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Best Credit Cards of 2020
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Why it’s the Best Credit Card for total value: We’ve long suggested the Chase Sapphire Preferred as a great option for those who are new to earning travel rewards because it lets you earn valuable, transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with strong bonus categories and a reasonable annual fee.
This travel credit card is offering 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months, which is worth $1,200 according to TPG’s valuations. The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 5x on Lyft; 2x points on other travel and dining; 1x on everything else. And since travel and dining are both broad categories with Chase, this means you’re earning rewards on a large number of purchases. For premium rewards redemptions, you’ll find points are typically most valuable when transferred to one of Chase’s excellent 10 airline and three hotel partners. Alternatively, points can be worth 1.25 cents each toward travel and activities booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, where you can find money-saving options for budget travel and economy flights.
The $95 annual fee isn’t waived the first year like it is on some other mid-tier travel cards, and there are no luxury travel perks. While the lack of luxury benefits is standard on cards with lower annual fees, it’s something to consider for anyone who travels frequently enough to get a lot of value out of things like lounge access or travel credits. On the opposite side of the equation, you are really only getting a good value from your points if you redeem for travel, either through the portal or by transferring to a partner. So if you only rarely travel, a cash-back card may be more valuable to you.
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for flat-rate rewards: There aren’t many cards that get great value for both direct redemptions and transfers to partners, but the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card pulls it off. You can use Capital One miles to offset nearly any travel purchase you make, or transfer them to any of Capital One’s airline partners, making the miles you’ll earn with this card infinitely flexible. And because you’re earning a flat 2x on every purchase, you know you’re getting value no matter the spending category.
The Capital One Venture earns 5x on hotels and rental cars purchased through Capital One Travel℠ and 2x on all other purchases, and since you can redeem Capital One miles as a statement credit against any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile, you’ll easily earn at least 2% back in rewards on everything you buy with the card. But the Capital One Venture also has ability to transfer its miles to 15 different airlines and two hotels. This includes two of United’s Star Alliance partners: Singapore Airlines and Avianca LifeMiles, as well as Delta partner Air France/KLM and even JetBlue if you’re flying domestically. These partners let you truly maximize Capital One miles, opening up valuable premium cabin redemptions for a fraction of the cash price. Best of all, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year, so you can try out the card for free and see if it fits your lifestyle.
The biggest drawback to the Capital One Venture is that the transfer partner ratio is less optimal than Chase and Amex. While Capital One does run transfer bonuses that help combat this, the standard transfer rate for most partners is 2 Venture miles = 1.5 miles/points with the partner program. Of course, like other mid-tier cards, the Capital One Venture also doesn’t come with much in the way of luxury benefits for frequent travelers.
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for business: The Ink Business Preferred is our favorite credit card for businesses because it makes it easy to earn a lot of bonus points from your regular monthly business expenses. Thanks to a generous 3 points per dollar in some of the most common business categories, your business will be swimming in rewards just from using the card every day.
With an 80,000-point sign-up bonus and only a $95 annual fee, you won’t find many cards more valuable to get for your business than the Ink Business Preferred. Based on TPG’s valuations that peg the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards at 2 cents apiece, those 80,000 points are worth a whopping $1,600 in free travel when you redeem them by transferring to Chase’s lucrative airline and hotel partners. The card also features cell phone protection coverage that extends to any employee phones as well when you pay for the phone bill using the card (which also earns 3 points per dollar).
There is an annual spending cap of $150,000 for earning 3x rewards, so businesses with larger annual budgets may be better off with a card that earns unlimited rewards. Also, like other Chase travel cards, you’re only getting the best value when you redeem for travel. If you are a business owner who wants to use those rewards to save money on your monthly bill, a cash-back card may be more up your alley.
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for TSA PreCheck: This card offers a TSA PreCheck application fee credit benefit, which is uncommon for a card with only a $95 annual fee. At first glance, the Bank of America Premium Rewards card looks like a solid if not spectacular choice for everyday spending. But when combined with the bank’s Preferred Rewards elite program, the card takes off, becoming one of the best choices on the market. Top elites earn as much as 2.625% back on everyday purchases and 3.5% in select categories, beating most top cash-back cards available today.
