The 4 Best Rewards Credit Cards Overall

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Information about Chase Sapphire Reserve is neither provided nor reviewed by its issuer and links to the card do not provide compensation to the author.

There are (3) kinds of value you can get from a credit card, beyond just making it easy to buy stuff.

  1. Signup bonus. A card may have an attractive acquisition bonus. And you should get the card. But that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on it once you’ve earned the bonus. It’s like the old saying that the best marketing in the world is the enemy of a bad product.

  2. Benefits for having the card There are cards you should get because they give you better treatment from an airline or hotel, lounge access, annual free hotel nights, or other perks — perks that are worth far more than the card’s annual fee — but again, that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on the card. Get the card, stick it ninin a drawer, unless you have to show it to access your perks.

  3. Rewards for your ongoing spend There are cards that are rewarding for your ongoing spending. They earn valuable points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards), and earn them quickly (more than one point per dollar). That’s where you want ongoing spend to go.

I often list the best signup bonuses, or lists of which card is best for which category of spending. But what are the best cards overall that hit it out of the park, the triple threats that deliver value across all three dimensions?

  1. American Express Gold Card offers four points per dollar in two different categories: U.S. restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases annually) and earns 3X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines and amextravel.com.

    The card has a $250 annual fee, offset first with a $100 airline fee credit — in my experience selecting American Airlines as my preferred airline and then a $100 electronic gift card gets reimbursed, though it’s not supposed to work that way — and second with a $120 annual dining credit which gives enrolled cardmembers up to $10 per month in statement credits for using the card at:participating Shake Shack locations, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Grubhub/Seamless.

    The airline fee credit is based on calendar year not cardmember year. So if you get the card now you can use the $100 credit still in 2018, and then at the beginning of 2019, meaning getting $200 in credits during your first cardmember (annual fee) year.

    American Express has invested in metal at a lower price point than before. There are two card options — Gold and Rose Gold. The Rose Gold option will only be available through January 9, 2019.

    american express gold card rose gold

  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve has great earn, a great bonus, and decent benefits. The signup bonus is 50,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months. You earn triple points on travel and dining, and those points transfer to airline miles and hotel points.

    The card has a $450 annual fee, but there’s a $300 annual travel credit (automatically rebates qualifying travel spend) and a $100 global entry credit, plus you get a Priority Pass for airport lounge access with unlimited visits and no fee for guests.

    That’s a strong bonus and fast earn, with good benefits, though not as strong benefits as American Express has with their premium card. 5/24 applies.

  3. Platinum Card By American Express earns valuable points (Membership Rewards that transfer to airline miles), has a strong signup bonus (60,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months), and earns 5 points per dollar on airfare.

    The annual fee is $550 but there’s a $200 annual airline fee credit (which you can use once in 2018, and again at the beginning of 2019, so twice during your first cardmember year) and a $200 annual Uber credit. There’s also a $100 Global Entry credit.

    Lounge access is American Express’ own Centurion lounges, Delta lounges when flying Delta same day, Airspace lounges and Priority Pass lounges.

    And you get elite status with Marriott, Hilton, National Car Rental, and Uber. It’s also a pretty hefty metal.

  4. Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has an 80,000 point signup bonus after $5000 spend within 3 months. That can even be enough for a roundtrip business class award ticket between the US and Europe. These points transfer directly to airlines and hotels.

    It earns 3 points per dollar on travel — that’s airlines, hotels, rental cars, tolls, even Uber — and 3 points per dollar on shipping and advertising on social media and search engines, so great for anyone who advertises on Facebook or Twitter, or who spends money advertising with Google. It also comes with $600 protection against theft or damage when you use it to buy your cell phone. 5/24 applies.

    You get a great signup bonus, great points-earning, and a good benefit in cell phone coverage.

Bonus: the two cards that offer the best value for money are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is great value ($0 the first year then $95), has a great signup bonus (50,000 points after $4000 spend in 3 months), and has fast earning (double points on travel and dining).

It hits two of the three categories while offering that $0 first year fee, so great value, and it does have some benefits like primary collision when you rent a car (earn double points and if you ding the rental your insurance company may not have to know).

And the Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express earns 2x Membership Rewards points on your first $50,000 in purchases per year (1 point per dollar thereafter). That makes this the best most rewarding card for otherwise-unbonused spend. And there’s no annual fee.

In all of these cases you’re earning Membership Rewards points or Ultimate Rewards points — points that transfer to your choice from a variety of different mileage programs. That way you can put the points where you need them, when you need them based on the award you want and which airline has availability at that time.

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. @ Gary — Really? These are NOT the best credit cards. Assuming you are a big traveler (air and hotel spend), the best cards are:

    1) Citi Prestige card is THE BEST card. Period.

    2) The card for your airline if you are trying to get elite status as cheaply as possible.

    3) Then, same for your hotel program.

    4) Finally, MAYBE The Platinum AMEX card, depending on your lounge usage and how much airfare you buy.

    Most everything else with an annual fee is crap after you snag the signup bonus.

  2. Nice post. Thanks. @Gary, is there any card that gives you lounge access and/or free breakfasts at the Marriott chain simply by holding the card?

  3. @Gene – I cancelled my Prestige card. The ONLY unique benefit is the 4th night hotel deal. Getting an airline co-brand makes sense for non-elite flyers, but not for putting any spend on just for the benefits, does not make it one of the best cards.

  4. AmEx Gold Restaurant bonus is quite restricted and should be called out. AmEx does NOT give bonus on all restaurants but Chase Sapphire Reserve DOES.

  5. Really no reason to keep both Chase and both Amex products given the overlap in benefits and high annual fees. 1 per issuer would be sufficient – the others are pure churn products.

    A better question would be: if you had to choose 3 cards to carry and use for everyday spend (including groceries, restaurants, mail order, etc.) which would you carry? Because most of our spouses have neither the time nor inclination to remember all the category bonuses.

    Also which card is best overall for travel? Amex provides higher ROI on airfare but Chase includes pricey evacuation insurance. They both offer 3x for hotels.

  6. Gary,

    Hilton Aspire (a card you don’t write about much) really needs to be in this conversation. You get great credits (airline and resort), priority pass membership, Hilton Diamomd status, a free weekend night and oustanding earnings on Hilton hotels and US restaurants. Plus the signup bonus is very good.

  7. Gary,

    Hilton Aspire (a card you don’t write about much) really needs to be in this conversation. You get great credits (airline and resort), priority pass membership, Hilton Diamomd status, a free weekend night and oustanding earnings on Hilton hotels and US restaurants. Plus the signup bonus is very good.

  8. For Whole Foods and Amazon it’s best to have Amazon Prime.
    For international CSR
    Domestically I suppose AMEX golf provided you spend enough to offset the $250 annual fee (assuming you have the CSR)
    CFU for everyday spend. You can also get any of the numerous 2% cash back cards.

  9. I’ve done the math over and over, and the best AMEX card seems to be the EveryDay Preferred. I really wanted the answer to be the Gold Card, but no matter how I did the math – the vast majority of my spending is on items other than restaurants, airfare, and groceries. So earning 1.5 points/1 dollar for all of these items gets me the best bang for my buck.

    Currently holding the Platinum card also, but I only put airfare on this card.

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