With So Many No Annual Fee Options, Why Pay For A 2% Cash Back Card?

by joeheg

It’s advantageous to have a cashback credit card in your wallet. Unforeseen travel expenses can transform a supposedly “free” trip into one that puts a dent in your budget. It’s nice to have rewards that can be utilized to pay for these expenses. Additionally, there are certain things that you cannot pay for with travel miles, such as a stay at a foreign chain hotel or a train ticket.

In the past, you had to pay an annual fee for a card that earned 2% cashback on all your purchases. These cards only earned cash and there was no option to transfer the rewards to other external travel programs for added value.

The first 2% back card I signed up for was the Barclaycard Arrival+.

a credit card with a blue background

While the card is no longer available to new applicants, at the time, it was paying a 70,000 point sign up bonus worth $700. You can use the points to pay for travel expenses over $100. Redemptions also earn a 5% rebate, so the actual earning rate is closer to 2.1% if you’re able to use almost all of the points.

I paid the annual fee for the card at the first renewal because I have points to spend and I wanted to keep on the right side of Barclays, a notoriously stingy bank when it comes to approvals. I think our semi-regular use of the Arrival+ card helped Sharon get approved for the JetBlue Plus card, her THIRD card from them.

I’m having a tough time deciding whether or not to renew my Arrival+ credit card and pay the $89 annual fee. There are so many competitors out there that offer no annual fees and with the constant changes in the credit card world, it’s a difficult decision to make.

I have other cards that could easily take the place of the Arrival+ in our wallets and there are even more options available by product change or new applications. Most important, none of these cards have an annual fee.

Fidelity Rewards (2%)

a green background with a logo on it

The Fidelity Rewards Visa card earns 2% cashback. I can deposit the money directly into my Fidelity account once I’ve made $25. While earning 2% back is great, there are even better options out there.

Citi Double Cash (2% to 2.66% and higher)

a close-up of a credit card

The Citi Double Cash is designed to be a straight 2% cashback card. In practice, you earn 1% on spending and 1% when you pay the bill but I hope everyone who is earning points and miles with credit cards is paying off their bills in full every month. You can get more value for your points if you have either a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card.  Since Citi lets you transfer points between accounts, if you have one of these other cards, you can transfer your points to one of Citi’s partners. I’ve transferred ThankYou points to Flying Blue, JetBlue and Singapore KrisFlyer and it would be easy to get between a 3% to 5% return with these redemptions.

While this is a great option, there’s an even better one if you can get it.

Freedom Unlimited (1.5% to 6% and higher)

a credit card with a green ribbon

The Freedom Unlimited card from Chase earns 1.5% back on all purchases and 3% back on dining and drug store purchases. The base level of earning with the card is good, but I think the potential upside of the card is the best of the pack. Unfortunately, many people are shut out from getting this card due to Chase’s 5/24 rule.

You can unlock additional value if you also have a premium card from Chase like the Sapphire Preferred. Chase allows you to combine points from all of your accounts. Once attached to a premium card, you can transfer points to one of Chase’s travel partners. I’ve transferred points to Hyatt for a value of 1.6 to 2.5 cents per point. I can’t even begin to put a value on the points I transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer to book us on a flight from JFK-Frankfurt.

Other options

When push comes to shove, I think the two Membership Rewards points per dollar that the AMEX Blue Business Plus earns is the best deal out there. I’ve left it out of the list because it is a business card. If you have a business, this is the best card for any expense that doesn’t earn an additional bonus with other cards. This is a personal choice because I find AMEX’s transfer partners to be better suited to our travel needs. The Blue Business Plus card also earns fully transferrable points with no annual fee. No need to have a premium card to unlock the full value of the points like is necessary with Citi or Chase.

Final Thoughts

Recently, I’ve been considering whether or not to keep the Arrival+ credit card. It’s a difficult decision to make since I already have two other cards that offer comparable rewards with no annual fee. The only advantage of keeping the card is that doing so will help us maintain a good relationship with Barclays, which might ease future applications. In addition, the bank does send out occasional spending bonuses which cover most of the cost of the annual fee.

If I do decide to close the account, I’ll try to find a way to put enough travel charges on the card to use up our points before the annual fee is due.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Larry Liverston September 11, 2020 - 7:50 pm

They are not going to offer any retention bonuses. Barclay’s has been notoriously stingy with retention yards days.

Jeremy September 11, 2020 - 9:01 pm

You left out the Bank of America Travel/Premium Rewards card.

joeheg September 11, 2020 - 9:51 pm

I didn’t forget them. Premium rewards card has a $95 annual fee. The Travel Rewards has no fee but is a 1.5% cashback card. To get any more value, you have to have at least $20K in BoA/Merrill accounts.

Rup September 18, 2023 - 11:19 am

You can only transfer Thank You points gained from the Citi Double Cash card to JetBlue True Blue. I just checked my Citi account to see if anything has changed and the only airline listed is JetBlue while my citi premier card has all the airlines listed for travel partners. That’s why I have severely cut back spending on my Citi Double Cash card in favor of my Capital One Venture card that also earns 2 points per dollar but points can be transferred to many airline programs.


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