Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Experiment: Will Buying Airline Miles and Gift Cards Count as Travel?

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Update:   One or more card offers in this post are no longer available.  Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. 

One of my favorite things about the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is getting 2.1% cash back when you redeem your miles for travel.  The sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles is worth ~$400 when used as statement credits toward travel purchases.

You get the bonus after meeting the minimum spending requirement.  And I’ve listed 40+ ways to do it!

Airline tickets and hotel stays count as travel, but what about purchasing miles, points, or gift cards?  Million Mile Secrets readers have frequently asked which airline and hotel purchases are coded as travel, so I decided to run an experiment.

What Does Barclaycard Consider Travel?

Link:  Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Barclaycard defines travel as:

  • Airlines
  • Travel Agencies & Tour Operators
  • Hotels
  • Motels & Resorts
  • Cruise Lines
  • Passenger Railways
  • Car Rental Agencies

You might think that buying miles, points, or gift cards would automatically be considered travel because you’re purchasing directly from an airline or hotel.  But that’s not the case!

In many cases, the purchase is processed through a 3rd party, like points.com, which isn’t recognized as a travel expense by Barclaycard!

Some folks may not have immediate travel plans, so they want to buy miles, points, and gift cards and redeem their points before closing their Barclaycard Arrival.  If they don’t use their points before canceling the card, they’ll lose them!

Experiment:  Which Miles and Gift Card Purchases From Airlines Count as Travel?

I decided to see which purchases from airlines Barclaycard would count as travel.  So I picked 12 major airlines and used (not always successfully) my Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® to buy miles and gift cards from each of them.

To be clear – buying airline miles or hotel points is usually not a good value unless you’re a few points away from an award or have a specific use for the points.

Note:  Don’t try this at home!  I had to call Barclaycard repeatedly when my card started getting denied on each transaction.  I guess we should be happy they have such a vigilant fraud prevention department! 🙂

There are hotels on this list, but they’ll be discussed in another post.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
As You Can See, You Earn 2X Miles on ALL Purchases…But You Can Only Use Those Miles to Get Cash Back on SOME of Them

What I Bought

1.   American Airlines

I bought 1,000 American Airlines miles

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Bought 1,000 American Airlines Miles

And I bought an American Airlines gift card for $51.  Barclaycard DID count this as travel.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25 (the minimum amount needed to redeem Barclaycard Arrival miles).

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
You Can Buy Gift Cards on the American Airlines Website

2.   United Airlines

I bought 2,000 United Airlines miles

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
2,000 United Airlines Miles Will Set You Back ~$76

Then I bought a United Airlines gift certificate for $25. 

Barclaycard DID count this as travel.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Spent Least $25, Because That’s the Minimum Amount You Can Redeem Barclaycard Arrival Miles For

3.   US Airways

US Airways is merging with American Airlines, so you can’t buy gift cards online anymore.  But you can still buy miles.  I bought 1,750 US Airways miles.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Got a 75% Bonus on 1,000 US Airways Miles

4.   Delta

I bought 2,000 Delta miles. 

Barclaycard DID count this as travel.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Bought 2,000 Delta Miles and It Counted as Travel

I bought an e-gift certificate for $50 (the minimum amount).  Barclaycard DID count this as travel, too.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
At Least You Don’t Have to Pay For Shipping on e-Certificates!

5.   Southwest

I got 2,800 Southwest points.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
Somehow I Don’t Think Emily Will Appreciate This as Much as the Earrings From the Shoprunner Experiment!

And I bought a $26 gift card.  You can email them, or have them shipped for an additional fee. 

Barclaycard DID count this as travel.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
This Is a Gift I’d Like to Receive!

6.   Frontier Airlines

I tried and tried, but for some reason Frontier Airlines’ website would not let me buy a gift card with the Barclaycard Arrival card.  But I was able to get 1,000 Frontier miles.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
No Luck With a Frontier Gift Card, but I Bought Points

7.   Alaska Airlines

I bought 1,000 miles from Alaska Airlines

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
Did You Know You Can Use Alaska Miles to Fly on Emirates?

I picked up an Alaska Airlines gift certificate for $100.  Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, either.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
You Can Print or Email Alaska Airlines Gift Certificates

8.   JetBlue

I purchased 1,500 JetBlue miles.  

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Didn’t Take Advantage of the Bonus Promotion

And JetBlue gift cards can only be shipped, so there’s an extra fee.  I got a $100 gift card for ~$110.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel either! So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
I Like the “Great Alternative to Tacky Ties and Sweaters” Line

9.   British Airways

British Airways does NOT sell gift cards online, but I was able to buy 1,000 British Airways Avios points.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
If You Want a British Airways Gift Card, You’re Out of Luck

10.   Avianca

Avianca does not sell gift certificates online, but I was able to buy points on their website after some effort.  Their system had trouble recognizing my Barclaycard Arrival card!

Barclaycard DID count this as travel.  So I CAN use my miles to get cash back on this purchase because it was at least $25.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
It Took Several Tries to Buy Miles From Avianca…I Eventually Got Charged Twice!

11.   Virgin America

You can’t buy a gift card online from Virgin America, only points.  So I bought 500 points.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel, because it was via points.com.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
Virgin America Points Aren’t Cheap!

12.   Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic does not sell gift cards in the US.  But you can buy points on their website.  I got 1,000 points.

Barclaycard did NOT count this as travel.  So I can NOT use my miles to get cash back on this purchase.

Barclays Arrival Airline Redemptions
You Can Only Buy Virgin Atlantic Gift Cards in the UK…but You Can Buy Miles in the US

The Results Are In

I checked my statement to see which purchases Barclaycard counted as travel.  To redeem statement credits for travel, log into your Barclaycard  account and under “Pay Yourself Back For Travel” click “Redeem Now.”

Here are the purchases Barclaycard counted as travel (there are hotels listed which will be discussed in another post):

So, these are the only purchases that were counted:

  • Delta (miles)
  • Delta (gift card)
  • Southwest (gift card)
  • United (gift card)
  • American (gift card)
  • Avianca (miles)

Barclaycard did NOT count the rest of my purchases as travel!  I was not surprised that most of the miles and point purchases did not qualify, because they’re generally processed by points.com.

But I was expecting all of the airline gift cards would be coded as travel.

Delta and Avianca were the only airlines where points and miles purchases counted towards travel.

Bottom Line

I bought points, miles, and gift cards from airlines to see which purchases would be considered travel by Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®.  You get 2.1% cash back with this card but only for travel redemptions.

Of all the airlines tried, the only purchases that were considered travel were:

  • Delta (miles and gift cards)
  • Avianca (miles only)
  • United, American Airlines, Southwest (gift cards only)

The rest of the purchases were not coded as travel.  So if you’re considering buying gift cards, miles, or points as a way to use your Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® points, refer back to this post to make sure they’ll count.

Stay tuned for the results of my hotel experiment!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

Join the Discussion!

Comments are closed.