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).
If you’re going to choose one card, what should it be? And what’s really the best rewards card out there? To answer this question you need to understand the (3) kinds of value you can get from a rewards credit card.
- Initial bonus offer. 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Here are I think the six cards that qualify:
- 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, then 1 point per dollar spent) and earns 3X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines and amextravel.com.
The card has a $100 airline fee credit 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 Shake Shack, 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 in 2019, and then at the beginning of 2020, meaning getting $200 in credits during your first cardmember year.
- 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.
- 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.
There’s a $200 annual airline fee credit (which you can use in 2019, and again at the beginning of 2020, 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.
- 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 pay your cell phone. 5/24 applies.
You get a great signup bonus, great points-earning, and a good benefit in cell phone coverage.
- Citi Prestige Card used to be a great benefits card but in my opinion they’re largely killing the 4th hotel night free night benefit. Instead they’ve turned this into a huge card for points-earning (5 points per dollar on air travel and restaurants, 3 points per dollar on hotels and cruise lines) plus Priority Pass card with unlimited visits and 2 included guests.
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card lets you buy any flight without worrying about restricted award availability using your rewards. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent, and those now transfer 2:1.5 into several airline frequent flyer programs. That makes this card a double threat: great for buying paid travel, also great for transfers to frequent flyer programs since with many of those programs you’re earning 1.5 miles per dollar spent.
The card offers a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. You can earn 10X at hotels.com/venture through January 2020. And the card gives you up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or PreCheck, not bad for a card with a $0 annual fee the first year; $95 after that.
Which one is best overall for you depends on which benefits you’ll make the most use of, and what categories your spending falls into.
In all of these cases you’re earning 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.