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Middle Age Miles

Reader Question: What Cards Have Points I Can Use to Reimburse Travel Charges?

Reader JBTx might want to use his credit card points to purchase a Tour of the Colosseum!

Friend-of-Middle-Age-Miles JBTx recently submitted a reader question that we thought would make for a nice article. For context, JBTx is heavily invested in the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) eco-system and is extremely skilled at using UR points to fund his family’s travels, particularly by using Chase transfer partners British Airways and Hyatt.

JBTx also uses the Chase Travel Portal to book travel excursions, using UR points at 1.5 cents per point (since he has a Sapphire Reserve card). It’s more important to him to save cash by paying for travel with points, as opposed to trying to maximize cents-per-point in his redemptions.

Given that context, here is the question JBTx recently posed to Middle Age Miles:

Dear Middle Age Miles:

There are sometimes travel charges, like a boutique hotel or a tour activity, that you can’t directly use things like Chase UR points to pay for. Are there certain credit cards where you can use your points to get reimbursed using your points for such expenses? Any you recommend? Thanks.

Great question, JBTx. For starters, let’s clarify that many hotels and a surprising number of tour activities and excursions are bookable through the Chase Travel Portal. You can book these using Chase UR points at 1.5 cents per point if you hold a Sapphire Reserve card, 1.25 cents per point if you hold a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred, and 1 cent per point otherwise. In his question, JBTx is asking about boutique hotels and tour activities that are not available on the Chase Travel Portal.

Let’s work our way through a few options of cards where you can use our points to be reimbursed generally for travel charges such as the boutique hotels and tour activities that aren’t available on the Chase Travel Portal:

1. Barclays Arrival Plus

Barclays Arrival Plus
  • Current sign-up bonus: 70,000 “miles” after $5,000 spend within 90 days
  • Points-earning: 2x “miles” on all purchases
  • Annual fee: $89 (waived first year)
  • Redemption method: Request online, for any qualifying purchases within 120 days; receive statement credit
  • Redemption rate for travel: 1 cent per “mile”
  • Redemption minimum: 10,000 “miles” / $100
  • Redemption rebate: Get 5% “miles” back on every redemption
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Eligible Travel Redemptions: Airlines, Hotels, Motels, Timeshares, Campgrounds, Car Rental Agencies, Cruise Lines, Travel Agencies, Discount Travel Sites, Trains, Buses, Taxis, Limousines, Ferries, and your account annual fee (if submitted by merchant using the eligible merchant category codes (MCCs))

The Barclays Arrival Plus hits all of JBTx’s marks. As long as the charges code properly and exceed $100, any hotels qualify for Travel reimbursement at 1 cent per mile. Likewise, AirBnB is confirmed to code as Travel on the Barclays Arrival Plus and qualify for Travel reimbursement (hat tip to Doctor of Credit’s Payments Workshop).

In addition, Barclays expressly makes Travel Agencies eligible for Travel Redemptions. We know from personal experience that Expedia and Viator both code as Travel Agencies with Mastercard. So, any tour activity that you can book on either of those sites should work as well. (That said, we’d think that the Chase Travel Portal would have everything that’s available on Expedia, since Expedia now powers the Chase Travel Portal.)

2. Bank of America Travel Rewards

Bank of America Travel Rewards
  • Current sign-up bonus: 25,000 points
  • Points-earning: 1.5x on all purchases
    • +10% (1.65x) if you have a B of A checking or savings account
    • +25% (1.875x) if you have B of A Gold Preferred Rewards (requires $20k+ with B of A and/or Merrill Lynch)
    • +50% (2.25x) if you have B of A Platinum Preferred Rewards (requires $50k+ with B of A and/or Merrill Lynch)
    • +75% (2.625x) if you have B of A Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards (requires 100k+ with B of A and/or Merrill Lynch)
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Redemption method: Online or by phone, for any qualifying purchases within 12 months; receive statement credit
  • Redemption rate for travel: 1 cent per point
  • Redemption minimum: 2,500 points / $25
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Eligible travel-related categories: Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, trailer parks, motor home and RV rentals, campgrounds, car rental agencies, truck and trailer rental, cruise lines, travel agencies, tour operators and real estate agents, operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, bot rentals, parking lots and garages, tolls and bridge fees, tourist attractions and exhibits like art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums, zoos and the like.
    • BUT NOT: In-flight goods and services or duty-free airport purchases

