Who is This Credit Card Best For?
Flies regularly and likes finding ways to score even more travel—for free
Diligently searches for the best products and delights in a good bargain
Hits the road often, whether for work or play
Loves to explore places and experience new things
There are many rewards cards available, so we recommend this card first and foremost to USAA loyalists who have good to excellent credit. You’ll need to have some association with the military, since USAA membership is only open to current and former military members, along with their close family members.
USAA offers several rewards cards, but this one is suited to people who want a flexible way to redeem rewards. You can choose to spend your points on cash back, travel, merchandise, gift cards, and charity donations. It’s a lot of options, but USAA doesn’t provide any details about what’s available within each option or how much each one costs to help you evaluate the program before you apply. Thus, if you’re a credit card rewards optimizer, we recommend steering clear of this card and opting for one with a clearly explained rewards program.
Potentially low interest rate
Wide range of redemption options
Potentially high interest rate
Unclear rewards point redemption value
- Potentially low interest rate: If you have a top-notch credit score and solid financials, you may qualify for a low interest rate—one that’s very low for a rewards credit card. If you manage to run up some debt on this card before you go on active duty, you could qualify for an interest rate as low as 4% on that accrued debt—even lower than the rate required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
- Wide range of redemption options: You can choose to use your points to earn cash back, purchase airline or cruise tickets, buy merchandise, buy gift cards, or to make a charitable donation.
- Potentially high interest rate: USAA offers the chance for a low rate for those with excellent credit. But if that’s not your situation, you may actually end up paying a much, much higher interest rate.
- Unclear rewards point redemption value: Most credit card rewards programs let you know ahead of time how exactly you can redeem your rewards and how much it’ll cost. Not with USAA. Rather, your points are worth an undefined amount until you actually go to redeem them, which makes evaluating this rewards program difficult.
- Membership limitations: USAA membership is only open to current and former military members, as well as certain family members. Otherwise, you’re not eligible to apply for this card.
USAA Rewards American Express Card’s Welcome Offer
This card comes with a welcome offer that anyone can qualify for. You’ll get 2,500 bonus points when you make your first purchase. There aren’t any restrictions about how long you have to make the purchase, or how much it has to be. Simply make a purchase—any purchase—with your card, and you’ll get the points.
Earning Points & Rewards
USAA also has a customer-friendly way to rack up rewards points. Every purchase you make will earn at least 1 point per $1 spent. Gas station and supermarket purchases earn 2 points, and restaurant purchases earn 3 points per $1.
Sometimes a gas, grocery, or dining purchase won’t count like you think it should. That’s because credit card networks like American Express use “merchant codes” to identify types of purchases. For example, if you buy a sandwich at a resort, the purchase may not be categorized as a “restaurant” purchase.
There are no caps on how many points you can earn and your points won’t expire as long as your account is open. If you ever close your card, you’ll have 90 days to redeem your points before they’re lost.
The downside of the USAA Rewards American Express card occurs when it comes time to actually use your points. You can do so by calling USAA or by logging into your account. But that’s not the sticking point.
The problem is that there’s no way to know before opening an account how much your points may be worth or what specific redemption options are available. Without this knowledge, it’s hard to decide whether signing up for the card will actually be worth it for you.
The bright side is that USAA offers a number of types of rewards you can pay for with points, including:
- Air travel
- Gift cards
- Charity donations
- Cash back in the form of a statement credit or deposit into your USAA account
If you’re interested in trading in your points for a cruise, you’ll need to do it via telephone. You can’t book a cruise online like you can with the other reward options.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
The USAA Rewards card seems simple as pie: Earn points on your everyday spending (especially dining out), and use those for just about anything you want. Points can add up quickly.
It’s not that simple though, since USAA isn’t up-front about how much each reward will cost you, or what specific options are available in each category. If you have a specific type of reward you’re interested in (and most of us do), you’d likely do better with another, more transparent rewards card.
USAA Rewards American Express Card’s Excellent Perks
This card does come with some good travel perks that the editors of The Balance consider “excellent” and that military members and their families might find useful. In each case, you’ll need to have paid for the trip with your USAA Rewards American Express card to qualify.
- Insurance coverage for delayed luggage: USAA will provide you with up to $100 per day for three days while your wayward baggage is being returned to you. You can use this to pay for things like toiletries and clothing.
- Insurance coverage for trip cancellation or interruption: If your trip is cancelled or interrupted for reasons that are out of your hands, such as illness or foul weather, you could be reimbursed for up to $1,500 per person.
- Travel accident insurance: If you suffer a debilitating accident while in transit, you may qualify for up to $500,000 worth of coverage.
USAA Rewards American Express Card’s Other Features
- Rental car collision insurance (secondary to your own policy)
- Travel and emergency hotline
- Extended warranties
- Concierge for booking event tickets, travel, and other services
Even though this card’s rewards program is frustratingly opaque, you can bet that you’ll have an overall good experience with USAA. At least, that’s judging by the company’s excellent results in the 2019 Credit Card Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power. Although USAA is ineligible for the study’s official rankings, its score would have placed it at the top of the list, besting customer service stalwarts like Discover and American Express.
Since USAA caters only to military members and their families, it is able to provide services that you might not find at other banks. For example, USAA offers a wide range of financial advice covering deployments and PCS moves. It also offers a mobile app that you can use to manage your account anywhere there’s internet service.
USAA’s credit cards come with the standard security features you’d expect from a major credit card, such as secure account logins and zero liability for fraudulent purchases. In addition, USAA offers identity theft resolution services if your identity is ever stolen, and up to $1,000 in reimbursement to help you get your life back on track after such an event.
USAA Rewards American Express Card’s Fees
The USAA Rewards American Express Card doesn’t charge any fees that are out of line for a cared of its type. This card also doesn’t come with any foreign transaction fees, which will be especially helpful for servicemembers and their families stationed overseas. Also note that the cash advance fee is waived when the funds are deposited electronically into a USAA account.