I get asked variations of this question all the time. “Which credit card should I get?,” “What’s the best credit card?, “What’s the most rewarding card?” There is no single answer to these broad questions. But I’ll do my best here to answer them anyway.
First, though, if your goal is to earn as many rewards as possible, then you’ve asked the wrong question altogether. The best way to earn rewards, in my opinion, is to sign up repeatedly for credit cards in order to earn signup bonuses. Most people are surprised to find that their credit score increases when they start this process (really!). If you’re interested in earning rewards through credit card signup bonuses, then I highly recommend using the free Travel Freely tool. Travel Freely will walk you through the steps of signing up for cards, meeting the spend requirements, and cancelling or downgrading before paying the next year’s annual fee. Here’s our affiliate link to Travel Freely (thank you for supporting us!)
Another approach, which this article is not about, is to juggle many different cards, each with its own purpose. You might use one card that offers the best rewards for grocery purchases, another for travel, another for restaurants, another for gas, and so on. If you’re interested in pursuing that type of approach, please see: Best Category Bonuses: Which card to use where? More on this topic can be found here: Awesome credit card combos.
This article is for those who are looking for that one ideal card (or maybe two) that will offer great rewards for spend, and maybe some nice perks too.
Top 6 Credit Cards
Given the above constraints, here are my top 6 answers to the question “What is the best credit card?”
- Capital One Venture Rewards
- Chase Sapphire Reserve + Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Citi Premier + Double Cash
- Bank of America Premium Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards
- US Bank Altitude Reserve
- Amex Gold Card
Now, here’s more info about each:
Capital One Venture Rewards
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
The Venture Rewards card made the top of the list because it is good for those who want the simplicity of being able to use rewards for any travel any time, and it is also useful for those who know how to maximize value by transferring points to airline miles. This is the only all-in-one card that I can think of that offers solid value for both type of uses. You can do better by juggling multiple cards, but if you want the one card that does it all, this is it (along with its business twin: Spark Miles for Business).
See also: Capital One “Miles” Complete Guide.
Chase Sapphire Reserve + Chase Freedom Unlimited
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
This combination is still one of my favorites. Yes, the Sapphire Reserve is expensive at $550 per year, but with its annual $300 travel rebate it’s not as expensive as it sounds. By combining with the no-fee Freedom Unlimited, it’s possible to get 3X for travel & dining (from the Sapphire Reserve) and 1.5X everywhere else (from the Freedom Unlimited card). Move the Freedom Unlimited points to your Sapphire Reserve account and you’re golden. Those points are then transferable to airline & hotel programs, or can be used for 1.5 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Chase portal. When used this way, the card earnings are effectively 4.5% for travel & dining and 2.25% everywhere else. The Sapphire Reserve also has excellent travel protections.
See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide.
Citi Double Cash + Premier
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
The Citi Double Cash has long been a decent choice for a fee-free 2% cash back card. Now, though, cash rewards can be converted to Citi ThankYou Rewards and can therefore become more valuable when paired with the Citi Premier card. Use the Premier card to earn 3X for travel and gas station purchases, and use the Double Cash everywhere else. When traveling internationally, use only the Premier card since the Double Cash charges foreign transaction fees.
With this combination, you’ll earn at least 2X rewards for almost all spend. Plus, by pooling your Premier and Double Cash ThankYou points, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point value for travel purchased through the ThankYou portal. That means that your 2X rewards are worth 2.5% back towards travel. You can also transfer points to high value airline mile programs for even better value for your points.
One big downside to this combo is the fact that Citi has dropped all travel protections from these cards. If automatic travel protections aren’t important to you, but you value transferable points, then this is the card duo for you. Those who spend a lot on dining and/or flights may do better to go with the Citi Prestige (for its 5X categories) instead of, or in addition to, the Citi Premier.
See also: Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide.
Bank of America Premium Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
If you can handle the $100K requirement (more here about that), this card offers an amazing return of 3.5% back for travel and dining, and 2.62% everywhere else. The only downside to this card, besides the $100K requirement to maximize earnings, is that points are not transferable to airline miles or hotel programs. Still, if you can qualify for Platinum Honors with Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program, this is an awesome card.
