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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
| May 1, 2019From Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
Choosing a rewards credit card may not seem so rewarding—at first. The market is crowded with contenders vying for space in your wallet, and comparing the card terms and features can easily eat hours of your time.
But the effort is worth it. On a travel rewards card, for example, a 50,000-point sign-up bonus is worth an average of 1.6 round-trip flights, according to personal-finance site NerdWallet. And by our estimate, the first-year rewards on everyday spending are worth about $500 or more for some cards.
To ease the pain of making a selection, we pored over dozens of the top rewards cards. Then we broke them into 16 categories to help you maximize your payback given your spending habits and desire for simplicity. Each category has a winner—and at least one honorable mention.
We calculated a typical annual rebate for each card using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey to determine average spending patterns. Except where otherwise noted, we assumed $23,000 in total annual spending and subtracted the annual fee from the cash value of each rebate if the fee is not waived the first year. And unless otherwise indicated, rewards do not have limits or expiration dates, and the travel cards do not have foreign-transaction fees.
Interest rate: 15.74% to 25.74%
Annual fee: None
Typical annual rebate: $460
If you prefer a healthy payback on everything you buy without worrying about categories or caps, Citi Double Cash Mastercard is for you. You’ll earn 1% cash back each time you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay the bill, for a total of 2%. Once you’ve accrued at least $25 in cash back, you can redeem it as a check, statement credit, or deposit into a Citi savings or checking account—or any checking account from which you’ve paid a Citi credit card bill at least twice. Rewards expire if you haven’t earned cash back in the past 12 months.
Interest rate: 12.49% to 15.49%
Typical annual rebate: $690 the first year; $476 from the second year onward
The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature card offers an impressive payback—especially during the first year, when you’ll earn 3% back on all purchases with no annual fee. After that, the cash-back rate falls to 2.5% and a $99 annual fee kicks in. That’s a considerable increase from the $59 fee the card carried a year ago, but big spenders will still reap big rewards. Even the year-two rebate is a bit higher than that of Citi Double Cash, but in this basic category, we like that the no-fee Citi card is friendly to spenders at all levels.
Redeem cash back as a statement credit or deposit into an Alliant Credit Union checking or savings account. Cash back expires about four to five years after you earn it. You must join Alliant Credit Union to use the card; Alliant will donate $5 to charity Foster Care to Success on your behalf and make a complimentary $5 deposit into an Alliant savings account.
Interest rate: 16.24% to 25.74%
Typical annual rebate: $370
U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature provides considerable flexibility to earn high rebates in the categories in which you spend the most. You select two categories that earn 5% on up to $2,000 in combined spending per quarter. TV, internet and streaming services is an attractive new category for 5% rewards, and department stores, cell-phone bills, home utilities, fast food, movie theaters and ground transportation were recently among the other options. You also get 2% back in one category of your choice (including gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores) and 1% on everything else.
Make sure you choose and activate your 5% and 2% categories each quarter—otherwise, you’ll earn only 1%. Redeem cash back as a deposit into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account, a statement credit, or a U.S. Bank prepaid debit card ($20 minimum). Rewards expire after three years.
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 17.24% to 25.99%
Typical annual rebate: $361
Earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that change each quarter, plus 1% on other purchases. One of the strengths of Chase Freedom is that it typically offers the 5% rebate in multiple areas each quarter, and many of them cover everyday purchases that pop up in most budgets. In 2019, for example, tolls and purchases at gas stations and drugstores earned 5% in the first quarter, and spending at grocery and home-improvement stores captured 5% in the second quarter. Third- and fourth-quarter categories for 2019 hadn’t been announced at press time, but last year they included department stores and wholesale clubs, among others.
Rewards are earned as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and you can trade them at a rate of 1 cent each for cash back (as a statement credit or deposit into a checking or savings account), gift cards and travel bookings.
