The 5 best under-the-radar credit cards
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There’s a good chance by now you’ve heard of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards and The Platinum Card® from American Express. These cards are some of the most widely recognized by consumers and for good reason. For starters, they’re part of the two most cherished rewards programs: Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Each respective rewards program allows you to earn valuable flexible points with their rewards credit cards that can be redeemed for travel, cash back, merchandise and other redemption choices.
It’s no surprise that card enthusiasts focus on transferable points program cards from Chase and American Express. However, there are plenty of trivialized credit cards that dispense valuable reward programs, strong cash-back earnings or useful benefits, that often are overlooked.
Today we’ll shine a light on five of the most under-the-radar credit cards that don’t get as much attention as they probably should.
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Sign-up bonus: None
Annual fee: $99 annual fee (waived the first year)
Why it’s under the radar: The Alliant Visa Signature Card gives cardholders 2.5% cash back on all purchases for up to $10,000 in monthly spending, with no bonus categories to track. Although the cash-back credit card market has notable competitors, such as the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express and Citi® Double Cash Card to name a few, all of the aforementioned have moderate cash-back limits or earn cash back at a lower rate.
For instance, the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card limits its bonus categories to $2,500 in combined spending each quarter. While the Citi Double Cash Card earns a lower cash-back percentage of 2% on all purchases comparatively speaking (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay). The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express earns 3% cash back on U.S. supermarkets but is limited to the first $6,000 in purchases per calendar year (then 1%).
While the Alliant Visa Signature Card does carry an annual fee of $99 (waived in the first year), the $10,000 per month cap on 2.5% cash back results in a $250 return each billing cycle. For high spenders, this card could potentially produce $3,000 in cash back each year.
For consumers that value simplicity, favor cash back over travel rewards and run up lofty expenses each month, the Alliant Visa Signature Card delivers outstanding value without the fanfare.
Related reading: Top credit cards for cash-back rewards and statement credits
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 online bonus points (a $500 value) after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s under the radar: The next time you’re at a get-together with friends and the topic of best premium credit cards comes up, you can bet someone will name drop Chase or American Express into the conversation. Those credit issuers can proudly boast about their sought-after lineup of cards.
However, an unsung credit card product from one of the major banks, that merits more attention, is the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card. There are plenty of reasons to consider this card, including rewarding perks such as an up to $100 annual airline incidental credit and an up to $100 statement credit every four years toward the Global Entry application fee — that just about neutralizes its $95 annual fee.
Applicants can also earn 50,000 bonus points (a $500 value) upon approval after making $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Similar to the marketable Chase Sapphire Preferred, this card offers an impressive return on everyday spending with 2x points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, and an elevated 1.5x points per dollar on non-bonus categories. Points can be redeemed for travel, cash back or gift cards at a rate of 1 cent per point.
Where the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card truly shines is when you become a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member. You can enroll in BoA’s Preferred Rewards program by opening an eligible checking account or investment account. Those that hold assets in eligible Bank of America or Merrill accounts are eligible to earn 25–75% more points on everyday purchases with the Premium Rewards Credit Card.
If you’re lucky enough to qualify for the top-tier Platinum Honors level in the Preferred Rewards program with the Premium Rewards Credit Card, you can amass a hefty return of 3.5x points per dollar on dining and travel, and an impressive 2.62 points per dollar on non-bonus spending. Pretty impressive for a $95 annual fee card.
While the Bank of America Premium Rewards card may not be for everyone, if you’re a BoA customer with moderate to considerable investable assets, you should no longer ignore this card.
Read our review of the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card.
Welcome bonus: No welcome bonus.
Annual fee: $0 (See rates and fees)
Why it’s under the radar: The Blue Business Plus credit card from American Express is a workhorse points-earning card. It’s also the only Amex business card without an annual fee that earns coveted Membership Rewards points. Cardholders earn 2x points per dollar on up to $50,000 spent each calendar year and then 1x point per dollar thereafter. The 2x points per dollar on all spending is the best-earning rate for everyday purchases for a business card — equal to a 4% return based on our valuations.
Other top business cards may receive more accolades and have richer benefits while earning higher rates on certain spending categories, but 2x Amex points per dollar sans annual fee with a sky-high limit of $50,000 (1 point thereafter), is as underrated as it gets for small business owners. What it lacks in a generous welcome offer, it makes up with the ability to amass up to 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards points per year.
You might be surprised to find out that you can qualify for a business card if you take part in selling merchandise online, work in real estate as your side hustle or even drive for Uber in your spare time.
Read our review of the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express.
Sign-up bonus: $300 cash bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s under the radar: If you’re looking for a cash-back card with powerful earning rates on popular categories, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards has untapped potential. That’s because the card delivers uncapped earning-potential for common everyday purchases such as dining out, grocery shopping and entertainment.
The Savor card offers an unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, as well as 2% back at grocery stores and 1% on non-bonus spending. The 4% cash-back return on both dining and entertainment categories is the highest rate among all cash-back credit cards.
The only caveat of this card is that it incurs a $95 annual fee, which is not waived in the first year. Nonetheless, the card comes with a generous $300 welcome bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, which more than makes up the cost of the annual fee. That’s an excellent sign-up bonus for a cash-back card.
For many, cash is king, and the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Card can certainly generate a great deal of money back into your pocket. Unlike other credit cards with restrictive cash-back earnings, there is no cap on how much cash you can earn with the Savor Cash Rewards Card. Those that spend a considerable amount at restaurants, on entertainment, or weekly on groceries can expect an impressive cash payout on these purchases.
The information for the Capital One Savor card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Read our review of the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card.
Welcome bonus: 150,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase within your first three months.
Annual fee: $95 (See rates and fees)
Why it’s under the radar: Often overlooked by its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) premium-sibling — the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card — the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card with a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) is the Hilton card you should be gushing over if you periodically stay at Hilton properties.
For starters, Surpass cardholders obtain Hilton Honors Gold Elite status just for having the card, which includes many great benefits such as free breakfast, lounge access (when available) and room upgrades. Hilton’s Gold Elite status is arguably the most generous mid-tier elite status offered by any hotel cobranded card on the market.
The card comes with a generous welcome offer of 150,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase within your first three months. After meeting minimum spend requirements, cardholders have enough points to redeem for free night stays at thousands of Hilton properties around the world. You can use your points at upscale brands, such as Waldorf Astoria and Conrad, or family-friendly brands like Doubletree by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn.
While cardholders earn 6x points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, and a sizable 12x points per dollar on Hilton purchases, the Amex Surpass also delivers significant value-added perks. Cardholders can earn a free night award each year when making $15,000 on purchases with the card per calendar year, in addition to a Priority Pass Select membership that issues complimentary airport lounge access.
While all the hoopla surrounds the Hilton Aspire Card (and rightfully so), the Hilton Surpass® Card continues to dish out incredibly compelling value without the same publicity as its premium sibling.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Read our review of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.
While you may want to plunk down a fancy, ultra-premium, metal credit card on your next purchase, there are plenty of worthwhile snubbed cards that offer stellar rewards for all types of consumers. Consider broadening your horizons with cards that may be overshadowed by a few prevailing options. It could very well be worth your time and consideration.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, please click here.
Featured photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images
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- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.