PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Review – The Best Hidden Gem?

MtM Review Score

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Welcome Offer
Earning Structure
Features
Long Term Value

Quick Take

A card that has primarily flown under the radar, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa can deliver substantial rewards for travel spend and useful long term benefits without an annual fee.
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PenFed Pathfinder Review
Source: PenFed Credit Union.

PenFed Pathfinder Visa Review

A favorite credit union of many points and travel hobbyists is Pentagon Federal Credit Union, more concisely known as PenFed.  The credit union has long held the Pathfinder Rewards credit card, previously an Amex.  After disappearing from the scene for an extended period while undergoing a transition, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card returned a bit over a year ago without many noticing.    Today, I’ll assess the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa from multiple angles: the card welcome offer, earning structure, features, and long term value.  Let’s go!

Welcome Offer

Here are the terms of the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa’s current welcome offer:

  • Earn 50k points when you spend $3k in the first 90 days of holding the card.
  • 0% Balance Transfers Promo APR for 12 months, 3% fee applies to each transaction.
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived for existing PenFed Honors Advantage members.

One must be a member of PenFed credit union in order to apply for and obtain the Pathfinder (or any other PenFed credit card).  Joining is easy and done in a few minutes.  The card has no other known welcome offer restrictions.  Cardmembers have received Pathfinder welcome offers multiple times, and one can simultaneously hold multiple Pathfinder accounts.

What Are Points Worth?

To consider the welcome offer value, we must understand PenFed Pathfinder Rewards point value.  Upon reviewing their rewards site, I found points to be consistently worth 0.85 cents per point (cpp) for a variety of merchant and Visa gift cards.  The rewards site also holds a travel portal, but I found no redemptions better than 0.85 cpp.  Cardholders can also give points to charity or redeem for a variety of merchandise directly.  Simply valuing points at 0.85 cents each via gift card redemption is practical.

Taking into account this valuation, the welcome offer is worth $425.  That’s nice, but not jaw-dropping, in comparison to other cards’ welcome offers requiring $3k minimum spend.

PenFed Pathfinder Review
Source: PenFed Credit Union.

Earning Structure

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa sports the following earning structure:

  • 4x points on all travel categories for PenFed Honors Advantage members.
  • 3x points on all travel categories for other cardholders.
  • 1.5x points on all other purchases.

How does one become a PenFed Honors Advantage member?  Quite simply, one must have and maintain a PenFed checking account.  By doing so, cardholders unlock 4x points on all travel spend and have their Pathfinder annual fee waived!

Spend in the 4x travel category is effectively 3.4% cash back.  I can’t think of a better earn rate for travel spend on another no annual fee card.  Those who aren’t Honors Advantage members effectively earn 2.55% back at the 3x level for travel spend.  Cardholders should look elsewhere to spend in all other categories, as the 1.5x rate only reflects a 1.275% return.

It’s also worth noting that points appear in cardmembers’ accounts rather quickly.  My points routinely showed up a couple days after each transaction posted and can be used immediately.  There’s no waiting around for a statement to close to use rewards!

PenFed Pathfinder Review
The $100 air ancillary credit provides great value year after year.

Card Features

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa comes with useful benefits, including:

  • $100 annual domestic air ancillary travel statement credit
  • $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA Pre-check statement credit
  • Complimentary Priority Pass lounge membership
  • No foreign transaction fees

In my experience, PenFed’s air ancillary travel statement credit is similar to those provided by other major banks’ cards and easy to use.  The Global Entry, TSA Pre-check, and Priority Pass benefits are particularly useful for those who don’t hold these options with other credit cards.  And the no fees on foreign transactions feature is always welcome.  Don’t expect much from the Priority Pass membership, though.  The Pathfinder enables a standard membership which still requires the cardholder to pay $32 per visit.

Long Term Value

The PenFed Pathfinder can provide solid, if not significant, ongoing value to cardholders, particularly those who are Honors Advantage members.  Those cardholders annually receive $100 in airline incidental credits and Priority Pass membership for free.  Individuals who don’t have the Global Entry/TSA Pre-check benefit elsewhere will also enjoy obtaining that with the Pathfinder.  Rarely, if ever, do we see this group of benefits with a no annual fee card.

The card effectively earns 3.4% cash back on spend in the 4x travel category for Honors Advantage members, as well.  Consumers can earn a better rewards rate for travel spend on other cards, but those cards often have substantial annual fees.

In my view, keeping this card long term is a no-brainer for Honors Advantage members.  Other cardholders may be able to justify holding this card for multiple years, but they may be better off with others depending on their situations.

PenFed Pathfinder Visa – Conclusion

PenFed offers a solid slate of benefits and a competitive rewards rate on travel spend with no annual fee for Honors Advantage members.  The fact that this card is in the conversation with those offered from the big banks is significant.  I commend PenFed for offering a product competitive with the heavyweight card issuers.  They’ve previously done it with other cards like the PenFed Power Cash, and they continue to do so.  I’m keeping my Pathfinder indefinitely and encourage others to consider this card.

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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