US Bank Altitude Reserve
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
This is another expensive card ($400), but it is relatively cheap after the annual $325 travel rebate. Since points are worth 1.5% each towards travel booked through the US Bank portal or via Real Time Mobile Rewards, the card earnings are effectively 4.5% for travel and mobile wallet payments (things like Apple Pay), and 1.5% everywhere else. The Altitude Reserve also has good travel protections. There are two things that keep this card from making it to the top of the list: 1) it’s not very rewarding for spend outside of its 3X categories; and 2) there are no options to transfer points to airline or hotel programs.
Amex Gold Card
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
I have a hard time including any Amex card in this list since there are many places that don’t accept Amex for payment. In my view, it’s simply impossible to get by with an Amex card as your only credit card. Still, this card has a lot going for it so I decided to add it to the list. Use the card to earn 4x Membership Rewards points at US Supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases, then 1x), 4x at restaurants worldwide, and 3X for flights booked with airlines or on amextravel.com (earn 1X everywhere else). Those who spend a lot at supermarkets and restaurants will do very well with this card. Also, don’t forget that this card has valuable perks such as airline fee reimbursements (up to $100 a year in statement credits for baggage fees and more with one qualifying airline) and dining credits (up to $10 in statement credits monthly with participating dining partners: Boxed.com, Shake Shack, Seamless/Grubhub, Cheesecake Factory and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse).
If you like this card, consider pairing it with Blue Business Plus in order to get 2X Membership Rewards points on all purchases, up to $50K spend per calendar year (then 1X thereafter).
Membership Rewards are great for transferring to airline partners, but there are limited options for using the points effectively in other ways. For example, if you want to get better than 1 cent per point value, you’ll need either the very expensive Business Platinum card in order to book flights for up to 1.54 cents per point value, or the very expensive Schwab Platinum Card in order to cash out points at 1.25 cents each.
See also: Amex Membership Rewards Complete Guide.
Starting a master bath remodel in a month or so and looking to use a credit card to get a nice bonus. Probably going to spend 10k -15k on the credit card. Current cards:
Chase Sapphire preferred (had it over 2 years)
Chase Ink business (had it about 18 months)
AMEX Blue Cash Preferred (primarily for gas and groceries) (had it over 2 years)
What would you guys go for in order to maximize a credit card reward?
It really depends on what kind of rewards you want, but I’d suggest simply looking at our Best Offers page to see offers sorted by first year value and pick a few that are near the top: https://frequentmiler.com/best-credit-card-sign-up-offers/
If you are more interested in earning elite status, free nights, or companion tickets, you might be interested in reviewing this post: https://frequentmiler.com/best-big-spend-bonuses/
Thanks for the reply. Looking for biggest bang for my buck since it is going to be a lot going on the credit card. Do you think offers will improve now that the economy seems to be moving in the right direction? I can wait a couple months until I need to purchase everything. Thanks!
There’s always a chance that offers will improve, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening within just a couple of months. We can hope!
[…] What Is The Best Credit Card?: If you’ve been in this hobby for a while, no doubt you’ve had friends or family ask you this question. It’s a question that is tough to answer for sure. While there may not be a right/wrong answer, this article provides a good way to think about it. […]
I pretty much agree with the choice of these.
I am, as they say LOL/24, and only have the CSR. I do a great combo in the ATT More, Premier, Double Cash, all earning TY points. I also have the Green, Gold, & BB+. Amex sent me a thing to get the Bus. Plat again, no lifetime language, but once the spend is done there, it will be gone again in a year. Not sure if the Green is a keeper, other than for the initial benefits.
I am looking at the Fidelity Visa, 2x, cash back for everyday spend the BB+ does not cover.
I have the orig. Hyatt, IHG, Marriott cards, Mileage Plus, and Ritz. Each of these does something well and pretty much pays for its fees in benefits.
I know you like the BOA visa alot, but not sure it will work for me.
There is a reason people have only one wife that provides all the functions that you need in a mate. You don’t have a harem of women, using each one for a specific function that you desire at that time.
Similarly for credit cards.
