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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard, The Business Platinum Card from American Express
You may never wring more value out of a credit card than during your first year of card ownership, thanks largely to generous welcome bonuses. Unless you’re an unusually big spender, you’ll be hard pressed to make up for the bonus in future years by earning rewards through spending alone.
With that in mind, I wanted to look at which business cards offer the best returns in the first year. I examined the best rewards cards and cash-back business credit cards available, taking into consideration their welcome bonuses, rewards value and additional quantifiable perks and weighing those returns against the first-year annual fee.
I found eight business credit cards that should offer the typical user more than $1,000 in value during the first year. Two credit cards topped an estimated $2,000 in value.
Judging Value Equally
Much as TPG has done with other first-year analyses, I used consumer-expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the most recent year available (2016) to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the card in one year. This isn’t the most ideal set of data to use when judging business spending, but it still works for comparison purposes.
I also made similar assumptions as we’ve done in the past:
- Only the “Other lodging” category under “Shelter” can easily be paid with a credit card (since you’ll pay a fee for paying most mortgage and rent payments with credit cards).
- The “Vehicle purchases” category under “Transportation” can’t be paid with a credit card, but all other transportation expenses can.
- 50% of the “Healthcare” category consists of premiums via payroll deductions and thus can’t be paid with a credit card.
- All “Personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
- All other expenses (including “Entertainment” and “Education”) can be paid with a credit card.
Your business spending probably looks quite a bit different than the government’s average consumer spending data. That’s fine. We just wanted to ensure we’re comparing apples to apples when looking at the value of different business credit cards.
Please adjust these assumptions to fit your actual spending patterns in order to calculate your own earning potential.
Here’s a table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of cardmembership translate to Ultimate Rewards points using one of the cards on our list, the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card from Chase:
|Food at home||$4,049||1 point/$||4,049|
|Food away from home||$3,154||1 point/$||3,154|
|Alcoholic beverages||$484||1 point/$||484|
|Housing (other lodging)||$798||1 point/$||798|
|Phone services||$1,431||3 points/$||4,293|
|Utilities, fuels and public services||$2,453||1 point/$||2,453|
|Household operations||$1,384||1 point/$||1,384|
|Housekeeping supplies||$660||1 point/$||660|
|Household furnishings and equipment||$1,829||1 point/$||1,829|
|Apparel and services||$1,803||1 point/$||1,803|
|Transportation (gasoline)||$1,909||1 point/$||1,909|
|Other vehicle expenses||$2,884||1 point/$||2,884|
|Public and other transportation||$623||3 points/$||1,869|
|All other expenses||$6,363||1 point/$||6,363|
For each of the cards on the list, I translated the total point value into an estimated cash value based on TPG’s most recent valuations. I added in the value of other card benefits — like airport lounge access — and subtracted the cost of the annual fee. A number of cards on the list carry annual fees, but waive them during the first year of card ownership. For purposes of calculating first-year value, those credit cards were assigned an annual fee of $0.
Here’s an example of how the math works for the Ink Business Preferred card:
116,238 points x 2.1 cents (value of each point, according to TPG calculations) – $95 (annual fee) = $2,346.00
Note: The bonus value and the total first-year value are estimated values calculated by TPG and not the card issuers.
Here’s a look at the business credit cards with the most first-year value.
Current bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth about 2.1 cents each on average when redeemed through a travel partner, according to TPG calculations. You can also choose to redeem your points for 1.25 cents apiece (or 1.5 cents apiece if you also have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and combine your points with that account) through the Chase travel portal.f
Rewards: Get 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping, social media advertising and internet/cable/phone services each account anniversary year, plus 1 point per dollar on everything else. Ultimate Rewards points give extreme value when you redeem them for free flights or hotel stays with one of 13 transfer partners.
Benefits: Enjoy a cell phone insurance benefit — when you use the card to pay your (and your employees’) cell phone bill — that offers offers up to $600 in protection against covered theft or damage, for up to three claims per year with just a $100 deductible. This card also offers primary rental car insurance. There are no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95
Estimated first-year value: $2,346.