The Bank of America Travel Rewards card meets JBTx’s criteria even better than the Barclays Arrival Plus. Hotels are expressly included. And the Travel Rewards card’s inclusions for tour activities are even broader than the Arrival Plus. Not only are on-line travel sites such as Expedia and Viator covered, but also entry fees and tickets booked directly at “tourist attractions and exhibits.” And the low $25 minimum means that almost every hotel or tour activity will qualify.

3. Capital One Venture / Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Capital One Venture
  • Current sign-up bonuses:
    • Venture: 50,000 “miles” after $3,000 spend within 3 months
    • Spark Miles for Business: 50,000 “miles” after $4,500 spend within 3 months
  • Points-earning: 2x “miles” on all purchases
    • Plus the Venture card has a bonus category of 10x “miles” at Hotels.com, booked at hotels.com/venture
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived first year) – same for both cards
  • Redemption method: Online or by phone, for any qualifying purchases within 90 days; receive statement credit
  • Redemption rate for travel: 1 cent per “mile”
  • Redemption minimum: None
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Eligible Travel Redemptions: Airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents and time shares (subject to the MCC coding qualifing)

The Capital One Venture and Spark Miles for Business cards stack up much like the Barclays Arrival Plus – They expressly cover hotels. Plus, they cover travel agents, which should allow you to book tour activities through Expedia, Viator or other OTAs.

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Another plus to Capital One “miles” is the new feature introduced last fall where Capital One “miles” can be transferred to 14 airline program partners – (1) Aeromexico Club Premier; (2) Aeroplan (Air Canada); (3) Alitalia MilleMiglia; (4) Avianca LifeMiles; (5) Cathay Pacific Asia Miles; (6) Emirates Skywards; (7) Etihad Guest; (8) EVA Infinity MileageLands; (9) Finnair Plus; (10) Flying Blue (Air France & KLM); (11) Hainan Fortune Wings Club; (12) Qantas Frequent Flyer; (13) Qatar Privilege Club; (14) Singapore KrisFlyer. All transfers are 2 Capital One “miles” to 1.5 miles in the airline program, except for Emirates and Singapore, which have a 2-to-1 transfer ratio. This feature makes Capital One “miles” more flexible – and potentially more valuable – than the other credit card points/miles we’ve discussed in this article.

4. US Bank Altitude Reserve

US Bank Altitude Reserve
  • Current sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after $4,500 spend within 90 days
  • Points-earning: 3x points on travel purchase and mobile wallet spending; 1x on everything else
  • Annual fee: $400
    • However, note that much of this fee can be easily offset by the card’s $325 in annual travel credits, plus this premium card comes with other benefits
  • Redemption method: Redeem via Real-Time Mobile Rewards to receive statement credit, or book through US Bank Travel Portal
  • Redemption rate for travel: 1.5 cents per point
  • Redemption minimum: Varies by category
    • The default is $500 for lodging and $250 for everything else; however, you can modify some minimums to:
      • Lodging: $500
      • Car rental: $250
      • Airfare: $10
      • Other Travel: $10
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Eligible Travel Redemptions: “Transactions that a merchant classifies as travel (such as purchases made directly with airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, passenger trains and cruise line companies)”

The US Bank Altitude Reserve is a premium card with many benefits. We hold the card and are huge fans, in large part because of the 3x point-earning on mobile wallet purchases and travel. This, combined with the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents each, results in an effective 4.5% return in the “travel” and “mobile wallet” bonus categories. Especially when we travel internationally where mobile wallets are widely accepted, it increases the return on our spend substantially.

However, the Altitude Reserve isn’t all that helpful in response to JBTx’s current question, especially when compared to the other cards we’ve discussed above. For one thing, hotels are subject to a $500 minimum for points redemptions. And for another, purchases from Travel Agencies and Tour Operators do not qualify as “travel” as far as US Bank is concerned. (We found this out the hard way – see our article, Valuable Data Points on the US Bank Altitude Reserve and RoomiPay (Data Point & Experiment).)

