9 Best Rewards Credit Cards for Baby Boomers in 2019
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It took a while to get my parents, who are baby boomers -- now in their late 60s and early 70s -- into the rewards credit card game. They had spent a lifetime with cash, checks and, later, debit cards, and the idea of charging everyday purchases went firmly against their grain (sort of like financial expert Dave Ramsey's distaste for credit cards). However, once they eventually made the leap to using credit cards, they never looked back.
They learned, as seniors, that using credit cards to pay for purchases and earn rewards doesn't mean you are racking up debt. You can pay off the balance each month, earn rewards and avoid interest penalties. The rewards they earn from managing expenses in this way have allowed them to travel much more in retirement than they ever dreamed possible. Basically, it is a win, win, win.
It's not just my parents; according to the AARP, baby boomers will take an average of five leisure trips in 2019 and spend $6,400 per year on those trips (that's more than Gen Xers).
The best credit cards to earn rewards know no age boundaries, so there aren't really separate best credit cards for seniors that aren't also good for parents, or millennials or any other specific age category. However, since seniors are clearly traveling a good amount, but may have a more fixed budget, a more flexible schedule and (hopefully) can spend less on trips to the grocery store than the average 40-something parent with a family, the card recommendations do vary slightly.
With all that in mind, here are our best rewards credit cards for seniors, aka baby boomers.
Why Seniors Should Get a Credit Card
Using a debit card, checks or cash may be how you've always done budgeting, but in 2019, it means you're leaving lots on the table. For all the money you spend on eating, traveling, shopping, appointments and everyday bills, you could be earning valuable rewards in the neighborhood of at least 2 cents per dollar charged to your cards and potentially much more.
In a day when fraud is a fact of life, credit cards also offer protection in the event of fraudulent charges. While there may be some mildly annoying phone calls and paperwork to deal with, you won't be held liable for charges you didn't make or authorize on your credit cards.
While rewards credit cards can open up the world to traveling much more for less, do not be tempted to spend more each month than you otherwise would. The only way to come out ahead with rewards credit cards is to pay your bills on time and in full to avoid penalties and interest.
Here are some other resources to check out before you start applying for cards:
- 5 Things to Understand About Credit Before Applying for Cards
- 3 Key Considerations for Improving Your Credit Score
- Debunking Credit Card Myths: Does Applying for a Card Permanently Impact My Credit Score
- Avoiding Late Payments and Other Silly Credit Card Mistakes
How Credit Cards Give You Rewards
The short version of how this all works is that you use a rewards-earning credit card for a purchase, and the bank gives you miles, points or cash back in return. This used to happen most commonly at a 1:1 ratio, whereas you charge 1 dollar and earn 1 mile. However, these days, there are lots of cards out there that award 2 points per dollar or have bonus categories where you can earn 3, 5 or even 10 miles or points per dollar.
Typically, you earn these rewards in your account after each billing statement closes. If the rewards you earn are a credit card-specific point (like a Chase Ultimate Rewards point or American Express Membership Rewards point), then the points will go into your points account managed by the bank. You need to keep your account open to have access to those points.
If the reward is something like a Hilton Honors hotel point or an American Airlines mile, it will go directly to your hotel or airline loyalty program account. You can close your credit card, and those points are still safe as they aren't tied a specific bank.
If it's good old cash back you earn, it may go directly to your checking account, or more likely, it sits in your credit card account until you redeem it into your bank or use it as a statement credit against charges made on your credit card.
Banks can afford to do all this in part because of the interchange fees they earn for every dollar you charge, and in part because some consumers don't follow our advice about not racking up interest and late payment fees.
Are Points Hard to Use?
If you have largely resisted the world of airline miles and hotel points until this point in life, it's possible you subscribed to the idea that miles and points are hard to use. They can be as complicated as you like, but they can also be very simple. For example, any Southwest Airlines flight that is for sale with cash can be booked for a corresponding number of the airline's Rapid Rewards points.
Many bank points are worth a fixed value that you can use to book travel if you wish. For example, points earned with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (the card you may have seen actress Jennifer Garner talk about on TV), can be used at a value of 1 mile = 1 cent to book whatever travel you wish. Simply charge travel to your card and then use the points to essentially "wipe out" the charge.
Here's a beginners guide to miles and points, but again, you only have to wade in the shallow end of rewards if you like, no need to dive off the high board. Even the shallow end holds big rewards.
The Best Credit Cards for Seniors
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great starter card if you want to get into points and miles because it earns you 2x points on dining and travel. The dining category covers everything from a local diner to pizza delivery to Starbucks and even most pubs. The travel category covers most airfare, hotels, train tickets, cab or Uber rides and even some parking. The sign-up bonus is solid, too: 100,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. There’s a $95 annual fee for the Sapphire Preferred and there are no foreign transaction fees.
These points can be used at a fixed 1.25 cents to book travel through Chase (so 50,000 points would equal $625 in travel), but you can also transfer the points at a 1:1 ratio to partners that include Southwest, United, Hyatt, Marriott, British Airways, JetBlue and more.
2. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
This card made waves recently due to the addition of airline transfer partners, but you can ignore that feature if you want to keep things simple. It earns you 2x miles on every purchase. If you're only going to have one rewards credit card and want to earn simple-to-use rewards, this may be the best pick.
This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
3. The Platinum Card® from American Express
While the Amex Platinum isn't the strongest card out there for earning points in most categories, it's rich on travel perks. If you are ready to be pampered a bit on your travels, this card is a winner.
