PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card review: A premium travel rewards card with no annual fee

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In a Nutshell

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card is breaking new ground by offering competitive rewards with no annual fee. It also offers some valuable benefits typically found on premium rewards cards that have expensive annual fees.

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Can the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card compete with the premium rewards cards from the major banks?

In recent years, credit card issuers have been rushing to offer premium travel cards with ever greater rewards and more-valuable benefits. PenFed is approaching this market in a unique way.

Usually, these cards offer large bonuses on travel purchases and just one point for other purchases.

Other cards may offer more than one point on all purchases, but with no bonus spending categories. PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card does both, and without an annual fee, which is rare.

This card offers military members and PenFed Access America Checking account holders four points per $1 on all travel-related purchases. All other cardholders will get three points per $1 for travel-related purchases.

And all cardholders will earn 1.5 points per $1 on all other purchases, with no caps or limits on rewards.

New applicants can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $2,500 in purchases on their card within the first 90 days of account opening.

This card also comes with a $100 annual air travel credit and a $100 credit toward a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee — unprecedented for a card with no annual fee.


  1. The rundown: Everything we like about the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
  2. Heads up: What you should consider before applying for the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
  3. Do the math: How to get the most out of the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
  4. Bottom line: Is the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card right for you?

The rundown: Everything we like about the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

More points for travel and nontravel spending

If you hold an Access America checking account with PenFed or are an eligible member of the military, you earn four points on qualifying travel-related purchases.

If you don’t have an Access America checking account or aren’t a military member, you’ll still earn a strong three points per $1 for travel-related purchases. All other purchases return 1.5 points per $1 with no limit.

These are high rates of return for a card with no annual fee, and the combination of 1.5 points per $1 and bonus categories is rare.

Perks usually only offered by cards with high annual fees

Cardholders will receive a $100 air travel credit each year and a $100 credit toward a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application every five years.

For the $100 annual air travel credit, you’ll receive statement credits, within 2–4 weeks of purchase, when you charge airline fees from 11 domestic carriers. Eligible fees include baggage and ticket change fees as well as in-flight food and beverage.

Travel insurance and other protections

This card also offers travel accident insurance and a level of purchase protection normally found on premium cards that have annual fees of $95 or more.

Other benefits include roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, trip cancellation and delay coverage, and rental car insurance.

And more benefits

  • New cardholders receive 25,000 points after spending $2,500 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees with this card.
  • This card offers a competitive variable APR on purchases and balance transfers between 12.99% and 17.99%.

FAST FACTS

What's a foreign transaction fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a fee that your card provider charges if you use your credit card in a foreign country or if you use it to make purchases in a foreign currency. A typical foreign transaction fee amount is 3 percent of each purchase you make.

Heads up: What you should consider before applying for the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

Since PenFed is a credit union, you will have to join before you apply for the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card.

To join PenFed, you or someone in your household must be affiliated with a qualifying military, government or other qualifying organization.

To get the most out of this card and earn the four points per $1 for travel purchases, you’ll either have to be a member of the military or open up an Access America checking account with PenFed.

Although this card is issued by PenFed, it’s part of the American Express payment network, which isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard. So you might have to carry another card in your wallet to use at merchants that don’t accept American Express.

Do the math: Is the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card right for you?

If you have significant travel or commuter transportation expenses each year, then this card offers you the opportunity to earn competitive rewards for these purchases, as well as a strong rate of return for other purchases.

For example, if you spend $5,000 a year on eligible travel purchases — which can include many local expenses like public transportation and tolls — and you qualify for the four points per $1, you can earn 20,000 points each year.

If you regularly carry a balance though, this card may not be right for you. Although this card offers competitive interest rates, there are better options out there offering a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 15 months or more from account opening.

Credit Karma's favorite 0% intro APR cards

Bottom line: Is the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card right for you?

There’s no one card that can be the best at everything, but this card may come closer than most. Since both its travel and nontravel rewards are strong, this could be a card that you use for most of your purchases.

It also features travel statement credits and other benefits usually seen on cards with annual fees of up to $95 or more. But the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card has no annual fee.

If these kinds of travel and transportation expenses are a big part of your budget and you’re willing to give a credit union a try, then it would be a mistake not to consider this card.