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The Top 5 Business Credit Cards for 2016

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Many travel rewards credit cards come in both personal and business flavors, and the good news is that it’s easier than you think to qualify for the business version. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen shares five great business cards that earn you valuable sign-up bonuses and extra points and miles for select purchases.

It’s no secret that taking advantage of top travel rewards credit card offers is a great way to quickly boost your account balances and unlock valuable redemptions. However, many points and miles enthusiasts (especially those new to the hobby) tend to focus all of their attention on personal credit cards. Opening and strategically utilizing business credit cards can open up a plethora of new earning opportunities, so today, I want to go through my top picks for business credit cards in 2016.

Before getting into the list, let’s address the elephant in the room. You may be thinking, “I can’t open a business credit card because I don’t have a formal business.” That’s simply not true: While some credit card issuers may be stricter than others (Citi is generally the hardest), many will allow you to apply and be approved for a business credit card as a sole proprietor. In these cases, you would simply put your Social Security number in as the Employer Identification Number (EIN) on the application.

There are many popular business credit cards out there, but which is the best for you? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
There are many popular business credit cards out there, but which is the best for you? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

There are many reasons why you might want a business credit card as an individual. You might be like my aunt, who just retired but is doing part-time freelance work (and wants to keep her business expenses separate from her personal ones). You could also be selling items on eBay or Amazon.com, or maybe you’re actually starting up a business and would like to leverage the earning potential of a business credit card to help get up and running. There are many reasons for getting a business credit card, so you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying if you don’t have a formal business.

That being said, which business credit cards should you consider for 2016?

1. Ink Plus Business Card

The Chase Ink tops the list this month thanks to an increased sign-up bonus.
The Chase Ink Plus is a great option due to the flexibility of Ultimate Rewards and the lucrative sign-up bonus.

Sign-up bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening (worth $1,260 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)
Earning rates: 5 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year; 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year; 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; Visa Signature perks
Annual fee: $95

The first card on the list is one that both my wife and I have in our wallets; we both have part-time jobs in addition to our full-time gigs and were both approved as sole proprietors. The sign-up bonus was increased back in September and provides some terrific value, but the most appealing benefit of the card (to me) is the 5x bonus category. All telecommunications and office supply store purchases fall into this category, giving you a 10.5% return on these purchases. I’ve been able to utilize the card at my local Staples for a variety of items beyond things like paper and pencils, include Keurig K-Cups and cleaning supplies for my home office.

When it comes to redemptions, the Ultimate Rewards program gives you some great options, as you can transfer points to partners like Hyatt (for awards like the Park Hyatt Tokyo) and Singapore (for awards like Suites Class on the A380). Most of these actually happen immediately, and you can also combine points from other cards like the Chase Freedom and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

For more details on this card and the Ultimate Rewards program, check out the following posts:

2. Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

St-Regis-Aspen
The St. Regis Aspen is one terrific property at which you can redeem points from the SPG Business Amex.

Sign-up bonus: 35,000 Starpoints after you use your card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months (worth $625)
Earning rates: 2 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG hotels; 1 point per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 5 nights and 2 stays toward elite status each year; free premium internet; access to Sheraton Club lounges; complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

35,000 bonus points is the highest offer we’ve ever seen on the Starwood Business Amex. Pair that with the overhaul of the card’s benefits that kicked in last August and you can see why this card is one of the best offers out there right now. While the annual fee did jump from $65 to $95, that came with a variety of new perks that actually led TPG to pay for an international hotel stay with the personal version of the card. The business version also includes access to Sheraton Club lounges, and while the bonus category isn’t too rewarding, you’re still getting a 2.5% return on everyday purchases.

SPG points regularly top TPG’s monthly valuations as a result of the valuable redemptions available through the program. You can redeem points for some terrific aspirational properties, but can also get great value at the lower award categories. I’ve enjoyed incredible stays at locations like the St. Regis Bal Harbour, while TPG loved his stay at the Westin Paris-Vendôme. The program also has a Nights & Flights option as well as the ability to transfer Starpoints to 34 airline partners (Korean was the most recent addition).

Another critical reason this card earns such a high spot is because it’s a different product than the regular Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which is offering 35,000 points after $3,000 in spend in the first 3 months. Back in 2014, American Express began restricting sign-up bonuses on personal cards to once per lifetime of each cardholder. As a result, if you had the personal SPG Amex in the past, you can’t sign-up for the card again and earn the bonus. However, this card is treated as a different product, so you should still be able to take home the full sign-up bonus, even if you currently hold (or have held) the personal version. Note that Amex recently extended the same limitations to business cards, so you can only receive a sign-up bonus one time for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card as well.

For more details on this card and the Starwood Preferred Guest program, check out the following posts:

3. The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Singapore Suites on the A380.
You can transfer points from your Business Gold Rewards card to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program to book Suites Class on the A380.

