These cards let you earn and trade in points for things other than travel. But the cards offer more points for travel spending or travel-related benefits, such as assistance with booking and discounts on vacations. Except where noted, the cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee or impose blackout dates for booking travel with points.
BEST REWARDS CARDS BY CATEGORY: Cash-Back | Travel | Gas/Retail | Airline
Capital One Venture Rewards
www.capitalone.com (opens in new tab)
Interest rate: 13.9% to 20.9%
Annual fee: $59 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months to get 10,000 miles
Typical annual rebate: 40,000 miles
Earn two miles per dollar on all purchases, and redeem miles for any type of travel spending -- flights, cruises, hotel rooms, car rentals. The formula for the number of points you’ll need for a purchase is simple: Multiply the amount of your travel purchase by 100. That means if you buy a $300 airline ticket, you’ll need 30,000 miles. You can book travel with your miles through Capital One’s Rewards Center. Or redeem miles within 90 days of making a travel purchase with the card for a statement credit. Miles are also redeemable for cash, merchandise, gift cards or statement credits for nontravel purchases.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
www.chase.com (opens in new tab)
Interest rate: 15.24%
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 25,817 points
A host of perks sweeten the deal on this card. It provides two points for each dollar spent on dining and travel, including cab fares and tolls (three points when you make airline and hotel purchases through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards shopping portal), and one point for all other purchases. Every year, you get a 7% bonus on the points you’ve earned throughout the year. And when you book travel through Ultimate Rewards, you’ll get a 20% discount on the price—so a $500 flight requires 40,000 points. You can transfer the points at full value to participating programs, such as United MileagePlus and Marriott Rewards. Or redeem points for cash back, gift cards and merchandise.
U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature
www.usbank.com (opens in new tab)
Interest rate: 13.99% to 23.99%
Annual fee: $49 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: 17,500 points after the first $2,500 in spending within five months
Typical annual rebate: 25,506 points
Earn two points per dollar spent on cell-phone bills, as well as on the category that you spend the most on each month: gas, groceries or airline tickets. Charitable donations get three points per dollar. All other purchases collect one point per dollar (up to $120,000 annually, then one point per $2). And each year that you make at least $24,000 in purchases on the card, you’ll get an additional 3,500 points. A plane ticket worth up to $400 (plus a $25 allowance for other airline charges, such as baggage fees) requires 20,000 points, or you can cash in your points for cruises, hotel rooms and car rentals. You can also choose to get statement credits, merchandise and gift cards. The card is embedded with a microchip, which is commonly used overseas, but it charges a 3% fee for purchases in foreign currencies. Points expire five years from the end of the quarter in which you earned them.
Lisa has spent 15 years with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and heads up the magazine’s annual rankings of the best banks, best rewards credit cards, and financial-services firms with the best customer service. She reports on a variety of other topics, too, from retirement to health care to money concerns for millennials. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.
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