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In Which I Take a Second Look at the Underrated Barclay Arrival Card


Since everyone is talking about the last day of the SPG deal, I thought I’d use the opportunity to say that if you are, in fact, applying for the last day of the SPG that you may want to also consider the Barclay Arrival Card if you have not already gotten it.

(My 2 seconds on the SPG: It’s a solid card, and the extra 5,000 points is great and all, but I wouldn’t apply outside of my normal churn schedule to get it. If you are considering it within your churn schedule, yes – you can get both the personal and business; and yes you can get the bonus if you’ve had the cards before as long as it’s been 12 months since you canceled; and yes you should log out of your Amex account before clicking through the application. My links are over on the right-hand part of the page if you’d like to support the OTR. The links are on every bloggers page if you’d like to support someone (or no one) else.)

Back to the Barclay Arrival card. You may remember the headlines: $440 in free travel after $3,000 spend in 3 months, with the first year free – you’ll get 40,000 points, which are redeemable for $400 in travel (and only for travel), plus when you redeem you get 10% points back, which is why everyone says it’s $440 in free travel.

I know none of this is new, but I recently got the card and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s a great choice for an everyday card for lots of people. A little Q&A to help:

Q: What’s the main benefit of this card?
A: Aside from the signup bonus, you are essentially getting 2.2% cash back on every purchase, though you’re only really earning that if you redeem it for travel. Though most people DO spend some money on travel each year, so I think most people benefit from it.

Q: But it has an annual fee, right? Doesn’t that affect the math?
A: Yes – there’s an $89 annual fee after the first year. I’ve long pushed the value of the Amex Fidelity card because it earns 2% cash back with no annual fee. If you spend $40,000 or more each year, you’re better off getting this card rather than the Amex Fidelity card.

Q: $40,000 is a lot of money – I’ll never hit that.
A: Yes, it’s a significant amount of money. However, you can actually print money with this card.

Q: What do you mean print money?
A: I mean you can print money. If you put $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads on this card each month (that’s the max you can transfer into Bluebird) that will cost you $39.50 each month. You will also earn $110.86 in cash back. Do that each month and you will net $856 each year.

Q: Huh?
A: Yes. If you max out on VRs (assuming you live somewhere where you can buy them on your credit card) you will pay yourself $856 before you put any real spend on it.

Q: That’s pretty cool.
A: Yes, though you should also consider yourself lucky if you live near a CVS where you can buy that many VRs each month (though plenty of people can).

Q: But I like earning points instead of cash back.
A: Here’s something to consider: If you typically use your points for international premium class travel, then earning points is a good idea. If you have chosen to earn Starwood points either for international premium class travel or for certain hotel redemptions, that can be a good idea. But for everyone else you are probably better off taking the cash.

Q: Really?
A: Yes, really. Let’s use round numbers: If you spend $50,000 a year, you’ll earn $1100 cash back or 50,000 points. There are very few 50,000 point airline redemptions worth $1100. There are some, certainly. But in most cases you are better off with the cash. Plus, the cash can be used for car rentals (ie, there’s a lot more flexibility in how you spend that money on travel).

Q: Am I going to get approved? I’ve had a bunch of apps this year.
A: You generally should wait 6 months between Barclays apps, though I recently got approved for 2 Barclays cards 3 months apart. Absolutely call if you are denied to get them to reconsider. Also, put spend on your other Barclays card – they do seem to look at whether you’re actually using the other Barclays card to determine whether they’ll give you a card.

