The 6 Cards That Give You the Most for Your Spending

I receive compensation for content and 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).


I’ve often explained the concept of ‘best’ credit card is really 3 different concepts — there are different ways that credit cards can benefit you, and there are different cards which will serve your needs in each category.

Here are the different reasons to get a rewards credit card.

  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

Here I’m going to suggest what I believe are the best personal 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 or six depending how you count:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter), 50,000 points after $4000 in spend within 3 months, no foreign currency conversion fees, 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.

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

  2. 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.

  3. Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers 25,000 points after $2000 spending within 3 months of card opening but most importantly for this post it gets you triple points on airfare and double points at US gas stations, US restaurants and at US supermarkets. It’s the fastest earning card for frequent travelers.

    The annual fee is $0 the first year then $195 thereafter. They take the sting out of the fee by giving you a $100 airline fee credit. And since that credit applies even in the first year you can make money in year one, even apart from all of the points.


    Emirates A380 First Class Shower (Emirates is a Direct Membership Rewards Transfer Partner)

    I love Membership Rewards points for their flexibility to transfer to a variety of airlines, especially Singapore Airlines (great premium cabin award availability for their own members), as well as Aeroplan for Star Alliance, and Alitalia for a decent award chart and their additional award availability for additional points.

  4. Citi ThankYou Premier offers 50,000 points after $3,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening as a signup bonus. The annual fee is $0 the first year, then $95. (offer expired)

    The card offers triple points on travel (a category that even includes gas) and double points on dining and entertainment. The entertainment category is really broad and some wineries are even included. Stay thirsty, my friend!

    Citi Prestige offers 50,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months. (Offer expired) It offers nearly identical spending bonuses — triple points on air and hotel and double points on dining and entertainment. ‘Air and hotel’ isn’t as broad as ‘travel including gas’ that’s offered by ThankYou Premier however.

    This is a $450 card, but gives you a $250 airline credit (which can be used on airfare, and earned twice during your first cardmember year if you apply now) and a $100 global entry credit. Points can be used to buy paid tickets on American at 1.6 cents apiece or transferred to miles with several airline programs.

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

    The benefits are worth thousands of dollars. It’s worth jumping now, because it may be too good to last.

    The card comes with American Airlines lounge access (when flying American) and a Priority Pass Select card (with unlimited visits and 2 free guests). And 3 free rounds of golf per year, too, and 4th night free on hotels.

  5. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers a signup bonus of up to 25,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months of account opening and comes with 2 stays and 5 nights towards elite status, and $30,000 spend gets you Gold status from Starwood. (Offer expired)

    I’ve had the personal version for nearly 14 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).

    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)

These six cards all are the very best for earning the most valuable currencies — points which transfer to a variety of different mileage programs — Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Starpoints, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.

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 strong cash back credit card.

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 »

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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. You’re still pushing Chase Sapphire Preferred, after all the partner devaluations? Nope. I can’t agree with that, Gary.

  2. Let’s all be lazy and mindlessly recycle old posts, word for word!

    @Gary continues to claim, with increasingly fading credibility since soon starpoints may not even be in existence: “You’re earning Starwood Starpoints and those are the most valuable currency.”

    Those of us who know better found that claim to be utterly silly. But to continue making it after SPG went belly up is quite a display of “rigidity” in thinking by the self -proclaimed “thought leader in travel.” Starpoints are so valuable they’ll soon cease to exist. Hmmm…. Do you believe in reverse Darwinism, i.e., “survival of the weakest”, Gary? Well, you should because Marriott points are about to swallow the “most valuable currency”!

  3. @Joseph N — LOL. The “thought leader in travel” would be pushing the CSP even if it no longer existed. He’ll keep cutting and pasting the same things, oblivious to any changes that may be taking place all around him…

  4. Gotta keep on pushing for the referral links. You must have spent more of Christmas than budgeted for a need a quick way to make some extra dollars.

