PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card: Premium Credits, With a Few Caveats

This card offers rich rewards and valuable travel perks for a $95 annual fee, which is avoidable if you meet certain requirements. Credit union membership is mandatory, though, and redemption options are limited.

Sara RathnerJanuary 21, 2021
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Our Take

4.7

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: If you don't mind joining a credit union first, this card packs a big punch, even when compared with more expensive competitors. But point values vary, and you can't redeem for cash back.

PenFed Pathfinder® Card

on Pentagon Federal Credit Union's website

on Pentagon Federal Credit Union's website

Annual Fee

$95

Regular APR

14.99% - 17.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% promotional rate for 12 months on balance transfers made between now and September 30, 2021

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • High rewards rate

  • Intro APR period on Balance Transfers

  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Has annual fee

  • Membership required

  • Can't redeem for cash back

Alternate Pick: Cash back if you want it

Discover it® Miles
NerdWallet rating 

Discover it® Miles

1.5 miles per dollar on everything

This card earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. Miles can be redeemed for travel at a rate of a penny a point — or you can redeem them for cash back at the same value. The annual fee is $0, and there's a bonus offer for new cardholders that gets sweeter the more you use the card: UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual Fee

$95

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$95

Regular APR

14.99% - 17.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% promotional rate for 12 months on balance transfers made between now and September 30, 2021

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 14 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 14 months

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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Full Review

Travel credit cards with top-notch perks are usually reserved for those willing to pay a steep annual fee. But the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card can be an exception. Despite its sticker price — a $95 annual fee — PenFed will waive that cost if you meet eligibility requirements. (More on that below.)

Even if you aren't able to dodge that fee, it's still a competitive card. You'll get valuable travel credits, benefits and protections that make it easier to get out of town. And unlike a lot of other travel cards, you'll earn bonus rewards even on non-travel-related spending. All of these features help earn the card a spot in our roundup of the best credit union credit cards.

But as is typical of those kinds of cards, you have to be a credit union member before you can get this one. And while it's not terribly difficult to join the PenFed Credit Union, there are some other potential drawbacks to consider when it comes to redemption options and values.

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card: Key features

Card type: Travel.

Annual fee: $95 (This is waived for PenFed Honors Advantage members. Details below).

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchase transactions within the first 90 days of account opening.

Rewards:

  • 3 points back on travel purchases (4 points back on travel for PenFed Honors Advantage members).

  • 1.5 points back on all other purchases.

To have the annual fee waived and to earn rewards on travel purchases at the higher 4X rate, you must be a PenFed Honors Advantage member, which requires military service or a PenFed Access America checking account.

You can redeem rewards for travel, gift cards, merchandise and charity donations. (Notably, cash back is not an option.) You'll get the most out of your rewards if you redeem for travel — an average value of 1.7 cents per point, according to a PenFed representative. This value can change depending on the dates you travel, dollar value of your ticket and other factors. Redeeming for gift cards or merchandise yields a value of 0.85 cent per point, though monthly promotions can increase point values for select gift cards.

APR: 0% promotional rate for 12 months on balance transfers made between now and September 30, 2021, and then the ongoing APR of 17.99%.

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Balance transfer fee: 3%.

Other benefits:

  • $100 annual domestic air ancillary travel statement credit, for use toward baggage fees, lounge access and onboard food and drinks.

  • Statement credit every four years for reimbursement of application fee for TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100).

  • Complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge annual membership (a $99 value) that allows you to enter a lounge for $32 per visit.

  • Visa Signature discounts with select merchants.

  • Visa Signature benefits such as auto rental collision coverage, baggage delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance and trip delay reimbursement, to name a few.

Why you might want the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

High rewards rates, broad definition of travel

When it comes to ongoing rewards, the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers the best of both worlds. You'll earn an elevated rate in a bonus category — at least 3 points back on travel purchases, and potentially 4X back if you qualify — but you'll also earn a higher-than-normal flat rate of 1.5 points back on everything else you buy. That's unusual among tiered rewards cards, which normally offer just 1 point back in non-bonus categories. Among travel purchases eligible for the highest rewards rate: airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, bookings with travel agencies, tolls, tour operators, bus lines and taxis or rideshare services like Uber or Lyft.

An avoidable annual fee

It is exceedingly rare for a card to offer premium travel credits for no cost, but it's possible with the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card. You dodge the $95 annual fee if you qualify for the PenFed Honors Advantage program, either as a member of the military or by having a PenFed Access America checking account — in which case, you'll also qualify for richer rewards on travel.

It's an extra hoop to jump through (on top of already having to join a credit union), but given the value you get in exchange, it can absolutely be worth it.

$100 aNNUAL CREDIT toward ancillary airline fees

This credit is only for qualifying domestic airlines, and you can't use it toward airfare. But you can apply it toward other costs, including baggage fees, in-flight food and beverage purchases, airport lounge day passes, pet kennel fees, flight change fees and phone reservation fees. (Eligible airlines include American, Delta, Southwest, United and more.)

Even if you aren't able to get the card's annual fee waived, this credit alone is enough to offset that cost.

ADDITIONAL TRAVEL PERKS AND BENEFITS

You'll get a statement credit that covers the cost of the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. (You must use the card to pay the application fee.) You'll also have access to Priority Pass airport lounges for $32 per visit. Travel assistance, car rental insurance, roadside assistance and other protections are all available as benefits while you're on a trip. There are no foreign transaction fees, and because the card runs on the Visa network, international acceptance is widespread.

Why you might want a different card

Membership is required

You must become a PenFed credit union member when applying for the card if you aren't one already. Everyone is eligible to join, but it does require a few extra steps. You'll have to submit an application and open a PenFed savings account with a $5 deposit. If you want a no-annual-fee travel credit card that doesn't require jumping through any hoops, take a look at the $0-annual fee Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card. It earns 3 points per $1 spent on dining, transit, rideshares, flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals, streaming services and at gas stations. All other non-bonus-category purchases earn 1 point per $1 spent. Terms apply. You'll also get decent introductory incentives. (As an American Express, however, this card may feature more limited international acceptance.)

LIMITED REDEMPTION OPTIONS, So-So Point VALUE

When you redeem points for travel with the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you'll typically get a value higher than the industry standard of a penny per point. But for anything else, points are generally worth less than 1 cent each, which doesn't compare favorably to other no-annual-fee travel cards. Plus, unlike a lot of those other cards, cash back is not a redemption option. If you want a travel card with more flexibility, consider the Discover it® Miles. It has an annual fee of $0, and it earns 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. It doesn't offer perks like travel credits, but you can redeem points for travel or gift cards at the same value of a penny each. The card also has a generous welcome offer: UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.

Should you get the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card?

If you travel a lot, don't mind joining a credit union and can get use out of its valuable perks, the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a good pick. It's an even better pick if you're an Honors Advantage member because PenFed waives the $95 annual fee and you'll earn richer rewards on travel purchases.

But if you're not interested in meeting all those necessary requirements and you'd like a little more flexibility when it comes to redemption options, you may want to consider other possibilities. To see how this card compares against the competition, take a look at NerdWallet's roundup of top credit cards.