The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card is a good deal for military members who spend a lot on gas, groceries, and military base purchases but hope to minimize fees. Considering this card offers a low interest rate during active duty, it is ideal for military members who want to keep costs down while they are serving their country at home or abroad.
High rewards-earning rate
Potential for low interest rate
No welcome bonus
Earnings caps on rewards
Limited redemption options
Must be a USAA member to apply
- High rewards-earning rate: Earning 5% cash back on up to $3,000 in combined gas station and military base spending is a major plus, and so is earning 2% back on up to $3,000 in grocery purchases each year.
- Potential for a low interest rate: This card’s ongoing variable rate starts at a lower threshold than many comparable cash-back credit cards. You’ll even pay just 4% interest on balances during active duty, which is lower than the mandated 6% APR required for active duty military members on their mortgages and credit card balances by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
- No welcome bonus: Where many cash-back and rewards credit cards offer a sign-up bonus, this card doesn’t let you earn an initial rush of rewards.
- Earnings caps on rewards: Earning 5% or 2% back in some categories is a good thing, but note that you’ll only earn these rates on up to $3,000 in spending in each respective bonus category each year. After that, you’ll earn the same rate of rewards you earn on all other purchases—1%.
- Limited redemption options: This card only lets you redeem your rewards for cash back in $1 increments. You cannot redeem your rewards for travel, gift cards, merchandise, or other options many comparable rewards cards offer.
- Must be a USAA member to apply: Not everyone can apply for this credit card. To become a USAA member, you have to be an active duty officer or enlisted personnel, in the National Guard or Reserves, an officer candidate in commissioning programs, or a spouse, former spouse, or adult child of a USAA member.
Earning Points & Rewards
This card lets you earn 5% back on up to $3,000 in combined spending on gas and military base purchases each year, 2% back on up to $3,000 in grocery spending each year, and 1% back on everything else you buy. Earning rates in bonus categories are high, but it’s important to understand how the rewards caps will limit your rewards potential in the long run.
Let’s say you max out both bonus categories during year one, with $3,000 in combined spending on gas and base purchases ($150 in cash back) and $3,000 spent on groceries ($60 in cash back). If you spend another $1,000 per month on regular purchases with your credit card, you would earn an additional $120 in cash back, for a total of $330 your first year.
That’s not a bad return, but you may be able to do better with a different cash-back credit card.
For example, there are cards that let you earn an unlimited 1.5% back on all purchases you make plus the ability to earn a $200 bonus your first year. If you earned the initial bonus and spent the same $18,000 on your credit card during year one, you would earn $470 in cash rewards.
As long as your account is in good standing, you can redeem rewards for cash back in increments of $1. Unfortunately, there are no other options when it comes to how you can cash in your points.
You can keep track of your cash-back balance and manage redemption online, via the app, or by telephone.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
Use the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card for $3,000 in combined gas station and military base purchases as well as $3,000 in grocery purchases each year so you max out both the 5% and 2% bonus categories.
We suggest pairing this card with another cash-back credit card that offers more than 1% back on regular purchases. For example, you could use a card that offers 1.5% back on everything for all your regular spending plus grocery, gas, and military base purchases after this card’s bonus category limits have been exhausted. With this plan, you’d maximize your cash-back earnings, and you’d still benefit from this card’s low interest rates (if you needed to carry a balance), and other exceptional USAA perks.
The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card offers a few benefits the editors of The Balance consider “excellent,” and that you may not expect from a cash-back credit card.
- Primary rental car collision insurance: Qualify for up to 31 days of primary rental car coverage. This is a rare benefit, especially for a card with no annual fee. Most cards that offer a rental car benefit offer “secondary” rental collision coverage, which means the policy only kicks in if your own insurance doesn’t cover the loss.
- Insurance coverage for trip cancellation or interruption: This coverage is good for up to $1,500 per covered person when your trip is cancelled or interrupted for a covered reason beyond your control.
- Travel accident insurance: Qualify for up to $500,000 in travel accident insurance when you face loss of life or certain injuries during travel.
- Insurance coverage for delayed luggage: Get reimbursed for up to $100 per day for up to three days for clothing, toiletries, and other essential purchases when your baggage is delayed by four hours or more.
As you might expect, you must pay for the relevant goods or services with your USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express card for these coverages and benefits to kick in.
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card’s Other Features
- Travel and emergency hotline
- Extended warranties
- Concierge for booking event tickets, travel, and other services
When it comes to customer satisfaction, USAA tends to blow its competition out of the water. This is true once again in J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, where they scored 866 out of 1,000 possible points.
This puts USAA ahead of all major credit card issuers nationwide including Discover, American Express, Chase, and other banks that often get high marks for customer service. By comparison, the industry average in this study was just 806 out of 1,000 points.
Fortunately for the other card issuers in the J.D. Power study, USAA does not meet the study’s “award criteria” to be considered for the official rankings.
USAA provides a free FICO credit score and other credit monitoring tools via its free CreditCheck service, which you must sign up for.
In addition to 24/7 fraud monitoring and zero liability for fraudulent purchases, this card comes with a few security features that help it stand out, including identity theft resolution services and up to $1,000 in identity theft coverage.
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card’s Fees
This card is light on fees, especially when you consider you don’t even have to pay a cash advance fee if you transfer the funds electronically to a USAA checking account. There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and no minimum interest charge, either.