What’s the Best Current Credit Card to Put Your Spending On?

The Points Guy argued this morning that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the best “card for everyday purchases to start accruing mileage points.”

Now, I do think Chase Sapphire is a very good non-American Express card. It’s one definitely worth considering as the backup card, for spending with places that don’t take American Express. But I don’t agree that it’s the best card for most spend.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers:

  • $95 fee waived the first year, 50,000 point bonus for $3000 in spend within 3 months of signup
  • Points are worth 1.25 cents per dollar for airfare purchases or transfer to Continental, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, and Amtrak.
  • No foreign currency transaction fees

So I agree that this is a good card! And it’s worth considering as a second card in your wallet. But here are cards that I like better:

American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. Earns Membership Rewards points, which are more flexible and more valuable than the Chase Sapphire points. And earns double points on gas and groceries and triple points on airfare. Membership Rewards transfer to programs like Aeroplan, Delta, British Airways, All Nippon, Singapore, etc. and with many programs like Aeroplan, Delta, and British Airways the transfer is instantaneous. Plus they frequently run bonuses as high as 50% on transfers. So airfare spend winds up getting you 4.5 Delta or British Airways points per dollar. $175 annual fee is waived the first year. My wife just got this card with a targeted 75,000 point signup bonus, it was recently broadly available with 50,000 points, so you may want to wait until one of these offers is live again. Note that the only card that is arguably better for airfare purchases, if you can buy your tickets on Travelocity, is the 10% rebate Travelocity Amex.

Asiana American Express earns two points per dollar spent. Asiana does add fuel surcharges to awards but there’s a partial credit returned by the card once a year. Their distance-based award chart is reasonable for short- and medium-haul travel, a trip of no more than 10,000 miles flown costs 80,000 points in business class. That covers much of the US East Coast to Europe. And a roundtrip allows four stopovers in addition to destination on the award.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express is still the all-around go to card for flexible points, redeem with Starwood hotels (W, Westin, Sheraton, St Regis, etc) or transfer to one of the largest stables of points program and with transfer bonuses to boot. Most programs (but not United or Continental) transfer 1:1, and earn 5000 bonus miles when transferring 20,000 Starpoints. Upshot is you’re effectively earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent with most airline programs, and you get to choose which program later plus have the flexibility of hotel redemptions. Points transfer 1:2 into LAN with double the transfer bonus, making short-haul non-stop oneworld award flights an incredible value. Only real downside is that points transfers don’t happen as quickly as with Membership Rewards making it hard to set up an award ticket and then and only then transfer the points.

Alaska Airlines Visa largely for their annual $99 companion ticket which is good for any Alaska Airlines itinerary that can be booked online (over the phone they may limit to basic roundtrips/open jaws). It works for first class, too, a paid for class ticket from New York to Hawaii one-stop via Seattle, for instance, the second ticket is just $99+tax and booked into full paid first class so availability isn’t an issue and even the companion ticket is refundable and earns class of service bonus. Plus, of course, Alaska miles can be redeemed on Cathay Pacific (140,000 for first class to Africa via Hong Kong), Qantas, British Airways, Air France, American, Delta, etc.

Diners Club isn’t available to new signups in the US currently, but there are tons of (mostly international, plus American) points transfer partners, and it still offers primary collision coverage when renting a car. Note that they’re not alone in this, even the standard Continental Onepass Plus Mastercard offers this now. But it’s a great benefit, and the Diners Club remains my primary non-American Express card, and I happen to use the Hyatt Visa for foreign currency transactions, though the Chase Sapphire card is good for foreign charges as is the Amex Platinum (which I also have and get great lounge access from) and the British Airways Visa from Chase.

British Airways Visa earns 1.25 BA miles per dollar, no foreign currency transaction fees, and offers a free companion award ticket after $30,000 in spend — redeem one ticket on British Airways (no partners) and the second person on the same all-BA itinerary is ‘free’ (you still pay taxes and fees for the companion, and with BA those can be quite pricey, think $700 or so to Europe, more if you have a UK stopover due to the British government’s luxury tax on premium cabin departures, and the fees can be even higher if flying BA beyond Europe).

The BA Visa doesn’t quite find a place in my wallet, but I’ve made good use of these other cards (and others). There are a ton of great cards out there, Chase Sapphire may have a place in your wallet especially as a secondary card for non-Amex spend and for international spend, but to me it doesn’t rank as the best current card out there.