The standard sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after $3,000 in spending in the first 90 days you have the card equates to $500 in value, which is a great start. Then you’ll also get up to $100 in airline fee credits each year, completely negating the card’s $95 annual fee and making the card equivalent to a no-annual-fee card if you use the credit. Even without Bank of America Preferred Rewards status, you’ll earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for all other purchases. But if you can score top-tier Platinum Honors status, those earning rates jump to 3.5 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 2.625 points per dollar on all other purchases. Top it all off with a $100 credit toward the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and no foreign transaction fees, and the Bank of America Premium Rewards becomes a card worth consideration.
This card is best suited for those who have a banking relationship with Bank of America. You’re getting the best rewards rate if you are a member of the Preferred Rewards program, and that requires having a pretty penny in an eligible Bank of America account. Another drawback for points and miles gurus is Bank of America’s lack of transfer partners. You’re getting a fixed value of 1 cent per point no matter what, which can put this card at a disadvantage against cards from Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One, where you can transfer to partners and get potentially much more than 1 cent per point/mile.
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for travel perks: It’s not cheap, but there’s no credit card that offers better total value than the Amex Platinum, especially for the frequent traveler. From airport lounge access to annual credits, a free ShopRunner subscription and even travel protections such as trip Interruption and travel delay coverage, it’s one of the most complete credit cards overall.
If you’re looking for travel perks, you’ll find them on the Amex Platinum. First, you’ll get 5 points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly via an airline, as well as both airlines and prepaid hotels booked via Amex Travel. Next, the card provides access to three different airport lounge networks, including the extremely popular Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when you’re flying Delta and over 1,200 Priority Pass lounges worldwide. You’ll also get up to $200 in annual airline fee credits that can be used to offset the cost of fees that airlines charge for services ranging from seat assignment fees to checked bags and bringing pets on board. On top of that, you’ll get up to $200 in annual Uber credits, which can be used either for ride-hailing or on UberEats when you’re hungry. And finally, the Amex Platinum even provides up to $100 in annual credits at Saks Fifth Avenue, so you can look your best when you’re traveling. Add it all together and you’re getting at least $500 in credits alone each year from the Amex Platinum, which nearly offsets the card’s entire annual fee.
This card comes with a super high annual fee, which isn’t feasible for every traveler. If you know you won’t utilize at least most of the benefits offered with this card, you’ll be better off choosing a card that focuses on rewards-earning rather than luxury benefits. Speaking of rewards-earning, this card also isn’t the best option for those who want a card for everyday spending. You’re only earning bonus points on specific travel purchases, so you’ll need a different card for your grocery and commuting expenses each month.
Annual fee: $550 (see rates & fees)
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for regular Delta flyers: With the newly revamped Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex, you’ll earn bonus miles on both Delta purchases and range of everyday spending categories. The card also offers elite-like perks and opportunities to earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and a Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver when you hit certain spending thresholds. This means you can rack up miles for award flights and hit status faster while still enjoying a few elite-like perks.
Right now, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex is offering an excellent welcome bonus of up to 100,000 miles — 80,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months and another 20,000 miles after your first account anniversary. You’ll earn 3x on Delta and hotel stays, 2x on restaurants and U.S. supermarkets and 1x on everything else. The card also comes with a number of perks: Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (every four years for Global Entry, every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck), an annual companion certificate, first checked bag free, priority boarding and 20% inflight savings on food and beverages. For those hoping to hit Delta Medallion elite status faster, you can earn 10,000 MQMs after you spend $25,000 in a calendar year and another 10,000 MQMs after you spend $50,000 in a calendar year.
Though the recent revamp of this card came with some much-needed improvements, it also came with a higher annual fee and the removal of two previous benefits. Cardholders no longer get discounted access to Delta Sky Clubs or bonus miles when hitting the above spending thresholds. Something else to consider is that this card is great for Delta flyers, but that’s a specific type of traveler. If you consider yourself more of a free agent, it might be best to stick to cards with transferable point currencies.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates & fees)
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for travel: Earning 3 points per dollar on all travel purchases makes the Chase Sapphire Reserve the top choice among credit cards when it comes to buying almost anything travel-related. Even better, a wide range of purchases are considered “travel” — everything from airlines, hotels, car rentals and cruises to taxis, subways, buses, parking and more.
