Best Credit Cards

I Am Challenging Frequent Miler!

Catchy title, no? I thought so. I planned to do this post anyway but decided to add some controversy. The idea was to show that it’s not worth it to keep Barclaycard Arrival for a middle class family or most non-manufacturers (my new invented word) past the first year.

The card  earns 2.22 percent cash back factoring in rebate, towards travel expenses and has an annual fee of 89 dollars. It’s a great card for the sign-up bonus, no doubt. Lo and behold, Frequent Miler wrote a post that  related to my theme. For the purpose of this exercise we ignore the bonus or the waived first year annual fee completely, which is what he did.

CLICK HERE  to his post

In it Frequent Miler claimed that if he had to recommend just one card to use for everyday spending, it would be Barclaycard Arrival. You can only optimize redemptions for travel expenses. But since it’s a travel related industry, the assumption is, most people would do just that. The idea was to avoid Amex because it’s not accepted everywhere.

We routinely run into places that do not take American Express. So I would have to agree on that. Personally, I recommend everyone keep at least 2 credit cards in their wallet, in case one gets denied. But we will ignore that for the purpose of this post.

I think the logic is sound, especially if you don’t care about premium redemptions. The card is very straightforward, since you earn 2 points per dollar and get 10 percent back on redemption. So it becomes a 2.22 percent card. But here is what I think Frequent Miler should have added. This is overall best card for HIGH SPENDERS. If you are not, look elsewhere.   Especially if you are a middle-class family.

My recommendation is either Sallie Mae Barclaycard or possibly US Bank Club Carlson Signature Visa. I wrote a post on the second pick HERE  if you want to take a look. It’s a very good choice, no doubt. But only if you care about that particular brand of hotels. And in his post Frequent Miler did mention it was an excellent rewards card.

But it is too specific to be recommended broadly, which is why I would go with Sallie Mae Barclaycard as the best overall choice currently for low to medium spenders. Since it’s a family blog, let me show you our expenses, which are most likely representative of most middle-class in America:

1) Groceries: $500 a month, or $6,000 per year.

2) Gas: $300 a month, or $3,600 per year.

3) Dining: $400 a month, or $4,800 per year

4) Amazon : $100 a month, or $1,200 per year

5) Drug stores: $100 a month, or $1,200 per year

6) Everything else: $600 a month, or $7,200 per year.

Grand total is $24,000  per year, which is pretty close to average for a regular family if you charge most things on a card.

I wrote a post on Sallie Mae card here CLICK

This is how the rewards limits break down:

5% rewards up to $250 total for groceries per month
5% rewards up to $250 total for gas per month
5% rewards up to $750 total for books per month
1% on everything else

So going by this chart, here is how your rewards would stack up:

1) 150 dollars from the 5 percent back, 30 from the rest. Total 180.

2) 150 dollars from the 5 percent back, 6 dollars from the rest. Total 156.

3) 48 dollars.

4) 60 dollars, since Amazon is currently considered a bookstore.

5) 12 dollars.

6) 72 dollars.

Grand total is 528 dollars, more than 2 percent cash back. Now let’s take a look at Barclaycard Arrival . This one is simple. Take 24,000 dollars and multiply it by 2.22 percent. Grand total is 533 dollars. Wow, it beat the Sallie Mae card! But remember,  it has an annual fee of 89 dollars. So after we deduct it, we are left with 444 dollars.

That’s  84 dollar difference. So you would have to charge  about 7,000 more dollars just to break even if you use Arrival. A family would have to put over 31,000 dollars per year on credit cards to benefit, a good chunk of change. I would argue that more than 50 percent of people in America and even this hobby don’t put over 31,000 dollars per year on credit cards.

Additionally, you can only redeem for travel expenses, as in Sallie Mae card’s case it can be for anything. So I think by my logic, faced with the question of best single credit card, Frequent Miler should have said Sallie Mae Barclaycard.  No doubt, for high spenders and Marathon Man of Flyertalk fame, Arrival is the winner. But not for a regular family in America. Or even a single regular person for that matter.

P.S. This post is dedicated to Marathon Man. The man, the myth, the legend. Photo credit goes to

Please, understand, it is only a math exercise. I strongly recommend, a family should focus on sign-up bonuses if there is no mortgage or major loan in the future. But from the comments below I see, somehow it wasn’t made clear in the post.

Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

14 thoughts on “I Am Challenging Frequent Miler!

  1. The Arrival Card comes with a 40,000 signup bonus, add that into the equation, plus the first year has no annual fee. And since the ‘average’ family has a mommy and a daddy and boy and a girl and a puppy and a gold fish you could apply for a second card in daddies name the following year.

    There is no ‘one card to rule them all’ though the Sallie Mae here looks very good, it would be better to put the (large) 1x spend on a 2x card – use the Sallie Mae for the 5x only, and snag those sign up bonuses.

  2. @Matt from Saverocity Thanks for commenting. I am guessing the post is decent enough for you to grace my blog with your royal presence! 🙂 Notice, I did not factor the bonus into equation here. I did say the bonus is great and worth the sign-up. But if you look at Frequent Miler post, the question was “what is one best single card to recommend” ? Nothing about the bonus. My advice for a middle class family is always to concentrate on sign-up bonuses. That is where the money is, literally. Thanks again for the comment. I have officially arrived!