What’s your preferred card, and am I missing anything important?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am surprised not even a mention of Capital One Venture card. Double points all the time, no annual fee for the first year, just $59 per year after that, bonus for spend on some online vendors. Easiest redeeming of all…Keeping it simple…Whip out cards for the bonuses for the spend requirement, whip out Venture card for everything else and…aim for the next big promo…rinse & repeat.

  2. I think 12-24 months ago the SPG card was a near clear winner for most people given the standard of the competition. But a lot has changed in that time and I no longer think any single card stands out. It is now down more to your individual needs and circumstances.

    For me the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card is the no brainer card for air fare, which is about a $12-20k spend per year for me, so 36-60 Amex points at 3x earning. It is a near-no-brainer for gas and groceries too at 2 points per $, and I can always buy gift cards for Amazon etc at my local grocer. And with a further 15k point boost for reaching $30k spend, I make a lot of points on this card and with transfer bonuses like the current Delta and BA promos this is hugely, hugely valuable. In fact I could make a very good case for using this card exclusively. I easily generate 100k+ of Amex rewards per year on this card

    But then I like the fact that the Chase Sapphire can get me either Hyatt or CO points. But beyond that it is quite limited, so I could never see this becoming my “go to” card. Until Ultimate Rewards can transfer into all the alliances the way Amex MR can, it remains less valuable, and the earning options (outside of the current sign ups – I got the 100k!) are not so compelling

    I still carry my SPG card but almost exclusively now for my SPG spend, which again is quite considerable at around $1.5-$2k per month. The double points on this are pretty valuable for me. The airline conversion flexibility is nice, but lack of boosts beyond the normal accrual rate make this less appealing

    And that is where the BA card comes in. For me it is currently my second card for anything outside of the Amex PRG bonus accruals. Reason being the 2-4-1 on BA metal for 30k spend. While there is a lot of debate about the value of this, I already have it earmarked for a redemption from USA to Maldives, a 180k value. So for 30k spend I am effectively getting an incredible 180k bonus. Even if I think in terms of how much it would cost me on the cheaper AADvantage points, I am still looking at 130k AA miles “value” to get one person in business class to MLE. Yes this is a high YQ route, but frankly the only way to get from the US to MLE easily and comfortably with one stop from BA’s access cities.

    As for foreign transactions… this has all opened up too. Now I can choose between the Chase cards (I actually use BA for the reasons above) But also Amex Platinum among others

    Oh and then of course that reminds me. I do have the Amex Plat. But now purely for the lounge access and $200 airline credit (which with a little creativity can be easily used for ticket purchases)

    Oh I also keep my Delta Amex Plat (not comparable to the “real” Amex plat) despite the $150 fee for similar reason you mention on the Alaska card. You get a 2-4-1 revenue redemption on this. This year I already used for a $200 round trip to New York from home base in RDU. Not super exciting, but it’s a trip we’d be paying for anyway so after the taxes we basically pay for the annual fee plus a small profit so no reason not to keep the card (plus the small benefit that Amex reports all your cards as old as your oldest one so it is one more card on my reporting showing as being open since 1999 instead of the 2009 when I actually opened the account)

    One last thought in all of this is after writing the above down I think a) SPG needs to improve it’s annual renewal offer from throwing in a couple of stays towards status, and b) just how bad the Chase Hyatt card is after you’ve used the first two free nights. They are going to need to up their renewal offers too

  3. I would mention the United Miles Plus Signature Visa as well. It gives you double points on gas, groceries, dining and home improvement, along with 5000 bonus miles at renewal. Also triple miles for United purchases.

    I use this card for the double points eligible purchases along with others you mentioned for non double points eligible items.

  4. @gpapadop Capital One Venture card roughly amounts to a straight 2% cash back card where the cash back at that rate must be spent on travel. I’d much sooner grab a Fidelity 2% cash back card (but remember that Chase has an offer on the AARP card for 5% cash back unlimited for first 6 months). So no, while the Venture card is decent, it doesn’t make my list of best cards.

  5. Gary- I think it’s important to note that most of your recommendations (except for BA Visa) have foreign transaction fees. I took that greatly into consideration when coming up with my one all around good choice for someone who wanted a points earning card with a good bonus and flexible points.

    Is Ultimate Rewards perfect? No, but it’s a program that has potential and allows for Oneworld and Star Alliance redemptions as well as 1:1 with Hyatt/Priority Club etc.

    But anyway, great post and a good reminder that there are always other good options out there!

