging if you want to use real-time mobile rewards to offset these purchases. The 1.5% return on everyday purchases, 3% return on certain categories, low annual fee ($49, waived the first year) and $25 airline allowance per award ticket booked through the bank’s portal make this card a solid value proposition for many travelers. But, this card is particular appealing to travelers that want to use their points at maximal value to book flights on any airfare, including those that normally don’t show up in bank portals.

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,500 in net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
Earning rates: 3x points on travel and mobile wallet purchases; 1x points everywhere else
Redemption options: Redeem for airfare, hotel stays and car rentals at 1.5 cents per point, other lower value redemptions are available
Additional perks: $325 annual travel credit; 12-month Priority Pass Select membership (after the first year the first four visits and four individual accompanying guest visits are waived each Priority Pass Select membership year); 12 complimentary Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes per year; up to $100 statement credit to reimburse your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four years; no foreign transaction fees; real-time mobile rewards
Annual fee: $400

Analysis: The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card is a premium version of the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card. The card’s annual fee is effectively $75 if you utilize the annual travel credit, which should be easy enough to do since purchases made directly from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains and cruise lines are all eligible. Real-time mobile rewards work the same as for the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card. So, if you like the ease of booking and getting easily reimbursed using the real-time mobile rewards framework, you simply need to decide which card’s benefits and bonus earning categorizes align best with your needs.

Redeeming Transferable Points at a Fixed Rate

Although this post is focused on fixed-value point credit cards, it wouldn’t be complete without discussing how some transferable currencies can be redeemed at a fixed value. Generally, you can get a lot more value from transferable currencies by transferring your points to make a high-value redemption. But, it’s certainly less complicated to redeem at a fixed value. Plus, if you redeem your points toward airfare you’ll still earn airline miles since your booking will be treated as a revenue ticket. Here are the best fixed-value redemption options for each of the most popular transferable currencies.

Capital One Miles

Until Capital One recently added transfer partners, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card would’ve been included above. But, although Capital One miles can now be transferred to 14 airline partners, they can also still be used at a value of 1 cent each toward (1) erasing a previously made travel purchase, (2) booking new travel through Capital One’s travel portal or (3) redeeming for gift cards.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Three cards — the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card — earn full-fledged Chase Ultimate Rewards points, although the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card and Ink Business Cash Credit Card can also earn full-fledged Ultimate Rewards points if you also hold one of the three primary Ultimate Rewards-earning cards.

TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece, but this is based on the value that can be obtained by transferring the points. If you book travel though the Ultimate Rewards travel center each point is worth 1.5 cents if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, 1.25 cents if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred, or 1 cent if you only hold a Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card or Ink Business Cash Credit Card. You can also redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for statement credits or gift cards for 1 cent each.

Citi ThankYou Rewards Points

Two cards — the Citi Prestige Card and Citi Premier Card — earn full-fledged Citi ThankYou Rewards points. However, various other Citi cards can earn full-fledged ThankYou points if you also hold the Citi Prestige or Citi Premier.

You’ll usually get the most value for your ThankYou points by transferring them to one of the program’s 15 travel partners. But, if you’re a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige (until Sep 2019) cardholder you can also redeem your ThankYou at a flat 1.25 cents each toward airfare through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center. If you only have a Citi card that earns “basic” Citi ThankYou points, then you’ll only be able to redeem them at a rate of 1 cent per point.

Amex Membership Rewards Points

Many Amex credit cards earn Amex Membership Rewards points. As with other transferable currencies, you’ll often get better value from your Membership Rewards points by transferring them to one of the program’s 21 travel partners.

But, if you don’t want to transfer your points you can also apply 5,000 Membership Rewards points or more to pay the full or partial amount of airfare booked through Amex Travel at a value of 1 cent per point. You can also use your points to book prepaid hotels, vacations, or cruises through Amex Travel, but you’ll only get a value of 0.75-0.85 cents per point for these types of bookings. There is one exception to these redemption values: if you have The Business Platinum® Card from American Express you can redeem points for an airline of your choice (it must be the same airline you choose for the $200 fee credit) and receive 35% of your redeemed points back.

Bottom Line

Diversifying your points and miles is a critical strategy in this hobby, and fixed-value credit cards represent a great way to do that. The three purely fixed-value cards discussed above all have compelling cases — the best one for you will depend on your spending habits. But, you may find that a transferrable rewards card that also allows you to get decent value when you book through its travel center is a better value, especially if you may want to transfer points periodically to top off loyalty account balances for redemptions.

Additional reporting by Katie Genter.

Featured image by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

This card from Bank of America gets really interesting if you have a BofA checking, savings or investment account. Depending on the value of your combined accounts you can potentially get as much as 3.5x points on travel/dining and 2.625x points on other purchases making it the richest consumer banking bonus out there.

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More Things to Know
  • Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you can get a 25%-75% rewards bonus on every purchase.
  • No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
  • Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill Edge® and Merrill Lynch® accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
  • Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Low $95 annual fee
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.