The general advice about which credit card is best is going to vary somewhat by individual circumstances.

What do you happen to spend the most on? If you drive a ton you want a card that maximizing gas spend. If you eat out a lot, there are cards that bonus restaurant spend. If you buy office supplies (or gift cards at office supply stores, including from online office supply stores through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall ::cough::), you want an Ink Bold Charge Card card that offers 5 points per dollar on those charges.

So I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best card for several spend:

  • Best for gas: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, American Express Premier Rewards Gold 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for groceries: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar, American Express Blue Cash Preferred 6% back.

  • Best for dining: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, Citi Forward Card 5 Thank You points per dollar

  • Best for airline tickets: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for Car Rentals: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (but I use Diners Club and some will use United Explorer for the primary collision damage waiver)

  • Best for hotels: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, although domestic Starwood properties the Starwood Amex makes most sense and domestic Hiltons the Hilton American Express Surpass card earned 9 HHonors points per dollar.

  • Best credit card for online travel purchases: Travelocity American Express can earn up to 10% cash back on purchases made at Travelocity.com.

  • Best for office supplies: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for telecommunications: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card earns 5 points per dollar on land lines, cell phones, internet, and cable television

  • Best credit card for small purchases: Chase Freedom earns 1 point per dollar (more in bonused categories which change each quarter) plus a 10% bonus and an extra 10 points per transaction if you also have a Chase checking account. (Every $1 purchase earns 12 points.) And if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold Charge Card small business card you can transfer the points earned over to those card programs and the points become transferrable to airline miles and hotel points.

  • Best credit card for foreign transactions: Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 1.07 points per dollar and doesn’t add a foreign transaction fee.

  • General purchases: Starwood American Express has a transfer bonus of 5000 miles whenever moving 20,000 miles into an airline program, effectively earning 1.25 miles per dollar, so for everything not bonused by another card this has the highest earn.

For the purpose of ‘best’ in each category I’m ignoring limited-time promotions like Chase Freedom quarterly bonuses and other cards’ 6 or 12 month limited-time category bonuses. I’m asking the question of which card’s fundamental features are best.

I welcome vigorous challenge, so please let me know in the comments where you disagree with my list, it will help me build an even better list going forward or at least help to flesh out the reasons behind our disagreements which will help readers to figure out what works best for their own circumstances.

Note that some of the cards on the list above do offer me referral credit if you use the links provided. As always I only offer the best offers I’m aware of. And I do very much appreciate it when you use these links, so thank you in advance.

  1. Kyle said,

    I thought you only got 2x points with the Chase Ink Bold at gas stations….

  2. Don said,

    Kudos for this outstanding list
    Just when I thought the credit card blog coverage was getting stale
    It’s assessments/overviews like this that separates you from the vast
    majority of blogger wannabes
    Well done and thanks for the information and making us all more informed even those of us that think we already know most of it ;

  3. infamousdx said,

    Did the Ink Bold change? It was always 2x points for gas. Even in your link, it states 2x on gas and hotels.

  4. Paul said,

    Gary —

    I’ve recently begun to travel far more extensively for work, and thus I’m just beginning to explore mileage plans, etc. I’ve been searching through your site and others, but have yet to see this — are there any guides as to the comparative benefits of different reward programs for airlines and hotels? Traveling out of DC, I often can choose between United and U.S. Airways. I can choose Starwood or Hilton properties, etc. Is there any general guidance one should follow as to how to plan their business travel in a way that maximizes reward potentials?

    Many thanks for any help with such a beginner question!

  5. Mike said,

    I was just about to write this but Infamousdx beat me to it. Ink Bold is 2x for gas.

  6. greek2me said,

    Chase United Explorer business is 2x UA on gas (2nd to IB given UR more flexible), dining (behind, but close to Sapphire Pref) and office supplies (way behind IB)

  7. nknight said,

    PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards gives 5% back on all gas. No fee (although there is an up-front dance to do if you’re not employed by the government/military – $25, I think). If you don’t have the InkBold card, this would seem to be the best second-choice card to me. I’ll look into InkBold soon, but I’m currently too Chase-heavy on applications.

