Curiosity satisfied: multiple partial Barclaycard Arrival redemptions

One of my favorite things about the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which I applied for in my April application cycle is the ability to make partial redemptions. This means you never need to worry about "orphaned" points, since you can always buy a gift card for the exact value of your remaining points before you cancel or downgrade the card when your first $89 annual fee is due (although you'll still orphan your 10% points rebate – they keep dragging you back in!).  You should be able to redeem your points against any purchase made directly with an airline or hotel, so Delta, American Airlines, and Marriott gift cards should all be eligible purchases.

When I last wrote about this card a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I planned to investigate whether multiple partial redemptions were possible against the same travel purchase. If that were possible, you would always want to make 2,500 mile, $25 redemptions, since you'd earn 250 miles back with each redemption. That would be a major exploit which would increase the value of this card even further.

I can now report, much to my regret, that it's not possible to make multiple partial redemptions against a single purchase. Here's the test I ran today:

First, I redeemed 7,500 miles against a $175 Alaska Airlines purchase (this was a great test case for me since I didn't think I'd earn another 10,000 miles before the purchase rolled off my "available purchase" list in 42 days):

Here's the confirmation page showing my 10% rebate, which is immediately available for further redemptions (if I had 2,500 miles, the minimum redemption amount): 

Unfortunately, the remaining $100 wasn't available for an additional redemption. It disappeared immediately from my list of eligible transactions:

What it Means

Readers may be scratching their heads about now, asking who cares? Barclaycard identified an obvious exploit and made sure to eliminate it.  Good for them. Since Arrival miles are worth one cent each, it shouldn't matter the order they're redeemed in.

But that's not quite right. In fact, it pays to actively manage your list of purchases available for redemption, because it will usually be more lucrative to make two redemptions than one, since your first redemption gets you closer to a redemption threshold for your next purchase, while reducing the number of "orphaned" points in your account.

Imagine the following stylized case: you have 19,000 Arrival miles, and two eligible purchases: one $100 purchase and one $200 purchase. What's your best move?

The obvious solution is to redeem 10,000 miles against your $100 purchase, then use the 1,000 mile rebate to redeem another 10,000 miles against your $200 purchase. In this case, you'd be left with 1,000 orphaned Arrival miles.

Alternatively, you could spend $750 on your Arrival World MasterCard and earn an additional 1,500 miles. Then, redeem 20,000 miles against your $200 purchase. After your 2,000 mile rebate, you'll have just enough miles to redeem for $25 against your $100 purchase, and you'll be left with just 250 orphaned miles. Essentially, you've received a $25 rebate on $750 in spend. If you manufacture that $750 at 0.5 cents per dollar, you've spent $3.75 to earn $25 – not bad!

Remember: you're staring down the barrel of an $89 annual fee, and your objective is to have as few points in your account as possible when month 12 rolls around.