Whether you’re traveling locally or internationally, you should be able to find a place in your wallet for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card starts with a $300 travel credit every year, which is automatically applied to any eligible travel purchases, making it incredibly easy to use and offsetting over half of the $550 annual fee right off the bat. In addition to bonus points on travel purchases, the card also earns 3 points per dollar on all dining purchases, including delivery services such as Seamless, Grubhub and UberEats. And road warriors can use the card to access over 1,200 Priority Pass airport lounges and restaurants and get away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, along with having numerous travel protections such as trip delay coverage and primary rental car insurance.
Chase recently updated the Chase Sapphire Reserve, adding new benefits while raising the annual fee. While many (including some TPG staffers) find the new benefits valuable, those who don’t use Lyft or DoorDash may not be as happy with the changes. Make sure you’re going to use the benefits and earn enough rewards every year to offset the cost of the card before shelling out $550 on annual fees.
Annual fee: $550
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for casual Delta flyers: The Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex comes with a solid earning rate (with recently expanded bonus categories) and a few elite-like benefits for a modest annual fee. That’s a perfect balance for Delta flyers who travel enough to want a cobranded card that offers benefits, but who don’t travel frequently enough to warrant a higher annual fee airline card.
All of Delta’s cobranded Amex cards are offering limited-time welcome bonuses right now, and the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex is no exception. You’ll earn up to 70,000 miles — 60,000 after spending $2,000 in the first three months and an additional 10,000 after your first card anniversary. For a manageable $99 annual fee (waived for the first year) (see rates & fees), you’ll get 2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, plus elite-like perks like priority boarding, inflight savings and your first checked bag free. This card did discontinue two benefits — discounted Sky Club access and the ability to earn an MQD waiver through spending. But for those who spend $10,000 per year on the card, you will now earn a $100 Delta flight credit.
As an entry-level card, frequent Delta flyers will likely be better off with a more premium card like the Delta SkyMiles Platinum or Reserve. This card offers no way to earn MQMs or an MQD waiver, which means it’s useless in helping cardholders hit elite status. And like with other cobranded airline cards, it’s only a good option if you are hoping to earn miles for the specific airline. If you end to travel with different airlines throughout the year, a more flexible travel card might be better.
Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for Sky Club access: The Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex is the only Delta consumer card to offer a complimentary Sky Club membership. And now, you’ll also get two one-time guest passes with the card as well. If you want a card that will get you into Delta’s airport lounges around the globe, this the card for you.
Though the card does come with a recently increased $550 annual fee (see rates & fees), elite Delta flyers will get a lot out of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex. On top of the Sky Club access benefits, you’ll earn 3x on Delta purchases, 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 in card spending each calendar year (up to 60,000 MQMs per year) and have the ability to earn an MQD waiver for up to Platinum status by spending $25,000 in a calendar year. This means you can potentially earn Gold Medallion status (and all the perks associated with it) without ever stepping foot on a Delta flight. The card also recently added Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta, complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit. Of course, this card is also offering a limited-time welcome bonus: earn 80,000 and 20,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 in the first three months and an additional 20,000 miles after your first card anniversary. If you are a frequent traveler who is loyal to Delta, there isn’t a better cobranded consumer card out there.
The Delta Reserve Amex, like others mentioned above, has a hefty annual fee, and many of the perks are Delta-specific. If you frequently fly other airlines, you may find more value from a non-Delta card.
Annual fee: $550
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for worldwide dining: If you dine out on a regular basis, you won’t find a more powerful credit card than the American Express Gold. With 4 points per dollar at all restaurants worldwide and up to $120 in dining credits each and every year, the Amex Gold is designed specifically to maximize dining purchases and should be in every foodie’s purse or wallet.
The American Express Gold has you covered across the board when it comes to food, whether you’re eating in or dining out. Not only does the card earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants, but you’ll get that same 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 in purchases per year (then 1 point per dollar). On top of that, you’ll also earn 3 points per dollar on all flights purchased directly with airlines or via Amex Travel, plus the card comes with an up to $100 annual airline fee credit that can be used for flight expenses such as checked baggage, seat upgrades and much more. Add that $100 airline credit together with the card’s up to $120 dining credit, and you’ll nearly offset the entire annual fee each year through credits alone.
The Amex Gold is a charge card, which means you need to be even more diligent to make sure you’re paying your bill in full each month. Something else to consider is how the Amex Gold rewards travel purchases — you’re only getting 3x on flights purchased directly with airlines or via Amex Travel. For someone who is hoping to earn bonus points on Airbnbs, rideshares and other travel expenses, this isn’t the card for you.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates & fees)
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for cash back: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best cash back cards around because of its low cost and flexibility. With no annual fee, you’re still earning bonus rewards on every purchase, no matter the category. But you can also easily pair the card with others in the Chase lineup to maximize its value.
You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every single purchase, without having to worry about restrictive bonus categories. However, if you also have an Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Unlimited, those basic points can be transformed into Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll then be able to redeem them at a higher rate through the Chase travel portal or transfer them to hotel and airline partners. Finally, new cardholders will receive a $150 bonus after spending $500 in the first three months. Whether you’re looking for a one-and-done credit card to handle all of your spending or a no-annual-fee card to pair with your existing lineup, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the card for you.
While 1.5% cash back on all purchases is pretty standard for a no-annual-fee, flat-rate card, it also isn’t the highest rewards rate available. Furthermore, if you do not have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, your redemption options are more limited.
Annual fee: $0
Why it’s the Best Credit Card for hotels: If you stay at Hilton hotels even a handful of times a year, you’ll get strong value out of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card. The card earns a whopping 12 points per dollar on eligible purchases at Hilton properties and offers complimentary Hilton Gold elite status, which means you’ll get complimentary breakfast, increased earnings and space-available upgrades just from having the card.
If you apply now, you can get 125,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership. Those 125,000 points are worth $750 based on TPG’s most recent point valuations. The card can also be useful when you’re not on the road, earning not only 12 points per dollar at participating Hilton properties but also 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. In addition, you’ll get 10 Priority Pass visits per year with the card, and if you’re a big spender, putting $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year will earn you a complimentary weekend night reward on top of it all.
To be honest, the largest drawback to this card has nothing to do with the card itself and more with Hilton’s points system. Back in 2017, the hotel brand pulled award charts in favor of a more dynamic pricing system, which can make it hard to know how many points a stay will require. Something else to consider with this card is that many of the main perks and benefits offered (automatic Gold elite status, Priority Pass and more) are available on the more flexible Amex Platinum card (which transfers to Hilton). If you already have that card, this one might be a bit redundant.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates & fees)
Credit cards offer a convenient way to pay for purchases while building credit and earning rewards. There are hundreds of credit cards available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, you might find a card with a strong balance transfer offer but no rewards, or a great travel card that has an annual fee. The key is to understand your individual needs and what cards you can qualify for based on your credit profile, then pick the best credit card that meets those requirements.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right credit card for you. The top three to keep in mind are as follows:
Credit cards are available to people with a wide range of credit profiles, from those with excellent credit scores to folks that are rebuilding their credit or starting from scratch. There are credit cards you may be eligible for even if you don’t have a top-notch credit profile, but you should know before applying which cards you’re most likely able to get. That way you won’t waste time and a hard inquiry trying to get a card you won’t get approved for. While this means you might not be able to get a premium credit card without a strong credit profile, by getting other cards and using them responsibly, you can build up your credit score over time and improve the likelihood that you’ll eventually be eligible for the very top cards.
The biggest advantage of most credit cards is how much you earn in rewards based on your spending. This means it’s important to pay attention to each card’s bonus categories, which are the types of purchases that earn extra rewards. Some of the most popular bonus earning categories include travel and dining purchases, but there are many other earning categories, from groceries to entertainment to streaming services to even fitness club memberships. When choosing a credit card, you’ll want to match the card that best rewards your personal spending patterns so you can maximize how many bonus rewards you earn on a regular basis.
Credit cards are notorious for having high interest rates, so it’s vital that you either avoid paying any interest at all by paying your bill in full each and every month, or choose a card with a low interest rate. However, when it comes to fees, the calculation is a bit different, as it can sometimes make sense to pay an annual fee — even a substantial one — if the benefits you get from the card are worth the cost. When choosing the right card for you, you’ll want to calculate how much value you think you’ll get from the card and then compare that amount to the card’s annual fee. If you’re getting more in value than it’s costing you, then the card may be a good choice for you. You’ll also want to consider other fees that might apply to using the card, such as whether it charges foreign transaction fees when you use it on international purchases.