  6. @ Gary

    And it goes to show that everyone is different with different goals and what may work for someone may not work for someone else. What works for me is the following:

    -Keeping it simple
    -Avoiding paying annual fees
    -Hammer cards for opening bonuses
    -Do the $20k in the naf Hilton Amex asap for the Gold status (good until 2013 so…it is resting right now)
    -My every day spend card right now is the Venture card for the 2 pts per dollar spend & simplicity in redeeming for travel at 2%
    -My son wants more Sony points so I bring this along now that Capital One bought it and will use it for movies and restaurants at 3 pts per dollar.
    -Be super quick in emailing Chase & AMEX for the bonus bump trick:-)

    Currently debating if I should go for the Alaska card for 40k or wait for a 50k bonus or higher:-)

  7. @The Points Guy that’s right, I think I specifically flagged those cards I was mentioning which DIDN’T have foreign currency transaction fees… I mentioned that I carry the Amex Platinum and Hyatt Visa which do not. And that the BA Visa doesn’t.

    But I guess where I disagree with you is that the Chase Sapphire card is good as a secondary card — for where Amex isn’t accepted, or for foreign currency spend — but for everyday spend in the US.

    The foreign transaction issue is one to consider addressing in your wallet, but I don’t believe it drives what card you ought to put your groceries, US carrier airfare, dry cleaning, etc. on.

  8. No mention of the AMEX travel rewards card? Seems easier to redeem than flexperks, and with promos better value than amex.

  9. What do you think of the new Blue Cash Preferred card? I currently use the original Blue Cash card for my gas and groceries since I am past the $6500 threshold but I am strongly considering switching when the card resets in August.

    I do a lot of spending at grocery stores and at 6% back with no threshold, the $75 yearly fee should be covered very quickly. I also spend a lot of money at Amazon and I could save a fortune if I buy gift cards at the grocery store since Amazon does not participate in cashback or bonus mileage programs.

    I think there is a pretty good argument for the Blue Cash Preferred to be a permanent fixture in many wallets.

  10. @gpapadop go for the Alaska card now, the bonus has never before been higher than 40k so I don’t expect them to immediately go to 50k. Besides, at least in the past BofA cards were very much churnable and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary (though haven’t been listening explicitly, either).

  11. I think it’s probably worth including, for someone starting from 0, the current sign-up bonus compared to possible/probable future options. Many/most of the cards Gary lists don’t have a great signup bonus right now, and in many cases are just coming off of one. If you’re getting a “first” rewards card, the gains in going with a card with good earning value plus a good signing bonus are more than jumping on a slightly better-earning card with a less-generous bonus, particularly if you can reasonably expect a better bonus in the future.

    What’s larger, the difference in how you value eg Amex points from the Premier Rewards Gold card vs Chase ultimate rewards, or the 35k-60k MR points you’d potentially forfeit by applying now vs later for the Amex?

    When getting a card, even a “keeper”, it makes sense to keep the bonus very much in mind. If I were to get a card, starting from scratch, to put my spend on *right now*, it’d likely by the Sapphire due to good earning, partners that interest me (although fewer than other options), no forex fees, and a generous initial bonus. I’d keep my eyes on bonuses for the other cards Gary mentioned, and consider switching when the right bonus comes out.

    There’s a different between choosing what card in your wallet to keep or spend on vs. which one to apply and spend on.

  12. @Gary

    Thanks for the post, always great info.

    I think the first focus depends on your goal, do you want FF miles, hotel points, cash or flexibility.

    As a follow-up to @gpapadop – Not everyone wants or can have a Fidelity account & Cap1 has been tremendous in their flexibility with what counts as travel, so for cash, the V-card works well.

    Its good to talk about the pro’s & the cons of these “flexible” cards:
    Both Sapphire Premier & MR provide some flexibility, with Sapphire only providing slightly below parity (as you have to x-fer in round lots) to their co-brand brethren while MR only exceeds in a few niche categories & transfer bonuses (SkyPesos & YQ king BA) and is below parity in others (pay to transfer miles & transfer in round-lots). Both cards under-perform in cash back with MR being much worse than Sapphire Premier.
    Everyone’s different, but unless you need/want the flexibility there are often a better row to hoe.

  13. (typo corrected)

    @Gary

    Thanks for the post, always great info.

    I think the first focus depends on the individuals goal, do they want FF miles, hotel points, cash or flexibility?

