The 5 Most Rewarding Credit Cards for Your Spending, Every Day

Throughout the week I’m highlighting what I believe are the (5) best credit card signup bonus offers, (5) best credit cards for points-earning every day, and (5) best credit cards for non-points benefits.

On Monday I shared the five most lucrative credit card signup bonus offers, and on Wednesday the give cards with the best benefits.

Today I’m going to suggest what I believe are the five best credit cards that reward you the most for your spending every day.

My rank-order priorities for where to put credit card spending is:

  1. Meet minimum spend requirements for signup bonuses. The most valuable thing you can do with your spending it put it towards signup bonuses on new cards. That’s far more leveraged than earning a single mile (or even 2 or 3).
  2. Meet spending requirements to earn benefits. If you’re trying to qualify for elite status and your card helps you do that, you’re willing to settle for lower value points in order to get there.
  3. Earn the most from your spend. What card offers the most valuable points, and/or double or triple points for the kind of spend you’re doing.

Most people don’t sign up for credit card after credit card to get signup bonuses. Since a plurality of all miles are earned through credit cards, “what credit card should I get?” is probably the single most common frequent flyer question I’m asked. But usually folks want to know what one card is most rewarding. And even people chasing bonuses aren’t doing so all the time (those that are are, at least, in the great minority). So most readers will want a card that’s rewarding day in, day out.

Here are my top five:

  1. Ink Bold charge card and Ink Plus credit card are small business cards that both offer 50,000 point signup bonuses after $5,000 spend within 3 months. They have a $0 fee the first year, $95 thereafter.

    Both cards offer double points on gas and hotels (when you book directly with hotels, not when the spend is charged an online agent like Expedia) and quintuple points on telecommunications and office supplies. Between internet, cell phone, XM radio and cable television that’s a lot of points each year, and it’s amazing what you can buy at office supply stores.

    Points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, and Amtrak.

    Many folks can get small business cards, it’s fine to be a sole proprietor. That just means you list your own social security number under the place for tax ID. And you may have some side income in addition to your job, or are planning to develop that. These cards are useful to keep personal expenses separate from business expenses.

  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter), 40,000 points after $3000 in spend within 3 months, no foreign currency conversion fees, double points on all travel and dining spend.

    Like with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus, points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, and Amtrak.

    This is the card I recommend most to beginners in the hobby for getting started.

  3. American Express Premier Rewards Gold offers 25,000 points after $2000 spending within 3 months but most importantly for this post is that it is the best card for earning American Express Membership Rewards points — it gets you triple points on airfare and double points on gas and groceries.

    The annual fee is $0 the first year then $175 thereafter. So you need to spend a lot on the card to make it worth keeping.

    I recently wrote up how to make the most of Membership Rewards points. My personal favorite is transfers to Singapore Airlines to redeem first class awards (since availability is actually really good).

  4. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card offers a nice signup bonus. The cards also come with 2 stays and 5 nights towards elite status, and $30,000 spend gets you Gold status from Starwood.

    The reason this card is great, though, is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or better). And there’s a built-in 25% transfer bonus: for every 20,000 miles you transfer points into Starwood gives you 5000 additional miles. So you effectively earn 1.25 miles per dollar on all of your spend, and you get to pick what airline program you want your miles in later.

  5. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offers two free weekend nights after $2500 in spend within months, there are no foreign currency transaction fees, and the card earns 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton, 5 points per dollar on airline and rental car spend, 3 points on everything else.

    The four cards at the beginning of this list are the very best for earning the three most valuable currencies — Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Starpoints. So here my suggestion for a fifth card is slightly different — it isn’t about earning the most valuable currency, but rather about earning a very attainable threshold bonus.

While these are the most lucrative cards for spending each day, if you’re not getting bonus points (e.g. 2 points per dollar or better on your spending) or you don’t think about using your miles for international business and first class tickets, then consider whether miles make sense for you. Earning just 1 point per dollar on a credit card is essentially ‘buying’ that point for 2 cents, since the opportunity cost is a 2% (or better) cash back credit card.