  3. The best card for a family is all of them! It takes a lot of points to take 4 people anywhere. The best card to keep after the first year is none of them, except maybe the hotel cards that give a free night. Maybe. In the past 11 months my wife and I have been approved for 29 cards out of 31 applications. For 1.75 million miles/points. The BCP bonus more than covered the 4 fees the first year. Like Matt says, have Mom get (any given card) one year and Dad the next and you can likely, at least with Barclays and AMEX, get a bonus each year without ever paying the second year fee. So which one card? If you decide to limit yourself to that, I would say a different card every year. Definitely including Arrival, BCP, UA (only if 50K+), AA (50K+) and PRG (50K+). But don’t.

  4. @ KennyB Thanks so much for your comment. OK, obviously somehow I didn’t make it clear enough that it was just a math exercise. I do NOT suggest you only limit yourself to one card. I repeatedly say that a family should go for sign-up bonuses.
    Perhaps read Frequent Miler post on it. This was just a hypothetical example. I was trying to prove that Arrival is not the best recommendation for that “one” card. I personally constantly switch cards around to collect bonuses. I don’t get how this post got so misunderstood. Sigh…
    But thanks for stopping by and comment again, please!

  5. Why is it misunderstood?

    This line isn’t right “Wow, it beat the Sallie Mae card! But remember, it has an annual fee of 89 dollars.” since the annual fee is waived. So even if we leave the 40K signup bonus off the table (which quite a lot to leave off the table) the Arrival is better.

    Providing of course, that you think travel money is better than real money, which I don’t think anyone does.

    Personally though, if everyone here agrees that a mix of cards is the right thing to do, then why even entertain the conversation since FM is already creating a false argument to your principles.

  6. Matt, thanks for stopping by! OK, now my delicate female brain is confused! 🙂 I’m kidding. Look at what I say at the beginning. I wanted to prove, that it’s not worth it to keep Arrival past the first year for a middle class family.
    Since some of my readers got the card for the bonus, that is a decision they will face at some point. The idea of challenging Frequent Miler was just an extra, oh so delicious benefit! You are absolutely correct, the waved fee for the first year and the bonus easily beat Sallie Mae.
    But the question was not about the best card for the first year, but one, period.
    Additionally some people can’t churn for various reasons and are looking for that “one” card to keep for many years. Sounds crazy, but true! So it might be helpful to see the comparison. Am I saying, they should get Sallie Mae instead of Arrival? Heck, no!
    I am trying to get my readers to be able to reason on these things, so that they can make logical decisions, when it comes to selecting cards. I can’t compare all the cards side by side, but I can provide a guideline, hopefully. Also, your blog is full of hypothetical posts! What are you talking about? 🙂

  7. I really liked this post! I’m in a position where fewer cards = better approach for my family (for a variety of reasons) and making sure I have the best cards for my needs is worth a lot. I’ve actually never looked into the Sallie Mae card, but it seems like it might be a really good option for some families.

  8. Becky, thanks for stopping by! And congrats on your wonderful new site. Yeah, I think it is a very good card for many, who can’t churn. But even more than that, I just wanted to show how its important to compare different options side by side and pick the one, that suits your situation best.

  9. Note you can convert Barclays rewards into cash by just using them to book refundable flights or prepaid but cancelable hotel rooms, claiming the rebate, and then refunding the booking. Works for any travel restricted card, citi thank you, us flexperks etc.

    I’d also say assuming zero manufactured spend is bad advice. Any family should be able to do at least $24k of real easy MS (Amazon payments between husband and wife) a year. It really is very easy to become a “big spender”

  10. Milesabound, thanks for stopping by. I always like to hear what you have to say. The problem is, all the things you mentioned, I consider to be unethical. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not here to impose my views on others. Amazon payments are more of a grey area and I just wrote a post and mentioned it as an option. But it could be shut down any day and Matt just did a post on it, claiming it as a real possibility.
    Basically, my target reader is a normal middle class family, like mine. And I don’t jump through any hoops but concentrate on sign-up bonuses and that’s it. Yet we get enough points to satisfy our modest needs. I keep it simple and encourage my readers to do the same. Thanks for the comment, please come back again!

  11. Wow that is a really conservative view of what is ethical and what is not 🙂 You are like the Rush Limbaugh of miles and points – ultra conservative! (just kidding) I very much think the ordinary middle class American family can make use of some manufactured spend techniques. Sure things can go away easily (I got another very ordinary middle class family into this game and they were enjoying Wells Fargo prepaid debit card) but something else comes along. I would not think of ordinary families running around from CVS to WalMart, but there is some low hanging fruit that I think you do your readers a dis-service by avoiding. All my very cheap $0.02

  12. @MilesAbound OK, first of all, don’t ever compare me to a nut job Rush Limbaugh!!!! 🙂 Honestly, I just don’t like to complicate things too much. I do have Bluebird, but am yet to load it with my first Vanilla card. Mostly, because our CVS does not take credit cards.
    And with 2 small kids I am not about to go hunting for them. I did read, that loading with gift cards is against the rules, so will not go there. And yes, I do try to follow the rules. Also, the families I know, would never bother with any of it, I can tell you that. I can barely convince them to sign up for credit cards, period. But in that post I plan to link for more info, in case anyone is interested.

  13. Can you only downgrade a card to its related free version? For example, I’m pretty sure you can downgrade the Arrival with the fee to the Arrival with no fee. But since both the Arrival and Sallie Mae are through Barclaycard, can you sign up for the Arrival with fee (and big bonus) and then downgrade to the Sallie Mae after the first year or just the free Arrival? Thanks.

  14. Brandi, I’m not really sure as to what the definitive answer is. I’ve heard from some reports on Fatwallet that most have a hard time convincing Barclay agents to do the switch to Sallie Mae from other cards. However, your experience may be different. No harm in trying. Arrival is worth the credit inquiry either way, IMO

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