Interest rate: 16.24%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
Need some incentive to boost your savings? You’ll get two points per dollar for every purchase with Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature, and they’re worth a penny each—for a 2% return on your spending—when you use them for deposits into eligible Fidelity accounts, which include brokerage, cash management, retirement, charitable giving, health savings and 529 college-savings accounts (minimum 5,000 points required for such redemptions). You can also exchange points for travel, merchandise, gift cards or statement credit, but points not used for deposits are typically worth only about half the value.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 16.24% to 26.24%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get $200 back
Typical annual rebate: $364
Bank of America Cash Rewards Mastercard recently got a makeover. Instead of earning 3% cash back in one standard category (previously gas purchases), cardholders can now pick among several options for 3% rewards: gas, online shopping, restaurants, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings. You can change your 3% category once a month, if you wish, to fit your spending patterns. You’ll also get 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% on everything else. If you spend more than $2,500 combined in the 3% and 2% categories in a quarter, purchases above that cap earn 1%.
On the downside, cardholders no longer get a 10% bonus on cash back redeemed into a Bank of America checking or savings account. But customers who belong to the bank’s Preferred Rewards program—which requires a three-month combined average balance of at least $20,000 among BofA checking and savings and Merrill Edge or Merrill Lynch investment accounts—get a bonus on cash-back rewards of 25% with a $20,000 Preferred Rewards balance, 50% with a $50,000 balance or 75% with a $100,000 balance. That yields an effective rate of up to 5.25% on your 3% category of choice, up to 3.5% in the 2% category, and up to 1.75% on everything else.
Interest rate: 12.99% to 17.99%
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: 40,500 points, worth $474 in certain travel redemptions
Even if you travel only occasionally, PenFed Pathfinder Rewards may be worth picking up to take advantage of a couple of benefits that typically come with cards that carry annual fees. You’ll get a statement credit every five years to reimburse an application fee charged to the card for TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100), which provide expedited security screening at the airport. Plus, the card offers up to $100 per calendar year to refund a range of incidental fees with 11 U.S. airlines (including American, Delta, Southwest and United), such as fees for checked baggage, flight changes, day passes to enter airport lounges, and in-flight food and drinks.
The points-earning scheme is pretty good, too. You’ll get three points per dollar on travel purchases (four points if you’re a military member or have an Access America checking account with Pentagon Federal Credit Union) and 1.5 points on all other spending. Trading points for the best value, however, can be tricky. Generally, you’ll get a solid rate of about 1.17 cents per point if you use them to book hotels through PenFed’s redemption portal. But points are worth only about 0.85 cent each for gift cards, merchandise or airline tickets. And you’ll pay a fee of $15 to book plane tickets online or $25 by phone. Points expire after five years. You must join PenFed to use the card, which anyone can do by paying one-time dues of $17 to a qualifying organization and depositing $5 into a savings account.
Web site: www.wellsfargo.com
Interest rate: 0% for nine months, then 16.24% to 27.24%
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 41,978 points, worth $420
This relaunched card from Wells Fargo offers rich rewards in categories in which travelers commonly rack up charges. With Wells Fargo Propel American Express you get three points per dollar on travel purchases, including flights, hotel and homestay reservations (such as with Airbnb and VRBO), car rentals, rides with taxis as well as sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and cruises. Plus, spending with restaurants, gas stations, taxis and other transit earns three points per dollar, and so do subscriptions to certain video- and music-streaming services, such as Hulu, Netflix, Pandora and Spotify Premium. All other purchases earn one point per dollar. Points are worth a penny each when you redeem them for travel bookings, cash back, charitable donations and gift cards.
If you charge your cell-phone bill to this card, you’ll get insurance for cell-phone damage or theft (up to $600 per claim and $1,200 per year; $25 deductible).
Interest rate: 17.99% to 25.24%
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 54,000 miles, worth $540 in statement credits on travel purchases
This card has been layering on more perks lately. Through January 2020, Capital One Venture Visa is offering 10 miles per dollar spent on eligible hotel bookings at Hotels.com/venture. Otherwise, the standard payback is two miles per dollar on all purchases. You can redeem miles at a value of 1 cent each for travel bookings through Capital One’s Rewards Center or statement credits on travel purchases (0.5-cent value for non-travel statement credits), or transfer miles to any of 14 participating airline loyalty programs—mostly at a ratio of two Venture miles to 1.5 airline miles—including those from Air France, Alitalia and Qantas (no domestic carriers are on the list). Cardholders are also reimbursed up to $100 every four years for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee charged to the card.
