More and more American’s are opting to apply for the best rewards cards they can find. The bulk of purchases are done by credit cards. People like to rack up points.
These days, many financial planning sites can look at your financial status and recommend the best card to fit your needs, and countless websites offer lists of which cards they deem to be the best.
So many choices
New rewards cards are coming on the market all the time. Types of rewards cards and offers available change so quickly that NerdWallet issues a “best of” list every month.
If you’re shopping for the “best” rewards card, there are thousands to choose from, but when you break it down, there are really only two basic types to consider: Cash-back and travel cards.
Cash Back Rewards Cards
With cash-back rewards cards, a percentage of a total purchase is generally returned to the consumer. That or points are accumulated that could be put towards free offers or discounts.
Since cash back programs are costly to credit card companies, some of these cards have an annual fee that can vary from $50 to $500.
If you want to save money, or you have a wicked Amazon Prime habit, you are probably best off with the Chase Amazon card. It offers up to 20% cash back on select Prime orders, 5% cash back at Zappos.com and Wholefoods, 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, and 1% back on other purchases.
The Discover It Card, which has a 0% introductory balance transfer rate and a 14.4-25% APR. It also has flexible benefits and is easy to redeem. In addition, it boasts a 14 month introductory interest rate. Clearly this card is being marketed to grab the highest number of new cardholders it can.
Best 2019 Cash back rewards cards include:
- Discover It Card
- Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card
- Citi Double Cash Card
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
- S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
- HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard Credit Card
- Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card
Travel Rewards Cards
The all-in-one favorite for travel seems to be Capital One Venture Card, because it has flexible rewards and works in a partnership with Hotels.com. It also has no annual fee. However, if you have a habit of carrying a balance on your credit card, this may not be the best choice because the average interest rate lies between 17.99 and 25.4%. Only people with a credit score over 650 are eligible to apply for this card.
The Chase Sapphire Card allows you to use any airline, which is great if you travel a lot yet don’t stick to a single airline. The benefits from an American Airlines Card is just as good if you always fly American, or a Southwest Airlines card if you fly Southwest.
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card is part of American Express’s effort to encourage more merchants to accept its card cards, which has had a reputation among merchant for being unusually expensive to process. Some merchants with tight margins won’t even take American Express. For a cardholder, the benefits of a Wells Fargo Propel American Express are high. There is no annual fee, and still has plenty of perks such as 30K bonus points when you spent $3000 in purchases in the first 3 months and 3X points for dining out, gas, travel, and car rentals.
Best 2019 Travel rewards cards include:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Discover It Miles
- Venture from Capital One
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card
- American Express Gold Card
Premium Rewards Cards
Premium rewards cards, whether travel or cash back, typically have an annual fee since the rewards are, well, premium. The best of these is the Chase Sapphire Reserve because it gives you prestige and perks simply for carrying the card, as well as rewards for using the card. Here are some pros to carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve:
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
For all these perks, The Chase Sapphire Reserve charges a $450 annual fee.
If you travel a lot, the American Express Platinum is still the best mass-market luxury card. With an annual fee of $550, it allows you access to airport lounges, and if you need, the concierges can make alternate travel arrangements for you.
Other rewards include:
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- With more than 1,100 airport lounges across 120 countries and counting, the American Express Global Lounge CollectionSM offers travelers more lounge options than any other credit cards on the market
- Get 5X Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- Up to $200 annually for Uber rides with Platinum. Enjoy Uber VIP status and $15 in Uber credits for U.S. rides every month, plus a bonus $20 in December.
- With the Premium Global Assist® Hotline, when you travel more than 100 miles from home, receive 24/7 medical, legal, financial, or other select emergency coordination and assistance services.
If the card meets your needs correctly (or rather, your needs meet the card’s perks), you could end up getting around $1400 worth of value out of your $550 annual fee investment.
Elite Credit Cards
The Creme de la Crumb of premium credit card is the American Express Black Card, aka The Centurion Card from American Express. This is not a card that can be applied for. You are invited to apply for this card by American Express after spending and paying off upwards of half a million dollars via your various Amex cards within one year. Made of anodized titanium, Amex Black confers elite status on you for just being eligible for the card.
Amex keeps a tight lid on the numerous benefits and exclusive perks available to cardholders. According to an article on Forbes the initiation Fee is between $5,000 and $7,50, and the annual Fee is $2,500.
Other known benefits include:
- You can expect to earn 1 point per $1 on all purchases as part of the Membership Rewards First program.
- $200 annual air travel that can be used for baggage fees and in-flight purchases.
- Every five years, when you apply for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, Amex will reimburse you the $100 application fee.
- You will also automatically receive complimentary Hilton Diamond and Starwood Gold status for the loyalty programs. The elevated status makes it easier to earn additional points with each stay and enjoy additional on-property benefits.
- access to the same lounge networks as Platinum cardholders known as the Global Lounge Collection.
- Platinum Medallion Status with Delta
- Rental Car Benefits
- Exclusive Experiences.
Amex offers exclusive experiences and events that are withheld from Amex Platinum cardholders. While many of these are kept secret, you can enjoy priority seating at restaurants and get first-dibs to ticket sales, meet-and-greets, and other opportunities offered the Amex Concierge.
Rumor has it that the average Amex Black Card holder makes over $1M a year. Rap artists sing about this card, and some of them even have one. So do many high-level corporate CEOs.
Another elite card is the JP Morgan Reserve Card. To snag an invite, you must allegedly have at least $10 million in holdings with J.P. Morgan’s private bank.
- 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining; 1X on everything else
- $300 annual travel credit
- High-quality travel protections and insurance
- Visa Infinite benefits, which include 24/7 concierge services, hotel and car rental upgrades, Priority Pass access, and a $100 Global Entry fee credit
Citi Chairman is yet another invite only elite card. Most sources say you must use Citigroup’s private bank to be eligible. Rewards are rumored to include $300,000 credit limit, access to members-only events, a 24/7 concierge (of course), and airport lounge access.
Dubai First Royale Mastercard is trimmed in gold and has a .235-carat diamond on the front. According to the bank’s website this card is “desired by many but attainable by only a select few.”
Why use a Rewards Card?
Use rewards credit cards to get benefits for each dollar you spend, making the most of your purchases. Because the interest rates can be steep, rewards cards are best utilized by people who make a lot of purchases but are careful not to carry a monthly credit card balance. When used often, you can quickie rack up points that can be used for, luxury items, hotels, or flights. They can even help you afford that much-needed vacation.