For no annual fee, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards gives you a $100 travel credit, reimburses your Global Entry application fee, and lets you earn up to 4x points on every travel purchase. Is this travel rewards credit card a good deal?
What Are The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Benefits?
The brand new Pathfinder Rewards American Express credit card offers the following benefits:
- Up to 4x rewards points on all travel purchases
- 1.5x points for all non-travel purchases
- No earning caps or limits on rewards
- $100 annual air travel credit
- $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee reimbursement
- 25,000 bonus points ($250 value) after spending $2,500
You will get all of these benefits for no annual fee, which makes this travel credit card pure profit as you enjoy several premium travel credit card perks without the high annual fee.
The $100 air travel credit will reimburse your incidental expenses like checked baggage fees, in-flight purchases, change fees, and lounge passes.
Advantages of the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards
Let’s quickly review what makes the PathFinder Rewards Amex a great option:
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- Up to 4x points on all travel purchases
- $100 travel credit
- $100 Global Entry application fee reimbursement (renews every five years)
By redeeming the annual travel credit and having Global Entry access, you automatically receive free benefits before you spend your first dollar.
Considering most flexible travel credit cards only earn 2x points on all travel purchases, you will earn double the points. Since the primary strength of no-fee credit cards is how quickly you can accrue points, the 4x bonus is a major selling point.
Disadvantages of the Pathfinder Rewards
There are four looming disadvantages that can deter you from applying for the Pathfinder Rewards:
- Must be a PenFed member
- Maintain an active checking account to earn 4x travel rewards (3x otherwise)
- Cannot transfer rewards points to travel partners
- Don’t get other “premium” travel benefits like airport lounge access
The largest disadvantage of the Pathfinder Rewards is that you must be a member of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. To join you must either have military experience, work for a government agency, be a relative of a servicemember or qualified government employee, or pay a one-time $17 fee to join a non-profit partner.
Is it worth switching banks or opening another bank account just to get a new credit card?
It depends on how badly you want to earn 4x points on travel purchases and the other travel credits.
Alternatives to the PenFed PathFinder Rewards
If the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards doesn’t provide enough value for your taste, you need to consider these four alternatives that might offer the secret sauce the PathFinder Rewards is missing:
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Annual Fee: $95 ($0 the first year)
Reasons to Consider: 1:1 point transfer partners/ 2x points on all travel and dining purchases
If you primarily want a card that makes it easy to earn and redeem rewards points, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You won’t get the air travel credit or Global Entry application fee reimbursement, but your points can easily be worth 1.25 cents or more while each point with the Pathfinder Rewards is only worth 1 cent each:
- Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed directly through Chase
- Transfer points on a 1:1 basis to 13 airline and hotel partners
Transferring your points directly to your travel loyalty programs is well worth the annual fee because you can easily make your points worth 2 cents each with these Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer hacks.
You can transfer your points in 1,000 point increments to United, Southwest Airlines, British Airways (American Airlines partner flights), Hyatt, and Marriott to name a few of the possibilities.
Premier Rewards Gold from American Express
Annual Fee: $195 ($0 the first year)
Reasons to Consider: $100 annual air travel credit, 1:1 point transfers, 3x points on air travel, 2x points on gas, dining, and groceries
The Amex Premier Rewards Gold offers the same $100 air travel credit as the Pathfinder Rewards, but you also get these benefits:
- 1:1 point transfers to Membership Rewards travel partners
- Up to 3x points on air travel purchases
- 2x points on U.S. dining, groceries, and gas stations
Although there is some overlap in 1:1 transfer partners, you might prefer the Amex PRG instead of the Chase Sapphire Preferred because you can directly transfer your points to Delta, Emirates, Etihad, and JetBlue.
Platinum Card from American Express
Annual Fee: $550
Advantages: 1:1 point transfers, $400 in annual travel credits, 5x on airfare, airport lounge access, other travel amenities
If you’re the kid that goes to the ice cream shop and orders a sundae with a cherry and sprinkles on top, the Platinum Card from American Express is right up your alley.
You will enjoy the following travel benefits:
- 5x points on airfare and hotel purchases
- 1:1 point transfer
- $200 air travel credit
- $200 Uber credits
- Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee reimbursement
- Complimentary airport lounge access to The Centurion, International American Express, Priority Pass, and Delta SkyClub
- Upgraded Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest membership status
Additionally, cardholders can get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on their Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. However, they must be enrolled for this benefit to apply. The annual fee is $550, but if you can use these travel benefits on a consistent basis, your travel rewards can easily cancel out the annual fee.
If you enjoy luxury travel, it only makes sense to consider a true premium travel rewards card like the Amex Platinum. The hybrid “no-fee” cards like the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards don’t charge a fee for a reason.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual Fee: $450
Reasons to Consider: 1:1 point transfers, 3x points on all travel and dining, $300 travel credit
If you like the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards because of the opportunities, but still want a rewards card with more benefits or isn’t issued by American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve can be your best alternative.
Like the $95-a-year Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer your points on a 1:1 basis or redeem for 1.5 cents each, but you get a few extra perks along the way:
- 3x points on all travel and dining (1x for all remaining purchases)
- $300 travel credit
- Priority Pass airport lounge access
- Global Entry application fee reimbursement
You will only earn 1 point less per dollar for your travel purchases compared to the Pathfinder Rewards. That’s a fair tradeoff for the 50% point redemption bonus or 1:1 points transfer opportunities.
And, the $300 travel credit can be applied to all travel purchases–not just baggage fees or other air travel incidentals.
While you don’t get as many add-on benefits as the Amex Platinum, your annual fee is also $100 less and you have a lot more flexibility in how you earn and redeem your rewards.
If you want to earn the most points possible and don’t want to transfer them to a travel partner, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards can be a good option because you’ll never pay an annual fee. But, if you want to have the 1:1 transfer option and other premium travel benefits, spring for a flexible rewards card with an annual fee, especially since most are waived for the first year.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.