    As a follow-up to @Gary @gpapadop – Not everyone wants or can have a Fidelity account & Cap1 has been tremendous in their flexibility with what counts as travel, so for cash, the V-card works well if you can’t/don’t want a Fidelity account and/or spend a lot of places that don’t take AXP.

    It’s good to talk about the pro’s & the con’s of these “flexible” cards:
    Both Sapphire Premier & MR provide some flexibility, with Sapphire only providing slightly below parity to their co-brand brethren (as you have to x-fer in round lots) while MR only exceeds in a few niche categories & transfer bonuses (SkyPesos & YQ king BA) and is below parity in others (pay to transfer miles & transfer in round-lots). Both cards under-perform in cash back with MR being much worse than Sapphire Premier.

    Everyone’s different, but unless you need/want the flexibility there are often a better row to hoe. (my 2 cents)

  14. Great advice, Gary.

    I, too, agree that the significant BA Visa benefit is likely the 2-4-1, especially for family accounts. 200,000 combined points plus exorbitant taxes can take a couple to a lot of neat places. And BA F reward availability has always been great.

    And ditto for the Diners Club primary car rental insurance coverage. [You mentioned that the Continental Onepass Plus Mastercard also offers this perk. Do any of the Amex products, or other cards, offer this benefit?]

    I’m very interested in builing my Amex points and already carry the Business Platinum which is great for the cruise and fine hotel perks, plus the lack of international fees.

    But I’m very sensitive to my credit score (which currently is quite strong) due to an upcoming mortgage application within the next three months.

    I realize this is not an Equifax forum (LOL) but I would welcome any comments concerning how a new Amex Premier Rewards Gold application might affect an upcoming mortgage application.

    Or do I really need a new Amex card?

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.

  15. I’ve put up a free calculator at http://www.marscreditcards.com where you can compare the value of every US based airline and points credit cards. It doesn’t include the foreign cards that Gary mentions like Asiana, or BA, but it does cover all of the AMEX cards, airlines cards, and points cards. Enjoy!

  16. The question is Everyday Spending and the answer is whatever card gives you the greatest return for your $1 spend in the US if that is where you live. Everyday Spend to me does not take into account bonus categories which then puts numerous cards in the mix. One for gas groceries, another for dining and another for airfare. If a $100 hotel room can be purchased with 3 or 4K of SPG points that is the simple answer for me 2.5 cents to 3.33 cents in value per dollar spent. and much more if you use the cash and points option for high end hotel redemptions. I haven’t seen a card mentioned that gives a higher value for everyday spend than the SPG card except maybe the Asiana card at 2 points per $ or the Alaska card if you add in the companion cert value.

    STU: as far as your mortgage app is concerned, each inquiry will effect your score 2-5 points. You want a score over 700 to get a vanilla FNMA, Freddie mortgage or 740 if you want it with lower fees (3/4 point less in fees). Depending on the size of that mortgage, it is sometimes worth keeping it over 740 but with lower mortgage amounts, I can more than recoup the difference in miles and points with the extra cards I can get between 740 and 700

  17. My cards for daily use are as follows:

    Everyday spend – SPG Amex due to the 25% transfer bonus, which I like for the ANA award on Virgin, the Alaska award to Africa on Cathay, and the overall variety of airline transfer partners.

    Airfare/Gas/Groceries – Amex PR Gold due to triple and double points which can then be transferred to Delta or BA at what seems to be recurring transfer bonuses. As you have discussed, BA is great for the LAN Easter Island award and Delta for V Australia and Tahiti.

    Int’l – BA Visa due to no foreign fees and 25% bonus. Am also working on the companion award for this card at $30k in calendar spend.

    Of course, I sign up for all of the cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses and use those cards when meeting the initial spend requirements. And the Alaska card is a must just to have due to the companion certificate, which is an annual automatic benefit.

  18. @Max Jones – I’d be curious what Gary thinks for Canadian consumers as well. I really like the RBC avion card. Simply because of the 50% BA transfer bonus they have been doing bi-annually for years. It’s currently on again and seems to be a safe bet to keep occurring in the future. Plus RBC reward points are transferrable between all their cards. Use a cheaper/free rewards earning card and upgrade to the Avion when the promo comes back for a quick bonus 15k rbc points and transfer what you have to BA.

    Apparently RBC doesn’t mind churning as the girl I spoke to was encouraging me to do so, it had only been about 60 days since I dumped my last one to avoid the annual fee. I wasn’t even calling to switch back, I was just wondering if they’d let me hop into the promo with a regular rewards card, as the fine print this time was confusing.

