The 5 Best Rewards Credit Cards Overall

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).


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

Most readers are more interested in the one answer, and don’t want the wallet and drawer full of plastic that I’ve got. I carry several very mission-specific credit cards, but not everyone is going to sort things that way. So they 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 personal rewards credit cards, taking into consideration signup bonus, value for every day spending, and benefits for holding the card.

  1. Chase Sapphire Reserve Card costs $450 and offers a 50,000 point signup bonus you can earn (possibly availabile still briefly with a higher bonus in-branch). It earns triple points on travel and dining. It comes with a Priority Pass Select card for airport lounge access. And you get a $300 annual travel credit. I do not have a referral link for this card, and content has neither been provided nor reviewed by its issuer.

  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter), 50,000 points after $4000 in spend within 3 months, 5000 more points for adding an authorized user to the account and making a purchase during that same timeframe, and double points on all travel and dining spend.

    Points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and IHG Rewards Club. These are some of the most valuable points, and the card earns them quickly… especially for people who travel.

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

  3. Platinum Card® from American Express. This is the card that offers the best insider benefits. The card earns 5 points per dollar on airline tickets.

    You get access to American Express Centurion lounges. (Here’s the Las Vegas lounge, the New York LaGuardia lounge and Dallas. There are lounges in Miami, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.)


    Complimentary Exhale Spa – Miami Centurion Lounge

    You get access to Delta lounges when flying that airline same day (though guests will cost $29). You get a Priority Pass Select card that includes access to Alaska Airlines lounges, and many international lounges.


    Alaska Airlines Boardroom Pancake Machine

    You can designate one airline on which you’ll receive a $200 fee credit for the year (and in my experience, and while terms and conditions apply on all of their offers and say this isn’t supposed to work, small denomination airline gift cards have worked for reimbursement for me).

    The Platinum American Express also reimburses the $100 application fee for Global Entry or the fee for TSA PreCheck, comes with Gold status in Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton Honors Gold, and National Car Rental Executive status, plus unlimited Boingo wireless internet.

  4. Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card is the best Membership Rewards-earning card, that can earn 1.5 points per dollar on all spend, with spending category bonuses on top. (offer expired)

    The card can earn 1.5 points per dollar on all spend, and a 50% bonus even on top of spending category bonuses. So unquestionably one of the strongest cards in the market for ongoing spend.

    It earns 3x at US supermarkets, and 2x at US gas stations. Supermarket bonus earn is capped at your first $6000 in spend each year. Thirty swipes in a billing cycle will get you a 50% bonus on all of your points-earning for that month — and the bonus even applies to the supermarket and gas station bonus categories (so supermarkets are up to 4.5 points per dollar).


    Cathay Pacific’s AsiaMiles is an American Express transfer partner.

  5. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers a limited-time best-ever signup bonus of up to 35,000 points you can earn with minimum spend and comes with 2 stays and 5 nights towards elite status, and $30,000 spend gets you Gold status from Starwood.

    I’ve had the personal version for nearly 16 years. The reason it’s great is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or better).

    best credit card bonus offers
    Etihad Airbus A380 First Apartment. This card’s points transfer directly to Etihad Guest, as well as programs like Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.

    You’re earning Starwood Starpoints and those are the most valuable currency. And there’s a built-in 25% transfer bonus: for every 20,000 airline 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.


    Singapore A380 Suites Class (Transfer Points Directly to Singapore… or Numerous Other Airlines)

I’ve been an SPG cardholder for almost 16 years. I’ve carried American Express Platinum in either personal or business form since 2002 as well. I signed up for Chase Sapphire Preferred in 2011. These are in my view long-term keepers at least as long as the current value proposition is maintained.

There’s certainly subjectivity to the rankings — you need to value the things each card offers in order to rank them highly. If you value airline lounge at zero, for instance, you wouldn’t agree with me on the American Express Platinum card’s value (and probably pick up a Citi Hilton Reserve Card for the Hilton Gold status). 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!

