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Airline miles, hotel points and transferrable points can unlock genuinely incredible experiences. Unfortunately, you can’t book every travel experience these currencies. Sometimes, you need to pull out your credit card to pay for a specific travel experience or fee.
Luckily, several credit card currencies can cover out-of-pocket travel expenses. You could collect cash-back rewards with one of the best cash-back cards for a vacation fund. You could also redeem credit card rewards at a fixed rate to offset travel expenses. For example, you can redeem Capital One miles at one cent each. But, today, I’ll consider a lesser-known currency that can also be redeemed at a fixed-value to offset travel expenses: Barclays Arrival miles.
Barclays Arrival miles are less well-known since none of the cards that earn these miles are currently open for applications. But, you may have Arrival miles through an existing Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard or Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. So, today I’ll describe how to maximize Barclays Arrival miles.
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How to use Arrival miles
Log in to your account on barclaycardus.com and click on the “Rewards & Benefits” tab from your account homepage. There you’ll see options, instructions and information for redeeming your miles. Note that the redemption options and specifics vary across the Arrival cards. But, for the remainder of this guide, we’ll assume you have the Arrival Plus.
You can redeem Arrival miles for travel statement credits, cash-back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. You’ll get the best value from travel statement credits and account annual fee redemptions. After all, these choices value your miles at 1 cent each.
You generally won’t want to redeem your miles for cash back statement credits or gift cards since these redemptions only value your miles at 0.5 cents each. However, through Jan. 31, 2021, you can offset qualifying gas, grocery and restaurant purchases via travel statement credits at a rate of 1 cent each per mile.
Travel statement credit redemptions for the Arrival Plus card generally start at 10,000 miles for $100. You can typically only redeem toward a qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. And, account annual fee redemptions within the travel statement credit category have a minimum redemption of 2,500 miles for $25.
But, Barclays recently announced that Arrival Plus travel statement credit redemptions now start at 5,000 miles for $50 toward a travel charge of $100 or more. And, through Jan. 31, 2021, you can offset qualifying gas, grocery and restaurant purchases.
If you decide to use your miles for a travel statement credit, you’ll see a list of all qualifying travel purchases. These purchases will fall under the travel merchant category code Barclaycard assigns merchants. Whether a merchant is included in the travel category will vary depending on the specific vendor. But, in general, these categories include:
- Travel agencies and tour operators (including online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline)
- Hotels, motels and resorts
- Cruise lines
- Passenger railways
- Car rental agencies
You can select “Redeem Now” next to any eligible purchase. Then you must choose how many miles you want to redeem and hit confirm on the next page. Once you do so, you’ll see a confirmation page that lists your remaining miles balance and the amount of your 5% travel redemption bonus. Your redemption will usually appear in your online account within one or two business days.
Now that you know how to make a redemption, let’s consider what kinds of travel redemptions you can make using your Barclays Arrival miles.
Award ticket taxes and fees
If the award ticket taxes and fees are less than $100, use an airline credit card that offers additional earnings for purchases made on the airline or a credit card that provides trip protections when you pay only the taxes and fees with the card. But, if the award taxes and fees are $100 or more and you can offset the purchase using your Arrival miles, using your Arrival card can reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
Incidental hotel charges
Just like with airline travel, hotel charges can include a lot more than your room rate. For example, you may need to pay taxes, resort fees, room service, restaurant bills, spa tabs and more. If you use hotel points for your stay, you’ll get your award nights for free. But, you may still be on the hook for other charges. And if you use your hotel points for a cash and points award, you’ll still need to pay a cash copay that may be more than $100 for high-end properties or multi-night stays.
Remember, you’ll only be able to offset purchases of $100 or more. So, you’ll want to start a tab for room charges at check-in instead of paying for each on-site expense as a separate transaction. But, some hotel credit cards offer category spending bonuses when you use them at their hotels. For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns 14 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at participating Hilton properties. So, do the math for yourself and see if it makes more sense to use your Arrival Plus card to offset the purchase using your Arrival miles.
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Online travel agencies
One drawback to most airline miles and hotel points is that redeeming them depends on award availability. But with Arrival miles, you can redeem for any seat or room that’s available. After all, you’ll pay for the seat or room and then use your Arrival miles to offset the purchase.
You can also use your Arrival miles for car rentals and pretty much anything you can buy through online travel agencies. After all, Barclays usually classifies online travel agencies in the travel merchant category. So, if you use an online travel agency like Expedia or Priceline, you’ll be able to use your Arrival miles to offset purchases of $100 or more.
Regular travel agencies
Although most of us seem to be using online travel sites and booking directly with airlines and hotels these days, some folks still use traditional travel agents. One of the great things about Arrival miles is that when purchasing travel through a travel agent that codes in the travel merchant category, you can redeem your miles to offset expenses of $100 or more.
Most cobranded cruise line credit cards don’t provide great value unless you frequently sail on one particular cruise line. So, another great way to put your Arrival miles to use is redeeming them for cruise expenses.
In particular, you could offset your cruise package and/or expenses on board like bar or restaurant tabs, spa treatments, onshore excursions and so on. Just be sure to charge all of your onboard expenses to one bill so the total will at least $100 and hence eligible to be offset with your Arrival miles.
Bed and breakfast, vacation rental and non-chain hotel stays
It doesn’t always make sense to stay with one of the major hotel loyalty programs. And, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, vacation rentals can be appealing. While you often can’t redeem your hotel points for these stays, you can use your Arrival miles as long as the lodging is classified in the travel merchant category and your stay costs $100 or more. So, this is a great way to put your miles to use while getting to experience something new and different lodging-wise.
Although most car rental agencies have loyalty programs where you can earn free rental days, it can take a long time to acquire these free rental days. And it’s often difficult to use these free days when traveling abroad.
So, you may need to find a cheap rental using AutoSlash and simply pay for your car rental. That’s where fixed-value currencies like Arrival miles can be useful since the charge should be listed as a travel expense on your statement. This means you can offset the expense using your miles as long as the rental cost is at least $100.
Although it’s possible to transfer hotel points from various brands to Amtrak, this generally won’t provide good value. And it won’t help if you’re looking to book train travel outside the U.S.
You may want to use a card that provides travel protections when purchasing your train tickets, especially when your purchase is less than $100. But for purchases of $100 or more — which is common for cross-country Amtrak tickets and long-distance European trains in premium cabins or during peak travel periods — you may want to use your Arrival miles to offset your train travel purchases.
Want to take a tour of Tuscany’s farmers markets or a wine-tasting trip in Bordeaux? You usually can’t use your points and miles to book these experiences. But, if the tour operator is categorized under “Travel” with Barclay’s code system and the adventure costs at least $100, you can redeem your miles toward the cost of your tour package. Doing so could let you save some of your cash for more wine.
Your actual ticket to Disneyland or Universal Studios might not code in the travel category. However, if you buy a Disney package that includes flights and/or hotel, this may code as travel. Likewise, if you are staying at the Universal Studios resort in Florida and your tickets were billed to your hotel room, this charge would likely be classified as travel. Offsetting your theme park tickets with Arrival miles may allow you to spend more on souvenirs and family fun during your trip.
As long as you’re redeeming your Arrival miles for 1 cent each, you’re maximizing your miles. However, it’s worth considering what types of purchases you should put on your Arrival card.
For example, you can offset qualifying gas, grocery and restaurant purchases through Jan. 31, 2021 at a rate of 1 cent per mile. However, it might be better to earn more rewards on these purchases with the best cards for gas or the best cards for groceries. After all, you can always use your Arrival miles to offset travel purchases that would earn fewer bonus rewards on your other cards.
Featured image by MStudioImages/Getty Images.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.