Table of Contents In this article

Why You Can Trust CNET Money

CNET Money’s mission is to help you maximize your financial potential. Our recommendations are based on our editors’ independent research and analysis, and we continuously update our content to reflect current partner offers. How we rate credit cards
Advertiser Disclosure

CNET editors independently choose every product and service we cover. Though we can’t review every available financial company or offer, we strive to make comprehensive, rigorous comparisons in order to highlight the best of them. For many of these products and services, we earn a commission. The compensation we receive may impact how products and links appear on our site.

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Signature Card: The Best Travel Card You’ve Never Heard Of

This credit card goes head-to-head with big banks, offering comparable rewards and perks.

CNET’S PICK
PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

8.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
50,000 points 50,000 Bonus Points when you spend $3000 in the first 90 days
Annual fee
$95 *Waived for existing Honors Advantage Members
APR
17.99% Variable
Rewards rate
1.5x – 4x 4X Points on all Travel categories for PenFed Honors Advantage Members; 3X Points on all Travel categories; 1.5X Points on all other purchases
Rewards Rate
4x
4X Points on all Travel categories for PenFed Honors Advantage Members
3x
3X Points on all Travel categories
1.5x
1.5X Points on all other purchases

If you’re looking for the best travel credit cards, you’re probably comparing big names like Chase, Amex and Capital One -- but you may want to add PenFed Credit Union to this list. 

The PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a worthy contender to some of the top travel cards, with one caveat: you must be a PenFed Honors Advantage Member to make the most of this card. It’s easy to qualify, though -- just open a checking account at the credit union to get started. And, if you’re a military service member, you automatically qualify to become a member of the Honors Advantage program. 

As a member, you’ll avoid the PenFed Pathfinder’s $95 annual fee and earn 4x points on all travel purchases. Non-members are on the hook for this annual fee and only earn 3x points on travel purchases. All cardholders earn 1.5x points on all non-travel purchases.

This card also offers an impressive welcome bonus and boasts no foreign transaction fees, which is helpful for anyone planning trips outside of the US.

Ultimately, adding this card to your wallet comes down to whether you want to become a PenFed member. If you do, the Pathfinder can be your pathway to racking up more rewards without dealing with the headache of an annual fee.

Rewards

The Pathfinder offers PenFed members 4x points for all travel-related purchases -- 3x if you aren’t an Honors Advantage member. You’ll earn this rate on travel booked anywhere, a distinction that sets it apart from other cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which only offer higher rewards payouts for travel booked through the card provider’s portal. Those bank-owned travel portals often require sacrificing hotel loyalty points you can earn from booking directly, so the PenFed card is more flexible if you’re looking to earn travel points without strategizing or pairing up cards.

Regardless of membership status, this card offers 1.5 points in all other spending categories. That’s a respectable across-the-board payout -- though not as high as other flat-rate credit cards -- but it is unfortunate that there are no higher rewards for dining out. If you travel often, you may also dine out at restaurants frequently. With that in mind, it’s better to use one of the best restaurant cards to pick up those tabs or opt for a card that offers high rewards for both travel and dining out, like the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card.

One significant downside worth considering -- the points you earn with the PenFed Pathfinder won’t be worth more than 1 cent each. While many travel cards offer the ability to transfer points to a travel partner to boost their value, PenFed points are currently worth between $.0085 and $.01 each

Rewards redemption

It’s also a little trickier to redeem points with the PenFed Pathfinder. You can’t redeem them for cash, which is a significant downside. Instead, you can redeem them for gift cards at more than 300 different retailers, use them to book travel in the PenFed Rewards portal, donate them to charity or shop with them at the Apple Store. 

Welcome bonus

You can earn a welcome bonus of 50,000 points for spending $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Depending on how you redeem this bonus, it’s worth between $425 and $500. Compared to other travel cards, this is a solid immediate return, though the spending threshold is significant. 

For example, the PenFed Pathfinder comes with a higher spending threshold than the $1,000 requirement on the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card*, but the value of the reward can be twice as big. (You can earn 25,000 online bonus points when you spend $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening an account with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card.)

Introductory APR offer

If you’ve been carrying a large balance on another credit card, the Pathfinder can help you transfer this balance to minimize or eliminate interest charges. The card offers a 0% 12-month introductory period for balance transfers (then 17.99%). 

It’s a solid offer, but it’s not as good as other balance transfer cards -- many of which have significantly longer intro periods. You’ll need to pay a fee of 3% of the amount transferred, a standard charge for this service, in exchange for 12 months to pay off your debt without interest. 

We don’t recommend transferring a balance if you can’t repay it within a year since the card’s 17.99% APR kicks in after the introductory period.

0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers made in the first 90 days after account opening. After that, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be a non-variable rate of 17.99%. A 3% balance transfer fee applies to each transfer. This transaction is subject to credit approval. If you take advantage of this balance transfer, you will immediately be charged interest on all purchases made with your credit card unless you pay the entire account balance, including balance transfers, in full each month by the payment due date.

Other perks and features

In addition to PenFed Pathfinder’s high travel points potential, the Pathfinder includes some additional features that may make traveling a little easier.

  • A statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck: If you aren’t a member of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck yet, this is one of the cards that will cover the costs. Global Entry is usually the better pick since it includes PreCheck. Just be sure to pay the application fee with this card to get reimbursed.
  • $100 annual domestic air ancillary statement credit: You can get $100 of ancillary purchases with domestic airlines covered with this card, too. So, if you regularly buy in-flight food and drinks or pay for checked bags, this credit can help you recoup some money. It’s solely for add-on fees, though -- you can’t use it for ticket purchases, flight upgrades or in-flight WiFi access.
  • Priority Pass annual membership: You’ll get a complimentary Priority Pass membership, which boasts access to more than 1,300 lounges and additional experiences around the world. It’s not a particularly strong selling point, but the other two credits make up for this one.

Alternative cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred

You won’t be able to dodge the $95 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which can make the PenFed Pathfinder feel like a better option. However, it’s easy to justify the $95 price tag if you can take advantage of the Sapphire Preferred’s additional benefits. You’ll get a $50 annual hotel credit for a stay booked through Chase Travel℠, as well as 3x points on dining and 5x points for travel booked through the portal. (You’ll earn 2x points for all other travel booked outside the portal.) It’s a better pick if you want to earn higher rewards rates on both travel and dining out.

While the 1x point per dollar spent on other purchases is lower than the 1.5 points earned with the PenFed Pathfinder, Chase does offer a 25% boost in valuation when you redeem your points for travel via Chase Travel℠. While this is still a lower value than the Pathfinder, if you can take advantage of higher-tier travel and dining rewards, you could potentially earn more with this card. It all comes down to your spending habits. In addition, the ability to transfer points to a range of airline and hotel partners at a one-to-one ratio can also significantly increase the value of your Chase points in some cases. 

Bank of America Travel Rewards 

The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card doesn’t come with an annual fee. Plus, the welcome bonus of 25,000 online bonus points ($250 in value) is easier to reach with a lower spending threshold of just $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. Additionally, if the balance transfer option on the Pathfinder appeals to you, Bank of America’s introductory period is much longer – 15 billing cycles with an introductory 0% APR for any transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening (then 19.24% to 29.24% variable APR after). There is an introductory balance transfer fee of 3% for 60 days from account opening, then 4%.

However, there are areas where this card really falls short of the Pathfinder. While you can earn up to 3x points per dollar, you’ll only qualify for this increased rate – up from the card’s standard 1.5 points per dollar – if you book in the bank’s travel portal. If you keep $100,000 or more (3-month combined average daily balance) in another Bank of America or Merrill account, you could earn up to 2.62x points per dollar on purchases -- but it’s a steep requirement to earn higher rewards. 

And, if you’re looking for an all-in-one banking and credit card provider, PenFed’s checking account rates beat Bank of America, so you may be better off sticking with this credit union.

How PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card compares to other cards

CNET’S PICK
PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

8.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
50,000 points 50,000 Bonus Points when you spend $3000 in the first 90 days
Annual fee
$95 *Waived for existing Honors Advantage Members
APR
17.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
1.5x – 4x 4X Points on all Travel categories for PenFed Honors Advantage Members; 3X Points on all Travel categories; 1.5X Points on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Learn More

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

9/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
75,000 bonus points Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
Annual fee
$95
APR
21.49% – 28.49% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
1x – 5x 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠.; 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries.; 2x on all other travel purchases.; 1x on all other purchases.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

6.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
25,000 points 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening – that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
Annual fee
$0
APR
19.24% – 29.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Intro Purchase APR
0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases
Rewards rate
1.5x Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire as long as your account remains open.

FAQs

Technically, yes. However, it’s better to pick credit cards you plan to keep in your wallet for a long time. Opening and closing credit cards can hurt your credit score. It’s better to think of the bonus as one more incentive to get the card -- not the standalone reason to apply.

Applying for TSA PreCheck costs $85, and applying for Global Entry, which includes PreCheck, costs $100. Some travel credit cards will reimburse this expense as a statement credit. Each of these memberships lasts five years, and both programs can save you time at the airport. Even if you don’t have a credit card that pays for it, it can be worth the money to skip long lines if you travel often.

Cards like the PenFed Pathfinder are part of the Visa Signature family, which offers extra benefits like room upgrades and free breakfast at the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, discounts on rental cars at Avis and Budget, access to a travel concierge and more. Rewards points and welcome bonuses for these cards vary by the card issuer.

*All information about the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. Based in Chicago, he writes with one objective in mind: Help readers figure out how to save more and stress less. He is also a musician, which means he has spent a lot of time worrying about money. He applies the lessons he's learned from that financial balancing act to offer practical advice for personal spending decisions.