  19. @MyTravels – The Fidelity AmEx earns 2 Aeroplan miles per $ if you prefer. More precisely, it earns 2 WorldPoints per dollar spent. 1,000 WorldPoints are redemable for 1,000 Aeroplan miles. 5,000 WorldPoints are redemable for a $50 deposit to your Fidelity account. As far as a I know, anyone with a social security number is eligible for a free Fidelity standard “investment” account, as their minimum balance requirement apparently refers to your ability to earn interest from the cash balance in your account.

    For card merchants who do not accept American Express, you may want to add the Fidelity Visa, which, like Fidelity AmEx, has no annual fee, and earns 1.5 WorldPoints/$ on the first $15k/year and 2 WorldPoints/$ thereafter. Even if you redeem the WorldPoints for cash at one cent each, this is still a better deal than a 2% cash back with a $59 annual fee if your AmEx-refusing credit card spend is under $11,800/year.

    That said, there are some further nuances. For example, there is also a mechanism to redeem WorldPoints directly for flights, which can occasionally be a better deal. Also, if we compare with the $59 annual fee Capital One card, it’s worth noting that cap1 offers some useful bonuses through its shopping portal (for example, Travelocity: 2 miles/$, Priceline: 4 miles/$, which are in addition to the base 2 mile/$ earned on credit card purchases), and cap1 also currently offers some $900 hotel gift cards for 64.5k “miles” on the their personal Venture Rewards card.

  20. Best card in my view if Fidelity Amex card. 2% cash back on everything. No membership fees.

  21. @Gary the Diners Club cards should be back in play later this year plus they continue to expand their airport lounge access with over 400 lounges now available to DC cardholders, another unsung benefit of this great card.

    @Brian and @Max Jones see Canada’s Top Travel Rewards Credit Card 2010 here: (2011 rankings will be out on July 18)
    http://www.rewardscanada.ca/topcreditcard2010.html
    and a complete guide to Canadian Travel Rewards Credit Cards here
    http://www.rewardscanada.ca/choosing-a-travel-credit-card.html

  22. Gary: One question before my thoughts below- Do you keep airline cards (e.g. Chase UA/CO, Citi AA) solely for use when buying airfare or dump them after you get the signup bonuses?

    Interesting summary on a subject that is always of interest and constantly changing as cards tend to weaken benefits or raise fees over time.

    Coincidentally we somehow arrived at the same result and focus our spend on 3 main cards (excluding the spend required for signup bonuses which sometimes takes a big chunk): SPG Amex, Chase BA visa and BofA Alaska. We use SPG solely for hotels because SPG provides the best ROR through cash + points. Was channeling everything else onto Chase BA, but reconsidering in light of the absurd fuel surcharges which essentially turn a free C/F award ticket into a $600-800 TATL roundtrip – a good deal but not a nice as free + tax.

    Too bad you don’t fly Southwest do Chase WN – there have been some generous signup bonuses (before April it was $500 in air credits + a free roundtrip) plus good promos (a bonus roundtrip for every one you earned over the past year). These provide good value particularly during peak dates when other carriers gouge.

  23. I was surprised to see the Alaska Airlines Bank of America Visa listed in a blog post about credit cards “for everyday purchases to start accruing mileage points.”

    The AS Visa is a great card, offering some great perks; however, mileage earnings everyday spend is NOT one of it’s strong points.

    Reasons to have/when to use the AS Visa (in my opinion):
    -Annual $99 (+tax) companion certificate. This allows for a companion ticket on ANY (including F or super discounted fares) published fare ANYWHERE (Mexico, Hawaii) in the AS network (all flights must be AS/QX operated)
    -1000 bonus miles for tickets purchased at alaskaair.com (including 1 ways)
    -3x miles for all Alaska Airlines purchases (I’ve never bothered to confirm if this counts for online purchases).

    Reasons why I think the card is NOT a good value for everyday spend:
    -You can purchase miles from alaskaair.com at a rate of $190 for 10K miles – you get this option after each and every ticket purchase. That means, at a purchase price of 1.9 cpm, you are better off earning 2% cashback on your daily purchases, banking that money, and buying AS miles when you need them, instead of racking up large balances that are then stuck on AS’s books, and not in your bank account.
    -only rarely do they offer a promotional (i.e. 2x, 3x miles) purchase rate in any category, and even when they do, they are targeted.

  24. correction…
    -3x miles for all Alaska Airlines purchases (I’ve never bothered to confirm if this counts for ON BOARD purchases).

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