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. All good cards, but if I had to pick one card it would be the Citi Prestige. I save thousands of dollars per year on the 4th night free benefit alone. The earn rate on it is good, the bonus is decent, and the other perks are good as well.

  2. Why doesn’t the Citi Prestige make the list? The fourth night free and ease of use for travel credit means it pays for itself pretty easily, I would think. (Even with the benefit cuts recently.)

  3. Ha, the credit card ads just keep going. Remember everyone, boycott these clickbait ads by going directly to the bank’s site to apply. Not only is it safer (not clicking through a third party site), it won’t reward this unethical behavior.

  4. @The “Through Leader in Travel” continues to make an increasingly impossible case to make, which I thoroughly shot down on this very blog today — “The reason it’s great is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or better). …. You’re earning Starwood Starpoints and those are the most valuable currency. ”

    The SPG AMEX is out of its league and over-matched, the dubious outdated claims notwithstanding!!! I am going to just recycle here — touched up lightly — my earlier post, complete with the comments that I’d responded to and used to shoot down the canard dead.

    Most people may be more interested in PART B, which provides a compelling argument against the continued touting of starpoint because of its “transferability.” Just see how “transferable” are Chase UR points that one can earn gazillion more of than starpoints!!!

    PART A:
    @Cindi said: “[AA and DL CCs] are hard to earn more than 1x on, so at least I can get 1.25x. So to me [the SPG AMEX] is a good card to have. I wouldn’t put all my spend on it, but I like to have 100k or so points on it. Last year I used those points to top off my Delta account and my American accounts, allowing me to get low mileage awards on those.”

    At 1point/$, 100K starpoints would require one to spend $80K on the SPG AMEX cards, unless some points can be earned as sign up bonuses (most people already have these cards though). That’s a lot of hard currency spend to do just to earn points to afford an award ticket that would cost just a fraction of $80K if paid for with cash. It seems to me that it would be infinitely better to just buy the ticket in hard cash!

    On the other hand, with a card like the CSR that awards 3x on travel and dining, points build up very quickly. In fact, I currently earn essentially 8points/$ on the CSR for dining because I “double dip” by being a VIP member in United MileagePlus Dining that awards 5miles/$ on dining. Chase UR points transfer 1:1 to UA miles so that when I dine out and pay for it with the CSR, I effectively earn 3+5 points/$. That’s how to play this game. There is no reason whatsoever to keep wasting hard currency on unbonused spend on the SPG AMEX cards. The value proposition is simply no longer there (even assuming it ever was).

    PART B:
    @Cindi also said: “But the SPG allows me to transfer to other airlines which I can’t transfer from Chase, such as AA and Delta”

    I am now going to finally kill that rationale for continuing to sink hard currency in a points currency that’s not likely to be around very much longer and now offers the minimum possible return on the buck.

    The bloggers’ claim is that the “transferability” of starpoints makes them the “most valuable points currency”, even if they are maddeningly hard to earn. Now consider this.

    Suppose I have a FF account with a carrier in each of the three major airline alliance networks that are also Chase transfer partners. This is doable because the following members of the three major airline alliances are Chase transfer partners:

    a) British Airways — OneWorld [14 full members]
    b) Air France KLM & Korean Air — SkyTeam [20 full members]
    c) United Airlines & Singapore Airlines [ 28 full members]

    What this means is that Chase UR points do, in fact, transfer to as many as the total number of carriers in the 3 major alliances combined, which equals

    14 (OW) + 20 (ST) and 28 (*A) = 62!!!

    That’s right, Chase effectively has (at least) 62 different airline transfer partners, consisting of all full members of the 3 major airline alliances. Can’t beat that!

