Here Are the Best of the Best Rewards Cards, and the Simplest Value Proposition for Why

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Here are the best of the best in each category of credit card, think of it as an award of sorts. My basic value proposition for each card and why it’s among the top of each category.

Best No Annual Fee Cards

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: earns 1.5 points per dollar on all spending. (The information related to Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card has been collected by View from the Wing and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.)

    I think the card gets even better if you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because you can move your Chase Freedom Unlimited points to your Sapphire Preferred account and from there to airline miles or hotel points. Since I value Sapphire Preferred’s points at 1.9 cents apiece, earning at 1.5 points per dollar on Freedom Unlimited means this strategy nets you a 2.85% effective rebate on spend without any other bonus. That’s unparalleled for earning on an ongoing basis.

    Maybe you’re not ready to get Sapphire Preferred. Maybe you don’t spend a lot, and even though the Sapphire Preferred’s annual fee is $0 the first year you aren’t ready to get a card that’s going to cost $95 per year after that. So you spend on this card, save your points, and when you do get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card later all of a sudden your points will be much more valuable because they’ll be transferrable to a variety of airline and hotel programs.

    Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card to start with. Earn points at a fast rate. Just don’t spend the points right away at a penny apiece. Save them until you ‘graduate’ to Sapphire Preferred, and those points will become even more valuable.

Best Cards for Earning Points Quickly

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred has a strong bonus (50,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months,) and for many has the most useful spend bonuses — double points on travel (air, hotel, car, taxi, toll, etc) and dining. Those are my biggest spend categories since I travel heavily. And this is the best broadly available offer for the card I’ve ever seen (50,000 without the bonus for additional cardholder was the norm prior to April 2002.) It’s also the card you should get first because reports are that Chase doesn’t seem to approve cards for folks with 5+ new credit card applications in the past two years.

    best credit card bonus offers
    Transfer Points and Redeem for Singapore Airlines A380 Suites

  • Citi Prestige earns triple points on air travel and hotels and double points on dining and entertainment. You’ll be surprised at what counts as ‘entertainment’ and earns you double points. Points transfer to a variety of airlines like Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles, Etihad Guest, and Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.

    Cathay Pacific’s AsiaMiles is a Citi transfer partner.

Best Premium Cards

  • American Express Platinum is the traditional premium credit card — that now comes packed with so many benefits that I keep it year in and year out. It gets me lounge access (Delta lounges when flying Delta, Priority Pass Select which means Alaska lounges and lounges around the world, plus the outstanding American Express Centurion lounges). It comes with Hilton Gold status, Starwood Gold status and National Car Rental Executive status. It comes with unlimited Boingo wireless internet, and rebates the fee for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And there’s a $200 airline fee credit which makes the annual fee much easier to handle.

  • Prestige is definitely the ‘it’ card of the moment, the richest mix of benefits, and the best (lowest net cost) way for American flyers to get lounge access — a signup bonus up to 50,000 points [Offer expired], this $450 annual fee card comes with a $250 airfare credit that you can even use directly on an airline ticket. Your Priority Pass Select membership comes with two free guests into participating lounges. It gets American Admirals Club access when flying American. They’ll rebate the fourth night of a hotel stay when you book through their agents. You even get 3 rounds of free golf each year at participating courses. And of course they rebate the $100 Global Entry fee. Here are 15 Things I Love About the Citi Prestige 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, 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.


  1. Strictly for earning Thank You points, the Citi Premier and the AT&T Access More cards are both superior to the Prestige. Granted, I’m not sure they earn incrementally enough *more* points than the Prestige to justify the annual fee for most people, but the Premier has a broader travel category than the Prestige, while the AT&T card gives 3X for online purchases (an extremely broad category) and a 10K point bonus for spending $10K in a year.

  2. Yep, keep posting that picture of Singapore suites. Get people to signup with your referral links and then they can find out just how difficult it is to redeem those awards.

  3. Gary,

    Could you compare the net annual return of all of the cards you cite (except the AMEX Platinum since it is perks only) to the Citibank Double Cash card’s nominal 2% return accounting for point bonus earning rates, sample actual point redemption rates, total annual spend, and the annual fee? Under what circumstances will a combination of Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Preferred exceed a 2% return after the Sapphire Preferred annual fee? Thanks for the help.

  4. @JimT given my valuation on Ultimate Rewards points, $10k spent on the Freedom Unlimited card pays the annual fee on Sapphire Preferred if you don’t use Sapphire Preferred at all. The actual spend required would go down if you’re putting travel/dining on Sapphire PReferred.

  5. You mention only the Sapphire but doesn’t the ink give the same access to UR points for the Freedom card? I ask because I have both the ink and Sapphire and old Freedom card and was planning on converting my Sapphire to a Freedom unlimited to transfer to my Ink…I am wrong about transferring Freedom to Ink cards?!

  6. Marty — you can transfer Freedom points to Ink Plus (not Ink Cash) and from there to miles/points. Whether or not Chase will let you product change from Sapphire Preferred to Freedom Unlimited is another question, I’ve seen people refused for that.

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