What is the best credit card?

52

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)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

FM Mini Review: This card earns 2 "miles" per dollar, which are worth exactly 1 cent each toward travel. This makes the return on spend similar to a 2% cash back card (though in this case you must redeem your miles to offset travel in order to get 1 cent per mile). One big advantage over cash back: Capital One allows transfering their "miles" to airline miles & hotel points.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Travel
Other

Earning rate: 2X everywhere ⚬ 5X on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel

Noteworthy perks: Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® ⚬ Redeem miles for travel at value of 1 cent per mile ⚬ Convert "miles" to airline miles & hotel points ⚬ No foreign transaction fees ⚬ 2 complimentary visits per year to Capital One or Plaza Premium Lounges

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)
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

FM Mini Review: Excellent all-around card for frequent traveler. Best when paired with no-fee Chase Freedom Flex, no-fee Freedom Unlimited & no-fee Chase Ink Cash


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Other

Earning rate: 10X hotels & car rentals booked through Chase ⚬ 10X Chase Dining ⚬ 5X flights booked through Chase ⚬ 3X Travel and Dining ⚬ 10X Lyft (through March 2025)

Noteworthy perks: $300 Annual Travel Credit ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel or Pay Yourself Back ⚬ Transfer points to airline & hotel partners ⚬ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ⚬ Priority Pass Select lounge access ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit ⚬ $5 monthly DoorDash in-app credit through December 2024 ⚬ Free DashPass through 2025 ⚬ Earn 10X on Lyft spend

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Chase Freedom Unlimited

FM Mini Review: Great for 3x categories and 1.5X everywhere else. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature or Platinum

Base
Travel
Dine
Other

Earning rate: 5x travel booked through Chase ⚬ 5X Lyft through March 2025 ⚬ 3x dining ⚬ 3x drugstores ⚬ 1.5X everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: Free DashPass for up to 3 months upon activation

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

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)
Citi Double Cash Card

FM Mini Review: 2X rewards for all spend with no annual fee makes this card a winner. Earn 2X everywhere and redeem for the equivalent of 2% cash back or 2X ThankYou points. Pair with the Premier or Prestige card to make points transferrable to airlines.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base

Earning rate: 2% cash back everywhere (1% cash back for each purchase + 1% when paying your credit card bill for that purchase)

Noteworthy perks: 1X when you make a purchase + 1X when you pay for those purchases

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)
Bank of America Premium Rewards

FM Mini Review: This card has best-in-class earnings for those with $100K+ invested with BOA. With that level of investment, you would earn 3.5X travel & dining and 2.62X everywhere else.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
1.5%
Travel
2%
Dine
2%

Earning rate: ⚬ 2X travel and dining ⚬ 1.5X everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ $100 annual airline incidentals fee reimbursement ⚬ $100 Airport Security Statement Credit towards TSA Pre✓ ® or Global Entry Application fee, every four years ⚬ Up to 75% bonus for Preferred Rewards banking customers

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)
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

FM Mini Review: With points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel, this card offers an excellent signup bonus. For ongoing use, this card is a winner for those who spend a lot on mobile payments (at 3X, rewards are worth 4.5%)


Annual Fee: $400

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Shop
Other

Earning rate: 5x prepaid hotel & car rental through Altitude Rewards Center ⚬ 3X travel and mobile wallet payments ⚬ 3X dining & food delivery through 6/30/21

Noteworthy perks: $325 in travel/dining credits per membership year ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Real Time Mobile Rewards (redeem points at full value at time of purchase) ⚬ Priority Pass Select airport lounge access (4 per year) ⚬ 12 free Gogo Wifi passes per year. Note: This benefit will be discontinued on April 1, 2022. You can continue to enroll until March 31, 2022 and passes will be valid for 12 months from issuance. ⚬ Primary car rental coverage ⚬ No foreign transaction fees ⚬ Free authorized user cards

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)
American Express® Gold Card

FM Mini Review: This card offers an awesome return on US supermarket and worldwide dining spend, putting it at or near the top-of-class in both categories. Dining credits and Uber / Uber Eats credits go a long way towards reducing the sting of this card's annual fee.


Annual Fee: $250

Card Type: Amex Pay Over Time Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Grocery

Earning rate: 3X points for flights booked with airlines or on amextravel.com ⚬ 4x points at US Supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases, then 1x) ⚬ 4x at restaurants worldwide ⚬ 1X points on other purchases. Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)

Noteworthy perks: Up to $10 in statement credits monthly with participating dining partners (Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, Shake Shack, Seamless/Grubhub, Cheesecake Factory) ⚬ $10 monthly Uber or Uber Eats credit (use it or lose it each month) ⚬ $100 hotel credit on qualifying charges on stays of 2 nights or longer, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at americanexpress.com/hc ⚬ Enrollment required for select benefits.

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.

 

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Jeff

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?

Thanks!
Jeff

Jeff

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!

[…] 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. […]

Byron

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.

debit

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.

Ron

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?”.

CaveDweller

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 .
CHEERs

WR2

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.

WR2

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.

CaveDweller

WR2
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..
CHEERs

[…] 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 […]

Yuri

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.

Debit

You should account for fees for all the cards. A heavy spender Vs light spender will need different cards.

Yuri

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.

Jeremy

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.

Byron

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.

Jeremy

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.

James

Surprised that there is no mention of AMEX. Guess they don’t give enough commissions huh?

Yuri

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.

robertw

Amex business gold is amazing for me because I max out 4X points on business category spend.

Pointz

If you spend 15k on 4x categories then it is no brainer, so good for you

Christopher Minich

The Ink is my go to card with the most flexibility. SPG was #2 but no more

robertw

Once Marriott got SPG I cried. I knew my 15 year run was over.

Pointz

Or combine Wells Fargo Propel with Citi Double cash and get 3x on travel, dining, streaming and 2x on everything else…fffffree

sardis

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.

Barry

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.

Pam

Mine too as long as you can get a biz card.

robertw

How do you get 7.5% for travel? Am i missing somethign here?

Pointz

Transfer to sapphire reserve and claim at 1.5

Barry

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.

Jeremy

Don’t forget about Freedom(s) for that sweet, sweet 5x on rotating categories.

Andrew

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.
Thank you

Pam

Chase Ink Business Preferred

Jeremy

What about Citi Double Cash and/or AT&T More Access?

Pam

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.

Pam

I appreciate your thoughts & you, Greg

Mary Jane's

The problem with the Hilton cards are there are so few aspirational properties in their portfolio.

MSer

Let’s be real for once, shall we? The best card is the one you get paid a commission…

CaveDweller

MSer
Greg is looking @ the long game not short term .Maybe one day he’ll sell and walk away with $mills..
CHEERs

Mary Jane's

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.

CaveDweller

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 .
CHEERs

JasonO

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.