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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 — but if you do put $30,000 on the card in a year you receive 15000 bonus points, which is worth well more than the annual fee (and is why I continue to carry the card myself even past the 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).
- 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.
- 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.)