Best Starter Rewards Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred®
If you are brand-new to travel rewards credit cards—and miles and points in general—figuring everything out can get overwhelming.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a perfect starter card for so many reasons.
First, the card has an annual fee of just $95. If you are new to all this, annual fees can be daunting (even though, as we’ll cover in a later article, you can often make out better than the credit card company itself when you are willing to pay an annual fee and use all the benefits).
Even better than this card’s low annual fee, though, is a bonus offer worth at least $725 when you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months. Do that and you’ll have that annual fee covered more than 7 times over.
The card earns “transferable points” called Chase Ultimate Rewards. You get the most value out of any travel rewards credit card by transferring points to airline and hotel partners rather than redeeming for cash—it’s like a power up for your points.
My favorite Chase Ultimate Rewards partner is World of Hyatt, where I often get 2 cents per point in value or more—meaning that 10,000 points is often worth at least $200 that can go toward room upgrades, overnight stays, and other perks when used wisely in the World of Hyatt program. Points can be worth even more at costlier hotels and resorts.
By earning transferable points and getting a sizable bonus with your new card, you’ll have a large pool of points to learn the rewards ecosystem with. That’s huge.
For a card with a low annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred has rich benefits, including primary car rental collision damage waiver (CDW) coverage and a range of trip cancellation/interruption benefits.
Altogether, this card has long been an easy choice to recommend for someone just getting started in credit card rewards.
Best All-Around Travel Credit Card: Capital One Venture X
A relative newcomer to the high-end credit card scene, the Capital One Venture X card is specifically designed for the frequent traveler.
While it’s easy to get scared off by the $395 annual fee, you shouldn’t. That’s because each year you’ll get a $300 travel credit to use in the Capital One Travel Portal toward flights, hotels, and rental cars. What’s more, at each renewal you’ll receive 10,000 points worth a total of $100. Added together, those two credits come out to $400, canceling out the annual fee. In fact, it’s as if Capital One is paying you $5 to have this card!
The card earns a simple 2 miles per dollar on everything, so it’s great for those who don’t want to keep track of bonus categories. You can also earn 5X miles on airfare and 10X miles on hotels and car rentals if you book through the Capital One portal. So for example if you spent $100 on airfare at Delta.com, you would get 200 points, but if you spent $100 on airfare at the Capital One Travel Portal, you would earn 500 points. Similarly, spending $100 at Marriott.com would get you 200 miles, while booking through the Capital One portal would earn you 1,000 miles.
That can really add up.
You can redeem your points for travel or transfer the miles to a wide range of airline frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs. At last count, Capital One has 18 partners, allowing you to get award tickets on every airline alliance.
Among the card’s benefits that really stand out: primo airport lounge access. You and your guests will be welcomed at Priority Pass lounges, Plaza Premium lounges, and at Capital One lounges (currently in Dallas but with more locations in the works).
You’ll also get primary car rental CDW coverage and even top-tier Hertz President’s Circle status through the end of 2024, allowing you to skip the line and gain access to the best Ultimate Choice cars on the lot.
Additionally, the card comes with up to $100 in statement credits for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry so you can speed through airport security for domestic and international flights.
Best Business Credit Card: Chase Ink Business Unlimited® and Chase Ink Business Cash® (tie)
Right now, I’m most excited about the Chase Ink Business Cash and Chase Ink Business Unlimited cards. They both have massive sign-up bonuses, letting you earn $750 (in the form of 75,000 Ultimate Rewards points) just for spending $6,000 within the first 3 months.
The Chase Ink Business Cash earns 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on eligible purchases at office supply stores and on cable, internet, and phone—up to a combined $25,000 (1X thereafter) and 2X on dining and gas, also up to a combined $25,000 per year (1X thereafter), and 1X on all other eligible purchases.
If you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Chase Ink Business Preferred® card, you can transfer that $900 worth of Ultimate Rewards points over and use them as “standard” Ultimate Rewards points, meaning you can transfer them to Chase’s amazing airline and hotel partners like World of Hyatt.
But even if you only have the Chase Ink Business Cash card (and choose not to pair it with the three options above), 5X means 5% straight cash back. Not too shabby.
The Chase Ink Business Unlimited card, meanwhile, earns a simple 1.5X points on all eligible purchases. Again, that’s 1.5% cash back on everything with the option to transfer over to a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred card to transfer to Ultimate Rewards partners.
Best Cash Back Credit Card: Citi Double Cash Card
If you have no patience to keep track of bonus categories and no inclination to learn the points game, then I want to make sure you are getting 2% back on all your purchases—the absolute bare minimum you should get for all spending (assuming, of course, you pay your balance in full each month).
For this, I can easily recommend the Citi Double Cash card. Not only does it earn 2% on everything (1% when you spend and 1% when you pay your bill), but the cash back is awarded as Citi ThankYou points. While you can easily convert those points to cash (keeping the card an absolutely pure cash back card with no hassles), if you later decide you want to learn the Citi ThankYou point system—including its airline and hotel partners—you can add a Citi Premier card. Having the Citi Premier unlocks your Double Cash points so that you can transfer them to those airline and hotel transfer partners.
But if you never add a Premier card, that’s fine—you’ll still have a solid 2% cash back.
Best Credit Card for Groceries and Dining: American Express® Gold Card
This is a smart choice for diversifying the points you’re collecting.
The American Express Gold Card earns a huge 4X American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants (including U.S. takeout and delivery) as well as 4X points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year; 1X thereafter). Lastly, the card earns 3X on airfare booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com.
The only downside is a $250 annual fee (see the card’s rates and fees here). However, cardholders do get two monthly $10 credits that, if used each month, net the annual fee down to an effective $10 ($20 in credits per month for 12 months = $240).
The first credit is for $10 in monthly dining statement credits included with the card. The credit can be used at Grubhub, the Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations (enrollment required; terms apply).
You’ll also automatically get $10 in Uber Cash (separate from the dining credit mentioned above) deposited into your Uber account each month. The credit can be used for either Uber rides or Uber Eats. Just add your Gold Card to your Uber account and the credit will be deposited automatically on the first of each month.