The 5 Best Credit Cards Overall

Last week I looked at 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.

The concept of ‘best’ credit card is really 3 different ideas — there are different ways that credit cards can benefit you, and there are different cards which will serve your needs in each category.

  1. Those you get just for the signup bonus, but you may not want to keep spending on the card after you’ve earned the bonus.
  2. Those you get for the benefit of having the card, the benefits are great, but it may not be one you actually want to put spend on.
  3. Those that are most rewarding for everyday spending. You carry these in your wallet and pull them out to charge with

But several readers have emailed to say that I really haven’t put it all together. I carry several very mission-specific credit cards, but most readers want to know what one card is best, which one should they get since they aren’t going to sign up for three or five?

So here are my top five all-around credit cards, taking into consideration signup bonus, value for every day spending, and benefits for holding the card.

  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. They have probably the best all-around signup bonus.

    And since they earn 5x on all telecommunications (your cell phone, cable, internet) and also all office supply purchases (I’ve learned to do most of my shopping at office supply stores), they also top out on earning for your spend every day.

    The benefits are is the only one they’re not tops in, although they’ve added primary collision damage waiver coverage when renting for business, and they do offer a couple of airport lounge visits annually.

  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter), 40,000 points after $3000 in spend within 3 months, another 5000 points for adding an authorized user and making a purchase, no foreign currency conversion fees, 2x points on travel and dining, and a 7% annual bonus on the points you earn.

    It’s got one of the top signup bonuses and also one of the strongest all-around cards for earning every day.

  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 after that first year.

    This is the strongest American Express Membership Rewards card for points-earning, and I believe that Membership Rewards are one of the three most valuable currencies (along with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Starpoints).

  4. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card offers a reasonable signup bonus but isn’t at the top of that category. 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 (a built-in 25% bonus), and you get to pick what airline program you want your miles in later.

  5. Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum card: 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after $3000 spend within 3 months, $475 annual fee (which also gets you a $200 airline fee credit, $100 credit if you are signing up for Global Entry, and lounge access with American, US Airways (both ending March 22) and Delta — plus a Priority Pass Select card for Alaska Airlines and many international lounges). It’s got a great signup bonus, some of the very best benefits, and earns in a good program albeit it’s not the best Membership Rewards-earning card out there.

It’s interesting to me that I believe the very best cards come from Chase, with the rest of the list filled out by American Express products. There are some nice niche products from Citibank, Barclays, Bank of America, and US Bank for sure. But these are the cream of the crop.

I’ve been a Starwood Preferred Guest cardholder for better than a decade, and I have all of these cards myself, they’re also the ones I recommend as the very best in a fairly crowded and competitive field of rewards cards.

These cards represent what I believe are the very best, though I recognize there’s some subjectivity to it (if you value airline lounge at zero, you wouldn’t agree with me on the American Express Platinum card). But overall I think this is a pretty fair rendition. Any disagreements or cards you think are better than the ones listed above, appreciate the comments as always!

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. 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. Wow way to beat a dead horse with these credit card advertisements. I used to use your links but I’ll start shifting elsewhere.

  2. For the Amex PRG 15k points for $30k spend, is it in one calendar year or a revolving year from your approval date?

  3. Your blog used to be filled with very interesting and informative data.
    I has now become almost a The best credit card for……(fill in the blank)
    I guess all these commissions due affect behavior.

  4. Which food is the best to serve for dinner: protein, vegetable, or fruit? Because I’m certainly not cooking 3 different dishes for one meal. 😉

    I’d have to say that if someone is going to get one card, and one card only, the answer is the Barclays Arrival card. Because none of the cards you list, on their own, is going to give someone enough miles for an aspirational R/T trans-oceanic trip; much less provide hotel rooms on arrival. And everyone seems to agree that cash back cards are the best for occasional domestic economy travel.

    That said, I think either of those answers misses the mark. The correct answer is to educate that person on the necessity of multiple ccs for aspirational travel.

    Reassure them that having more properly managed ccs increases one’s credit rating, rather than harming it. And that the benefits of a wallet {and probably sock drawer} full of ccs is well worth the time and effort it takes to choose, apply for, and properly manage a large collection.

    I remember how apprehensive I was doing my first “churn” for 2 ccs on the same day. 😉 Not to mention the dreaded Recon call.

    Thanks to the guidance of VFTW, and eventually other blogs, I got over that. Now my question is not which cc to own. Nor is it which 4 or 5 ccs to hold. The question now is which 4 or 5 ccs to apply for on my next quarterly churn.

    Knowledge of ccs benefits, application procedures, and responsible cc use are the number one thing an aspirational traveler needs to know. So even though the “Johns” trolling the internet will scream about it, here is my suggestion:

    As useful as posts like the one above may be for folks that just learned about you from one of your mainstream media mentions, for your longer term readers I suggest you do a post on “Why 20 Credit Cards Are Probably Not Enough” :) Seriously….

  5. @Charles – I did not block your comment, the system flagged your comment for review as possible spam and so I had to approve it. It didn’t appear in real time, but as soon as I logged into the comments I saw it and made sure it appeared.

  6. If you guys have talked to your friends and relatives about M&P, then you do know that lots of people are interested, but most are loathe to jump in and apply for several cards. Others really don’t have the initiative (until they get their first award tickets) to learn about the value of having several CC’s.

    Most everyone I’ve talked with has asked me exactly the question that Gary just answered. Eyes glaze over when I try to provide a more useful response, so I do what Gary just did.

    On any given day, some bloggers’ posts are more useful to me than others. If I have no interest in reading about someone’s honeymoon, I just stop reading that blog. No flames. No threats. I just move on.

  7. Really there are only 2 cards here that standout for your average person who wants to carry one “everyday spend” card and not worry about 10 bills for 10 cards that have different bonuses: Chase Sapphine and Amex SPG. Chase due to the travel and dining bonus, no forex and redemption options, and SPG due to 1.25 transfer bonus and high value of SPG points.

    The Ink cards require a business so most salary people would have to lie to get one.

    The Amex Premier and Amex MB cards both have high annual fees that hardly seem offset by the bonuses or fee waivers. e.g. GE is only useful every 5 years and BofA provides an equivalent cash bonus on a card with no annual fee.

    Still waiting for a card that provides 2x points on everyday spend (though Amex Fidelity and CapOne Venture and Barclays come close with .02 cash).

    Funny you don’t mention United Club card that provides 1.5 miles per $1.

  8. I have the 5 you mentioned and agree 100%……and I believe if you are serious about accumulating miles then you get all 5…….but I would add a 6th which is Chase Freedom and it is the poor man’s way to always earn at least 7500 per person or 15,000 per couple each quarter on 5X…….and the card is FREE and the card raises your credit score each month you keep it…………has to be at the top of the list for Frequent Flyer’s smartest credit card decision………….

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