(Note that some of the cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. I try to offer only the best available cards, and most lucrative deals available for those cards. So if you’re aware of better deals than I’ve featured please do let me know! The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

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, 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. Would be helpful to have an article on the impact of credit card churning on the availability of award seats for frequent flyers. Star Alliance airlines seem to be making premium class seating leas avsilable and award seating on UA for international flights has crashed. are bloggers killing what they love?

  2. If the Inks were unavailable, would you add the Chase BA since it gives 1.25x on all spend (plus the travel together ticket at $30k)?

  3. Is it possible to apply the Chase Ink card and Chase Sapphire on the same day? I have never applied business card before and am debating if I should. I applied the Citi Hilton card in feb, how soon can I cancel? And should I cancel it before applying for the Citi Hilton reserve? Thanks.

  4. unhappy flyer, you need to go to flyertalk. They have plenty of blogs on the subject. Note, churning has a minimal effect if done correctly.

  5. I really like the Club Carlson card for non-bonused spending. Two nights at a top Radisson Blue property go for 50,000 points, and I think are conservatively $250.00 per night. Since each dollar gives 5 points, that is effectively a 5% return.

  6. I wonder if American will win any awards next year, once the merger goes through. If they deteriorate as a result of the new executive team, who would win out? Southwest, probably LOL!

  7. Off topic:

    House passes bill to end air traffic furloughs. Vote is 361-41. A nearly identical bill has already passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Obama has promised to sign it.

  8. @DBest I consider the card one of the best for signup bonuses and put it on that list on Monday. I don’t consider it best for spend though except in the limited case of wanting to go to europe only, being willing to do 30k spend, and willing to pay fuel surcharges

  9. Great post but here are my views: I think the SPG card is way overrated. I like the Hilton Citi Reserve even after the devaluation. In addition, the Carlson seems underrated to me and am considering that one. Not sure what to do with that Ink card after bonuses. And for me nothing beats the AMEX Platinum that I have, though I understand not everyone qualifies.

    Singapore awards are also way overrated. I mean you have to use almost 200,000 MR to get a roundtrip and I think the airline fees are close to like 1000.00. That is a $USD 3,000 minimum to fly them. I can get more value and less cash+points on Cathay, and quite frankly the food on Cathay is way better and service suits my needs ,not as overwhelming as SQ.

  10. Thanks! I didn’t know Chase Ink Bold/Plus earn 5x on Sirius/XM Radio. I’ll sure use this info if I can get $30 Premier for 5 months or 50% off the year price w/ XM Radio on my Chevy car.

  11. Jorge, I recently flew a five-flight itinerary on SQ (SFO-HKG-SIN / SGN-SIN-HKG-SFO), with three flights in a Suite and three flights in business… for 160K points and about $550 in taxes. Very, very, very well worth it.

    Just noting this since it was nowhere near 200K + $1K for a roundtrip 😉

  12. If you transfer 40k SPG points will you get 50k airline miles or can you only do 20k points at a time to get the 5k bonus?

  13. @Ken you can transfer up to 60k points per day (with most partners getting 75k) while maximizing bonuses. That’s because the daily max to any partner is 99,999.

  14. @Gary – I think you misunderstood. I was curious if you had to transfer in batches of 20k in order to get the 5k bonus or if you did, say, 100k points if you’d get only 5k bonus miles or 25k bonus miles.

  15. I use the united club for 1.5x on every dollar…. Am I doing it wrong? I use sapphire preferred for its bonus categories but that’s all…

  16. @Matt – if you would otherwise buy a United Club membership then the United Club card’s earning for everyday spend is great. But you’ve got to spend pretty heavily for the bonus to justify the fee relative to earning with say an SPG Amex which gets 1.25 miles per dollar with most airlines (other than United) while saving you over $300

  17. I’m doing the same as Matt: a Chase United Club for most expenses (1.5 miles per $1) and a Chase Sapphire Preferred ($2 per $1 travel & restaurants). The Chase MP Club card saves a bit if you book reward tickets less than 2 weeks close in (saves the $70 fee) which is when more flights become available and can also save $60 for 2 free bags if you fly economy on domestic United flights. I also have an Amex Gold with the 2x rewards for gas and groceries. But I realize the fees are really high for all 3 cards.

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