Editorial Review

PenFed Platinum Rewards Review: Earn Revved-Up Gas Rewards

The card offers one of the highest rewards rates in the category, but speed bumps include membership eligibility, uneven point value and limited redemption options.

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Our Take

3.2

NerdWallet rating 

The Bottom Line: The high rewards rates on gas and groceries are attractive, but be mindful of the hurdles you may face when it comes to redemption.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

11.99% - 17.99% Variable

Intro APR

0% promotional rate for 12 months on transfers made now through September 30, 2019

recommended credit score

Quick Facts

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 17.99% Variable
Intro APR
0% promotional rate for 12 months on transfers made now through September 30, 2019

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • No annual fee
  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No foreign transaction fee
Cons
  • Membership required
  • Can't redeem for cash
  • Inconsistent point value

Full Review

Commuters, rideshare drivers and other road warriors may want to stay seated for this: The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card earns an unlimited 5 points per dollar spent at the gas pump, and for an annual fee of $0 to boot.

That's among the very best rewards rates on gas you'll find anywhere.

In addition to free-flowing fuel rewards, the card also pays an unlimited 3 points per dollar on groceries and an unlimited 1 points per dollar on all other qualifying purchases.

There are some catches, though. Redemption options are limited — cash back is not available — and point values may not be equal to other cards' rewards currencies. Plus, you'll have to join PenFed's credit union to apply.

Key features

Card type: Rewards.

Annual fee: $0

Sign-up bonus: $100 bonus after spending $1,500 in purchase transactions within the first 90 days of account opening.

Rewards:

  • 5 points per dollar spent on gas at the pump.

  • 3 points per dollar spent points on groceries.

  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Points are redeemable for travel, gift cards and merchandise. Typically, travel redemptions yield the highest point value. Otherwise, you can generally expect a value of about 0.85 cents per point.

Introductory APR offer: 0% promotional rate for 12 months on transfers made now through September 30, 2019, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 17.99% Variable.

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

Powerful points potential

The average U.S. household spent roughly $1,977 on gasoline in 2017. If you'd paid for those pit stops with the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you'd have earned nearly 10,000 rewards points by year's end, or generally somewhere around $84 worth of gift cards. Not too shabby.

The 3 points back per dollar spent on groceries is a nice plus, too. That rate might sound similar to the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, which also has an annual fee of $0 and earns 3% back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). Terms apply. But the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card has no such cap in this category, and it also earns a higher ongoing rate on gas.

No rewards Caps

Unlike some other gas-rewards-focused credit cards, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card doesn't cap the amount of rewards you can earn quarterly or annually on its bonus categories. There's no limit to how many points you can earn.

Additional perks

The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card comes with a sign-up bonus: $100 bonus after spending $1,500 in purchase transactions within the first 90 days of account opening. That extra dough could go a long way toward filling up your tank or your grocery cart.

Also, it's a Visa Signature card, so cardholders get benefits at hotels that are part of the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, such as complimentary breakfast daily and room upgrades when available. It also means access to a Visa Signature concierge, auto rental collision coverage, travel and accident insurances, and roadside dispatch service in the U.S. and Canada.

And, of course, because the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card isn't issued by a megabank, you'll instead enjoy the general benefits of being a credit union member.

Why another card might be better

Members only

To apply for the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you have to be a member of the PenFed Credit Union.

To qualify, applicants must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be an active or retired member of the U.S. military.

  • Work for the federal government or a qualifying organization.

  • Live or work at an eligible location.

  • Be a relative of or live with someone who is eligible.

You can also join PenFed by making a one-time, minimum $17 donation to either Voices for America's Troops or the National Military Family Association. In addition, you'll also have to make a $5 deposit into a PenFed savings account to set up your membership.

you can't get cash back

Although you can redeem your rewards for merchandise, gift cards and travel (by air, hotel and car), you can't redeem your earnings for money. Other rewards cards give you the option of a direct deposit, a statement credit, a check that's mailed to you, or in some cases a direct ATM withdrawal of your rewards.

Also note that a minimum point balance of 1,000 is required for redemptions.

If it's straight-up cash back you're after, consider the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card. It earns 3% cash back in your choice category and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases. The quarterly caps can make this card a little more complicated, but you'll have access to cash back when you want to redeem your points. And if you're already a Bank of America® customer, you could earn elevated rewards rates.

so-so value

The points earned on a PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card are worth less than one cent each in most cases. This is a poor rate compared with other rewards cards that charge no annual fee.

The exception are points redeemed for travel, which — depending on dates and options — could be worth more than a penny apiece, according to a PenFed spokesperson.

When it comes to strong cash-back value, you could instead consider a rotating-bonus-category card that routinely offers elevated rewards on gas purchases. The Chase Freedom® is an example. It traditionally has featured gas stations among its rotating bonus categories that earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter when you activate.

You don't earn that 5% back all year long. But your Chase Freedom® points are worth a penny apiece when redeemed for cash back, and if you maxed out your rewards each quarter on the featured bonus category, you'd earn $75 in cash back every three months.

'At-the-Pump' gas rewards only

Keep in mind that, unlike a lot of other gas credit cards, this card's high rewards rate on gas applies only to what you are purchasing specifically at the pump. That means that purchases you make inside an attached convenience store may not be eligible to earn 5 points per dollar spent.

To find out how this card measures up to other rewards cards, visit our roundup of the best credit cards.

Is the PenFed card right for you?

If a hefty portion of your household budget goes toward gas, followed by groceries, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card might earn you more total points than the competition. And if you're OK with redeeming for things like travel or even gift cards, you'll likely be satisfied with the return.

But if your lifestyle has less predictable spending patterns, if you spend more in other areas, or if you just want plain old cash back, another card may be a better fit over the long haul.