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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. 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 such as lounge access or travel credits. On the opposite side of the equation, you are really getting the best value from your points by redeeming them for travel, either through the Chase travel portal or by transferring to a partner. If travel is not a priority, 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 travel partners, making the miles you’ll earn with this card infinitely flexible. 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 2x miles on all purchases. 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. The Capital One Venture also has ability to transfer its miles to airlines and hotel partners. 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 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 that of 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 businesses: With the Ink Business Preferred, you can earn one of the best sign-up bonuses available while raking in 3x across a wide range of business expenses. Plus, the card comes with solid perks like travel protections, employee cards at no cost and cell phone protection — all for an affordable $95 annual fee.
There is a lot to love about the Ink Business Preferred. Right off the bat, you can earn 100,000 points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months. You’re getting 3x on the first $150,000 in combined spending on travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services and advertising with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Those rewards come in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are one of the most valuable rewards currencies. TPG valuations put them at 2 cents each, mostly due to the ability to transfer to Chase’s travel partners. But you can also redeem through the Chase travel portal for 1.25 cents per point.
For larger businesses, the $150,000 cap on bonus spending is prohibitive. Alternatively, freelancers or small-budget businesses may have issues hitting the $15,000 spending requirement to earn the sign-up bonus. This card is best suited for businesses who fit in the middle of that spectrum, or as a supplemental credit card for larger-budget businesses who can spread out spend across cards.
Something else to consider is that the card doesn’t come with much in the way of luxury perks. That’s not unexpected, considering the low $95 annual fee, but business owners looking to maximize on perks such as lounge access or travel credits should look at other card options.
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 offers the most comprehensive protections 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 airlines, 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 exclusive 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. Cardholders also receive an up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit every four years.
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 of $550 (see rates and fees).
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, 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 and fees)
Why it’s the best credit card for travel insurance: The Bank of America Premium Rewards card is a solid choice for everyday spending. When combined with the bank’s Preferred Rewards elite program and its lineup of travel protections, it’s a spectacular card choice for any current Bank of America customer.
The standard sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after $3,000 in purchases 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 2.62 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, which 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 business cash rewards: With the Capital One Spark Cash, you’ll earn 2% across every purchase, no matter the spending category. The card’s low $95 annual fee is easily offset by the potential rewards, making this an easy choice for small businesses looking to earn cash back across a wide variety of expenses.
The Capital One Spark Cash earns $500 after you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months, which isn’t a very high spending threshold for most business owners to hit. You’re earning unlimited 2% back on all spending, which makes this a versatile card for both freelancers and larger businesses.
Freelancers or other types of business owners who have a low monthly budget and a wide range of expenses, this card is a great option to help them earn rewards without paying a high annual fee — in fact, the annual fee is waived the first year. For larger businesses, this card acts as a great cash back card for purchases that don’t earn rewards with any other card. Rewards don’t expire so long as your account is open and employee cards are free.
It’s a straight-forward cash back card, which means you aren’t getting luxury perks or access to transfer partners. While that might appeal to some, those looking to redeem rewards for travel will be better off with other business credit cards.
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
There are not many no-annual-fee credit cards that still give you full access to a rewards program like Capital One Venture rewards. With the Capital One VentureOne, you’re still earning miles that can be redeemed at a fixed value or transferred to one of Capital One’s transfer partners.
The Capital One VentureOne has a solid sign-up bonus for a card at its cost point. You’ll get 20,000 miles (worth $280 according to TPG valuations) after spending $1,000 in the first three months. You’ll also earn 1.25x miles on all purchases. It’s a great option for beginners looking to dive into the travel rewards game, but don’t have the budget to justify an annual fee just yet. Rewards won’t expire as long as your account remains active. Those who need it can even enjoy a nice intro APR offer to help finance larger purchases.
This is a no-annual-fee card, which means that it doesn’t offer as much value as other cards available. If you have the credit score and budget to apply for a card like the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll end up earning far more in rewards over time due to their higher bonus rates.
Annual fee: $0
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, the Chase Sapphire Reserve could be a great fit for you. The card offers 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. Road warriors can use the card to access more than 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 reimbursement 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 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 Chase credit cards in the 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 Credit Card, 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 dining and takeout: Whether you dine in or 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 U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases each year; then 1x) and restaurants worldwide, plus up $120 in dining credits every year, the Amex Gold is designed specifically to maximize these purchases and should be in every foodie’s wallet.
The American Express Gold Card 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.
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 up t $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 airline rewards: The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select offers a way to earn American Airline miles and enjoy a few elite-like perks without costing a high annual fee. It’s perfect for beginners or casual American Airlines flyers.
The card comes with a 60,000-mile bonus after you spend $2,500 on purchases in the first three months, which TPG values at $840. You’ll earn 2x on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and at restaurants. The card also comes with a solid lineup of perks for a card with a $99 annual fee, including a free checked bag, preferred boarding, access to reduced mileage awards and a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases each cardmember year and renew the card.
You won’t get any luxury perks, such as lounge access or help hitting elite status. This card is best suited for those who are loyal to American Airlines. If you consider yourself a “free agent” when it comes to travel loyalty programs, you’d be better off with a card that earns transferable rewards that can be used across airlines and hotel brands.
Annual fee: $99
Why it’s the best credit card for groceries: With the Blue Cash Preferred, you’re earning 6% on the first $6,000 you spend at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1%). That alone is worth $360 in rewards over the course of a year, not including what you can earn from other bonus categories.
For only $95 in annual fees per year (see rates and fees) , you’re getting a great cash back rewards structure — 6% back on U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year; then 1%) and select U.S. streaming services, 3% back on transit and U.S. gas stations and 1% on everything else. Plus, you can earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. The card does come with some protections, including travel accident and car rental insurance, plus purchase and return protections.
This card only earns cash back, which means you won’t be able to transfer to partners to maximize reward value. The Blue Cash Preferred also comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee (see rates and fees), which means you won’t want to use it while you are traveling outside of the U.S.
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. 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. It’s also 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 Honors American Express Surpass® Card. 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.
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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.