  8. chemist661 said,

    How about the Penfed Visa & AMEX.

    Visa: 5% cash back on gas.
    AMEX: 5 pts (worth over 1 cent/pt) on airfare.

    Although they are their own program, the cards have no annual fee and I have them long term.

    A couple years ago, I bought enough airline tickets on the Penfed AMEX to get a ticket LAX-ZRH RT and o/w PIT-SNA for free. And I earned miles on the free tickets as they were booked as revenue tickets.

  9. Al said,

    Good summary. I think you might be giving too much weighting to the value of your points.

    I believe that the Capital One Venture card is probably a better choice for a few categories. It is a straight 2% on everything with no foreign transaction fees. I think this should beat out the following:

    Foreign Transactions:
    Cap One 2% vs Chase Sapphire 1.07 pts

    Small Purchases:
    Cap One 2% vs Chase Freedom 1 pt or 1.1 pt

    General Purchases:
    Cap One 2% vs Amex Starwood 1.25 pt

    I think in the general purchase case, 1.25 SPG pt might be worth more than 2 cents, but I dont think it is as clear cut to totally ignore the Cap One from the conversation.

    In the other 2 categories, I think 1.1 or 1.07 Ultimate Rewards Points is probably worth less than 2 cents.

    Even if you dont agree, the Capital One Venture should at least be in the discussion.

  10. Lark said,

    United Club Card
    “Earn 1.5 award miles per dollar spent – a 50% bonus on the 1 mile per dollar you typically earn. Earn even more on United tickets – 2 miles per dollar spent.”

    The $395 annual fee ($300 the first year, or free the first year if you’re lucky) makes this too expensive to just be a miles earning card…

    But, if you were going to join United Club anyway, get this card instead.

  11. barelyelite said,

    Yep… seeing as the Ink Bold is only 2x for gas, you might want to add the Penfed platinum card to your list at 5% cash back.

  12. Brian said,

    Chase Sapphire Preferred gets 3x + 7% bonus if you purchase airline tickets through the UR portal. Not sure if you were considering the portal within the fundamental features of the card.

  13. Danny S said,

    Another vote for the PenFed 5% cashback on Gas. That card is ALWAYS in my wallet. Best Gas card around, IMO.

  14. Jason said,

    I agree with the Freedom, but this is what I calculated –
    With Chase Freedom Dining is better than Chase Sapphire up to $11.99 with the 10% bonus and 10 points per transaction. Sapphire only surpasses the Freedom at $12.00 and up with the double points.

  15. Nun said,

    My United business card (still labelled continental) pays 2x miles on dining. How is that not better than Sapphire Preferred which is listed here?

  16. Steven said,

    “Best for airline tickets: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar.”

    Chase Saphire Prefered gives you more than 4 rewards points back. 2 directly, 2 more if booked trough Chase mall. And then there is the annual bonus. That clearly beats Amex Gold.

  17. Phil said,

    I have got to say even though I have been critical in the past of some of the credit card pumping on BoardingArea, this is a very well put together list and I’d agree with 95% of it which is about as much as you could ever expect. I would like others throw in a Penfed card for gas and also a Discover card for certain online retailers. And frankly I didn’t even realize Ink Bold was 5x for gas. Oh and I would add any Amex business card to make use of the 10% off at OfficeMax as championed by FrequentMiler. I’d vote you add this one to your “Best Frequent Flyer Advice” tab

  18. Andy said,

    I find the Chase Sapphire Preferred / Ink Bold online travel agency (supplied by Rearden) very good for booking air travel. The search engine is comparable to any of the other online agencies. Reward is 3 points per dollar spent, and I even get confirmed seats upon booking in United Economy Plus *for no additional payment* with my US Airways Star Alliance Gold-level frequent traveler number, something I cannot do on UA’s own website! That is rather miraculous to me and I keep assuming it will go away, but for now it’s a nice bonus.

  19. oneeyejack said,

    @infamousdx, Ink Bold has always been 2x for gas. It never changed. I think Gary just had a typo.

