Pre-devaluation Arrival+ housekeeping

We're now just over a month away from the November 17, 2015, Barclaycard Arrival+ devaluation. The devaluation has two key components:

  • statement credits against travel purchases will only be available for purchases of $100 or more, up from $25;
  • only 5% of Arrival+ miles redeemed against travel purchases will be redeposited in your account after each redemption, down from 10%.

Personally, I will still find the card worth keeping as long as Barclaycard continues to waive my annual fees. But the changes are big and real, and worth preparing for.

What's your date?

There are two potential dates your card will undergo the devaluation:

  • November 17, 2015, if your account was opened before September 30, 2014, or
  • August, 2016, if your account was opened after September 30, 2014.

If you're subject to the November 17, 2015, devaluation date you should have received an e-mail from "" on or around October 1, 2015, with the details of the devaluation. If you opened your account after September 30, 2014, you should have received a different e-mail or physical letter with the August, 2016, devaluation date.

Since I opened my account in April, 2014, I'm subject to the November 17, 2015, devaluation date.

Make your sub-$100 travel purchases now

If you purchase Uber credit in redeemable "chunks," you'll want to buy as many $25 chunks as you plan you redeem before November 17. You'll still be able to buy Uber credit after that date, but it'll be more expensive: you'll only get a free redemption every 20 times you redeem, instead of every 10 times, and you'll have to buy $100 in Uber credit at a time to be eligible for redemptions.

If you have the ability to make free changes to award flights (due to status or because you're flying on Alaska Airlines), and are planning an award redemption with taxes and fees between $25 and $100, you might also want to make those redemptions before the devaluation.

Make your tourist attraction purchases now

There's a popular nearby tourist attraction which sells annual memberships for around $70. This is a double whammy for me, since it's both less than $100 and a tourist attraction, and according to Barclaycard:

"Purchases classified as Tourist Attractions (including expositions, botanical gardens, craft shows, museums and wineries) will no longer count toward qualifying travel statement credit redemptions."

That being the case, I'll purchase an annual membership before November 17 rolls around.

If you live in a city with expensive museums, or in an area with wineries that are currently coded as eligible transactions, consider locking in the ability to redeem your miles by buying a membership sooner, rather than later.

Will eligible purchases remain eligible for redemption after the devaluation?

I have a request in to Barclaycard's Twitter team asking whether $25-to-$99 purchases made before November 17 will remain eligible for redemption after November 17. My gut says they probably will, but to be on the safe side I'll be redeeming as many of my Arrival+ miles before the big day rolls around, if for no other reason than to secure the extra 5% redemption rebate while I can.

Refundable reservations should remain available

Before the comments section fills up with snark, let me say yes, I know you can redeem Arrival+ miles against refunded travel purchases. I've written about it before. And if you typically redeem your Arrival+ miles by making refundable airline reservations or prepaid hotel reservations, and then canceling them, you can probably ignore all the foregoing (although you should still make sure to redeem as many Arrival+ miles as possible before the devaluation).


On the other hand, if that technique makes you uncomfortable (or just sounds like a lot of work), then you should consider the tips above to get the most value out of your Arrival+ card before November 17, 2015.

Pro tip: Did Uber turn off "Gifts" in your account? Ask them to turn it back on!

Back in November I wrote about a trick I like to use now that the Barclaycard Arrival+ card allows Arrival+ miles to be redeemed against taxi purchases: buying Uber credit in "redeemable" $25 chunks, so that Arrival+ miles can be redeemed against Uber rides even when a single ride doesn't exceed $25 (which is fairly common in my experience).

A few weeks ago I noticed that the "Gifts" link had disappeared from the top-left corner of my Uber homepage. I remembered that back when American Express was offering $10 off any Uber purchase of $25 or more, many folks didn't have the option of buying gift cards, but that they were able to e-mail Uber to turn the feature on.

While I'd never heard of anyone losing the option to buy gift credit, I passed along that information to a curious reader, who reported back that Uber was able to re-enable the "Gifts" option in his account.

So yesterday I sent an e-mail to from the e-mail address linked to my account, writing:

"I used to have the option of buying electronic gift cards in my Uber account, but the option seems to have disappeared in the last week or so. Can that option be re-enabled?"

About 10 minutes later, I received the following reply:

"Thanks for writing in! I'm happy to set you up with gift card access so you can give the gift of Uber to someone special.

"If you log into your account on our website you will see a link at the top that says Gifts. From there you can purchase Uber credits in increments of of $25, $50, $100, and $250. You'll be able to purchase gift cards in USD that can be redeemed and used in the US. Please be careful to only hit the Place Orderbutton once."

So there you have it: if you're interested in buying Uber credit in "redeemable" chunks, but the option has disappeared from your account, just drop a line to and they seem more than willing to re-enable it.

Two weird redemptions I just made

I try to be as transparent as possible about my own mile and point redemptions because I'm absolutely atypical compared to most travel hackers: I don't have a family so I'm shopping for a maximum of 2 seats; I generally don't mind flying coach (as long as I get an aisle seat, preferably in an exit row); and I take 2-4 vacations per month, visiting friends and family all over the country, which means I need to stretch my miles and points as far as possible.

That colors my manufactured spend strategy, and makes my experience more or less irrelevant for some readers (you can't redeem SkyMiles for first class seats, so all my Delta posts are useless for those interested in flying in international first class cabins).

In that spirit, here are a couple weird redemptions I made on Saturday.

