TPG’s editors’ choice award for the best stand-alone credit card
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The world of travel rewards credit cards can be complicated.
Sign-up bonuses rise and fall, benefits are added and removed, new cards launch, others become unavailable to applicants, and some even change names.
It’s a lot to keep track of, especially if you try to juggle several rewards cards at the same time.
That’s why, as part of the 2021 TPG Awards, our credit cards team wanted to give out an editors’ choice award that recognizes the best stand-alone credit card. This one is for folks who might want to focus their time and energy on a single card that meets most, if not all, of their rewards and travel needs.
Read on for more details on what we looked at … and which rewards credit card came out on top.
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First, let’s highlight precisely how we approached this award since, in an increasingly competitive credit card market, consumers now have plenty of fantastic card options.
Hardcore points and miles enthusiasts might want a slate of cards with rotating bonus categories, or might like to open multiple cards with complementary bonus categories that they can cycle through to maximize each and every purchase.
Others might want to pick up several cards that offer outstanding annual statement credit perks to save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.
But the more cards you carry, the more time and energy you have to spend leveraging their potential.
Instead, some folks might prefer to have just a single rewards card as their mainstay. After all, one of the questions we get the most at TPG (from readers, friends and family members) is, “What’s the best travel credit card?”
While the answer to that question will vary from person to person based on their travel needs and habits, our editorial team did seek to single out a card that offers valuable yet straightforward earning rates, easy-to-understand rewards and lucrative, value-added perks that don’t require a Ph.D. to utilize.
And when all these factors were combined, one product rose to the top as the best stand-alone credit card in our estimation.
The winner is …
It was a very close race, but our editors’ choice award winner for best stand-alone credit card at the 2021 TPG Awards is … the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Not only does this card provide a simple rewards structure while simultaneously offering above-average value for the everyday cardholder, but the issuer has also made some incredible strides in 2021 to improve the Capital One miles program dramatically while keeping some key elements that make it very simple to use.
The issuer added several new travel partners (for a total of 14 airline and three hotel partners) and simplified the transfer ratio to 1:1 for almost all of them, spurring TPG to increase its valuation of Capital One miles from 1.7 to 1.85 cents per mile in October.
If you don’t want to manage multiple cards but still want to earn rewards that can unlock travel benefits, this card is a great fit. The Venture card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Read on for our take on why the Venture card took home this honor.
Why we chose it
For starters, the Capital One Venture is among the easiest-to-understand rewards cards out there. You’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on purchases (plus 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel).
With this card, you don’t really need to worry about bonus categories or other complicated offers. Whether at the grocery store, gas station or a restaurant — you’re taking home 2 miles per dollar spent.
For those who value simplicity, you can redeem your miles for travel purchases either via Capital One Travel or on your statement.
Whenever you swipe your card for a travel purchase — be it a flight, hotel, rental car or virtually any other travel expense — you can use your miles to “pay” for that purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile. A $200 flight would require 20,000 miles, while a $500 hotel stay would take 50,000 miles.
The best part of that approach? There’s no need to search for award availability and no deciphering of airline or hotel award charts. You make the purchase on your card, then use your miles to cover it. This simple redemption scheme gives you a 2% return on every single purchase you make. Not only that, but it can also unlock types of travel that frequent flyer miles or hotel points might not be redeemable for, making Venture miles extra versatile.
Of course, other cards offer a similar return on purchases, but what sets the Venture card apart is the additional value it provides. There are a few key ways it accomplishes this:
- 17 total transfer partners: Capital One added four new transfer partners (British Airways Avios, Choice Privileges Hotels, TAP Air Portugal Miles&Go and Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles) to its program in 2021. An issuer rarely adds this many new programs in such a short time, providing the potential for more-valuable rewards.
- Improved 1:1 transfer ratio: To simplify miles transfers, Capital One has improved its transfer ratio to 1:1 for all but two of its loyalty programs. That means 60,000 Capital One miles get you 60,000 airline miles or hotel points that participate in Capital One’s transfer program (with the two exceptions of EVA Infinity MileageLands and Accor Live Limitless).
- Two free visits per year to the new Capital One Lounges: As a new (and exciting) benefit that launched this year, Venture cardholders will now get two free visits to the new Capital One Lounges every year. The first lounge just launched at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and we’re looking forward to more down the pipeline.
- Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit: Cardholders get a statement credit of up to $100 once every four years for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
- Rewards-sharing: Capital One allows you to share your miles with other cardholders — and not just members of your household. This valuable flexibility allows you to pool your rewards for pricier redemptions.
- Additional perks: Beyond the earning and redemption options, the Venture card includes benefits such as extended warranty coverage and travel accident insurance.*
- No foreign transaction fees: Finally, the card is ideal for use both in the U.S. and abroad, as you’ll pay no foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the country.
*Benefits only available to accounts approved for the Visa Signature card. Terms apply.
This all comes with a relatively low annual fee of just $95 — a far cry from the hundreds of dollars you’d fork over for some other popular premium travel cards.
Of course, there are a lot of other great rewards cards that might deserve that front spot in your wallet. Our other top contender was the perennially popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Like the Venture, its annual fee is $95. It is currently offering 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Recently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred improved its earning rates to include 5 points per dollar on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3 per dollar on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 per dollar on all other travel and dining; and 1 per dollar on other purchases.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are also ultra-useful, transferring to 11 airline frequent-flyer programs (including newly added partner Air Canada Aeroplan) and three hotel points programs (including World of Hyatt and Marriott Bonvoy). You can also redeem points earned with this card at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Cardholders now receive a $50 annual statement credit toward a hotel booking made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, too, and an annual 10% points bonus based on their total spending at the end of the account anniversary year.
In short, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is another points powerhouse, and certainly a great fit for many travelers. You also really can’t go wrong if you decide to make this your single card choice.
That said, a lot of folks might just prefer the simplicity of the Venture card’s rewards structure and all the other travel possibilities it opens up … not to mention access to those snazzy new lounges and that Global Entry/TSA PreCheck perk.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card combines an easy-to-understand structure for earning and redeeming miles with the potential for more lucrative, valuable perks.
To tie it all together, the card’s simplicity along with the improvements that we saw in the Capital One miles program this year tipped the editorial team’s decision to crown the Venture with the 2021 TPG Award for best stand-alone credit card.
Additional reporting by Nick Ewen.
Featured photo by Maskot/Getty Images.
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