    @Nun, Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards points are more “flexible”. They can be transferred to a lot of other partners including United. That’s why people like to get these points. On top of that, there is a 7% bonus that you get every year for the points that you’ve earned in that year.

    My old UA Mileage Plus card earns me 2x on gas, groceries and dining!

  20. Andy said,

    I would also add, given that I have the American Express Platinum card already for its other benefits, for me the ability to pay American Express a $19.95 fee (looks like it’s been raised for new customers to $24.95) that provides primary insurance coverage on rental cars is well worth it. I had serious hail damage on a recent rental (talk about something that there was absolutely no way to avoid) and AmEx took care of it in an absolutely seamless and worry-free transaction.

  21. bluto said,

    as others have already mentioned, the ink is 2x for gas unless you are buying gas gift cards at office stores.

    I’d throw in the fidelity visa/Amex into contention for general purchases. it is 2x Aeroplan miles which I think in some cases is better than 1 Starwood point. also I converted my fidelity Amex to a visa recently and they let me keep the 2x earning rate instead of dropping down to 1.5.

    you might also want to consider the us bank cash+ card. it’s a card I learned about recently and got. you select certain categories to be 5 pct cash back. with a 25 pct redemption bonus it is effectively 6.25% cash back in those categories. that beats many of the cards on your list in several categories. I have not seen this card mentioned on the blogs yet.

  22. Rayn said,

    Regarding the Best for hotels, I would say the corresponding hotel co-branded cards are usually the best. Sapphire acts as a one card handles all situation.

  23. DBest said,

    Curious about your opinion on the Chase SP vs Chase Marriott card for stays at Marriott? 2.14x UR vs 5x Marriott points.

    Also, how would you stack up the Chase BA card vs the SPG for otherwise 1x spend, since the BA earns 1.25x Avios on normal purchases.

  24. Eddy said,

    Kudos for a great post. Excuse my ignorance, but why is there not much love for the Hilton Amex card(s) 6x bonus categories? Is it because of the lack of flexibility and comparatively poor value of Hilton points? I am considering adding this to my cache, but am now having second thoughts.

  25. Danny said,

    Depending on how you value Hilton points, the Hilton AMEX is a great card for everyday spend on the following categories:

    grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, home and wireless phone, cable and satellite TV, and Internet service providers

    Each of those is 6 points per dollar. Also six points at Hilton properties and 3points for everything else.

    And there’s no annual fee, which the Surpass Hilton AMEX carries.

  26. Gary said,

    @Steven – you can get the poitnts through the Ultimate Rewards mall even if you pay with Amex PRG

  27. Gary said,

    I’ve corrected my typo on Ink Bold gas. Thanks all!

  28. Nathan said,

    Missed the United club card which is best for foreign transactions and arguably general spend at 1.5 points per dollar.

  29. PSL said,

    Also, for the regular no-fee Hilton AMEX card, spending in the bonus categories mentioned by Danny goes a long way towards hitting the 20K threshold needed to become Hilton Gold. The free breakfasts and wi-fi for Gold have saved me hundreds of dollars a year, as well as provided me extra points and an occasional upgrade.

  30. Prince said,

    Best overall without having to remember anything:

    Fidelity AmEX – Unlimited 2% cash back on EVERYHING

  31. Steve said,

    So to be clear, you would rather have 2 UR or 2 MR points over 6 HHonors points? (looking at gas and grocery).

    Personally, I use 5% cards at gas/grocery.
    PenFed Platinum rewards Visa gives 5x pts per dollar at gas and 3x at grocery (making it a 5%/3%/1% card).
    Amex Blue Cash preferred is good, but for what I spend on groceries, I got the Sallie Mae 5% grocery card. You can’t apply for it anymore though.