Interest rate: 16.74% to 25.74%
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 39,051 points, worth $488 in travel redemptions
Citi Premier Mastercard defines travel broadly, pulling gas-station purchases under the travel umbrella and offering three points per dollar for travel spending. Dining and entertainment purchases (such as admission or ticket prices for concerts, sporting events, amusement parks and movie theaters) earn two points per dollar, and everything else gets one point. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when you use them to book travel through Citi’s ThankYou Travel Center, compared with a 1-cent value per point for gift-card redemptions. Points are also transferable to participating airline loyalty programs, including JetBlue TrueBlue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (both at a 1:1 transfer ratio), but the most prominent domestic carriers—American, Delta, Southwest and United—aren’t included.
Interest rate: 18.24% to 25.24%
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: Typical annual rebate: 30,365 points, worth $285 in travel redemptions (after subtracting the annual fee)
Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa no longer waives its annual fee the first year. But the generous sign-up bonus is worth $750 in travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, covering the fee several times over. The card also pays back two points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point on everything else. Points are worth 1.25 cents each for travel bookings, or you can trade them at a reasonable rate of a penny apiece for cash or gift cards.
And, central to the outstanding flexibility this card provides, you can also transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to several popular partner hotel and airline loyalty programs, including IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus and World of Hyatt. If you use other Chase cards that collect Ultimate Rewards points, such as Freedom and Sapphire Reserve, you can pool your points to redeem them.
Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 15.24% to 26.24%
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate:: 32,836 points, worth $328 in airfare
Although you won’t earn extra points for travel purchases with American Express EveryDay, it is a no-fee avenue to earning Amex Membership Rewards points. You’ll earn two points per dollar on up to $6,000 a year spent at supermarkets (1% thereafter) and one point on everything else. In each billing period that you make at least 20 purchases, you’ll get a 20% bonus on points earned.
You can trade points at a rate of a penny each for airfare purchased through American Express Travel (point values are lower for most other redemptions). Or transfer points to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, including British Airways Executive Club, Delta SkyMiles, Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy and JetBlue TrueBlue, mostly at a 1:1 ratio (a couple of exceptions: five Amex points equal four JetBlue TrueBlue points, and one Amex point equals two Hilton Honors points). Each time you transfer points to a frequent-flier program, you’ll pay a fee of 0.06 cent per point (maximum $99).
Leave this card at home for international trips—it has a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee. On the upside, it offers one of the best balance-transfer offers available: You’ll pay no balance-transfer fee as long as you request the transfer within 60 days of opening the account, and a 0% APR lasts for 15 months.
Sign-up bonus: 100,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 54,000 points, worth about $330 (after subtracting the annual fee)
Like other hotel credit cards, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa offers points that you can redeem for stays at participating properties. You’ll earn six points for every dollar spent at Marriott hotels and two points per dollar on everything else. But Marriott also allows you to transfer points, mostly at a ratio of three Marriott points to one airline mile, to the frequent-flier programs of more than 40 airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest and United. What’s more, you get 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 points transferred. Points expire if you don’t make purchases on the card for two years.
Other benefits of the Boundless card include a free night each year after your account anniversary (at a redemption level of up to 35,000 points), automatic Silver Elite status, an upgrade to Gold Elite status each year that you spend at least $35,000 on the card, and 15 Elite Night credits per year.