Other factors to consider when choosing the right credit card are the travel benefits it provides, whether it offers bonus perks for high spending levels, protection coverages, the card’s issuer and convenience.
Credit card companies offer different kinds of cards to meet different consumer needs. Some people put a lot of money on their cards every month and then pay them off immediately — those people benefit from a card that returns a portion of their spending in the form of rewards. Others tend to carry a balance from month to month — they’re better served with a card that offers a low ongoing interest rate. Still others are working to improve their credit — issuers have cards designed for those people, too.
If you’re interested in frequent flyer miles, hotel points or a retailer’s rebate program, a rewards credit card could be right for you. Rewards credit cards offer proprietary points or miles that can be accumulated and redeemed for free goods, services or travel. In some cases, the rewards earned from certain credit cards can be transferred to a variety of other programs — these are known as flexible rewards. The upside of rewards credit cards is that in some cases, you can leverage the points or miles to get more value from them than you would from cash. The downside is you must redeem the rewards within the loyalty system they were issued from.
There’s nothing more powerful than cold hard cash, and if you’re just looking for money in your pocket, you’ll likely want a cash back credit card. With a cash back card, you’ll earn a percentage rebate on every purchase (i.e.: 1%, 2%, 2.5%) that adds up to cash in your account. Most cash back cards provide the ability to redeem your earned cash back as either a statement credit against other charges on your card, as a check or direct deposit into your bank account, or in some cases for gift cards or at retail partners when making purchases.
Even though you can often get enough value from a credit card to offset the annual fee it charges, some people never want to pay an annual fee for a card. For those folks, there are plenty of no-annual-fee credit card choices on the market today. While you won’t find the top-end benefits, perks and earning rates of cards with annual fees on a free credit card, there are definitely worthwhile options that can earn you plenty of rewards or cash back.
There are also specific types of credit cards for businesses, for people looking to carry a balance at a low interest rate, for those loyal to a specific airline, hotel or retail brand and many other categories of cards.
To make sure you’re maximizing what a credit card can do for you, you should take time every 12 months to analyze your overall financial picture and determine if your current credit card is serving your needs. If you aren’t earning bonus rewards in the categories you spend in most often, or if you don’t have the travel benefits you need, or if you’re paying a high annual fee but aren’t taking advantage of the card’s features, it may be time to get a new credit card that better fits your requirements. Keep in mind that circumstances change over time, and a credit card that was previously right for you may no longer be a good fit. With so many options on the market, there’s no reason to have the wrong credit card in your purse or wallet.
Before you sit down and fill out a credit card application, make sure you know your personal credit score (remember to check your score with all three major credit bureaus), as well as what features you want most in a credit card and the best options on the market with those features. Also, it’s important to know the application restrictions and rules for the specific financial institution that issues the card you’re applying for. You want to make sure you’re eligible for the card based on the issuer’s restrictions so you don’t waste time and a hard credit inquiry on a card you won’t be able to get.
Related reading: How many credit cards should you have?
Credit card terminology can be confusing for beginners. What’s the difference between an issuer, a card’s network and a cobranded company?
The issuing bank is the institution that provides the financial backing for a credit card. They’ll be the ones who typically determine (and pay for) credit card rewards and benefits. Examples include Chase and Capital One. Payment networks, on the other hand, are the companies that process the transactions between a merchant and an issuer, such as Mastercard or Visa. Of course, some issuers also do their own payment processing, such as American Express or Discover. Cobranded credit cards pair a credit card issuer with a company to provide unique brand-specific rewards for a cardholder.
So for an example, let’s take the Hilton Surpass from Amex. American Express is both the issuer and the payment network. And Hilton is the cobranded company.
There are dozens of financial institutions that issue credit cards, from international banks to local credit unions. If you prefer individual attention and a one-on-one relationship with your issuer, you might want to look for a neighborhood bank that can offer you that level of attention. On the other hand, the largest issuers tend to be able to offer the most generous perks thanks to being able to leverage their size. So, if your focus is on the best earning rates and benefits, you might prefer to apply with the largest issuers with the most robust credit card portfolios. These issuers include Chase, American Express, Citi, Capital One, Barclays, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Amex card, click here.
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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.