This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi Prestige Card, CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard
Diversity at all levels is important for a successful points strategy. Having points in multiple different programs gives you options when you need to travel on a certain date and award availability is hard to come by. But what about diversity in your credit card portfolio?
Earlier this summer a massive IT problem hit Visa’s European operations and prevented customers from using their Visa cards across most of the continent. While the issue was resolved relatively quickly, it served as a cautionary reminder of the importance of carrying a diverse wallet, including Visas, Mastercards and Amex cards to cover all eventualities. Last week we went through “The Top 10 Visa Credit Cards,” so now let’s take a look at the best Mastercards to add to your purse or wallet.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 ThankYou Rewards points after $4,000 in spending in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
Why you’ll love it: The Citi Premier is a strong mid-tier Mastercard attached to a solid travel rewards program and backed up with lucrative bonus categories. The strength of the card starts with its current sign-up bonus — 50,000 ThankYou points are worth over $700 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. But even after earning the sign-up bonus, this is a card you can keep in your purse or wallet, since it earns 3x points on all travel purchases (which even includes gas), 2x on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. You can redeem your bonus points directly at Citi’s travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece, or transfer them to Citi’s partners for even more value. You can also use this card overseas without worrying about paying extra, as there are no foreign transaction fees on the Premier.
2. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard
Sign-up bonus: For the personal card, earn 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months. For the business card, earn 70,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $4,000 in the first 4 months.
Annual fee: $99 (waived first year)
Why you’ll love it: A recent refresh earlier this year breathed new life into American Airlines’ go-to consumer Mastercard, while the AA business Mastercard also got new features. The personal Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard was graced with two new bonus categories — 2x at restaurants and gas stations, in addition to AA purchases — and a $100 AA flight discount after spending $20,000 a year and renewing your card. You’ll also get preferred boarding, a first checked bag free and a 10% mileage rebate on AAdvantage redemptions up to 10,000 miles per year.
With the AAdvantage business card, you’ll earn an extra 20,000 miles over the personal card for a total sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles, plus 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, car rental merchants, gas stations and now also cable and satellite providers. You’ll also save 25% off in-flight Wi-Fi purchases on American Airlines, and the same first checked bag free and preferred boarding benefits as the personal card.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 AA miles after making your first purchase within 90 days and paying your annual fee
Annual fee: $95
Why you’ll love it: For someone new to points and miles, one of the hardest parts of getting started is often figuring out how to hit the minimum spending requirement on a new card without racking up expensive interest payments. The Barclay AAviator Red card does the exact opposite, giving you a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus after you make your first purchase and pay the annual fee. Buy a pack of gum for $1 with this Mastercard and pay the $95 fee, and you’ll get $840 worth of AA miles based on TPG’s latest valuations.
You’ll also enjoy perks like 2x miles on AA purchases, a 10% rebate on AA mileage redemptions (up to 10,000 miles back per year), a free checked bag, preferred boarding and the chance to earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars when you spend $25,000 a year on your AAviator card. If you’re a frequent AA traveler, the 10% mileage redemption can make this card compelling for the long term as well, since 10,000 AAdvantage miles are worth roughly $140. Just remember that you can’t stack the 10% rebate across multiple AAdvantage cards — you only get 10,000 miles back per year no matter how many AA cards you have.
Sign-up bonus: You’ll earn $500 in cash after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why you’ll love it: The Capital One Savor card has just been re-released with a whopping sign-up bonus and some impressive 4% cash back bonus categories. You can get $500 in cash back on this Mastercard when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months of being a cardholder, which is as good as it gets for a personal cash back credit card. Then you’ll also earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases — which are also both top-of-the-line for those particular bonus categories — plus 2% cash back on groceries and 1% on all other purchases. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, and the card comes with no foreign transaction fees.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days
Annual fee: $89 (waived the first year)
Why you’ll love it: This Mastercard has disappeared and reappeared several times over the last few years, but right now it’s back with an all time high sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days. You can redeem Arrival miles at a rate of 1 cent each to offset travel purchases you’ve made in the last 120 days on the card, making this bonus worth a cool $700. You’ll also earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases and a 5% rebate every time you redeem your miles. Just be aware that unlike the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Arrival Plus has a redemption minimum of 10,000 miles or $100.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 AA miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee: $450
Why you’ll love it: The Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard comes with a steep price tag, but it can be a great option for serious American Airlines fliers. In addition to a sign-up bonus worth $700, you’ll get a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit and one of the most valuable perks of all — an Admirals Club membership. If you’re considering purchasing a membership anyway, this is arguably one of the cheapest ways to get it, as paying full price will likely be more expensive unless you have high-level AA elite status.
Speaking of elite status, you’ll also earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 a year on this Mastercard, helping you requalify for your American elite status or reach up toward the next tier.
Sign-up bonus: N/A
Annual fee: $450
Why you’ll love it: While the Citi Prestige is currently missing one of the most important things we look for in a new credit card — namely any kind of sign-up bonus — it has the potential to deliver the most outsized rewards of any card in your wallet, Mastercard or otherwise. Let’s start with the basics. You’ll earn 3x points on airfare and hotel purchases, 2x on dining and entertainment, and 1x everywhere else. You can transfer these points to Citi’s 16 travel partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic, to name a few. You’ll also get a $250 annual air travel credit, good for tickets as well as ancillary fees like baggage and seat selection.
The real value of the Citi Prestige though is its 4th Night Free hotel benefit. This uncapped perk will give you a fourth night free on paid hotel stays of four nights or more, and you’ll still earn 3x points for booking the hotel with your Prestige card. Citi has made some slight changes to how the rebate is calculated, such as excluding taxes and fees from the discount, but this perk can still be massively valuable depending on how often you travel. TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig has been able to use this benefit to rack up several thousand dollars of savings in a year, and you can as well.
Sign-up bonus: N/A
Annual fee: N/A
Why you’ll love it: If your eyes have started to glaze over by now and you’re looking for something simple instead of endless acronyms and complex program rules, consider the Citi Double Cash. While this Mastercard has no sign-up bonus or perks to speak of, the card does exactly as the name suggests. You’ll earn 1% cash back when you purchase, and another 1% in cash back when you pay your bill. You can use that cash as you please without worrying about maximizing transfer options or saving up for redemption minimums. Simplicity is the key here, and the card also comes with a simple annual fee of zero. Just be careful about taking this card outside of the US, as it does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.
While your primary concern should be earning flexible, valuable rewards that fit your travel goals, you shouldn’t overlook what types of credit cards are in your wallet. I make it a personal habit to never leave the house without at least two different “types” or cards — i.e.: one Visa and one Amex — in case I run into any problems such as a fraud alert on my account or a merchant who only accepts certain types of credit cards. So take a good look at this list of the best Mastercards and make sure at least one of them is part of your credit card inventory.
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
- Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel including gas stations
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and on entertainment
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- 50,000 Points are redeemable for $625 in airfare on any airline, anytime with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center, or $500 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
- No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
- Points Transfer allows you to transfer points to participating airline loyalty programs
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases