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It’s already been a tough year for frequent flyers, with United announcing a shift to the dreaded dynamic award pricing and American Airlines appearing to follow suit. Every time airlines devalue their frequent flyer miles or make them harder to use, fixed value and cash back credit cards start to look more attractive than cobranded cards. Today we’ll take a look at how two popular options, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express stack up. Both of these cards have been refreshed in the last year in order to make them more competitive.
Current Welcome Offers
Cash back credit cards almost always offer lower welcome bonuses than their points and miles counterparts, and these two are no exception. The Wells Fargo Propel Amex is currently offering a bonus of 30,000 miles (worth $300) after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Meanwhile the Blue Cash Preferred is offering a $250 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months. These are far from the best bonus offers available right now, meaning you’ll want to pick these cards up for their long term earning power more than the actual bonus.
The Wells Fargo Propel doesn’t have an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, so all the cash back you earn goes straight to your wallet. The Blue Cash Preferred, on the other hand, has a $95 annual fee (see rates & fees) and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee (see rates & fees) which can take a serious bite out of your rewards. Another important consideration is how these cards fit into your larger strategy. While Amex’s one bonus per card per lifetime rule likely won’t prevent many people from getting the Blue Cash Preferred, there’s another important factor to consider: Amex generally limits you to having 5 credit cards (and 5 charge cards) at a time, so picking the Blue Cash Preferred means giving up a spot that could go to a much more rewarding card like the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express.
Winner: The Propel is the clear winner here, between a higher welcome bonus and lower fees across the board.
One of the reasons these cards emerge as natural competitors is that they’re among the only cash back cards to offer bonus points in the emerging category of streaming services. Let’s take a look at all the ways you can earn bonus cash back from these two cards:
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express|
|6x (6%)||N/A||US supermarkets (up to $6,000 a year; then 1%) and select US streaming subscriptions|
|3x (3%)||Travel, dining, gas stations and select streaming services||Gas stations (in US for BCP) and transit|
|1x (1%)||All other purchases||All other purchases|
Many people might find the Propel’s bonus categories more useful as they include broadly defined travel and dining categories. There are also no annual limits or geographical restrictions. At the same time, the Blue Cash Preferred is the industry leader with its 6% back on select US streaming services and the limitation to US supermarkets doesn’t matter all that much, since you wouldn’t want to use a card with a foreign transaction fee when traveling abroad. The Blue Cash Preferred used to offer 3% back at select US department stores, though that benefit was removed during the refresh.
Winner: While the exact choice here will depend on your personal spending patterns, I give the edge to the Propel again. Even though the Blue Cash Preferred offers bonus categories that are twice as rewarding in some areas, much of that value will be eaten up by the card’s $95 annual fee.
There isn’t a whole lot of variation in how you can redeem cash back rewards, but the Wells Fargo Propel Amex still gives you a few options. Your points are worth a fixed one cent each when redeemed for travel, gift cards, charity donations or cash back, but it is possible to get more value with the right card pairing. Wells Fargo lets you pool your points across cards, so if you also hold the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card you can redeem your points for airfare at a rate of 1.5 cents each. This might be a useful option for some, but if you’re looking to earn travel rewards it’s easy to find a better card to achieve that goal.
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 Blue Cash Preferred offers similar options, allowing you to redeem your cash back rewards for a statement credit, gift cards, or to shop with your rewards. No matter how you intend on using this extra money, I strongly suggest opting for cash back. Even if you want to buy gift cards or make a travel purchase, you should charge those to your credit card to earn more rewards and use the cash back to pay off the bill.
Winner: This is a tie, at the end of the day the best use of cash back cards is to put more money in your wallet and these cards do it equally well.
The decision by Amex and Wells Fargo to offer bonus rewards for select streaming services (on select US streaming subscriptions for the Blue Cash Preferred) is indicative of a broader shift in American consumer demographics. As with any cash back card, you have to be really careful that your rewards each year will be greater than your annual fee in order to justify keeping the card open. The Wells Fargo Propel has a higher bonus, no annual fee and strong bonus categories, making it the better choice for most people.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card, click here.
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WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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