  5. While I normally don’t mind these credit card posts, I find it extremely disingenuous to show pictures of Cathay, Emirates or Etihad First and note that these are transfer partners of various programs. Last I checked, it cost over 400k miles using Skywards miles for an Emirates First redemption from the US to Dubai, and there’s no (or negative) value in transferring points to any of the pictured programs (with the exception of Krisflyer). I get the business side of this and any other blog, but don’t be fooling people into thinking an Amex card is good for Emirates/Cathay/Etihad First.

  6. You’d recommend Amex cards with lowest-ever bonuses when Amex has a one bonus per lifetime policy?

    Thank God I’m not one of the people you’re “recommending” to.

  7. I just got the Gold PR Amex this year and I do like it but have been continuing to use the Chase Sapphire the most – partly due to the fact that the Membership Rewards program makes your points stay in ‘pending’ status for so long. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are available to use immediately when your statement closes.

    I wish Amex Membership Rewards would speed up their point availability – I’d consider getting the Everyday card and Platinum card if that were the case.

  8. @Joseph N what do you think is a stronger earning card? Starpoints are worth more than Ultimate Rewards but there aren’t category bonuses. Ultimate Rewards are still worth more than Membership Rewards or ThankYou points because they have better transfer partners (United, Korean, Hyatt).

  9. Wow the nihilists are having a convention today in your comment section Gary! Good God! Give it a rest already. I’ve been hacking points for three years now and your advice has taken me far and wide. I think your list reasoning is sound, and I would concur with your advice. Thanks!

  10. @DCS you’re right, and the rest of us are wrong. Keep at it. Not that many Hilton loyalists out there in the travel game, wonder why that is…

    Oh and SPG != Starwood…you have no clue about M&A activity in the real world

  11. @UA-NYC sez: “Not that many Hilton loyalists out there in the travel game, wonder why that is…”

    The truth by the numbers:
    ————————————–
    — Number of SPG loyalists worldwide: 21 million
    — Number of HHonors loyalists worldwide: 48 million

    That’s why I will not argue when you wrote: “you’re right, and the rest of us are wrong.”

    You clearly are wrong, and speaking of being clueless about the real world, the reason you thought that were “not that many Hilton loyalists out there in the travel game” is quite likely because you live in travel blogosphere echo chamber in which all you hear is how HGP or SPG (r.i.p) is great and how HHonors is the pits, and, as a result, you have no clue about the real world. That’s right, in the real world, there are twice as many HHonors loyalists as there are SPG loyalists.

    G’day!

  12. @DCS once again, stick to academia as you are clueless in the real world.

    MR has even more members – does that mean they are the best? Here’s a hint…the larger the program and scope, the less rewarding it generally is. Look at 3 airlines now vs. 6 before, MR/HH vs. SPG/Hyatt. I actually see a lot more avidity towards both MR (bigger) and SPG/Hyatt (smaller) in the points game than HH. HH gives away mid-level status w/a cheap credit card which makes them unique…likely cause they’re a lower value proposition than the other hotels.

    Feel free to keep arguing the strength of HH in your own echo chamber, we’ll keep laughing at you.

  13. I gave up on AMEX credit cards after I found out that so few places accept them in USA and almost no places overseas. Same for AMEX gift cards.

  14. @UA-NYC — I really do not have the time to waste by engaging you because you do not seem to have the brain power. All you do is regurgitate dubious or discredited blogosphere dogma. For instance, you just wrote: “MR has even more members – does that mean they are the best? ”

    I knew that MR had more members (55 million before they even add any SPG “leftovers”), but that was not your original contention. You’d written, “not that many Hilton loyalists out there in the travel game, wonder why that is…”, implying SPG had more loyalists, so I hit that one right out of the park with a simple “academic” fact.

    And now you are mindlessly pushing the canard that “…the larger the program and scope, the less rewarding it generally is” because you read it here or on another travel blog. The trouble for you is that I have repeatedly challenged @Gary or Lucky@OMAAT to provide their evidence for that claim and they never have. The truth, in fact, is that when one looks at the most reputable surveys of “customer satisfaction”, like the JD Power & Associates’, Marriott or Hilton almost always ranks at the top, HGP is usually somewhere in the middle, and SPG is almost invariably near the bottom or dead last.

    Keep drinking the travel blogosphere CW kool-aid. That’s the only thing you seem to be good at.

    G’day!

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