    Illustratively, I recently joined SQ KrisFlyer. Suppose I were not a UA MileagePlus member and I wanted to book award travel with carriers in the *A network. I would just transfer my UR points 1:1 to my SQ Krisflyer account — which I, in fact, plan to do quite a bit — and then use those points to redeem award tickets on ANY of 28 *A carriers.

    I could do the same thing by joining Korea Air or AF/KLM to book award tickets on any of 20 SkyTeam carriers; or join BA to book award tickets on any of 14 OW carriers. All one would need is to open an account into which to transfer the points, which can be done for free.The transfer of UR points to partners is instantaneous in most cases (it’s not to SQ — takes a couple of days — but there are ways around it if necessary).

    Bottom line: Anyone who still feels that it makes sense to painstakingly earn starpoints 1/$ because of their purported “transferability” advantage needs to have their head examined!

    That concludes the shooting down of yet another blogosphere canard (French for duck)!

    G’day!

  5. Clarification: United MileagePlus Dining awards 5miles/$ on dining to VIP members at PARTICIPATING bars and restaurants, of which hundreds and hundreds can be found throughout Manhattan. I am frequently checking out new ones and regularly going back to those in my ‘hood I began patronizing when I found out they were part of UA MP Dining.

  6. You can credit to MileagePlus dining or any other Rewards Network dining program regardless of which rewards credit card you’re using as long as you register it.

  7. @Gary — There is no dispute about that. It’s just that with the CSR already earning 3X UR points on dining, it makes sense to use it rather than a card that earns 1X points in another currency — e.g., I would earn 3 UR points + 5 UA miles on the CSR vs. 1 starpoint + 5UA miles on the SPG AMEX [I am not even sure SPG AMEX would be eligible in UA MP Dining]. Even assuming a 1.25cpp value for starpoints redeemed as airline miles, I would still come out ahead, especially since UR points can also redeemed as airline miles but with a greater value 1.5cpp directly through Chase.

  8. @DCS It’s simply not the same thing to be able to transfer points into each of the three major alliances, and then to obtain tickets on any of 62 member carriers, as it is to be able to transfer points to multiple carriers’ individual FF programs. For example, if I have not quite enough miles in Lufthansa’s Miles and More program for an award, I can transfer SPG points directly to Miles and More to make up the balance. It won’t help me AT ALL to make use of those Miles and More miles be able to transfer Chase points to United or Singapore even though they are in the same Star Alliance. Same holds true if I have lots of Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles but not enough for an award. It is of no help to be able to transfer Chase points to Brit Air, even though it’s in the same One World alliance. I can transfer SPG points directly to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.
    Further, sometimes there are better FF deals to be had by getting tickets directly from FF programs other than the one or two per alliance to which Chase points can be transferred. When that’s the case, I can transfer my SPG points to approx. 30 programs to get the best deal.
    And finally, SPG transfers to some airlines that are not members of the three alliances.
    So I believe you shouldn’t be quite so (over)confident you’ve shot down “another blogosphere canard.”

  9. The statement about the Chase Sapphire Reserve is “possibly availabile still briefly with a higher bonus in-branch” is not correct. It IS available with a 100,000 bonus until March 12th in branch.

  10. @ScottB: It’s fine with me you’d like to come up with all kinds of excuses to continue sinking hard currency for very little return into a points currency (starpoints) whose days are numbered and ceased a long time ago to be as valuable as it once might have been.

    In short, you completely missed the point! You do not need to transfer miles to LH to book flight on Lufthansa if you have another *A carrier’s miles. You can, e.g., just transfer Chase UR points to UA miles 1:1 and simply use those miles to book whatever flight you’d like to book on LH, and it might even turn out to be a saver award using UA miles, whereas it might have been a standard using LH miles. That’s the beauty of it. You do not need to transfer anything. Transfers of UR points to UA miles are instantaneous. You just use the miles as they are. With starpoints, you’d may miss out on great deals because transfers to airlines take too long! That, couple with the difficulty of earning significant numbers of starpoints on general spend with the SPG AMEX remove any justification there might be to “invest” in starpoints. Folks who do volume purchasing like small businesses or entrepreneurs or frequent Starwood hotel guests (especially with elite status) have an easier time earning starpoints. For almost everyone else, it’s a slog that’s not worth it when there are much better alternatives, perhaps the best of which I just described above.