Interest rate: 19.24% to 26.24%
Annual fee: $450/p>
Like other premium cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa sports a hefty annual fee. But cardholders get $300 in statement credits for travel purchases each year, effectively knocking down the fee to $150 as long as you spend enough to get the credits. (Note that we do not include a typical annual rebate because a premium card provides much of its value outside of the points it awards for everyday spending, so the calculation does not accurately reflect the card’s worth.) You’ll also earn three Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and travel (purchases that qualify for the $300 credit do not earn points) and one point on other spending, and you can redeem points at a strong value of 1.5 cents apiece for travel bookings through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Or, as with Chase Sapphire Preferred, trade points at a rate of a penny apiece for cash back or gift cards or transfer them to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Among the card’s other perks are reimbursement of up to $100 every four years for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee, a Priority Pass Select membership offering free entry for you and two guests into participating airport lounges ($27 per visit for each additional guest), and extra perks—such as free Wi-Fi, daily breakfast for two, room upgrades and late checkout—when you stay at an sbe hotel or Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection property.
Interest rate: None; balances must be paid in full monthly
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months
American Express Platinum takes a “go big or go home” approach to luxury travel perks, and key among them is access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. They include Amex’s own Centurion and American Express International lounges, as well as those of Airspace, Escape, Priority Pass Select and Delta Sky Club. Cardholders also get $15 in monthly credits for Uber rides (plus an extra $20, for a total of $35, in December), a yearly credit of up to $200 for incidental fees—such as checked bags and in-flight food and drinks—with one airline of choice, and reimbursement of the application fee for TSA Precheck ($85 every 4.5 years) and Global Entry ($100 every four years). Hotel benefits include extras such as room upgrades, late checkout and early check-in, and free Wi-Fi with properties in Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, and Hilton Honors Gold status.
Cardholders get five Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on plane tickets booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel and on prepaid hotel reservations through Amex Travel. Other spending earns one point per dollar. Points are redeemable at a rate of a penny apiece for flights (and at lower values for most other redemptions, such as cash back and many gift cards), or transfer them to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, such as Marriott Bonvoy and Delta SkyMiles.
Annual fee: $149
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 33,500 points, worth about $350 in airfare (after subtracting the annual fee)
The annual fee on Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Visa, a new card from Southwest Airlines, seems stiff, but the perks more than make up for it. You’ll get two Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases—including plane tickets, gift cards, vacation packages, and reservations with partner hotel and car-rental companies—and one point on other spending. On your account anniversary each year, you’ll get a 7,500-point bonus (the bonus is included in the typical annual rebate listed above), a $75 statement credit for Southwest purchases (excluding upgraded boardings and in-flight purchases), and reimbursement of up to four upgrades made in the previous year to boarding positions A1 through A15. For each $10,000 you spend on the card (up to $100,000 a year), you’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points, which count toward your eligibility for A-List or A-List Preferred status with the airline. And cardholders get a 20% credit for in-flight purchases of drinks and Wi-Fi.
Many other airlines charge passengers for checked baggage and tout waived bag fees as a perk of their credit cards, so it’s worth noting that all Southwest fliers can check two bags free. And Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee if you must cancel or reschedule a flight.
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in three months and get $150 back
Typical annual rebate: $360
Most of the biggest U.S. airlines have introduced no-fee credit cards in recent years. Rather than doling out air miles, the United TravelBank Visa card offers TravelBank cash back, leaving no question about the value of the rewards you’re earning. You’ll get 2% back on ticket purchases with United and 1.5% on all other spending. You can redeem TravelBank cash to purchase tickets directly from United Airlines. Cardholders get a 25% reimbursement on Wi-Fi and food and beverage purchases on United flights. TravelBank cash expires if you have no account activity for 18 months.
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 points if you spend $6,000 in the first six months
Typical annual rebate: 36,077 points, worth about $500 (after subtracting the annual fee)
Boosting the World of Hyatt Visa card to the top is a combination of strong point values, extra points offered in various travel categories and appealing perks. Cardholders earn four points per dollar spent at all Hyatt hotels; two points on dining, airfare purchased directly from airlines, local transit and commuting, and gym memberships; and one point on all other purchases. The card also comes with one free stay at a category 1 to category 4 Hyatt hotel after your account anniversary each year, plus an additional free night in the same hotel categories if you spend at least $15,000 on the card per year. Cardholders also enjoy automatic Hyatt Discoverist status—which comes with premium internet access, late checkout at participating hotels and room upgrades upon arrival when available. You also get five qualifying night credits for the next status level each year and earn an additional two qualifying night credits toward the next status level for each $5,000 spent on the card.