I think the question addressed in this post is not really for your “groupies” as we’re getting multiple cards, sign-up bonuses, using different cards to take advantage of higher multiples, etc. It’s really for our spouses that are not into this way of thinking. I’ve been struggling for several years on how to make this simple and painless for my partner, and last month signed up for the B of A Premium rewards cards (since we have Platinum Honors). Now I feel like we are not missing out on a significant number of points when she uses the card at random locations. Getting a return between 2.625% and 3.5% no matter what works for me, and I don’t get exasperated texts when she is out shopping about “which card do I use?”.
Keep them Happy don’t make their life unhappy over this stuff . Mine could never figure out air let alone awards travel as in a Master’s Degree .
If someone asks me for THE best card, I answer in a way that #1 keeps fear of high AF in check, #2 offers some nice instant gratification of a strong SUB, #3 has some nice benefits, and #4 leaves the door open should they wish to go further down the rabbit hole. To that end, I always recommend the CIP…oh and yeah a juicy referral bonus to boot.
In my experience, most people asking this question aren’t ready to go for business cards yet. Plus, for most spend, the Ink Business Preferred isn’t very rewarding. It’s a great choice for getting started, but not a great choice (in my opinion) if you’re going to stop at just this one.
Point is that you don’t know if they will stop at one. If they are asking the question, they have already jumped the first hurdle, and more likely to go for more…and once they get a taste for big SUBs they likely will be back for more. Sure biz cards are another fear factor, but if that can be overcome then in my opinion this is the best starting point. Not everyone who starts out needs priority pass/GE right out of the gate.
I love my INK pay all my monthly bills with that . Had many B cards just 2 now this award stuff is B to A not A to B. Find ur travel needs then get that card . 50k points u can use are better then 100k u can’t Use Been There .
INKer for Life !! or a better deal..
[…] response to my recent post “What is the best credit card?” a reader pointed out that I should have included the Wells Fargo Propel card on the list. […]
[…] dread the question: What is the Best Credit Card? As much as I hate the question “Where is the market heading?”…like anyone has a […]
The ultimate combo:
Altitude Reserve – 4.5% on mobile transactions in person (default for non-category spend). Samsung Pay required.
Citi AT&T Access More – 3x TYP on online
Citi Prestige – 5x on dining, airline, OTA, 3x on hotels, cruise, and in order to transfer TYPs to partners
Citi Rewards+ – to get 10% back on TYP redemptions up to 10k back
Citi Premier (optional) – to get 3x on other travel categories, not included in Prestige, and gas, and get 1.25cpp for TYP portal redemptions
Amex Blue Business Plus – 2x MR, backup for Altitude Reserve or ATTAM, when those don’t work
Ebates Visa (optional) – 3x MR points on shopping via Ebates portal.
Amex Gold – 4x MR on groceries
CSR – 3x UR on a categories which Prestige don’t include, and a transfer option to partners
Freedom – 5x UR rotating
Freedom Unlimited (optional) – 1.5x UR everywhere, as a backup to AR, BBP (never used it so far)
Ink Cash – 5x UR on OSS (gift cards), phone, cable, internet.
Hilton Aspire – the best benefits of any card so far, IMO.
If I had to have only one card, it would be Altitude Reserve.
You should account for fees for all the cards. A heavy spender Vs light spender will need different cards.
That’s why I said – if only one card, then it would be Altitude Reserve. Effective AF is $75.
But I would also add a Citi combo to cover online, or Amex BBP + Ebates Visa in this case.
I wouldn’t add Ebates if you have AT&T Access More already, you’d be better off with another 5x card like Citi Dividend, Discover, or US Bank Cash+. I’m not sure Gold is worth the fees in your setup. I have something similar, but instead of Aspire I have Ink Preferred (for Chase transfer partners/cell phone insurance). I also have CNB Crystal Infinite, which has 3.9% at grocery stores (3 x 1.3 cpp) + a -$600 AF to help offset the others. There are several quarters (at least 2) when rotating cards have grocery, so you can always stock up them. If you’re doing heavy MS, the Gold IS probably worth it. Amex keeps giving me Platinum renewal offers, so I keep that for the bennies.
