Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Barclays

Why We Are Using Our BarclayCard Arrival+ MasterCard In Europe This Summer

For just over a week now, my wife and I have been on an extended European adventure. We have visited the French Riviera, Milan, and are currently in San Marino, with more to come, including Rome, Florence, and Ireland. You can read a bit more about ur plans here. As part of our preparation for the trip, I settled on a pared-down set of credit cards for use while across the pond. Normally I carry 8-12 in my wallet at any given time, and I trimmed us down to only 6 between the two of us. The main reason is security; I don’t want to have to call too many banks to cancel a bunch of cards if one of our wallets is stolen. Right now we would have to call Amex and Barclays if mine was taken, and Chase if hers. Let’s hope this planning is unnecessary.

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The Hyatt card stayed home, although we had two Hyatt stays. Rooms were paid with points.

Each card was selected for specific reasons. We are staying at hotels with 4 different major chains, so I was initially thinking we would bring each of those co-branded cards. However, I decided to only bring a Hilton card and my SPG card. I figured any extras could be purchased with one of our other cards at the Hyatt and IHG hotels. Card number 3 is my United MileagePlus Explorer, only because we are still finishing the sign-up bonus. Kelsey’s Chase Sapphire was selected as the 4th because it has a large credit limit and has 2x on travel purchases. Cards 5 and 6 are her BarclayCard Arrival+ and my no-fee Arrival.

The card du jour for this trip will certainly be my wife’s BarclayCard Arrival+ MasterCard. She just recently obtained it, and we still need to hit the spending bonus (for 40,000 “miles” that we will use to cover a hotel night and our train travel in Italy). This was an important enough reason to bring it along, but there are three other ways in which it is helpful:

  1. Chip + Pin Support. Credit card transactions in Europe (and a whole lot of the rest of the world) use a different technology than we do in the United States. Many U.S. cards still use the old mag-stripe technology, although newer ones are chip-enabled. However, although U.S. cards now have a chip, they are chip-and-signature. This means that although transactions are processed using the chip (instead of the mag-stipe), they still only require the signature of the customer. European cards use chip-and-pin technology. Instead of a cardholder signature, they require entry of a pin code (like a U.S. debit card at an ATM). Most U.S. cards are not pin enabled. This normally isn’t all that much of a problem in Europe because both mag-stripe and chip-and-signature technology usually work just fine for the bulk of transactions. However, there are some automated kiosks and other merchants that only accept chip-and-pin cards. This makes the BarclayCard Arrival+ a great card to have because it is chip and pin enabled. We already ran into a Milan metro kiosk that wouldn’t process my Chase Visa.
  2. No Foreign Transaction Fees. We have quite a few cards now with hits perk, so this isn’t really a make-or-break issue. We could just as easily use the Chase Sapphire Preferred. However, even among cards with no foreign transaction fees, some win out over others. Which brings me to point number three…
  3. Lower MasterCard Exchange Rates. One thing I didn’t know until this past week was that the different credit processing companies (Visa, Amex, MasterCard, etc.) have different currency exchange rates. These can fluctuate daily, and one may be better than another at any given time. From a few sources, I have heard that MasterCard’s exchange rates are on average the best, although this may or may not be the case on any given day. Our own experience has shown them to be essentially equal. Doing the math on our purchases over the last few days, the Visa and MasterCard rates are essentially the same (0.900 EUR per USD). I may run receipts from a few more dates for fun as the trip progresses to see if MasterCard is indeed the better option. The savings are still small, however, and they are completely negated when I make stupid purchases.

The BarclayCard Arrival+ is a decent card to have in your wallet for international travel. I don’t consider it a great card overall (you can find no-fee 2% cash back cards), but the benefits it provides while overseas may help make it worth the premium. Plus, having either it or the no-fee version allows for some extra point accrual through the BarclayCard travel community.

Why You Should Join The BarclayCard Travel Community

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I first got the BarclayCard Arrival+ MasterCard back in the summer of 2014. Now I can’t even remember where I found the offer or discovered the card. I wasn’t following any travel blogs at that time, and I had never heard of BarclayCard before then. But the Arrival+ appealed to me enough at the time, offering a solid 2.1% back on travel (including the 10% rebate on point redemption).

The Arrival+ is a decent card to have in your wallet. The sign-up offer typically sits at 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 of spending within 90 days, and the return is a constant 2 points/dollar. The points are easily redeemable through the BarclayCard website as a travel credit against any purchases coded in specific travel categories. Every time you redeem points, you also get a 10% rebate (although this has gone down to 5% for new offers). There are definitely comparable cards out there that provide a 2% return, including the Citi DoubleCash card, which doesn’t carry a fee like the Arrival+. The $89 annual fee was the main reason I downgraded the no-fee Arrival version (without the +) after a year. However, I held onto that version of the card for one reason: the BarclayCard Travel Community.

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The BarclayCard Travel Community offers is the ability to earn a significant number of extra miles on your Arrival or Arrival+ card. Launched in late 2013, the travel community is a place where people can post their travel stories, track their travel around the world, and read the stories of others. The best part is, BarclayCard gives you miles in exchange for posting stories.

The community has gone through a couple iterations on exactly how many miles can be accrued per story, but the total maximum per story is currently 400 miles. This is essentially up to a $4 return per story. You are credited 150 miles for each story you post with a picture, and then 10 miles per “travel detail” that you add, up to 25 details, which can provide an additional 250 miles. There is a 100 word minimum for telling your story. You cannot just post a title and picture. I was happy when they changed this from 50 words to 100 words since it kept people from typing 3 sentences about the place and moving on.

The miles can be redeemed in one of two ways: either they will transfer to your link BarclayCard Arrival+ or BarclayCard Arrival credit card after your next statement, or every 2,500 miles can be redeemed for $5 of Amazon credit. The transfer to the linked account is by far the better option, and is the only reason why I kept my downgraded Arrival. I hardly use the card, but I was able to redeem $100 against an Amtrak ticket this Winter, and more than half of those miles were earned through the travel community.

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My Travel Community map. The “” show places about which I have written a story.

The travel community also maps your travel stories onto a world map where you can see where you have been and how frequently. I like this feature since it gives me a good way to look at the places I have been and the places I am interested in going (which are another thing you can tag on the map).

I also enjoy reading other people’s traveling experiences. You do have to sort through the garbage stories; some people really just can’t write, or are milking the system, or both. But I like to browse the community now and then for good stories. Posting stories that engage and inspire can actually earn you some extra miles. If someone likes your story, they can give it a ‘kudo’, each of which can earn you 10 miles. Unlike Facebook where you may get 40 likes on a post, kudos seem relatively rare. I don’t think any of my stories have earned more than 3, even my best ones.

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The typical “front page” of a travel story. This one was picked for “Best Of”.

The community moderators also pick some ‘Best Of’ stories, which I think is a fantastic idea. Two of mine were selected in the first round of ‘Best Of’ stories that they ran. I was ecstatic. I think this encourages good writing and better pictures for the stories, but I hope they take it a step further and reward users whose stories they choose for the ‘Best Of’ lists with extra miles.

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My BarclayCard Travel Community Profile. It shows your badges and total miles earned.

To date I have earned over 15,000 miles using the travel community. I hope BarclayCard keeps this program going since it is such an easy way to earn extra money for traveling. If you are new to the travel game, I would suggest getting the BarclayCard Arrival+ both for the sign up bonus (worth over $400) and for earning miles from the travel community. If you don’t want to pay the fee, simply downgrade the card after a year.