What is the best credit card?

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?

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
  • Bank of America Premium Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards
  • US Bank Altitude Reserve
  • Citi Double Cash + Uber Card
  • CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card

Now, here’s more info about each:

Capital One Venture Rewards

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 at a 2 to 1.5 ratio.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base

Earning rate: 2X everywhere

Noteworthy perks: Earn 10x miles on hotels through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture ⚬ Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® ⚬ Redeem miles for travel at value of 1 cent per mile ⚬ Convert "miles" to airline miles at a (mostly) 2 to 1.5 ratio ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

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).

Chase Sapphire Reserve + Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

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


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine

Earning rate: 3X Travel and Dining

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ $300 Annual Travel Credit ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ⚬ Priority Pass Select lounge access ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit

See also: Sapphire Reserve Complete Guide

Chase Freedom Unlimited

FM Mini Review: Great to earn 1.5X Ultimate Rewards in categories with no bonuses. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred!


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature or Platinum

Base

Earning rate: 1.5X on all purchases.

See also: Transferable points programs

This combination is still one of my favorites.  Yes, the Sapphire Reserve is expensive at $450 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).  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.

Bank of America Premium Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards

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
1.5X
(1.5%)
Travel
Dine

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 an qualify for Platinum Honors with Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program, this is an awesome card.

US Bank Altitude Reserve

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
Shop

Earning rate: 3X travel and mobile wallet payments

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ $325 in travel credits per membership year ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Priority Pass Select airport lounge access (4 per year) ⚬ 12 free Gogo Wifi passes per year ⚬ Primary car rental coverage ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

See also: US Bank Altitude Reserve Complete Guide

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 very 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.

2% Cash Back Card + Uber Card

Uber Visa Card

FM Mini Review: A good choice both for its signup bonus and bonus categories (4% for restaurants is particularly good).


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Platinum or Signature

Base
1%
Travel
3%
Dine
4%
Shop
2%

Earning rate: ⚬ 4% eateries ⚬ 3% travel ⚬ 2% online purchases (including online purchases made with third party payment methods like PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay) ⚬ 1% everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Annual $50 subscription credit when you spend $5,000 in a year (good for things like Netflix, HBO NOW, Amazon Prime, etc) — note that this benefit kicks in during the second year if you spend $5K in year 1) ⚬ Up to $600 mobile phone insurance against theft or damage when you charge your total monthly bill to the card ($25 deductible) ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

Citi Double Cash Card

FM Mini Review: For those who prefer cash back, it's hard to beat 2% cash back and no annual fee. Use a different card when traveling internationally due to this card's foreign exchange fee.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Noteworthy perks: 1% cash back when you make a purchase + 1% cash back when you pay for those purchases

The Citi Double Cash Card is really just an example here.  There are lots of no-fee 2% cash back cards.  For those who don’t hate Paypal, their 2% card may be a better option since it has no foreign transaction fees.  Anyway, the combination of a 2% cash back card and the Uber card gives you very high cash back rewards with no annual fees.

CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card

CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card

FM Mini Review: This card is really difficult to get, but it's a no brainer to keep since the rewards are worth far more than the card's annual fee.


Annual Fee: $400

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Gas
Grocery

Earning rate: ⚬ 3X gas, grocery, airline, hotel, taxi, limousine, rental car, train bus, restaurant, fast food and takeout food and dining purchases ⚬ 1X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: Get reimbursed up to $550 for airline lounge club membership after $50K calendar year spend.

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Up to $250 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees per card (you can have up to 3 authorized users) ⚬ 12 Gogo In-Flight Wifi passes per card ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement ⚬ Priority Pass lounge membership for 2 cardholders. (Includes unlimited guests.) ⚬ Visa Infinite Discount Air Benefit

See also: The amazing CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Card. A deep dive.

This card is absolutely loaded with high end perks and is unmatched in its many 3X categories.  If you can get the card, get it.  But you will want another card for your non 3X spend, since this one is not too rewarding at 1X.  Full details here: The amazing CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Card. A deep dive.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

34
Leave a Reply

avatar
12 Comment threads
22 Thread replies
14 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
14 Comment authors
JeremyYuriCaveDwellerDebitBarry Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
JasonO
Guest
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.

CaveDweller
Guest
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

MSer
Guest
MSer

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

Pam
Guest
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.

Andrew
Guest
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
Guest
Pam

Chase Ink Business Preferred

Barry
Guest
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
Guest
Pam

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

robertw
Guest
robertw

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

Pointz
Guest
Pointz

Transfer to sapphire reserve and claim at 1.5

Barry
Guest
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
Guest
Jeremy

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

Pointz
Guest
Pointz

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

Christopher Minich
Guest
Christopher Minich

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

robertw
Guest
robertw

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

James
Guest
James

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

robertw
Guest
robertw

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

Pointz
Guest
Pointz

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

Yuri
Guest
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
Guest
Debit

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

Yuri
Guest
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
Guest
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.

trackback

[…] 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 […]

trackback

[…] 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.  […]