PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card: Travel Credits, No Annual Fee
Snag rich rewards, even in non-bonus categories, plus valuable perks not typically found on cards in its class. Membership is required, and redemption options are limited.
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
THIS PAGE MAY BE OUT OF DATE
This page includes information about one or more products not currently available on NerdWallet:
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
As a result, offers described on this page may be out of date. See our NerdWallet’s Best Credit Cards page for updated offers.
The Bottom Line: This card packs a big punch, even when compared with travel cards with annual fees. But point values vary, and you can't redeem for cash back.
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
12.99% - 17.99% Variable
recommended credit score
- 0% APR promo balance transfer rate for 12 months with 3% balance transfer fee now through September 30, 2019. After that, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 12.99%% to 17.99%. APR will vary with the market based on Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval.
- Earn 25,000 Bonus Points by spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of account opening.
- Earn 4X Points on travel purchases through the PenFed Honors Advantage program. Earn 3X points on travel purchases for all other card holders.
Pros & Cons
- High rewards rate
- No annual fee
- Intro APR period on Balance Transfers
- No foreign transaction fee
- Membership required
- Can't redeem for cash back
Alternate Pick: Cash back if you want it
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: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That's $700 towards travel!Read our review
Travel credit cards with top-notch perks are usually reserved for those willing to pay a high annual fee. But the $0-annual-fee PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card is a notable exception.
Not only does the card reward you handsomely for travel purchases, but you'll also get valuable travel credits, benefits and protections that make it easier to get out of town. (Travel credits are exceedingly rare for cards with no cost of ownership.) And unlike a lot of other travel cards, you'll earn an elevated rate even on non-bonus-category spending.
You have to be a PenFed Credit Union member to get the card, and while it's not terribly difficult to join, there are some other potential drawbacks to consider when it comes to redemption options and values.
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card: Key features
Card type: Travel.
Annual fee: $0.
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 within 3 months of opening an account .
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 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 cents per point, though monthly promotions can increase point values for select gift cards.
APR: 0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 Months on transfers made between April 1, 2019 - September 30, 2019., and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 17.99% Variable.
Foreign transaction fee: None.
Balance transfer fee: 3%.
$100 annual air travel credit, for use toward baggage fees, lounge access, and onboard food and drinks.
Statement credit every five years for reimbursement of application fee for TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100).
Highlights of the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
High rewards rates, broad definition of travel
When it comes to rewards, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® 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.
Travel credits and perks
The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card offers two standout travel features not generally available on a card with a $0 annual fee: a $100 annual air travel credit, and a statement credit to cover the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. You'll also get travel assistance, car rental insurance, roadside assistance and other protections while you're on a trip. You also won't be charged a foreign transaction fee for using the card internationally — although because it's an AmEx, acceptance may be limited.
0% intro APR offer on balance transfers
The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card offers this rate on balance transfers: 0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 Months on transfers made between April 1, 2019 - September 30, 2019., and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 17.99% Variable. That's a decent window of time if you're looking to pay down a higher-interest balance.
Drawbacks of the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
Membership is required
You must become a PenFed credit union member when applying for the card if you aren't one already. To be eligible for membership, you must meet one of the following requirements:
Be an active or retired member of the U.S. military.
Be employed by the federal government or a qualifying organization.
Live or work at an eligible location.
Be a relative or housemate of someone who is eligible.
Interested applicants who don't otherwise qualify can make a one-time donation of $17 to Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association. You'll also have to deposit $5 into a PenFed savings account to establish membership.
LIMITED REDEMPTION OPTIONS, So-So Point VALUE
When you redeem points for travel with the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® 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 one 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, too, 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: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That's $700 towards travel!.
other travel cards offer more (for a fee)
The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card costs nothing to carry, which is great for a travel card. But annual fees are not necessarily deal breakers, and in many cases you'll still come out ahead, thanks to higher ongoing rewards rates, larger sign-up bonuses, and more valuable or flexible redemption options. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, for instance, charges an annual fee of $89 (waived first year). But in return, you'll earn an unlimited 2 miles for every purchase, not to mention 5% of your redeemed miles back (for an effective rewards rate of 2.1% on everything). There's also a massive sign-up bonus: Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you'll pay an annual fee of $95. But you'll earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, points are worth more when you redeem through the Chase travel portal, and you can transfer points to multiple airline and hotel loyalty programs. There's a rich sign-up bonus, too: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
you'll need a backup card overseas
The lack of foreign transaction fees with the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card can be beneficial for purchases in other countries — but American Express cards aren't as widely accepted around the world as are Visa and Mastercard products. Always travel with a backup card.
Should you get the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card?
If you travel a lot (domestically), don't mind joining a credit union and aren't interested in paying an annual fee, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card is among the best picks around, especially if you're eligible to earn the card's highest rate on travel purchases. But travelers who frequently go abroad or want a little more flexibility in their redemption options 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.
NerdWallet reviews are the result of independent research by our editorial team while cardholder reviews are contributions from independent users not affiliated with NerdWallet. Banks, issuers and credit card companies are not responsible for any content posted on the NerdWallet site, nor do they endorse or guarantee any posted comments or reviews.