If you’re on the road a lot or your vehicle is just a gas guzzler, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature is a worthy contender for anyone with excellent credit. The rewards on gasoline purchases are impressive and you’ll get decent bonuses on your grocery bill too. Plus, the card has one of the lower interest rates available and minimal fees.
Big rewards at the gas pump
PenFed Credit Union membership required
Balance transfer snag
- Big rewards at the gas pump: If you drive a lot, take note. This card rewards gas purchases at 5 points per $1 spent—a higher rate than you’ll find on most competitors. (And unlike many of those cards, there’s no limit on what you can earn in a year.) You’ll also earn 3 points per $1 on groceries, including at military commissaries.
- Low APR: While we don’t recommend carrying a balance on your credit card, if you have to, this is a good card to have. Even the highest variable interest rate offered is lower than the average APR for a rewards card.
- Minimal fees: This card doesn’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fee, which means you can avoid fees completely, depending on how you use the card. Even its late fees are more reasonable than many ($10-$25, depending on your balance).
- PenFed Credit Union membership required: While anyone (military or not) can become a member of PenFed, having to belong to the credit union does add an extra step in the application process. You’ll have to open a savings account and keep at least $5 in it to have the card.
- Redemption restrictions: If you want cash or a statement credit for your rewards, you should look for a different card. The redemption options are limited to travel, gift cards, and merchandise, and you won’t get much more information until you get the card. (There’s an online redemption center, but you have to log in to your account to browse the options.)
- Balance transfer snag: The balance transfer promotion may sound good, but there’s a pretty significant catch. Yes, your APR will be 0% for 12 months on any balances transferred by March 31, 2020, but you won’t be able to avoid finance charges if you make any new purchases during that period, even if you pay them as soon as you get your bill. (More on this below.)
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa’s Sign-Up Bonus
New cardholders will earn a $100 statement credit when they spend $1,500 during the first 90 days they have the card. This isn’t as much as you’ll get with comparable cash-back cards, but at least the spending minimum is within reach for most people.
Earning Points & Rewards
You’ll earn 5 points for every $1 you spend on gas, 3 points for every $1 at supermarkets (including military commissaries), and 1 point for every $1 on everything else. The gas rewards are particularly good relative to other cards, and even the 3 points per $1 at supermarkets is competitive. Points expire five years from the end of the month you earned them.
While there’s no limit on the points you can earn, gas for airplanes and boats only earn 1 point per $1 rather than 5.
Conveniently, PenFed also offers a points calculator that figures out how much you’ll earn based on estimates of your monthly gas and grocery budget (and whatever falls into the “everything else” category.)
PenFed doesn’t make the process of redeeming rewards very transparent. Here’s what we know: You must have at least 1,000 points to redeem rewards and you can’t get cash back or a credit on your statement. You do, however, have several options:
- Gift cards and certificates
- Airfare (Choices of airlines and travel dates are subject to availability.)
- Car rentals
You won’t be able to browse your redemption options online until you have an account, but according to a PenFed spokesperson, points used for travel have the highest average value, at 1.7 cents each. Points redeemed for gift cards and merchandise, by contrast, are worth just 0.85 cents each.
As a general rule of thumb, points or miles worth more than 1 cent each are a pretty good deal.
Keep in mind that you may face some fees and restrictions when you redeem your points for travel. For example, you’ll pay a $15 fee when you use your points to book airfare online and a $25 fee for booking by phone. Hotel points don’t cover any additional resort fees charged by the hotel, you must be 25 to rent a car, and the rental trips can’t be one way.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
Use this card whenever you’re at the gas pump, for sure. You should also stick to supermarkets since groceries at superstores and warehouse clubs don’t qualify for the bonus points.
If you use the card to transfer a balance at the promotional rate, avoid using it for any new purchases until you’ve paid off the entire transferred balance. Otherwise, your new purchases will accrue interest, offsetting the value of the rewards you’ve earned.
You’ll lose the normal grace period on new purchases if you participate in the balance transfer promotion. That means even if you pay your new purchases off as soon as you get your bill, they’ll be charged interest from the purchase date. (This is a problem on many cards that don’t have a simultaneous promotion on the purchase APR.)
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa’s Excellent Perks
Credit cards often come with a variety of perks and benefits, so we’ve narrowed down the ones we think have an exceptional value. The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature has one that makes the cut:
- Travel accident insurance: If you use your card to cover the cost of a trip, this accidental death and dismemberment coverage benefit may apply if there’s an incident while you’re traveling. The benefit is as high as $250,000 and covers you, your spouse, and unmarried dependents.
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa’s Other Features
- Extended warranties
- Insurance for stolen or damaged purchases
- Rental car collision insurance (secondary to your own policy)
- Roadside assistance hotline
- Travel and emergency hotline
- Concierge for booking event tickets, travel, and other services
The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card doesn’t have any standout customer service features like online chat capabilities. However, cardholders can use the PenFed mobile app to manage all accounts with the credit union.
The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature has industry-standard security features.
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card’s Fees
This card is quite reasonable about fees. It doesn’t charge an annual fee or a percentage of foreign transactions. There is also no cash advance fee and the APR on cash advances is just as low as the APR on purchases. Even the late fees aren’t too bad: up to $10 if your balance is less than $1,000, up to $20 if it’s between $1,000 and $2,000, and up to $25 if it’s more than that.