Hyatt has a smaller reach than some other major hotel chains; if you prefer a hotel with more locations, check out our honorable mention in this category, the Hilton Honors American Express card (no annual fee), as well as one of the “Flexible Travel Redemptions” honorable mentions, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa card ($95 annual fee).
Interest rate: 17.99% to 26.99%
Sign-up bonus: 75,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 96,392 points, worth about $400
If you’d rather skip the annual fee or earn rewards with a bigger hotel group, check out Hilton’s no-fee card, Hilton Honors American Express. You’ll get seven points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, five points at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets, and three points on other spending (those rewards may sound lavish, but Hilton points have a lower value than those of many other hotel loyalty programs). Cardholders also get Hilton Honors Silver status; perks include a fifth night free when you make a reservation with points and a 20% bonus on base points earned when you stay at Hilton hotels (separate from the bonus points you collect with the credit card). Plus, your status rises to Gold if you spend $20,000 or more on the card per year. Points expire if you are inactive in the Hilton Honors program for a year, but earning points with the credit card counts as activity.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 15.24% to 26.24%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $200 back
Typical annual rebate: $393 (after subtracting the annual fee)
Offering an unbeatable 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent per year at the supermarket (and 1% thereafter), American Express Blue Cash Preferred is the best contender for anyone with a big grocery budget. Starting May 9, it’s also offering 6% back on subscriptions with more than 20 streaming video, audio and music services—including Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Apple Music and Audible—and 3% back on transit, such as parking fees, tolls, and fares for trains and ride-sharing services, including Uber and Lyft. It also pays back 3% on gas-station purchases (it’s dropping department-store spending from its 3% category). All other purchases earn 1%.
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $150 back
Typical annual rebate: $346
American Express Blue Cash Everyday, the no-fee version of the Blue Cash Preferred card, offers a respectable 3% rebate on supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 spent yearly, then 1%), and it retains select department stores in its 2% category, along with gas stations. Other spending yields 1% back. As with the Preferred card, you can redeem cash back for statement credits, gift cards or merchandise.
Interest rate: 11.99% to 17.99%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and get $100 back
Typical annual rebate: 39,598 points, worth $463 in certain travel redemptions
Check out PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature, from Pentagon Federal Credit Union, if you spend a lot of money fueling up. You’ll earn five points per dollar on gas purchases paid at the pump, three points per dollar at supermarkets and one point on all other spending. You can redeem points through the same program as with the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card; for more on point values and expiration, airline booking fees, and PenFed membership, see the “No-Fee Travel Rewards” winner.
Interest rate: 11.5% to 18%
Typical annual rebate: $198
Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum is about as simple as they come: Capture 5% cash back on gas purchases paid at the pump and 1% at retail merchants. (Unlike some other cards, this one doesn’t exclude gas stations affiliated with warehouse clubs, superstores or other specified merchants.) Cash back is credited to your account monthly, so you don’t have to remember to redeem it. You must become a member of Fort Knox Federal Credit Union to get the card. To do so, join USA Cares (free for those becoming Fort Knox members), pay a one-time fee of $10 to the credit union and deposit $5 into a savings account.
Interest rate: 17.24% to 25.99%
:Annual fee None
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $500 in the first 90 days
Typical annual rebate: $432
Despite its ties to a ride-sharing service, the Uber Visa card cooks up top rewards for restaurant visits, offering four points per dollar on dining and takeout purchases, including delivery service Uber Eats. Cardholders also earn three points per dollar spent on airfare, hotel bookings and vacation rentals (including Airbnb); two points per dollar spent on Uber, certain online shopping sites (such as Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy) and certain video- and music-streaming services (such as Netflix and Pandora); and one point on everything else. Points are worth a penny each for Uber Cash (which you can use for rides and Uber Eats purchases), cash back or gift cards.