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express
Current bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 in the first three months after account opening. American Express Membership Rewards points are worth 1.9 cents each, according to TPG valuations.
Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on airfare and on prepaid hotels booked through, 1.5 points per dollar on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million extra points per year) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Redeem points directly for first or business class, or for any seat on the airline of your choice, and get a 35% points rebate.
Benefits: Cardholders get access to Centurion and Priority Pass lounges, plus Delta Sky Clubs when you’re flying Delta. Purchasing a similar lounge pass on your own could cost $399 annually. You also get a $200 annual airline fee credit, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application rebate, 10 Gogo in-flight internet passes (worth at least $190) and unlimited Wi-Fi at Boingo hotspots ($9.95 a month through Boingo).
There are no foreign transaction fees. This card comes with access to Platinum Travel Service concierge counselors who can create custom itineraries based on your preferences. Cardholders also receive purchase protection, which covers items up to $10,000 in value if they’re stolen, accidentally damaged, or lost within 90 days of purchase.
Annual fee: $450
Estimated first-year value: $2,227.47.
Current bonus: Earn $500 bonus cash back — or 50,000 bonus points worth up to $1,050 when you transfer the points to a “premium” card from Chase (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve) — after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Rewards: Get 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services. Get 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year at gas stations and at restaurants. Get an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.
Benefits: Warranty protection extends the US manufacturer’s warranty by an extra year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
Annual fee: $0
Estimated first-year value: $1,951.26
Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
Current bonus: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
Rewards: Get 3 points per dollar on one category from a list of five options — airfare purchased directly from airlines, US purchases for advertising in select media, US purchases at gas stations, US purchases for shipping and US computer hardware, software, and cloud computing made directly from select providers. Earn 2 points per dollar on the four remaining categories, on up to $100,000 in purchases in each of the five categories each year, then earn 1 point per dollar on all purchases.
Benefits: No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $175 thereafter.
Estimated first-year value: $1,633.01
CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard
Current bonus: Earn 70,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $4,000 in the first four months. Miles are worth 1.4 cents apiece, according to TPG valuations.
Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and on certain business purchases with telecommunications merchants, car rental merchants and at gas stations. Earn 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
Benefits: Annual $99 (plus taxes and fees) companion certificate for domestic economy travel if you spend $30,000 in a cardmembership year and the account remains open 45 days after the anniversary date. Get a first bag checked free on domestic American Airlines itineraries and preferred boarding on AA flights. Access to reduced mileage awards. Employee cards at no additional cost. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $99 thereafter.
Estimated first-year value: $1,456.55
Current bonus: Earn 60,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Points are worth 1.5 cents apiece, according to TPG valuations.
Rewards: Get 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Plus, get 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary. Earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points toward Southwest elite status for every $10,000 you spend on the card annually (up to 15,000 TQPs).
Benefits: No foreign transaction fees.
Annual fee: $99
Estimated first-year value: $1,294.92
Current bonus: Earn a $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within three months from account opening.
Rewards: Earn 2% cash back on all purchases.
Benefits: Employee cards are free, and you’ll earn rewards from their business spend.
Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95 thereafter.
Estimated first-year value: $1,142.60
Current bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open and 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open. Miles are worth 1.3 cents apiece, according to TPG valuations.
Rewards: Get 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
Benefits: As a cardholder you’ll have access to extra United award seat availability and will enjoy priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation. Plus, get two United Club passes each year. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95
Estimated first-year value: $1,133.51
A word of caution about these estimates: You’re liable to squeeze out more value — or less — based on your spending needs. If your business spends $100,000 annually on advertising (well above what the “average” person might spend), that’s worth 300,000 Membership Rewards points — valued at $5,700 — on the Amex Business Gold card.
So, if you typically spend more in a year or have more purchases in different bonus categories, your earnings will be even higher. Make sure to use your own estimates to find the best value before deciding on a new business credit card.
The calculation also assumes you’re going to put all spending on a single credit card. That’s not particularly realistic, nor is it something we recommend. Find the right balance of cards with the correct balance of bonus categories that fit your business’ spending. You’ll almost certainly earn more than you would using a single card.
Know before you go.
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