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  1. I signed up for Fidelity AMEX a few weeks ago on your recommendation. An article on this card would be useful. First, only the AMEX version gives 2%. The Visa version gives 1.5%. Second, the AMEX version is not really an AMEX, but it’s licensed out by FIA card Services (so, for people concerned about taking on another AMEX, it’s not serviced by them) and merely functions as an AMEX for purposes of merchant acceptance. Next, the 2% is somewhat misleading. You get 2 points for each dollar of spend and 5,000 points is $50 toward your Fidelity account (you must have a Fidelity account to get the CC – I signed up for a retirement account-linked CC and wondered if I should have signed up for the Investment account-linked version, for easier access to the money). So, yes, that’s 2%. If you want to take the points and cash them out in other ways, like money or gift cards, they exchange (much like Thank You points) at a substantially lower rate, typically 1% to 1.67%. You *can* get gift cards at higher denominations that get the full 2%, but it’s a limited variety… say, a $250 Fairmont gift card for 25,000 points ($12,500 spend). Amazon gift cards max out at $100 for 12,000 points ($6,000 spend), in contrast, or 1.67%. Cash back is on a tiered scale of points to cash but maxes at 1.6%. The card that comes from FIA is weirdly flimsy and insubstantial, like a cheap plastic membership card from a business. It’s the thinnest credit card I have. It’s also lime green. No biggie, but it does not impress.

    • I have the card linked to a Roth IRA. I cash out whenever cash is deposited in. I think Fidelity makes you keep $50 in the account. So it is 2% cashback other than the $50 that is tied up.
      Roth IRAs allow for the withdrawal of contributions without issue. I do get tax papers each year but there is no tax liability.

  2. Jared, first, thank you for this and other posts on cash-back cards. I’ve been thinking moving to a cash-back card to pay for hotels (I’m more than fine with airline miles), so this information is very helpful.

    Steve, thank you for the clarification on the Fidelity card. I’d been wondering about how exactly one could withdraw the cash at 2% and couldn’t figure out how it came out to that 2%. Sounds like the Barclay Arrival Card might be the better bet, even with the annual fee after the first year.

  3. If I cancel the card at the end of 1 year, will I lose those “Barclay arrival miles”?

    • Yes I believe so – they’re usable as a credit toward your charges so if you cancel the card there are no charges to use then against.

  4. This card is impossible to get if you’ve been doing App-O-Rama’s.

    • It’s not impossible, but Barclays (like US Bank) doesn’t love churning. I did get approved for it last month, even after I had applied for the US Airways card 3 months prior, and have been doing 4-5 card AORs every 3-4 months for a while. Be prepared to explain what you’ve been up to…

  5. Q&A About the "Underrated" Barclay Arrival Card - pingback on September 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm
  6. RE: App-o-ramas: what *do* you explain when asked “what you’ve been up to”?

    • I didn’t need to explain every card – they just said something to the effect of, “you’ve opened a number of cards in the past year.” I said that I had, that I have 2 businesses and some were for that, and that for personal expenses I like to keep different types of expenses on different cards (ie, travel; grocery, etc). That seemed fine with them. They are definitely more picky than Chase and Citi, but i found them to be reasonable on the phone (which is more than most people say about US Bank).

      I think the other thing you can say is that you have points-earning cards, but that you don’t have a cash-back card, and this is the best card on the market….

  7. I have both SPG and Barclay Arrival card, which do you think should be used as the everyday card? Also I use my SPG for pay for my SVO mortgage with gives me 2 spg points for every dollar spent.

    • I’ve thought a lot about this, and I could be convinced either way, assuming you’re judicious about how you’re using the SPG points. If you’re using them for Category 5-7 hotels where you’re getting good value for the redemption, it can make sense. If you’re using them to transfer to airlines for international business class, then it makes sense. But for just about anything else – cheaper hotels or coach air travel, I think you’re better off with the Barclays card (except if you’re getting 2 SPG per dollar on your mortgage. In that case, use the SPG — who offers you that option?)

  8. is the subway “travel”?

    • It does not for the Arrival (it does for the Sapphire Preferred to earn double points). The Points Guy says that the Arrival counts these categories as travel:

      Travel Agencies and Tour Operators (including online agencies such as Expedia, Priceline and TripIt)
      Hotels, Motels and Resorts
      Cruise Lines
      Passenger Railways
      Car Rental Agencies

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