  32. nknight said,

    @Steve – I’d check on the groceries cash back with the PenFed card. I used to believe I was getting that back, too, but I see no evidence of this anymore. Gas is obvious, groceries seem to no longer be mentioned. Unless you’re grandfathered-in. I don’t believe it’s a benefit of new cards. I’ll go check …

  33. nknight said,

    @Steve – BY BAD – groceries are still listed @3%. Wow, I need to research this and make sure I’ve got this feature enabled and available. If new cards get it, I’ll make sure I’m getting it too! Thanks for shaking the cobb webs out of my memory.

  34. nknight said,

    @Steve – one more note, I used my PenFed card for many things while in the Caribbean this spring – no foreign transaction fees.

    https://www.penfed.org/Platinum-Rewards/

  35. nknight said,

    @Steve – Sorry, last one for awhile, I promise. Groceries are 3 “points”. Groceries are not listed on the current Cash Rewards card page, but you still get 5% back on gas posted to your statement right away.

    I haven’t eveluated the value of PenFed points … but i see I’ve got some checking to do.

  36. pssteve said,

    Good summary on how to amass points! My question is once we have accumulated the points (Amex Gold) and our first year fee ($175) waiver is about to expire and you are going to cancel the card where is the best place to park the points?

  37. Gary said,

    @pssteve – get a different Amex card with membership rewards and no fee the first year so you don’t have to transfer the points before you nee them. otherwise the answer depends on what you want to accomplish with the points.

  38. Adam said,

    Just a note but right now Chase Freedom has restaurants and gas stations as their bonus categories so you get 5x UR points. For a few months at least this trumps the Sapphire/Ink Bold for those categories.

  39. shon said,

    Gary – any suggestions for sports fans that spend a ton of money on stubhub and ticketmaster?

  40. Ram said,

    Thanks for the summary. I like my Hilton AMEX Surpass for some of the purchases at 6 HHonors/$ spend.

  41. Keana said,

    Can someone clarify the difference between small purchase and general purchase? I have Chase Freedom, Ink Bold and Saphire as well as the Starwood Amex and I’m confused about when I should use Freedom vs Starwood Amex.

  42. Keana said,

    I forgot to mention that I also have a Chase Checking account.

  43. Sarah said,

    Worth noting: unless the terms have changed since my last go-round of credit card shopping (which admittedly was several months ago), a number of the cards listed require annual fees, which can cut into the ultimate value of them. It would be helpful if, in this list, you added the annual fee where applicable.

    Another point worth noting is that it’s easy to get tricked by “points” system credit cards. If it takes 100 points to equal a dollar of whatever category you’ll spend it on, that balances to about 1%, which is comparable to an average cash-back card. But if it takes anything more than 100 points to hit that dollar in your chosen category, you’d end up taking home more with an average cash back card than you would in redeeming points. I personally tend to find the cash-back more useful because I don’t spend enough in any particular category to make a points-back card more valuable.

    That said, to add for consideration in cash-back cards: Bank of America offers a cash back card with 2% on groceries, 3% on gas, and an extra 10% on those rewards if you have them redeemed into a BofA checking account. No annual fee.

    For general purchases, the Capital One offers a cashback card that’s 1% on all purchases, and a yearly extra .5%, so effectively 1.5% on all purchases – with no annual fee.

    Additionally, some people may not realize that they may have access to special banking services for military/government personnel and their families. For example, through Pentagon Federal Credit Union, I have a 5% cashback card for gas purchases – no annual fee. If you or a family member is or has been in the military, it is worth your time to determine your eligibility for and explore Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, and USAA.

  44. Murtuza said,

    I have a old united mileage plus card, can I apply for United Explorer Card to get new bonus and additional benefits it has?

  45. Gary Steiger said,

    There are ways for anyone to join PenFed for free. I carry its Visa card for the 5% cash back on gasoline and for foreign travel because of the no Forex fee +1/4% cash back on all purchases.

  46. Jim said,

    Another proponent of CapitalOne Venture here. Annual fee is about $65 and it gets 2 points per dollar on everything. – no exceptions. Redemption is on travel related purchases within 90 days – 100 points per dollar. But my situation is not the same as everyone else. My employer directly pays my airfare and hotel (I get the miles) and I fly AA pretty much exclusively. My strategy is to keep everything on one card for the most accumulation.