We have a full guide to the Platinum Card's benefits, but some highlights include access to the Amex Centurion Lounge network when you fly, Priority Pass membership (i.e., more lounge access and even "free" food at some airport restaurants), an up to $200 airline fee credit annually, up to $200 in annual Uber credits (and yes, Uber really can make your life easier if you don't already use it), elite status with Hilton and Marriott, credit to apply for Global Entry/PreCheck (up to $100), up to $100 a year at Saks Fifth Avenue and lots more. All of these perks do come at a cost as this card has a $550 annual fee. (See Rates & Fees)
4. Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card
You aren't going to hurt our feelings here at The Points Guy if you decide you want cash back more than points. The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card has no annual fee and is a compelling choice for cash back. We have a whole article dedicated to the card's basics, but here’s a quick overview. The Cash Rewards credit card has a 3-2-1 cash back arrangement with the card holder controlling what category falls into the 3% bonus each month.
Your 3% bonus options include gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores, home improvement and furnishing. So, if you have a lot of prescriptions to fill, you can earn 3% back that month at drug stores. Have a home improvement project in mind? Select 3% back on home improvement that month.
The card also has fixed 2% cash back categories of grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% elsewhere. The 3% and 2% cash back awards are capped at the first cumulative $2,500 spent in those categories per quarter. As an example, if you spend $2,500 at a wholesale club, which earns 2% cash back in a quarter, all additional purchases with your credit card will receive 1% cash back. If you spend all $2,500 in your 3% category for a quarter, the maximum cash back you could earn is $75 before all your purchases revert to 1% cash back.
If you bank at Bank of America and have at least $20,000 in eligible deposits with them, you can qualify for even more cash back, up to as much as 5.25% back in your chosen 3% bonus category.
5. Discover it Miles
The Discover it Miles card also has no annual fee, but awards 1.5x miles on all purchases on an ongoing basis. The cool thing about this card is that it matches all of the miles earned at the end of the first year. This can mean a total of 3x after the miles are matched at the end of that first year. These miles are worth a fixed amount of 1 cent per mile, so they aren't miles in the traditional sense as you can't transfer them to an airline.
Learn more about the Discover it Miles card.
6. Citi® Double Cash Card
One of the simplest and most rewarding cash-back cards out there is the Citi® Double Cash Card. This card essentially gives you two opportunities to earn cash back: 1% when you buy and then another 1% as you pay. You only need to make the minimum payment each month to earn the second reward, but remember that paying your balance in full is always strongly recommended (and was No. 1 on the list of 10 commandments for travel rewards credit cards).
That’s it. There are no categories to keep track of and no bonuses to sign up for. To actually get your hands on the cash, you have to wait until your cash rewards balance reaches $25. You then have four options:
- Request a check for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Redeem for a statement credit to your card account for at least $25 up to the total cash rewards balance at the time you redeem.
- Redeem for a gift card in set denominations from the available inventory.
- Redeem for a credit to your linked Citi savings or checking account or to a checking account from which you have paid a Citi credit card bill at least two times.
There are three different personal Southwest credit cards, and if Southwest operates where you like to travel, getting a Southwest card is worth considering. The Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is very simple to use, Southwest has no change fees, no cancellation fees, no bag fees and will be flying to Hawaii in the very near future.
It takes some getting used to flying Spirit and its fees, but once you get the hang of it, your dollars can go much further as you explore the country and beyond. Spirit won't be for everyone, but my retired parents have had a ball flying around the country for just 2,500 miles on Spirit Airlines award tickets thanks to having the cobranded Spirit Airlines World MasterCard.
The card has a $0 annual fee for the first year and $59 for subsequent years. The card is mainly useful for customers that want to keep their points — which expire if there’s no activity on your Free Spirit account in the last three months — active by spending on the card. And, because those who have the card can fly for just 2,500 Spirit miles on the lowest price days. If you are on a tight budget, this may be a way to unlock affordable travel (splurge on the Big Front Seats if you can).
9. Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business card doesn't have the best earning rate at 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. However, if you fly Delta and otherwise don't have elite status, it is a decent choice. The card gives you a first checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation, Zone 1 priority boarding for you and up to eight companions on the reservation and a 20% savings on inflight Delta purchases (not including Wi-Fi).
But what I love about the card for those who travel with a companion is that it provides an annual companion certificate each year after your card account renewal. The certificate is good for round-trip, main cabin domestic travel, and is free save for taxes and fees. The credit card does come with a $195 annual fee ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (See Rates & Fees), but can be worth it for the companion certificate if you fly Delta with a spouse, family member or friend.
Bonus Idea: Frontier Airlines World Mastercard
Continuing the low-cost theme, Frontier can be another great choice if you want to travel more without spending a ton. In 2018, it overhauled the Frontier frequent flyer program and credit card so that you can now spend your way to elite status with the credit card -- which means that you can get free full-sized carry-on bags and seat assignments if you spend enough on the card each year.
Those with the $60 per year Frontier Discount Den membership can even bring kids 14 and under with them on select days for free, so load up the grandkids and go explore.
They say that 70 is the new 40, and if my parents and in-laws are any indication, this is 100% true. They are exploring the world on their terms and in ways that their cash budget wouldn't have allowed were it not supplemented by rewards earned via their credit cards. Sure they take trips to visit their kids and grandkids, but they also have their own "bucket list" adventures to attend to.
Credit cards aren't just for millennials -- seniors have time and wisdom on their side, which makes them some of the best candidates to learn how to travel more for less ... with a little help from miles and points from their credit cards along the way.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Card, please click here.
Image by Steve Smith Getty Images