Sign-up bonus: 25,000 Membership Rewards points after $5,000 spent in purchases on the card within the first three months of card membership (worth $475)
Earning rates: 3x points on one category of your choice (airfare, US advertising, US gas stations, US shipping or US computer hardware, software and computing purchases); 2x points on the four remaining categories; 1x points on all other purchases
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; no pre-set spending limit; American Express OPEN savings
Annual fee: $175 (waived for the first year)

The third card is another business card from American Express, and there are a few key reasons why it’s on my list. For starters, it gives you the flexibility to choose where you want to earn triple points based on your spending habits. You also can change your selection once annually (between December 1 and January 31), allowing you to adjust your choice if you know or expect that you’ll be spending more money in a different category in the coming year. Even if you wind up choosing poorly, you’ll still earn double Membership Rewards points in the four remaining categories, all of which can be transferred to 16 airlines and three hotel partners.

The other great thing about this card is the spending power it offers. Because it’s a charge card, you don’t have a pre-set credit limit. As a result, you can make large purchases without worrying about going past your allowable limit, a key factor in a business’ ability to quickly take advantage of growth opportunities. You do need to pay your balance in full each month — this is my number one commandment for all travel rewards cards.

As with the SPG card above, Amex’s new sign-up bonus restrictions apply to the The Business Gold Rewards Card as well.

For more information about this card and the Membership Rewards program, check out the following posts:

4. Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN

The Amex Business Platinum may be aimed at businesses, but you can still take advantage of the perks and sign-up bonus as an individual!
TPG loves his Amex Business Platinum due to the array of perks it provides cardholders.

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of cardmembership
Earning rates: 2x points for booking through Amex Travel; 1x points everywhere else
Other benefits: $200 airline fee credit; airport lounge access; Gogo passes and unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi; access to Fine Hotels & Resorts program; $100 Global Entry fee credit
Annual fee: $450

This card doesn’t offer a terrific return on your spending, but it does provide some valuable benefits that may easily cancel out the hefty annual fee. If you travel frequently, you’ll likely get some great use out of the card’s lounge access, which includes American Express Centurion lounges in Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA) and San Francisco (SFO), plus a smaller Centurion Studio in Seattle (SEA) and plans to open additional locations in Houston (IAH) and possibly even Los Angeles (LAX). You’ll also enjoy Delta SkyClub access when flying Delta (though without guests) and can visit Priority Pass lounges as well.

You can also get some great value out of the $200 airline fee credit each calendar year. This typically only covers incidentals like baggage fees or in-flight purchases, though many reports indicate that gift cards in small denominations will work as well. You can also slash another $100 off the annual fee by signing up for Global Entry, as the card includes a $100 credit for this membership every five years. Finally, you can travel in style by utilizing the Fine Hotels & Resorts program to get on-property benefits on up to three rooms on your account. Amex’s new sign-up bonus restrictions also apply to this card.

For more information about this card, check out the following posts:

5. CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard

American Airlines First Class Featured
The CitiBusiness AAdvantage card can boost your account balance for premium awards; just try to lock them in before March 22nd!

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months (worth $850) — Note that this offer expires today, February 29
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on American and at telecommunication merchants, car rental agencies and gas stations; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: First checked bag free; Group 1 boarding; 25% discount on in-flight purchases; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

This card might’ve earned a higher spot on the list if it weren’t for the upcoming devaluation to the AAdvantage program’s award chart. The 50,000 miles would put you well on your way to an award ticket in Cathay Pacific first class, though as of March 22 the price of this (and many other popular awards) will jump. Still, you should have time to earn the sign-up bonus before the devaluation if you apply right now and quickly meet the spending requirements.

Even if you don’t earn the bonus before March 22, 50,000 miles will still get you two round-trip award tickets in the US, and you’ll also enjoy bonus miles on a few bonus categories beyond just tickets with American. The other perks are most valuable for those who regularly fly American, though remember that Citi tends to put your business card applications under more scrutiny than other issuers.

For more information about this card and the AAdvantage program, check out the following posts:

Bottom Line

There are a plethora of business credit cards out there, and they aren’t just for formal businesses. Snagging sign-up bonuses and then utilizing these different products can quickly boost your account balances, and I hope this post has given you some food for thought on which cards will offer the best bang for your buck in 2016. If you haven’t considered opening a business credit card, you may be missing out on some valuable rewards!

What are your favorite business credit cards?

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Apply Now
  • Get 25,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
  • Get 3x points - Choose 1 out of 5 categories
  • Plus, 2X points on the 4 remaining categories and 1X points on other purchases
  • Redeem points for everyday business expenses, to help with travel costs or to reward employees and entertain clients
  • Track, organize, and stay on top of your business expenses with powerful expense-tracking tools
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175
  • Terms and limitations apply. See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A N/A $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175 2.70% Excellent Credit