Ultimate Rewards points for a cheap American flight

Besides my Chase Freedom cards, these days I'm earning Ultimate Rewards points with a Chase Ink Plus card at 0.67 (office supply stores) and 0.49 (gas stations) cents each, and I have a lot of them. Those points can be redeemed for 1 cent each in cash, transferred to Hyatt, United, and Southwest for quite valuable redemptions, or redeemed for 1.25 cents each for paid airfare.

For an upcoming trip to Reno, I was looking at a $199.60 one-way flight on American Airlines (I had already booked the return with Flexpoints). I've long found these piddling airfares to be some of the most annoying to game: they're too cheap for 20,000 Flexpoint redemptions, but also too cheap to redeem a valuable mileage currency like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles for. I could pay with my Barclaycard Arrival+ card, but I have plenty of travel purchases waiting for redemptions and don't need an additional one.

So instead, I redeemed 15,968 Ultimate Rewards points for the ticket. Those points cost me (on average) 0.58 cents each, or about $92 all together. In other words, I got a 54% discount on a paid ticket. That's nothing to aspire to, but there's a good reason why I did it: I don't need the points for any upcoming transfers and they're only worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash.

PayPal Extras MasterCard points for an even cheaper flight

Here's one that readers might actually find useful, if they've been following my PayPal adventures for the last few months. A PayPal Extras MasterCard is permanently linked to the PayPal account through which you applied for it. But when that PayPal account is closed (or "permanently limited" in their jargon), the Extras MasterCard continues to work and, importantly, continues to earn points.

Ordinarily, Extras MasterCard points are worth 0.83 cents each in cash: you can redeem 6,000 points for $50 deposited instantly into the linked PayPal account. With all my PayPal accounts permanently limited, that wasn't going to work for me, so I started exploring the other points redemptions available.

It turns out that for the month of February, virtually all redemptions have been cut in price, in some cases dramatically. For almost all gift card and travel redemptions, Extras MasterCard points are worth 1 cent each in February.

Two of those redemptions are for "flight discounts" of $100 or $300:

In late April I'm returning to Lexington, Kentucky, to visit an old friend and bet on some horses. I was able to easily book my outbound flight with 12,500 Delta SkyMiles, but there was no award availability for my return. There was, however, a perfect American Airlines itinerary that cost just $174.60. Whenever practical, my preference this year is going to be to book paid American flights in order to credit them to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

So I redeemed 10,000 Extras MasterCard points for a $100 discount on the flight. When redeeming Extras MasterCard points for a travel discount, you're taken to an extremely primitive travel portal run by a 3rd party provider. Fortunately, that means you don't need to pay for your flight with your Extras MasterCard. That's unlike, for example, a partial Ultimate Rewards redemption, which requires you to use a Chase credit card for any remaining amount after applying Ultimate Rewards points.

I used my Arrival+ MasterCard, and the charge appears in my pending transactions as "American Airlines," so I'm confident I'll be able to redeem Arrival+ miles against the remainder.

Using my Barclaycard Arrival+ PIN in Italy

If you're a citizen of the United States, the Barclaycard Arrival+ card is likely the only "chip and PIN" card you carry. These cards are popular outside of the United States, but for economic and historical reasons they have not and, in my only-slightly-educated opinion, likely will never dominate the credit card market in the United States: plans by several issuers to issue chip and PIN cards have already fallen through; merchants have no interest in buying new equipment; and Americans just don't travel internationally very much!

But Barclaycard issues one, and it happens to be a card lucrative enough (because of the 10% points rebate on travel redemptions) that many travel hackers carry it.

Set your PIN online

One thing I didn't realize until I received my chip and PIN card is that the PIN is not hard-coded onto the chip. My understanding was that US-based issuers were resistant to adopting chip and PIN technology because their customers would be frustrated if they had to memorize a different PIN for each card. But with Barclaycard, you can set your PIN to the same number you use for all your other cards (and your phone, and your bank accounts, and your home security system...), and you can do it online.

Just go to "Account settings" in your online account and look for "Manage your PIN:"

Use your PIN at unattended kiosks

I used my PIN exactly twice in Italy: buying a train ticket from Milan's Malpensa airport into town, and buying a train ticket from Rome's Termini train station to Fiumicino airport. Both times were at unattended kiosks: I inserted my card, left it in the slot until prompted for my PIN, entered my PIN, then withdrew my card when prompted.

I had read a few posts around the blogosphere suggesting that the first time a card is used abroad, the cardholder has to sign the purchase in order to "activate" the card's PIN. That's completely incorrect: the first purchase I made on arrival in Milan was a PIN transaction at an unattended train station kiosk.

Sign everywhere else

I was surprised to find that every other merchant we visited in Italy had signature-compatible terminals. Some of the merchants themselves seemed surprised when the receipt printed with a blank space for my "firma," but we had no issues with acceptance.

This won't be true everywhere: I've visited Russian grocery stores that flatly refused to process signature transactions, so you still shouldn't travel abroad relying completely on your credit cards.

Bonus: Bluebird is still awesome for foreign ATM withdrawals

I mentioned this once before during a trip to the Czech Republic, but Bluebird is still a slam dunk for ATM withdrawals while traveling abroad.

I withdrew 200 euros twice at ATM's, and the total charges to my Bluebird account were $240.48 and $238.98, including all ATM fees. That gives exchange rates of 1.202 and 1.195 euro per US dollar, both within 2% of the financial market rates on the days in question (according to

It's hard for consumers to exchange currency at the prevailing market rates, and ATM fees can add substantially to currency exchange costs, while Bluebird offers exchange rates very close to market rates, along with flat international ATM fees. Unfortunately, not all ATM's are configured to process American Express withdrawals, so it may take some trial and error to find ATM's you can use your Bluebird card at (my card was rejected at one of the ATM's I tried).