Jeremy, I have the ATT More card but want I do not like is I can never figure when it is 3x and when it is 1x. I have it set as my default at Amazon and it gets 3x there, but since Citi, will not list individually for this card what each purchased earned, I am hesitant to use it anywhere but Amazon. If there is a way to tell what earned 3x and what earned 1x, I would like to know where to look.
Not really, you have to figure it out based on purchases. Doctorofcredit and Flyertalk have resources. I find I get 3x at 90%+ of online stores. Major ones such as Amazon, Staples, Office Depot, Target, Walmart, etc. work for 3x.
Surprised that there is no mention of AMEX. Guess they don’t give enough commissions huh?
I love Amex membership rewards, but I can’t think of a single card that I’d recommend to someone to be their only card; or a simple card pair that I’d highly recommend. Mostly that’s because Amex isn’t accepted everywhere. Partly it’s because the best single Amex card is the no-fee Blue Business Plus, but it’s no good for international travel. If you were recommending a single card (or card pair) to someone to be their only cards, would you recommend Amex?
Maybe Amex EDP should be good only Amex card, but this is for domestic spend only. It’s 1.5x on everything, plus grocery and gas categories.
Amex business gold is amazing for me because I max out 4X points on business category spend.
If you spend 15k on 4x categories then it is no brainer, so good for you
The Ink is my go to card with the most flexibility. SPG was #2 but no more
Once Marriott got SPG I cried. I knew my 15 year run was over.
Or combine Wells Fargo Propel with Citi Double cash and get 3x on travel, dining, streaming and 2x on everything else…fffffree
That’s a good suggestion. I’ll probably add it when I next update this post.
I’m new to this particular combo, so could you elaborate on this please? Pay with WF Propel (for what kind of stuff?) and do what? How does this combo work when WF and Citi Double Cash are two separate cards from two different companies?
Thanks…I need a rookie explanation.
My favorite card combo is Chase Ink Cash and Chase Sapphire Reserve. Between GYFT and office supply stores, I usually get close to 5X everywhere I shop. The Sapphire Reserve card turns 5X into a minimum of 7.5% back for travel. The Chase Freedom card is just an extra bonus with its rotating 5X categories.
Mine too as long as you can get a biz card.
How do you get 7.5% for travel? Am i missing somethign here?
Transfer to sapphire reserve and claim at 1.5
7.5% for travel should be the minimum that you’d get with 5X Ultimate Rewards paired with a Sapphire Reserve since each point is worth 1.5 cents through the Chase travel portal. The math is simple just multiply 1.5 x 5 = 7.5%. I can frequently do much better than 7.5% by transferring my points to a Chase travel partner. I often get 4 cents per point value at Hyatt hotels so this would be 4 x 5 = 20%. I also have a Southwest companion pass so in this case I would get 1.5 x 2 x 5 = 15% if I were flying with another person.
Don’t forget about Freedom(s) for that sweet, sweet 5x on rotating categories.
The card that I would be looking for would be one that has good insurance for delays and lost luggage and perhaps other insurance on tickets that are purchased with airline program frequent flier miles, and taxes and occasionally fees are paid on the card.
Additional pluses would be , in order, no annual fee or low annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees. Much less important would be sign up bonuses and rewards . Does any card come close? My credit is excellent , my spend is low, my award travel , both flights and hotels, is extensive . I don’t like any of the loyalty programs any more — they raise my blood pressure, but I have a lot of points and miles with them .
This might be my last card if you can recommend something.
Chase Ink Business Preferred
Other than the no annual fee part, the Sapphire Reserve w/ Freedom Unlimited checks all your boxes. Chase and Citi are the only issuers that I can think of that fully cover your travel when you use their cards to pay award taxes and fees. Citi has a couple of excellent cards, but none that are good for everyday (non-category-bonus) spend. You could also go with Chase Sapphire Preferred (instead of reserve) for only a $95 annual fee. The rewards are a bit smaller and the value per point when redeeming for travel through the Chase portal is less. I think that most travelers are better off with the Sapphire Reserve.
