Executive Summary -
Update: From 4th November 2013 onwards, card members can get their FICO score for free when they log into their account.
In the very cut throat world of no annual fee travel rewards card, Barclays has managed to standout from the crowd with this one. The absence of foreign transaction fee, the ability to earn double points on travel and dining and a 10% bonus points when you redeem them for travel pushes this card above it's peers.
When Barclays announced the launched of the Arrival Card, I saw it as a challenge to Capital One and their venture card. They introduced two versions of this card. The first one allowed you to earn double points on every purchase and that card came with an annual fee. However, they are also offering a no annual fee version and this is the one that we will be reviewing here.
The Looks - The no annual fee version comes with a slightly different design. It has a lighter shade and looks silverish or grayish.
Reward Formula - At it's core, this card allows you to earn one point for every dollar that you spend on the card. You also earn double points for spending on travel and dining. This is in contrast to the annual fee version of this card, which allows you to earn double points on every dollar regardless of the types of spending.
10% Carry-On Miles and Rewards Redemption - As with most rewards card, you can redeem the points for travel. The rate of return on your points is 1%. That means that when you use 100 points, you get $1 in value. As an example, 20,000 points gets you $200 in value. However, Barclays has sweetened the deal if you redeem points for travel. For every point that you redeem for travel, they will top up your account with an additional 10% of the points you have used. Let's use an example to illustrate this. We will assume that you redeemed 30,000 points for travel. After one to two weeks, Barclays will deposit 3,000 points in your account.
The card also gives you great flexibility in how you use the points. You do not have to use any designated travel agent or online portal. Instead, you are free to choose who you want to book your travel with. That means that you can book directly with the airlines, hotels, car rentals or cruise. You could choose to use an aggregator like Travelocity.com. Or you could use an off-line travel agent. When you redeem the points, it will show up as a statement credit and what happens is that you simply end up not paying for that expense.
If you choose not to use the points you have earned for travel, you could also use them to redeem for gift card and merchandise. But you will get a return of less than 1% and not get the 10% carry-on miles.
Free FICO Score - Barclays announced on 4th November 2013 on their Facebook page that holders of this card will be able to get their FICO (at no extra charge) from their dashboard. This is great news for the industry as you are getting a real FICO score (not FAKOs).
Extra Features -Barclays also added a couple of neat features to make sure that they are at the top of the heap versus their competitors. Firstly, they made sure that this card charged no foreign transaction fees. This alone has made it standout among the many no annual fee reward cards. Secondly, new card members also get a one year subscription to Trip-It Pro App, which is worth $49. After the first year, you will be given the option to renew (or not). It is important to note that for the annual fee version, you get the annual subscription every year.
How Does This Card Fare With It's Peers?
While the annual fee version of this card has few competitors (because there are very few cards that give double miles or points), this one faces lots of competition from almost all issuers. In this next section, we'll take a look at how this card fares in the market.
There are three things that we should look at when we are comparing reward cards. The first is how you earn points. The second is the value of the points you redeem. The third is to see if there are any valued added features that stands out from the crowd.
In terms of the ability to earn points, this card fares pretty well. Many travel rewards card pay one point per dollar on their cards. Examples include Citi's ThankYou Cards, the Amex Blue SKy and Blue Cards, Wells Fargo Rewards. The better ones add extra perks. For example, the Chase Sapphire Card is very similar to this one, where aside from a base rate of one point per dollar, you earn double points on travel and dining expense. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards allow you to earn 1.25 points per dollar for all types of expense. Whether this is better than this card will depend on what percentage of your spending is on travel and dining.
In terms of redemption, this card is perhaps the best of the lot because of the 10% carry-on miles. Most other programs like the Citi ThankYou, Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards and even Capital One have a 1% redemption value on travel (just like this card). But the 10% extra points you get when you redeem them for travel puts this a cut above the rest. The only card that offers something extra on this front is the Blue Sky Amex, where you only need 7,500 points to get $100 in reward value versus needing the usual 10,000 points.
The other advantage that this card has over others is the fact that they do not charge any foreign transaction fees. Capital One does not either. But all other no annual fee cards that we know of charge about 3% for any foreign transactions when you use your card abroad. This card also offers a one year free subscription for the Trip-It Pro App (which is a $49 value).
Verdict - Jumps ahead of it's class?
There are many no annual reward cards that come with travel rewards in their program. Hence, this is perhaps one of the most competitive space to be in. Most cards in this space allow you to earn one point for every dollar that you spend on their card and the redemption value for travel is 1% (ie 100 points gets you $1 in value). To rise up above it's competition, Barclays has to add a couple of features on top of the usual features and I it has succeeded in this.
Firstly, you can earn double points on travel and dining. This puts it above most of their competition with the exception of a few like the Chase Sapphire (which also allows you toe earn double points on travel and dining). Secondly, you get the 10% carry-on-miles when you redeem points for travel. Most of their competitors do not have such features. Furthermore, there is no foreign transaction fee, whereas their no-annual fee peers have them (with the exception of Capital One). But perhaps, what might tip you over to thsi card is that fact that you can get your FICO scores for free.
If you are looking for a no annual fee reward cards for travel, it is likely that you are not a super frequent flyer and just want to earn some points which you can redeem to travel. If you check every major issuer, you will find that all of them have similar offerings. This one stands out through the extra perks and features (which other cards have not caught onto yet). I would highly recommend this card.