Credit Card Review: Barclays Arrival Premier
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Barclays has added another product to the mid-tier credit card marketplace with the all-new Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard. The card is an addition to what the bank is calling its “Arrival Suite” of products, and carries benefits and an award structure that has caused heads to turn while simultaneously getting scratched.
The card carries above-average cash back rewards and exotic airline partners, yet no sign-up bonus. The product stands out as Barclays’ first attempt at adding an option to transfer miles to other programs, but does the rewards structure add up to making the Arrival Premier worth a spot in your wallet?
Sign-Up Bonus and Annual Fee
There’s no sign up bonus for the Arrival Premier and the card carries a $150 annual fee (waived for the first year). Barclays claims its research showed cardmembers were looking for loyalty in the long term, rather than an initial sign-up bonus. Instead, Barclays is offering additional miles for annual spend (which we’ll discuss below). But based on the traction we see time and time again for cards offering large sign up bonuses, I don’t understand the conclusion Barclays has drawn.
What I do believe is Barclays itself is looking for long-term loyalty from cardmembers rather than vice versa. By incentivizing customers to put annual spend on the card in order to garner bonus miles, the issuer hopes a cardmember will be a product user for the long haul, rather than collecting a sign up bonus and stashing the card.
The miles-earning scheme for the card is simple: earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend, everywhere, everyday. On top of the 2 miles, once you reach certain annual spend goals, you’ll receive bonus miles…
- You’ll earn 15,000 bonus miles when you use your card to spend $15,000 in a cardmember year.
- You’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles each cardmember year that you spend another $10,000, for a total of 25,000 bonus miles after $25,000 of spending.
This makes the card essentially a 3x earning card for your first $25,000 in annual spend, assuming you meet the $25,000 threshold.
Just like the current Arrival Plus, miles can be redeemed at 1 cent each against the cost of any travel purchases you make with the card (with a $100 minimum). This means you could earn 3% cash back when redeeming for travel for your first $25,000 in spend, assuming you’ll meet the threshold and trigger the bonus miles. There is no 5% rebate on redeemed miles like with the Arrival Plus.
New to the Arrival Premier, Barclays has now given the option to transfer to airline partners. Here are the nine partners and a brief recap on the usefulness of each:
- Aeromexico — Aeromexico’s chart is based on their old kilometer system which causes highly inflated award prices compared to miles. The partner chart is hard to swallow and there are much better options to book Skyteam award tickets. Verdict: Never Use
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue — We’ve written in detail about some great uses of Flying Blue miles. Unfortunately, a massive program overhaul is due any time and I don’t foresee the changes being in our favor. Verdict: Use Depends on Program Changes
- China Eastern — It’s incredibly difficult to even find the award chart for China Eastern (which isn’t on the English version of the website at all). What I did find was a not-appealing distance based chart and a less than enticing process to book the tickets. Verdict: Never Use
- Etihad — Amazing partner redemptions are possible and I believe this is the best transfer option currently on the list. You must do your homework on how to book these tickets and be prepared to spend significant time on the phone with Etihad agents. Verdict: Best Option
- EVA Air — Award ticket prices are in line with other Star Alliance programs and the stopover and open jaw rules are generous. The problem is speaking with Infinity Mileagelands phone representatives and the confusion therein when trying to book complicated tickets. Verdict: Very Low Probability for Use
- Japan Airlines (JAL) — The distance-based award chart is very generous and holds a lot of great redemption potential. You can also book Emirates premium cabins with JAL miles. Barclays apparently also sees the potential here, as JAL is the only transfer partner with a worse conversion ratio than the rest of the transfer partners, making it more unattractive to utilize. Verdict: Top Off Use Only
- Jet Privilege — India-based Jet Airways’ award charts are not very attractive and the booking process for partners is painful. In my experience, it’s much more valuable to book Jet Airways flights with Virgin Atlantic miles rather than their own program. Verdict: Never Use
- Malaysia Airlines — It costs a lot of miles to book anything with this program. Therefore, there’s no advantage to transferring your miles here. Verdict: Never Use
- Qantas — The Australian carrier’s program has two strikes against it: 1) they want many more times the points for award flights compared to other Oneworld carriers, and; 2) the carrier-imposed surcharges on award flights are extreme. Upgrades on specific fare classes and routes might be decent use, but otherwise, I don’t even recommend moving Citi ThankYou points to Qantas at a 1:1 ratio. Verdict: Don’t Even Use With Citi Offering 1:1
Besides these programs not having much appeal to the vast majority of everyday American travelers who aren’t points and miles aficionados, the transfer ratios cause hiccups. All of the programs transfer from Arrival miles to airline miles at a 1.4:1 ratio, except JAL which is worse at 1.7:1.
The transfer ratios turn your 3x everywhere earning card into 2.14 miles per dollar (1.76 per dollar for JAL) if you spend $25,000 on the card. This is in fact competitive with other products, except that Etihad is the only transfer partner I would be inclined to use from the above list (not JAL due to the worse ratio). American Express offers products which earn 1.5-4.5 points per dollar and transfers are instant to Etihad from Membership Rewards. So the only reason to transfer Arrival Premier miles to an airline would be to top off an account where you’re a few thousand miles short.
