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One Year of Earning and Burning With the Wells Fargo Propel Amex

Aug. 02, 2018
12 min read
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Selecting and then using top travel rewards credit cards are two of the most important things you can do to start earning free travel. You don't need to be a road warrior to rack up healthy balances of points and miles — there are many ways to make the most of your everyday spending (and which don't require carrying 15+ cards in your wallet!) Even a single new card can open up a new world of redemption options, especially in the first year. Today I'll add a new entry to my series that looks at earning rewards on a single card in just a single year.

Previous posts have analyzed many popular cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Southwest Premier Card and the Alaska Visa Card. Today I'll focus on a card that underwent a significant overhaul in July 2018 and evaluate just how rewarding the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card can be in the first year of cardmembership.

Welcome Bonus and Benefits

Points can be redeemed for cash back, travel, gift cards or charitable donations at a rate of 1 cent per point, making the welcome bonus worth $200. However, if you also happen to have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card, you can pool your rewards points and redeem for airfare through the issuer's portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, which bumps the valuation of the welcome bonus to $350. (The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)

The revamped card also provides bonus points across a variety of categories:

  • 3x points on travel (including flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals, taxis and rideshares)
  • 3x points on dining (including eating out and ordering in)
  • 3x points at gas stations
  • 3x points on select streaming services (including Netflix, Spotify Premium, Hulu and Apple Music)

And if you happen to be streaming said content on your phone and drop it, you're covered with up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible) of protection against damage or theft, up to an annual maximum of $1,200. Amazingly enough, all of these perks are provided with no annual fee.

So if you open the Wells Fargo Propel Amex, earn the welcome bonus and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously the answer depends on your spending patterns, so for this analysis I used consumer-expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the most recent year available (2016) to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the Reserve in one year.

In doing so, I made the following assumptions:

  • Only the “Other lodging” category under “Shelter” can easily be paid with a credit card (since you’ll pay a fee for paying most mortgage and rent payments with credit cards), and these transactions earn 3x points as travel purchases.
  • The “Vehicle purchases” category under “Transportation” can’t be paid with a credit card, but all other transportation expenses can.
  • All “Personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
  • All other expenses (including “Education”) can be paid with a credit card.

Again, your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions in order to calculate your own earning potential.

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Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of cardmembership translate to Go Far Rewards points:

CategorySpendingEarning RatePoints
Welcome bonusN/AN/A20,000
Food at home$4,0491 point/$4,049
Food away from home$3,1543 points/$9,462
Alcoholic beverages$4841 point/$484
Housing (other lodging)$7983 points/$2,394
Utilities, fuels and public services$3,8841 point/$3,884
Household operations$1,3841 point/$1,384
Housekeeping supplies$6601 point/$660
Household furnishings and equipment$1,8291 point/$1,829
Apparel and services$1,8031 point/$1,803
Transportation (gasoline)$1,9093 points/$5,727
Other vehicle expenses$2,8841 point/$2,884
Public and other transportation$6233 points/$1,869
Healthcare$4,6121 point/$4,612
Entertainment (streaming)$3003 points/$900
Entertainment (other)$2,6131 point/$2,613
All other expenses$3,4501 point/$3,450

As you can see, the "average" American consumer would earn 78,004 Go Far Rewards points, worth just over $780, in the first year alone. Not bad!

What do these points get you?

Many travel rewards credit cards require you to know a lot to redeem your hard-earned points for maximum value. Fortunately, this isn't the case for the Propel Amex. Assuming you don't also have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature card, all of the points you earn are generally worth 1 cent apiece toward a variety of redemption options, which means that you're getting a 3% return on all travel, dining, gas station and select streaming purchases, and then a 1% return on every other purchase. When you factor in the welcome bonus and the "average" spending patterns above, you're looking at an overall return of 2.43% in the first year. That's phenomenal for a card with no annual fee.

So what exactly are your reward options? Here's what a year's worth of points on the Wells Fargo Propel Amex gets you:

1. $780 worth of travel

One of the first ways to redeem your points is to book travel directly online. This includes any flight (with no blackout dates), over 60,000 lodging options, car rentals, cruises or even experiences like a round of golf on a top-flight course. If you choose to redeem your points for flights, the ticket should count as a normal revenue flight since you're essentially booking through a third-party travel agency. This can be a great option to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses while simultaneously continuing your quest for elite status.