The card carries some appealing side benefits, too: a $50 statement credit toward online subscription services—Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBO Now and Spotify, among others—after you spend at least $5,000 on the card per year. You also get up to $600 per claim in insurance for a stolen or damaged cell phone if your wireless bill is charged to the card (maximum two claims per year; $25 deductible). Note that you must apply for the card through the Uber app.
Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first three months and get $500 back
Typical annual rebate: $397
If you spend big bucks on dining and entertainment—and are willing to fork over an annual fee after the first year—Capital One Savor Rewards Mastercard is worth a look. It pays back 4% on dining and entertainment purchases, including tickets for movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys and tourist attractions; 2% at grocery stores; and 1% on all other spending. Cash back is redeemable as a check or statement credit. Through May 2020, you’ll earn 8% cash back on tickets purchased through online marketplace Vivid Seats, and through December 2019, if you subscribe to the delivery service Postmates Unlimited with the card, you’ll get a $9.99 monthly statement credit to cover the fee.
Interest rate: 16.24% to 26.24%
Annual fee: $85
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first four months
Typical annual rebate: 34,698 points, worth $435 in travel redemptions (after subtracting the annual fee)
The U.S. Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express marries appetizing dining rewards with a host of travel rebates and perks. Dining purchases earn three points per dollar, and points are worth 1.5 cents each for travel redemptions through U.S. Bank. That’s an effective payback of 4.5%. You’ll also get two points per dollar spent on airline and gas-station purchases and one point on other spending. Points are redeemable for cash back or gift cards, too, at a rate of a penny apiece, and they expire about five years after they’re earned.
Among the card’s other benefits are savings and extra perks at selected restaurants worldwide, a statement credit every five years for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee, reimbursement of up to $25 for baggage fees or in-flight food and drinks when you book a plane ticket with points, complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi, and a free subscription to the Hideaway Report, which offers reviews and recommendations on hotels and resorts.
Interest rate: 16.49% to 24.49%
Sign-up bonus: $50 Amazon gift card upon approval
Typical annual rebate: 32,564 points, worth $326 in Amazon purchases
Associated with the behemoth in online shopping, Amazon Rewards Visa has broad appeal. It offers three points per dollar spent at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, two points at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores, and one point for all other spending. Amazon sweetens the pot for members of its Prime service ($119 yearly fee), offering them a version of the card that yields five points per dollar at Amazon and Whole Foods. Redeem points at a rate of a penny apiece for partial or full Amazon purchases, travel bookings, cash back or gift cards.
Interest rate:: 17.49%
Annual fee:: None, but you must have a Costco membership (fees start at $60 yearly)
Typical annual rebate:: $446
Interest rate: 17.15% or 25.15%
Sign-up bonus: $45 statement credit if you open an account online (or $45 purchase discount if you open an account in-store) and make a $45 purchase the same day (offer ends June 15, 2019)
Annual fee: None, but you must have a Sam’s Club membership (fees start at $45 yearly)
Typical annual rebate: $456
These cards from two popular warehouse clubs don’t offer remarkable rewards for purchases at their stores, but they have attractive rebates on gas and other everyday spending categories. The Costco Anywhere Visa pays back 4% on gas (up to $7,000 spent per year, then 1%), 3% on restaurants and travel purchases, 2% at Costco and 1% on everything else. After your February billing statement closes, you’ll receive the previous year’s cash back as a certificate redeemable for cash or merchandise at Costco; the certificate expires at the end of the year it’s issued.
The Sam’s Club Mastercard offers an impressive 5% back on gas purchases (up to $6,000 spent a year, then 1%), 3% on dining and travel, and 1% for other spending. You can earn a maximum $5,000 in cash back per year; cash rewards for the previous year are distributed to cardholders each February and redeemable at Sam’s Club. Members are notified of the expiration date on their cash back when the rewards are issued. One nice feature of both cards: no foreign-transaction fees.
