Do the Propel Credit Cards Earn Wells Fargo a Second Chance?

When news broke that Wells Fargo had released a new credit card, one of the commenters on FlyerTalk linked to an old post I wrote about my dad’s disgust with their rewards program. He’s been a loyal customer for decades and currently has a private client relationship with them. He faithfully used his Wells Fargo credit card without even realizing that it had a loyalty program attached to it. He managed to accumulated several hundred thousand points quite by accident.

And he was royally pissed when he found out that these points began expiring roughly 2 years after they were earned, even though he continued to use his card and earn additional points. So I’m writing this review from his perspective to see if Wells Fargo deserves a second chance with their new products.

Background

Wells Fargo is not known as a major player in the reward credit card sphere. I actually think this is a good thing. I use them as my bank, too — everything but the credit cards. ;) And I’ve found they have good customer service, with branches open on Saturday and common sense decisions that usually get me a fee waiver or other special consideration. But they wouldn’t budget on my dad’s points. Altogether he lost several hundred dollars in free travel before finding out about the expiring points, and he gave me license to start draining the account as he switched all of his purchases to his new Chase Sapphire Preferred.

As I explained to him, one of the biggest problems was not that the points expired but that it was hard to use the remaining points effectively because Wells Fargo had a minimum redemption threshold: he had to redeem enough points for at least a ~$400 ticket, meaning you left money on the table if you wanted anything cheaper.

All reports are that the new Wells Fargo Propel World and Propel 365 American Express cards are offering about 1.5 cents per point in value when redeemed through the Wells Fargo travel portal. You’ll earn points or miles on your ticket, just as if you had paid cash, but I expect this minimum redemption requirement still exists. It’s unfortunate that Wells Fargo continues to be so tight-lipped about how to redeem your points even as it touts how easy it is to earn them.

Wells Fargo Propel World American Express Card

  • 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 3X points on airlines
  • 2X points on hotels
  • 1X points on everything else
  • $175 annual fee, waived the first year
  • $100 in reimbursements for incidental charges during air travel
  • No foreign transaction fees

Wells Fargo Propel World

This card appears to be a cross between the Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum Cards from American Express, and if you’re a frequent traveler who doesn’t like tying up their points in a specific airline and hunting for award space, it could be a good deal. Book all your flights and hotels using this card, and redeem the points you earn for additional flights — almost any flight, on any airline — through the Wells Fargo travel agency. (This is similar to the Barclaycard Arrival or Capital One Venture Rewards cards.)

It’s also a Chip + PIN card, which is great for international travel. Wells Fargo has been rolling these out for a couple of years to its high-value customers (again, another situation where my dad asked and was refused). Since some other cards with true Chip + PIN — like the J.P. Morgan Palladium card from Chase — are only offered to customers with a large balance in excess of $250K and for a high annual fee, this seems reasonable at only $175 a year for anyone with a decent credit score.

Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express Card

  • 20,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 3X points at U.S. gas stations
  • 2X points at U.S. restaurants
  • 1X points on everything else
  • $45 annual fee, waived the first year
  • No foreign transaction fees

Wells Fargo Propel 365

This card appears more similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, although it’s notable for only offering bonus points at U.S. establishments. It assumes its cardholders are not regular travelers and certainly not international travelers. But it might fit those needs perfectly well. I’ve made it clear in the past that a lot of my travel — and nearly all of my family’s travel — is domestic. Their expenses are mostly groceries, meals, and gas. This card would work great for them, has a lower annual fee, and they wouldn’t need to hunt for award space. They want a cheap flight to visit me for the holidays, not a luxury vacation in Tokyo.

Both of Propel cards promise that their points do not expire if the account remains active. Perhaps they had too many unhappy cardholders who saw their hard-earned points disappear. They already lost at least one.

Just How Much Are Points Worth?

Wells Fargo doesn’t clearly advertise the value of its points or the operations of its rewards program, and that is another thing that still bugs me. When I first started booking through my dad’s account I was getting 1.75 cents per point. It was actually a great value if you knew you wanted a $400+ ticket (I booked a mileage run to Bangkok, so no problem). A more recent reservation appeared to offer only 1.5 cents per point. I think I now know why: PFDigest linked to a reader’s letter announcing that Wells Fargo was raising the value of his points to 1.75 cents after he had spent $50,000 in the last 12 months. It wouldn’t surprise me if my dad had done the same and, having moved his purchases to his Chase credit card, saw the bump removed from his account.

Sometimes I really wish my dad would track his mail and his credit card offers better. Make that all the time.

This increased valuation appears to be separate from the bonus Wells Fargo is offering on its Propel cards, which provides 10%, 25%, or 50% more points on every purchase depending on your existing banking relationship.

Wells Fargo account bonus

I don’t know if these offers stack. I don’t even know if the 1.75 cents per point valuation is applicable to these cards, or if it is only for the former Wells Fargo Visa Signature card. But it does show there will continue to be a way to get more bang for your buck if you’re fortunate to have a healthy financial situation. I think my dad would benefit from either Propel card, but he would probably prefer the Propel 365. He is not a frequent traveler. He thinks 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points is “too many.” He’d really rather just pay cash for stuff, and a cash-like rebate on travel is one of the best routes to go. Besides, whereas I spend my spare change on flights and hotels, he spends his on nice restaurants and driving 70 miles each way to work.

Are these cards I’d like to use? No. There still isn’t enough transparency for my taste, and I think traditional loyalty programs are easier to exploit. But the Propel World and Propel 365 make sense for a lot of normal people.

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Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Jim

    They sure like to keep us in the dark about redemptions. I wonder if I can book a hotel stay and use the points for a statement credit or do I have to use their travel folks?

    • Scottrick

      I believe gift cards are an option with redemptions as low as $25, but my guess is only at a value of 1 cent per point instead of the 1.5 cents you get for a travel redemption.

  • Carl P

    From my reading of some blogs and WF it seems the stated value is one cent per mile, all other things being equal. Some different valuations are being given because the fares on the WF site are sometimes differing from fare elsewhere (sometimes a lower – sometimes higher including processing fee). For example a flight was found for 14K points whereas it was $210 elsewhere (to give a 1.5 cent value). Some are also factoring in the $100 incidental fee allowance.
    I think anything beyond one cent is because of inconsistencies between the fares WF are basing their points on vs fare of other sites. That and the value of the allowance to you. Therefore you can’t predict point value beyond one cent until you compare specific flights on WF and other sites,
    That’s my interpretation anyway,

  • Carl P

    After a little more reading I’m not confident in some of what I said.
    I just got the card, but I could see in my normal banking WF site how to get to awards section.
    When I do I’m going to have to experiment.

    • Scottrick

      Please update us when you’re able. It’s not uncommon to see slightly higher redemption rates when use points for a travel award vs. gift cards. Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Arrival points all do the same thing. But for various reasons they often market them using the value of the bonus if redeemed for cash. Just because they say 20,000 points = $200 doesn’t mean you can’t also redeem them for travel worth $300.

  • Carl P

    I mean I “COULDN’T” see a reward program section.

  • http://www.travelcardguide.com/ TravelCardGuide

    It’s great to see another bank enter the scene, but I have heard not such great things about navigating WF.

  • Carl P

    I just looked at a Southwest flight I am taking soon. It showed $988 on the SWA site and showed 98,800 miles on WF. Glad I got it for 20K SWA miles about a month ago.
    So, obviously, in this case the WF Reward Points are worth 1 cent per point, and . Since I had 1,053 points (from another WF card I hardy ever use) the WF site said $977.47 also due. 977.47 + 1,053 – 98,800.
    I guess as we try more airlines and flights we can see what’s really up. Reportedly there are some sweet spots rather than a penny a point. Maybe due to basing on a different fare than other sites?
    This also confirms there is no minimum point use when booking airfare (like the $400 I guess they use to have).

    • Scottrick

      I’d rather have 1.5 cents per point and a minimum redemption.

      It’s possible you see these results because you don’t have enough points for your ticket. Since you can redeem WF points at a penny each for gift cards, it’s just taking a short cut and offering you a penny each as a discount on your ticket.

      It would be interesting to compare your result to two other scenarios: (1) search for a ticket less than $100 (where you have enough points for the whole purchase) and (2) for a ticket more than $400 from someone else’s account who has enough points for the whole purchase.

  • Carl P

    I did a United one way trip and got $734 on United and 58,200 points on the WF site. About 1.2 cents per point. I might have expected 73,400 if my not having enough points was the issue.
    I just have 1,053 points, so I would have to find a ten dollar flight.
    Hopefully somebody with points can experiment further and confirm.

  • http://www.doctorofcredit.com/ doctorofcredit

    For the airline incidental, a southwest GC triggered it which is another easy $100.

    • Scottrick

      Good to know. My only problem is keeping track of my gift cards!

  • Grado

    Wells Fargo is a dishonest corporation. You’ve been warned.

    • Natalie

      I can believe it!

  • shay peleg

    Would this card backdate as well Scott?

    • Scottrick

      I’m not sure I understand the question. Do you mean: Are you still eligible to apply if you’ve had a Wells Fargo credit card in the past? I believe so. This is a new product.

    • DWT

      If you’re referring to Amex’s backdating, no. This card runs off the Amex payment network, but is not issued by Amex, so it will show up on your credit report as being opened in 2014.

      • Scottrick

        That interpretation of the question makes more sense, and I agree with the answer.

  • Natalie

    This card is a scam. Spent the $3k in 3 months on the Propel World Card, only to find out that they upped the spending requirement during the time to $3,500 (without telling me) and I didn’t get the bonus points. Stay AWAY. Not worth jumping through hoops for- the whole Wells Fargo system is a mess