Capital One Venture Rewards vs. Barclaycard Arrival

April 5, 2013

There has been an airline mileage backlash brewing for some time as carriers have made it near impossible to redeem their miles for awards seats at the lowest levels. This backlash extends from the skies right down to our wallets as credit card holders no longer see nearly as much value in airline mileage cards as they once did.

In response, banks have begun issuing their own “miles” to credit card holders. And unlike the airline’s miles, these bank-operated programs allow customers to use their miles to book any travel at any time. And since these award flights are booked just like any other, travelers can earn miles from their trip and be eligible for upgrades.

Capital One has been offering its Venture Rewards card for several years. In fact, you may have noticed their ubiquitous marketing efforts featuring celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Jerry Stiller. Less well known is Barclaycard, which recently introduced their Arrival MasterCard with a similar rewards program.

Let’s put these two products head to head and see which one comes out on top.

Capital One Venture Rewards

Capital One VentureThe Capital One Venture Rewards card has lots of good things going for it. Cardholders earn a one-time bonus of 10,000 miles after they spend $1,000 in the first three months of card membership. And for each dollar spent, cardholders earn two miles in Capital One’s program. Miles are unlimited and never expire.

When it is time to redeem miles, cardholders could choose from a variety of cash back and merchandise options, but at only .5 cents in value per mile redeemed. The best use of miles is for statement credits towards any travel expense. When used this way, miles are worth one cent each. In effect, cardholders consistently receive 2% back in value for each dollar spent.

How do you redeem miles? First, make any travel purchase the way that you normally would. This can include airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises, or a reservation booked through a travel agent. Next, log into your account and select the travel expenses. Capital One will then reimburse you one cent for each mile for as many miles as you have. It is that easy!

There is a $59 annual fee that is waived the first year, and like all Capital One cards, there are no foreign transaction fees.

In theory, you really need to spend about 2% of your income on travel expenditures in order to redeem all of your miles for statement credits at one cent each.

Barclaycard Arrival

Barclaycard ArrivalNot to be left out of the market for reward cards with bank issued “miles,” Barclaycard introduced its Arrival card in December of 2012. And its terms look surprisingly similar to the Capital One Venture Rewards card. As with Capital One, cardholders earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases. These miles are then worth one cent each as statement credits towards any travel-related expense. And like Capital One, Barclaycard has no foreign transaction fees either.

But here is where it gets interesting. The Barclaycard product offers 20,000 bonus miles, worth $222, after your first transaction. And when redeeming points for travel expenses, it offers a 10% mileage refund that they call Carry-on Miles. So while one dollar spent with the Capital One Venture Rewards card earns two miles worth two cents, a dollar spent on the Barclaycard Arrival earns two miles worth 2.22 cents.

There is an $89 annual fee for this card, but it is waived the first year.

Insider tip: There are several versions of this card being offered. One version has no annual fee and only earns one mile per dollar on most purchases and two miles per dollar on travel and dining. That version only has a sign up bonus of 10,000 miles. And while this other version might work better for some cardholders with modest spending requirements, it is not the version I am reviewing here.

The Verdict

This is a tough call, but I am going to have to go with the Barclaycard by a nose. Sure, the annual fee is a tad higher, but the sign up bonus is worth an extra $222, good enough to offset the difference for your first eight years of card membership. And while I thought that Alec Baldwin was brilliant in The Hunt for Red October, his influence is not enough to make up for the 11% better returns on the miles redeemed with the Barclaycard.

By beating Capital One ever so slightly at its own game, the new Barclaycard Arrival card becomes the winner by split decision.

Which card is your favorite? Leave a comment!


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Jason Steele has been dissecting credit card bonuses and loyalty travel programs for years. Digging into the details of credit card offers has enabled his family to vacation in cool places around the world. Pay attention to the details he digs up about which card is best for you.

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