  11. LOL. I love this! “And finally, SPG transfers to some airlines that are not members of the three alliances. So I believe you shouldn’t be quite so (over)confident you’ve shot down “another blogosphere canard.”

    After you have covered the 62 full members of the 3 major airline alliances and non-member partners one can redeem *A miles on, there won’t be very many carriers left that one would want to spend hard earned points, especially starpoints, on! So, like I said, it’s fine with me if you’d like to come up with all kinds of excuses to continue sinking hard currency for very little return into a points currency (starpoints) whose days are numbered and ceased a long time ago to be as valuable as it once might have been.

    G’day!

  12. CSP really doesn’t deserve to be on this list especially in the #2 spot. Citi prestige is a much better card for all the obvious benefits. The sign up bonus on the CSP might be a bit better but the prestige still is a better overall card. If you have a reserve there’s no reason to have a CSP anyways.
    The best cards always comes down to what points you value most. Spg should have been higher on the list in my opinion. For 130k star points I can top off my favorite airline of choice with 120k points and have a 1 week stay at any Marriott property in the world. No other card out there will give you that kind of redemption on 130k points. That’s not to mention still being able to get the Southwest pass. Yes the earnings rate of 1:1 isn’t the best but unless your spending a shit load of money on travel and dining the other cards on the list aren’t doing you any better. Sure you could instead spend on a freedom unlimited or Amex EDP and earn 1.5:1 but personally I’ll take 1 star point over 2 UR or MR points especially while I can before the Spg card is eventually no more. UR and Amex points are easy to rack up anyways I rather get it while the getting is good with the Spg.
    My current card spending is as follows. Anything that doesn’t earn me more then 2:1 of UR or Amex points goes on the SPG. grocerys and gas both go on the Amex EDP. I buy multiple coffees a day so hitting the 30x a month is easy with small coffee charges. I spend a lot at gas stations along with maxing out the 6k grocery every year really works out and adds up. That’s not to mention the Amex offers so the card really kicks ass. If either category is a Freedom bonus for the quarter I obviously switch to the freedom for 5x also if I’m shipping online I see what the chase shopping portal is offering. Dining goes on the CSR. Airlines and hotels all depends where I’m going and the price. The prestige 4th night and the travel protection really come in handy. But like I said anything 2:1 earnings or lower just goes on the SPG just because I value them so much. I’d transfer both my UR and MR points to spg at a 2:1 ratio right now if I could even though technically 2 Ur points are worth more then 1 star point I just see alot of value in the star points vs other programs. To each his own though. We all have our own plans on how we want to redeem our points.

  13. @STANO — Your post is totally misguided.

    Before you can have 130K starpoints to use to top off other accounts, you must first earn the points at 1/$, which would cost you $106K, taking into account the 5K bonus points that your earn on every 20K starpoints transferred. Many people do not even make $106K a year!

    And this comment is silly: “Yes the earnings rate of 1:1 isn’t the best but unless your spending a shit load of money on travel and dining the other cards on the list aren’t doing you any better.”

    No, the other cards are much better because dining (even a Big Mac or a beer after work qualifies on the CSR) and travel (taxi, subway, bus) are common activities for most people, and engaging even modestly in the two activities at 3points/$ easily beats what you can get with the SPG AMEX. Anyway, just look at my long post in this space earlier to see why the infatuation with the SPG AMEX and starpoints simply must end. There have been much better options/cards for a long time now. Even the CSP that you just denigrated is infinitely better than the SPG AMEX.

    Sheeeesh! What a deep brainwash job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *