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Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred vs PenFed Pathfinder: What’s the better low-cost travel card?

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Signature Card both have $95 annual fees and strong travel perks. Here's how they compare.

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If you’re gearing up for summer travel, now is the perfect time to get a travel credit card for your vacation expenses.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card are two comparable rewards cards that both have $95 annual fees and competitive travel rewards programs.

Rewards

While Sapphire Preferred and PenFed Pathfinder are both travel rewards cards, they provide different reward rates. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2025, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases.
  • PenFed Pathfinder: Earn 3X points on eligible travel categories (4X points for PenFed Honors Advantage members) and 1.5X points on all other purchases.

There aren’t many hoops to jump through to earn the Pathfinder’s 4X points on travel purchases. There are a few ways to qualify: have and maintain a PenFed Access America Checking account or have military service, such as active duty, reserve, honorably discharged or retired. Access America Checking accounts have a $10 monthly fee, which can be waived if you set up a minimum monthly direct deposit of $500 or maintaining a $500 daily balance.

In addition to everyday rewards, you can benefit from generous welcome bonuses:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • PenFed Pathfinder: Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days from account opening.

The Sapphire bonus is worth up to $1,000 when redeeming though the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal or with Chase's Pay Yourself Back tool, where your points are worth 25% more. You can get potentially even more value from your Chase points if you transfer them to the right travel travel partners, like United or Hyatt.

The PenFed Pathfinder bonus is worth an estimated $500, assuming one point is worth a penny.

Winner: Sapphire Preferred, since the rewards are worth more.

Additional benefits

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and PenFed Pathfinder are both backed by the Visa network, and specifically fall within the Visa Signature tier. Visa Signature benefits include a variety of purchase and travel protections, including extended warranty protection, baggage delay insurance and travel and emergency assistance services.

The PenFed Pathfinder offers a money-saving annual domestic airline travel credit up to $100, which can be used to cover the cost of baggage fees, lounge access and onboard food and beverage purchases. Plus receive up to a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, every four years and a complimentary Priority Pass Lounge membership. If you can take full advantage of the annual airline credit, you can potentially come out $5 ahead with the Penfed Patherfinder after paying the $95 annual fee.

Winner: PenFed Pathfinder, since it offers lucrative travel benefits.

Fees

While both cards have a $95 annual fee, the PenFed Pathfinder provides a way for you to waive it. You can qualify for an annual fee waiver by maintaining a PenFed Access America Checking account or show proof of military service, such as active duty, reserve, honorably discharged or retired.*

Beyond annual fees, both cards have no foreign transaction fees, so you can travel without incurring a typical 3% fee per purchase.

The PenFed Pathfinder also offers a promotional 0% APR for the first 12 months on balance transfers (after, 17.99% fixed APR for balance transfers).** The Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn't offer an intro period.

Winner: PenFed Pathfinder, since you have the option to waive the annual fee and transfer balances with no interest for 12 months.**

Bottom line

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and PenFed Pathfinder credit cards are two good options for anyone who wants a travel-related rewards card without a steep annual fee.

The PenFed Pathfinder has a leg up on the Sapphire Preferred since there’s an easy-to-get annual fee waiver. You can also benefit from higher rewards rates on travel purchases (3X or 4X), compared to the Sapphire Preferred’s 2X rate.

Chase points earned with the Sapphire card are more valuable than PenFed points when redeemed for maximum benefit.

Keep in mind that PenFed is a credit union, which requires membership. To qualify for the Pathfinder card, you need to join the credit union by opening a PenFed savings account and maintaining a $5 deposit.

The Sapphire Preferred card doesn’t require you to jump through any hoops to open the card — there are no membership requirements or special status needed to earn more rewards. The Sapphire Preferred card offers a noteworthy 25% added value on eligible travel redemptions that can help you maximize rewards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    16.24% - 23.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

 

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

On PenFed's secure site
  • Rewards

    3X points on eligible travel categories (4X points for PenFed Honors Advantage members); 1.5X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in first 90 days from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95, waived for Honors Advantage members

  • Promo APR

    See below for offer details*

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 17.99% variable for purchases; 17.99% fixed for balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

*0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 months on transfers made from now until September 30, 2022. After the promotional balance transfer period, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 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.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, Select analyzed popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

*As a PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards cardholder, if you qualify for Honors Advantage (member of the military or Access America or Free Checking account holder) at the time of the application, PenFed will waive the annual fee on your account. If you were not eligible at account opening, but subsequently become eligible, the annual fee will be waived on your next anniversary. If at any time, you fail to maintain the eligibility requirements, you will no longer be eligible for the waiver. You will receive advance notice of this change.

**PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers a 0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 months on transfers made from now until  September 30, 2022. After the promotional balance transfer period, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 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.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.