What’s the best rewards card for parents with kids in school?

Cathleen McCarthy
August 27, 2013

Dear Cashing In,
I'm looking for a no-fee rewards card that will help me earn points for the kind of spending I'm doing now. My main expenses involve my kids who just went back to school and college, and travel to see the ones in college. I'm considering Citi Thank You. Is there anything I should know? Anything similar but better? -- Maryanne

Dear Maryanne,
One thing you should know is that Citi changed some terms on its Thank You cards. For existing cardholders, these changes won't go into effect until Oct. 20, 2013, but they will apply to you immediately. Since July 28, new Thank You cardholders have been earning 2 points instead of 1 per $1 spent on dining and entertainment (which includes movies, museums, sporting events, "online record stores" such as iTunes and video rentals such as Netflix) and 1 point per $1 on everything else.

I don't know how those categories fit in with your spending, but they don't include bonus points for travel spending. It is possible to use the points you earn on airfare, and you do get 20,000 points as a sign-up bonus.                                          

However, since you said you want to maximize rewards on travel, you may be better off with a card that charges a modest annual fee and earns more on travel purchases. FlexPerks, Venture and Arrival cards all offer up to 2 points per $1 for travel, along with more generous sign-up bonuses and rewards targeted to your needs. They have annual fees but waive them the first year, which means you can take advantage of the perks for a year before having to pony up.

US Bank FlexPerks Visa Signature charges a $49 annual fee, waived the first year, earns 17,500 points after you spend $2,500 in 90 days and gives you 2 points per $1 on most cellphone expenses and either gas, grocery or airline purchases (whichever you spend most on in any billing cycle). With kids in college and at home, I'm thinking you'll be spending in all those areas. 

Capital One Venture charges a $59 annual fee, waived the first year, earns 2 points per $1 spent on all purchases and a 10,000-point sign-up bonus. Points are redeemable for travel expenses.

Barclaycard Arrival charges an $89 annual fee, waived the first year, but recently upped its sign-up bonus to 40,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in 90 days. That's worth about $400 in travel right there. Arrival earns 2 miles per $1 on all purchases and you get 10 percent of them back when you redeem on travel. You can use Arrival points on any airline, no blackout dates, as well as select hotels and cruises. 

You should also note that Arrival is a World MasterCard and Venture and FlexPerks are Visa Signature cards, which means all three come with travel insurance benefits (car rental, luggage reimbursement, etc). Those could prove to be worth an annual fee in themselves if you'll be traveling a lot.

See related: Booking via travel website may affect reward miles, perks , Groceries bought at Wal-Mart, Costco don't earn extra rewards , Travel rewards vs. cash back: Do you really want to be practical?