2. $780 worth of gift cards

If you'd rather pick up some gift cards to your favorite restaurants or retailers, you also have the option to redeem your Wells Fargo points in this manner. At the time of writing, the online rewards center contains over 130 different gift card options, including companies as diverse as Airbnb, Amazon and Exxon Mobil. If you choose to go this route, I would (personally) select a gift card that wouldn't otherwise earn you bonus points. If you select a restaurant or a travel provider, for example, you'd be missing out on 3x points per dollar spent on those purchases. However, an Amazon purchase on the card would only give you 1 point per dollar spent anyway, so that would be a better choice for a gift card reward.

You also have the option to redeem your points for a CharityChoice gift card, allowing you to select from over 1,000 charities. However, the administrator of the program deducts a 10% fee before allocating the funds to the given charity, so I'd recommend the next option if you're wanting to donate to charity...

3. $780 in cash back

business, finance, saving, banking and people concept - close up of woman hands with wallet and us dollar money. (Photo by dolgachov/Getty Images)
One simple redemption option for your Go Far Rewards points is straight-up cash back. (Photo by dolgachov/Getty Images)

There are many solid cash-back cards out there, and the Wells Fargo Propel Amex ranks right near the top. Your points can be redeemed for straight-up cash at the same redemption rate of 1 cent per point, so this haul is worth $780. The best part? You can get your cash back in a variety of different ways:

  • Deposit to a checking/savings account
  • Payment to an eligible Wells Fargo mortgage or loan
  • Paper check
  • ATM withdrawal

It's worth noting that the first three redemption options online or over the phone can only be done in $25/2,500-point increments, whereas the ATM redemption must be in $20/2,000-point increments.

4. Roughly $553 worth of merchandise

You can also redeem your points for merchandise, and the good news is that the Go Far Rewards shopping mall has a lot of variety, with over 2.5 million items covering diverse categories like automotive, home & garden and sporting goods. However, the bad news is that this is the one area where you'll consistently get less than 1 cent per point of value. The exact value of merchandise redemptions can vary, as most items are available at multiple retailers and thus subject to price fluctuations due to sales and promotions. However, in spot-checking several items, it appears that using your points in this way will consistently result in a value of just 0.71 cents per point, as demonstrated by these examples:

  • 32gb iPad in Silver with Wi-Fi only: 46,145 points (or $329 directly from Apple)
  • Nintendo 2DS in Electric Blue: 11,227 points (or $79.99 from multiple retailers)
  • Tumi Alpha 2 International Front Lid in Navy Restoration: 94,736 points (or $675 directly from Tumi)

As a result, I'd recommend going down one of the other routes for redeeming your points from a year of using the Wells Fargo Propel card, as they offer significantly more bang for your buck.

5. $1,170 worth of airfare when combined with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature

Finally, if you do have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature card, you can transfer the 78,004 points that you earned in your first year on the Propel Amex to the Visa and redeem them through the Go Far Rewards travel portal for airfare at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece, which would make them worth an impressive $1,170. And if you spend $50,000 or more on the Visa Signature in a calendar year, that 1.5 cent redemption rate increases to 1.75 cents per point, making your 78,004 points worth a whopping $1,365! Note that unlike normal travel portal redemptions using only the Propel Amex, you'll only get this increased redemption rate on airfare. So if you have both cards and this option is available to you, you'd likely want to focus all your redemptions on flights, which, as mentioned before, should also earn elite status credit.

Bottom Line

The enhanced Wells Fargo Propel American Express card may not have the allure of cards that accrue transferable points which can unlock redemptions like first class flights or luxurious hotel rooms, but its beauty is twofold. For starters, it provides a very rewarding earning structure with no annual fee. Then when it comes time to redeem your points, the scheme is simple: Every point is worth 1 cent apiece toward travel, cash back, merchandise or gift cards. And if you're an advanced credit card user, you can get even more value from your points by combining two Wells Fargo cards together.

If you're an "average" consumer who opens only the Propel Amex and then uses it for a year, you'll unlock roughly $780 in rewards. But bear in mind that this calculation may be a bit too conservative:

  • The calculation assumes that you’re an average consumer. If you typically spend more in a year, then your earnings will be even higher.
  • The calculation assumes that you don’t make any purchases through an online shopping portal. The Go Far Rewards shopping portal allows you to earn bonus points at close to 500 online retailers, a nice way to boost your earnings even more.
  • The calculation assumes that you only open one card. Other travel rewards credit cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or the Wells Fargo Visa® Signature) can be opened and used right alongside the Wells Fargo Propel Amex for even more earning potential.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Regardless of these last few items, I hope this analysis has illustrated just how rewarding a single card (especially in the first year) can be when it comes to free travel.

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