  47. oneeyejack said,

    @murtuza, yes you can! you can have both cards if you want.

  48. Stewart Sheinfeld said,

    Chase British Air Visa has no foreign fees and gives 1.25 miles per dollar. Of course there are the dreaded surcharges when redeeming but can be avoided by redeeming for AA flights

  49. Steve said,

    @nknight – the old PenFed cash rewards (https://www.penfed.org/Platinum-Cash-Rewards/) 5% gas cashback card does not give 3% at groceries anymore, it gives 0.25% on everything else. They came out with a new PenFed Platinum rewards (https://www.penfed.org/Platinum-Rewards/), 5x/3x/1x gas/grocery/everything else card. It’s a points card, and the points can be redeemed for travel/cash/goods, etc.
    The best return I’ve found on it is 1:1 (with a Visa prepaid card), which makes the 5x/3x/1x a 5%/3%/1%

  50. Ted F said,

    Best for Amazon.com (Household purchases, electronics, etc.) – Citi Forward 5x!! I love Amazon!!

  51. Dave said,

    My plan for is Amex Blue Pref for groceries (6%); Gas 3%; and Department Stores (3%). I would suggest this belongs on the gas list.

    Combined with Citi Forward 5 TYP for dining, entertainment and amazon (qualifies as a bookstore).

    The rest (excluding travel) goes on whatever card I am trying to hit spend on.

    Travel goes on branded cards, or the the old AARP card (3%).

  52. Murtuza said,

    Thanks @oneeyejack. For cashback; my preferred way of spend is AMEX Blue Preferred. ~4.8% cashback on anything (by buying $500 visa cards from grocery store) and 6% on grocery purchase

  53. Ken in Phx said,

    Cant believe how many people are pumping 2% CCs here. Sure if you are a normal person 2% sounds great but for us FF’s 2% is weak. I dont use a card in my wallet that only gets 2%. Capital One is worthless and so are the other piker 2% cards.

  54. J in NC said,

    Agree on Penn Fed for gas. Some other ok gas cards are BP (3% if you can get close to 20 gallons in your tank), Exxon is 15 cents/gallon, and Chevron card is up to 20 cents/gallon. The last two are 4-6% at today’s prices.

  55. Chad said,

    Amex Business Gold gives 3 x for hotels.
    Amex Hilton Surpass gives 6 x for drugstores and Grocery stores

  56. oneeyejack said,

    @chad: Amex business gold doesn’t give 3x on hotels. Only 3x on flights.

  57. Brian said,

    Hi Gary, Lucky mentioned last week that you can book airfare on Travelocity via the Ultimate Rewards mall and receive 4.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (2.14 on the card, plus 2 points for booking via Travelocity)

  58. Gary said,

    @Brian – the thing is though that you do not need to use a Chase card when booking through the Ultimate Rewards mall to get those additional Ultimate Rewards points. In other words, book through the Ultimate Rewards mall with Travelocity and you get 2 Ultimate Rewards points. Pay Travelocity for airfare with Amex Premier Rewards Gold and get 3 Membership Rewards points. Two separate things entirely. And take it a step further, you can get 2 Ultimate Rewards poitns and pay with a Travelocity Amex for up to 10% cash back…

  59. maq203 said,

    Capital One No Hassle rewards/miles is great for both accruing points and redeeming them. You can even apply them retroactively, meaning you can purchase an airline ticket, hotel, etc, with your credit card as normal and then go in and apply your points to that purchase, getting you a credit on your next statement. Couldn’t recommend them more!

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  63. Jeannie said,

    How about one for a home renovation?

  64. Sanda Marbury said,

    I seriously enjoy your posts. Thank you

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  67. Rick said,

    What’s the best card for drugstores?

  68. phil said,

    I received the 50,000 bonus mile offer for the Amex Premier Rewards gold card. The card expires in 2/14 and I do not want to pay the $175 annual fee. I do not think I will be able to put my miles to good use by then. Can I receive the Amex Green card offer for $0 annual fee for the first year if I apply in early 2014 or does having the gold card preclude this?

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