UPDATE: Citi no longer offers travel protections
What about Citi Double Cash and/or AT&T More Access?
Greg, to your new card sign-up point/Travel Freely affiliate link,
“Most people are surprised to find that their credit score increases when they start this process (really!).” I do see this when folks first start out. But a year later I then also read they have 800+ credit scores, yet Chase still won’t issue them a new card due to too much activity. It is a well-regarded fact that Chase has the best cards in the industry. Accumulating too many cards (of ANY issuer, including their own), too fast is a red flag to a major lending institution that then has no compunctions in ridding/denying you of key travel & financial tools.
There really should be more instruction on balancing best rewards with best practices. I think this post, for instance, addresses both yet the carrot is first held out to get it done quickly while alluding to a positive result for future approvals (a high credit score). For people who want quantity over quality then by all means keep randomly signing apps. But for a more intelligent way to arrive at X Destination/Hotel, take some time to observe & evaluate the industry landscape & then proceed with moderation.
That out of the way, I would personally replace your CNB Crystal pick with Ritz Carlton. Reports say still available as a product change? Earnings rates are similar enough – where the RC doesn’t pay 3x on gas, for instance, it offer 2x rather than 1x on everything else. The airline incidental fee credit is the same without having to sign up 3 AUs (& 3 separate credit report dings) to max out the CNB’s. Both are Visa Infinite cards with the same benefits. RC has a $50 higher AF and CNB has the lounge credit at $50k spend, but those are more than offset with RC’s best feature imo – the free 50k point anniversary night. I am using mine towards a $1,000/night room which is easy to achieve. I would actually go through the complicated and annoying series of steps to get the CNB if it was an overall better travel pick over my existing RC – and possibly if the RC is discontinued.
Finally, the Hilton Aspire & Ascend cards work very well in tandem both in spend categories and rewards, I would include them. I always recommend friends start with the CFU/CSR combo then work on Aspire/Ascend which are much easier to get. They are then covered with good cash back AND excellent spend categories (including1.5 – 1.8 on non-bonus spend) AND free hotel nights AND the easy ability to own currency with major airlines as well as earn it with a major hotel brand. I know you were going for simplicity in your post and maybe this approach isn’t necessarily that (we’re talking 4 cards rather than 2), but I do think it covers all general bases.
Thanks for the recommendations and advice. I do see your point and need to think about how that could be better communicated.
Ritz: Keep in mind that the Ritz card earns Marriott points which are much less valuable in my opinion than CNB points. Yes, at 2X everywhere, I’d prefer Ritz over 1X CNB. But CNB’s 3X categories are worth far more than Ritz’s 3X categories (in my opinion). On the other hand, Ritz has better travel protections and is just easier to work with (CNB has a terrible website for example).
I appreciate your thoughts & you, Greg
The problem with the Hilton cards are there are so few aspirational properties in their portfolio.
Let’s be real for once, shall we? The best card is the one you get paid a commission…
If that was the criteria then I’d list the cards that pay the most commission, but none of those are in this post. About half the cards listed here are not affiliate links at all. I don’t EVER pay attention to what is or isn’t an affiliate link when composing posts.
Instead of being snarky, why not suggest which cards you think better meet the criteria of this post?
Greg is looking @ the long game not short term .Maybe one day he’ll sell and walk away with $mills..
I have been reading the travel bloggers for several years now. Greg is one of the few ethical bloggers I recommend to others who are interested in the hobby.
People are shocked when they see my cards like no bid deal .The Deal is u Flip them a Lot and keep the ones that work for YOU not others. For some reason 95% of the people can’t understand this idea .I guess they think I spend a lot of $$$ for my trips .Their not open to new ideas no matter how many or few degrees they have .
Since you are showing card combos in your list, with Platinum Honors the BOA Premium Rewards card should be combined with BOA Cash Rewards card for 5.25% back on gas and 3.5% back on grocery/wholesale clubs.
True. I didn’t really intend to add combos when I started the post, but I really like the CSR/FU combo, so I couldn’t help myself 🙂
You’re absolutely right that once you have BOA $100K status, you can/should add the Cash Rewards card to the mix.