Everyone has seen the Capital One TV commercials that convey the impression that cashing in points you have earned for a free trip with other banks’ credit cards is nearly impossible. Whatever date you want, “the answer is always ‘no’.” [Watch commercial.]
The fix, they say, is to get a Capital One “no hassle” card with no blackout dates on any airline. Sounds great, right?
What they don’t tell you in the ad is that they charge you an arm and a leg in points for some “free” domestic roundtrips — far more than many of their competitors. So, in keeping with the spirit of their press release a few weeks ago, urging consumers to be more informed when making financial decisions, herewith are their terms and conditions:
§ The number of miles required by the Cardholder for travel redemption will depend on the cost of the itinerary chosen by the Cardholder at the time of redemption. The mileage requirement is as follows: 15,000 miles are required for tickets up to $150.00; 35,000 miles are required for tickets from $150.01 up to $350.00; 60,000 miles are required for tickets from $350.01 up to $600.00. For tickets over $600.00 in value, the required number of miles will be determined by multiplying the cost of the ticket by 100 (ex. $768 ticket requires 76,800 miles). [see website]
Translation: A $400 airline ticket will require 60,000 points. To earn 60,000 points under Capital One’s revised system where every dollar spent earns 1.25 points on their regular card [up from 1 point], you would have to purchase $48,000 worth of goods and services.(Some purchases and other of their cards may earn 2 points per dollar spent.)
It has been a rule of thumb in the travel industry to charge 25,000 points or miles for a free domestic roundtrip. Bank of America, for example, lets you redeem 25,000 points for a ticket worth up to $400. Earning points at the rate of 1 point per dollar spent, your free trip would require $25,000 in expenditures on the card, about half what Capital One requires.
Providian’s “Real Rewards” card earns a point per dollar spent, and one can get a $500 ticket for only 20,000 points. [Card no longer available to new applicants.]
Both Chase and Citibank, the two leading credit card issuers, make it almost impossible to determine in advance of applying for their cards how many points are required for particular rewards. And some of them are now imposing up to a $59 redemption fee.
The power of repeated advertising for Capital One’s “no hassle” card no doubt has brought it many customers who didn’t bother to check the fine print before applying.