Chase Sapphire Preferred vs PenFed Pathfinder: What’s Best For Travel?

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card vs PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Signature Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card
Annual fee $95 $95, waived for Honors Advantage members
Rewards 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases 3X points on eligible travel categories (4X points for PenFed Honors Advantage members); 1.5X points on all other purchases
Welcome bonus Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days from account opening

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 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide and 1X points on all other eligible 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 100,000 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 — worth up to $1,250 when redeeming though the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal or with Chase’s Pay Yourself Back tool, where your points are worth 25% more — is one of the best welcome bonuses we’ve ever seen. 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.

Select used a sample spending budget based on the latest data available from the location intelligence firm Esri to break down how much money you would earn using each card over the course of five years, after the cost of the annual fee. (See our methodology for more information.)

For the average consumer, you could earn an estimated $2,528 in rewards using the Sapphire Preferred card over a five-year period. With the PenFed Pathfinder card, you could earn up to $2,068 in rewards. These estimates incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus.

Winner: Sapphire Preferred, since you can earn approximately $460 more in rewards over a five-year period.

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 Sapphire Preferred card also offers a complimentary DashPass membership, which provides free delivery and lower service fees from hundreds of restaurants on DoorDash orders of $12 or more (activate by December 31, 2021).

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. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred‘s new welcome bonus of 100,000 points is one of the best we’ve ever seen.

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

  • Rewards

    5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% 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

  • Credit needed

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • 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

    14.99% to 17.99% variable for purchases; 17.99% fixed for balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

*0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 months on transfers made from now until September 30, 2021. 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.

CNBC 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.

*PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers a 0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 months on transfers made from now until September 30, 2021. 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.

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