Of note, not a single existing Barclays co-brand partner is a transfer partner. American Airlines, JetBlue, Wyndham, Hawaiian Airlines, Lufthansa, Choice Hotels and Frontier would almost be better than any of the current partners (save Etihad). I would think, given the amount of money these partners would stand to make from Barclays purchasing their currency, that this was an intentional move by Barclays to save cash and see what kind of business they could entice without having to front load a lot of cash. This leads me to believe we’ll see changes to this transfer partner list rather quickly.
The Arrival Premier has no foreign transaction fees and the standard suite of World Elite Mastercard benefits, such as extended warranty, purchase protection, baggage delay, travel accident, trip cancellation, and secondary rental car collision damage waivers. We don’t yet have the details of each benefit to see the maximums per claim and calendar year, or how long a delay must be to invoke the policies.
The card also offers discounted airport lounge access through the Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey. Each lounge visit will cost you $27 per person, with guests allowed at the lounge’s discretion. A quick search of the Lounge Key website found many of the same lounges that the Priority Pass program uses. Finally, the card does offer a $100 Global Entry fee credit once every five years.
Who Is This Card For?
It’s tough to narrow down a particular clientele for this card. To really maximize the rewards with the Arrival Premier instead of using another transferable points earning card, I think you need to be within one of a few, select categories:
- You have significant annual spend (>$200,000) and can accept the opportunity cost of putting $25,000 on the Arrival Premier to trigger the bonus points instead of putting that spend on another transferable points earning card.
- You’re familiar with how to maximize often tedious and complicated airline transfer partner programs.
- You’re interested in keeping your travel rewards as simple as possible, want 3% cash back towards travel and will spend $25,000 annually with the card.
Which Cards Compete With This Card?
Given the $150 annual fee, which is waived for the first year, cash back travel rewards and transferable points, the list of competitors for the Arrival Premier is deep. I’m going to compare a few of what I believe are the closest competitors and compare $25,000 spent on each:
You’ll earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. And with 2x points earned on dining and travel, you’ll probably earn more than the minimum 75,000 Ultimate Rewards for $25,000 in annual spend. Just as above, Ultimate Rewards are worth significantly more than Arrival Premier miles, meaning you’ll come out far ahead with the Sapphire Preferred over the Arrival Premier while paying a smaller annual fee (which is even waived the first year).
This no annual fee card earns 2x points on all purchases for the first $50,000 in annual spend; then 1x thereafter. I’m not sure how this card even profitably exists, given that for $25,000 in annual spend you’d earn 50,000 Amex points for no annual fee, which are worth $950 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. Even after $25,000 in spend, the Blue Business Plus continues to incentivize you to use it for an additional $25,000 each year whereas the Arrival Premier offers no further bonus points after the first $25,000 in annual spend.
This $175 annual fee card (waived for the first year) offers 50,000 points as a welcome offer after spending $5,000 in the first three months of card opening. It has five bonus categories offering 2x points each, and you can select one of the five to earn 3x points. If you include the welcome bonus, $25,000 spend on this card earns a minimum of 75,000 Amex points, which is the same as the 75,000 Arrival Premier points you’d have, except Membership Rewards points are worth far more.
Probably the closest competitor to the Arrival Premier, the Venture card carries a lower $95 annual fee (waived for the first year), comes with a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus worth $500, and earns 2x miles per dollar on all spend just like the Arrival Premier. $25,000 in annual spend with the Venture plus the sign-up bonus will give you 100,000 Venture miles worth $1,000, versus only earning 75,000 Arrival Premier miles. While you can’t transfer Venture miles, I generally wouldn’t recommend you transfer Premier miles with the less than 1:1 ratio. The ability to earn 10x points on Hotels.com bookings with the Venture card firmly places it ahead of the Arrival Premier.
Many other cards, including the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card and the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express all have similar annual fees (often lower) and offer welcome bonuses worth roughly the value of what you’d earn with $25,000 in spend on the Arrival Premier.
With the $150 annual fee and no sign-up bonus, you’ll earn a net value of $600 in travel statement credits if you spend exactly $25,000 on the Arrival Premier. That equates to a 2.4% cash back card toward travel, which isn’t bad, except there’s no initial sign-up boost as with almost every other card on the market.
The transfer ratios mean $25,000 in annual spend will earn you 53,571 miles in eight programs and 44,117 JAL miles. That’s an awful lot of spend that could give you significantly more miles and higher value on other cards, where you would also earn a valuable sign-up bonus on top of points from bonus categories.
I applaud Barclays for coming up with a unique product, but I believe we’ll see changes to this card over time — perhaps even quickly — as consumers react. While there is a small subset of people for whom this card would make sense, I’d have a hard time recommending it to most others in its current form.