Interest rate: 25.15%
Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)
Thanks to Target’s alluring mishmash of apparel, home goods and other items ripe for an impulse buy, the store’s customers have a reputation for buying a lot more than they intended to get when they walked in. The Target REDcard credit card can help minimize the damage to your pocketbook, with a 5% discount on both in-store and Target.com purchases—and that includes money spent at in-store Starbucks cafes. (Prescriptions, eye exams from Target Optical and certain other purchases do not get the 5% discount.) Cardholders also enjoy an extra 30 days to return purchases, free two-day shipping on eligible items from Target.com, early access to some products and promotions, and a 10%-off coupon for store purchases on your cardmember anniversary if you’ve signed up for Target’s promotional e-mails.
Interest rate: 26.99%
Sign-up bonus: A discount on your first in-store purchase—$30 off a purchase of $30 to $599.99 or $100 off a purchase of $600 or more (offer ends August 2, 2019)
Typical annual rebate $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)
If a home renovation or home project is in your future, Lowe’s Advantage is worth a look. You can choose among three options: a 5% discount on purchases at Lowe’s Home Improvement, six months of 0% interest with a $299 minimum purchase (but the regular interest rate is charged retroactively on the original purchase amount if you don’t pay the full bill in six months,) or financing of a project of $2,000 or more at a reduced rate of 3.99% for three years, 5.99% for five years or 7.99% for seven years.
Interest rate: 19.24%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $4,500 in the first three months and get $500 back
Typical annual rebate: $580 (assuming $29,000 spent annually)
Paying 2% cash back on all purchases, Capital One Spark Cash Visa yields basic but lucrative rewards for business owners. Cash back is redeemable in any amount as a statement credit or check, and you have the option of setting up automatic redemptions when your cash-back balance reaches $25, $50, $100 or $200. The card carries no foreign-transaction fee, and employee cards are free. Card applicants must provide information including the business’s name and location, industry, tax identification number (or Social Security number for a sole proprietor), and annual revenue and monthly spending figures.
Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 15.49% to 21.49%
Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in three months and get $500 back
Typical annual rebate: $491
Earn cash back in common business spending categories without paying an annual fee. With Chase Ink Business Cash Visa you’ll get 5% back on up to $25,000 annually in combined spending at office-supply stores and on internet, phone and cable services; 2% back on up to $25,000 yearly in combined gas-station and restaurant purchases; and 1% on other spending. Rewards are earned as Ultimate Rewards points, which you can trade at a rate of a penny each for cash back, gift cards or travel. Add employee cards to your account with no extra fees.
Interest rate: 18.24% to 23.24%
Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Typical annual rebate: 46,866 points, worth $491 in travel rewards (after subtracting the annual fee)
Frequent business travelers should consider Chase Ink Business Preferred Visa. It rewards cardholders with three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel; shipping; internet, cable and phone services; and ads purchased with social-media sites and search engines (after you spend more than a combined $150,000 a year in those categories, purchases earn one point per dollar). All other spending garners one point per dollar. When you exchange points for travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, they’re worth 1.25 cents each, compared with a 1-cent value for cash and gift cards. You can also transfer points to participating airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Employee cards are free, and insurance of up to $600 per claim for cell-phone damage or theft is available for you and employees listed on your phone bill if you charge it to your card (maximum three claims per 12-month period; $100 deductible for each claim).
Chase Ink cards require you to include such information as your business name, type of business, tax identification number and years in operation when you fill out an application.
Interest rate: 15.24% to 24.24%
Sign-up bonus: A match of cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards
Typical annual rebate: $47 (assuming $220 spent monthly)
Cardholders earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 spent quarterly on gas and restaurant purchases and 1% for everything else. Although students may earn somewhat higher rewards on spending with our honorable mention, Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students, Discover It Chrome for Students makes up the difference by offering $20 in cash back each academic year that the cardholder earns a GPA of at least 3.0, and it’s friendly to younger folks who may be learning the ropes of managing a credit card: It charges no fee the first time the cardholder pays a bill late, and late payments don’t result in a penalty annual percentage rate. We also like that students don’t have to meet a spending requirement to get a cash bonus in the first year, and there’s no minimum cash-back balance required to redeem rewards. Redemption options include statement credits, deposits into a bank account, charitable gifts and purchases at Amazon.com.