What’s the best rewards card for parents with kids in school?
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
I'm looking for a no-fee rewards card that will help me earn
points for the kind of spending I'm doing now. My main expenses involve my kids
who just went back to school and college, and travel to see the ones in
college. I'm considering Citi Thank You. Is there anything I should know?
Anything similar but better? -- Maryanne
One thing you should know is that Citi changed some terms on
its Thank You cards. For existing cardholders, these changes won't go into
effect until Oct. 20, 2013, but
they will apply to you immediately. Since July 28, new Thank You cardholders have
been earning 2 points instead of 1 per $1 spent on dining and entertainment
(which includes movies, museums, sporting events, "online record stores" such
as iTunes and video rentals such as Netflix) and 1 point per $1 on everything
I don't know how those categories fit in with your spending,
but they don't include bonus points for travel spending. It is possible to use the
points you earn on airfare, and you do get 20,000 points as a sign-up bonus.
However, since you said you want to maximize rewards on
travel, you may be better off with a card that charges a modest annual fee and
earns more on travel purchases. FlexPerks, Venture and Arrival cards all offer up
to 2 points per $1 for travel, along with more generous sign-up bonuses and rewards
targeted to your needs. They have annual fees but waive them the first year,
which means you can take advantage of the perks for a year before having to
US Bank FlexPerks Visa Signature charges a $49 annual fee,
waived the first year, earns 17,500 points after you spend $2,500 in 90 days
and gives you 2 points per $1 on most cellphone expenses and either gas,
grocery or airline purchases (whichever you spend most on in any billing
cycle). With kids in college and at home, I'm thinking you'll be spending in
all those areas.
Capital One Venture charges a $59 annual fee, waived the
first year, earns 2 points per $1 spent on all purchases and a 10,000-point
sign-up bonus. Points are redeemable for travel expenses.
Barclaycard Arrival charges an $89 annual fee, waived the first
year, but recently upped its sign-up bonus to 40,000 miles when you spend
$1,000 in 90 days. That's worth about $400 in travel right there. Arrival earns
2 miles per $1 on all purchases and you get 10 percent of them back when you redeem on
travel. You can use Arrival points on any airline, no blackout dates, as well
as select hotels and cruises.
You should also note that Arrival is a World MasterCard and Venture
and FlexPerks are Visa Signature cards, which means all three come with travel
insurance benefits (car rental, luggage reimbursement, etc). Those could prove to be
worth an annual fee in themselves if you'll be traveling a lot.
See related: Booking via travel website may affect reward miles, perks,
Groceries bought at Wal-Mart, Costco don't earn extra rewards, Travel rewards vs. cash back: Do you really want to be practical?
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Published: August 27, 2013