Our Thoughts and Recommendations

This turned out to be a very interesting question, and I learned a few things while researching this. For starters, I initially thought the US Bank Altitude Reserve would be a good option – but it turns out, it’s not a good choice at all for the particular situation that JBTx is interested in.

Beyond that, the other three options all look good. There are definitely some trade-offs, and JBTx will have to decide which card suits his particular situation best. Each card could be considered “best” depending on individual circumstances and goals:

  • Barclays Arrival Plus has the most valuable sign-up bonus, as long as you can hit the $5k minimum spend requirement. Plus, its 5% rebate on redemptions effectively increases the earning rate to 2.1% on all spend.
  • The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card has the broadest definition of “travel” for purposes of using points for tour activities, which could be helpful to JBTx. Also, it never has an annual fee, whereas the other cards we’ve discussed do have an annual fee after the first year. Finally, it you can deposit $100k at B of A/Merrill Lynch to reach Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards, you can earn a best-in-class 2.625%return on all spend.
  • The Capital One Venture and Spark Miles for Business cards lie in between. It’s nice that there are 2 cards, so you could earn sign-up bonuses on both, totaling 100,000 “miles.” (But note that Cap One business cards do report to personal credit, which can be important in card-planning strategy.) It’s also helpful that the Cap One “miles” are more flexible and can be transferred to 14 airline loyalty programs. And, the Venture card’s 10x bonus category at Hotels.com may be valuable to some people.

Remember that whatever you choose in this and all other credit card decisions must fit into your overall card and points-and-miles strategies – for example, it’s important to know how your choice impacts your status under the Chase 5/24 Rule.

We’ve given you all the facts and taken this as far as we can. You’ll have to decide from here which card suits you and your particular situation best!

What do you think about our analysis and answer to JBTx’s great reader question? Did we miss anything? Which do you prefer and why? Please share with us, JBTx, and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!


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3 thoughts on “Reader Question: What Cards Have Points I Can Use to Reimburse Travel Charges?

  1. PNWcoaster

    I’m a big fan of the B of A Travel Rewards card. I think one of the easiest way for most middleagers to qualify for B of A’s Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards status is to roll over a portion of your existing 401(k) or IRA from a non-Merrill account to a self-directed Merrill Edge account. That’s what we did a couple of years and it was the best financial move we made in some time. In addition to allowing us to transform a non-annual fee Travel Rewards card to one that pays 2.65% return on a broad range of travel expenses, we get up to 100 free trades a month at ME, a discount on the interest for our HELOC, and various other minor but not insignificant benefits. Keep an eye out for cash bonuses for rolling over your 401(k) or IRA; you can call can get more if you roll over higher amounts than advertised.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi PNWcoaster – Great comment and thoughts. We’ve been considering just that for about 3 years now but have never pulled the trigger. Between the benefits of increased earning on the Travel Rewards card, the new 3% bonus category selection on the Cash Rewards card that you could pump up to 5.25%, the trading benefits you mention, and a potential new account bonus, it could be very useful. Maybe I’ll dress all that up into a new article sometime.

      Thanks again, and I hope you continue to read and enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

  2. PNWcoaster

    I do enjoy reading your blog–glad to see a slightly different voice/perspective on points/miles.
    We have the B of A Cash Rewards card, too. It was a pleasant surprise when B of A added the new 3% changeable category — I love having control over the category for my 5.25% returns. If you are considering moving assets over to ME as your qualifying move for Platinum Preferred Rewards, remember to call and see if you could get an unadvertised higher cash bonus. Right now they are advertising up to $600 for asset transfers into a new account (cash or retirement). Periodically they’ll run promotions to increase that amount by another hundred or two. But you might still be able to get more if you are willing to move more over. (We got more after reading that advice on an online forum.) The only commitment that I can recall was 90 days (or something to that effect), so you can transfer any excess (over what you need to achieve the Platinum Preferred Rewards status) back to your old brokerage.

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