Since I’ve started blogging about how credit cards and loyalty programs have helped me pay for the vast majority of my 6-month sabbatical, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what credit cards I think are best. The answer to this depends completely on what your objectives are with the points you’ll earn from the card but here are my five favorite credit cards at the moment. I’ll cover the primary reasons I like each card but you should certainly do your own research to discover all of the benefits associated with each card and you should also carefully consider whether you need another credit card at all.
Annual Fee: $450
Current Sign-Up Offer: Currently, there is no sign-up bonus but typically there are offers for 40,000-75,000 ThankYou points upon completing the minimum spend. Given the annual fee on this card, you should definitely wait until a bonus offer appears.
Why I Like It:
– While this card has a high annual fee, it comes with a $250 travel credit that is very easy to redeem. In my view, this effectively lowers the annual fee to $200 because Citi will simply reimburse up to $250 per calendar year in airfare.
– While the $250 travel credit is a valuable benefit, the number one reason I love this card is for the “4th night free” benefit. Basically, if you book through the ThankYou Points travel website or via the Citi Prestige Concierge, you get the 4th night free on almost any hotel stay. If you book through their website, you can even use Citi ThankYou points to pay for the hotel which isn’t the best way to use points, but it’s not a terrible value. The biggest limitation with booking through the Citi website is that you don’t get loyalty points for your stay from the hotel chain nor will they honor any status that you may have. However, if you book through the Citi Prestige Concierge, you will earn your hotel credit and they will honor your loyalty status. If you book through the concierge, you must pay with cash and you must pay for the entire hotel stay and wait for Citi to reimburse you a few weeks later for the 4th night. Regardless of which method you choose, there’s no limit to how many times you can use this benefit and there’s no limit to the amount of money they’ll reimburse. Quite simply, it’s perhaps the most lucrative credit card benefit out there.
– This card also gives you 3x points on most travel purchases (2x points on dining) so it can earn you points fairly quickly.
– This card comes with a Priority Pass membership which gets you access to a large network of airport lounges around the world.
– Although it’s a secondary consideration for most, the Citi Prestige comes with some pretty great travel insurance if you use the card to book your trips.
Best for: People who travel for business or pleasure and regularly stay at least 4 consecutive nights in a hotel.
American Express Platinum
Annual Fee: $550
Current Sign-Up Offer: 60,000 points after spending $5k in 3 months (though 100,000 point offers appear from time to time)
Why I Like It:
– This is one of the most “luxurious” credit cards out there and as such, it comes with a very high annual fee… but I think it’s worth it. First, they recently added a $200 Uber credit. They add $15 to your Uber account each month ($35 in December) which you can use for Uber rides or for UberEATS. I use Uber fairly regularly and, if not, I can always order something from UberEATS each month to utilize this credit.
– Like the Citi Prestige, the Amex Platinum comes with a travel credit. However, the Amex Platinum travel credit is a bit more restrictive as you have to pick a single airline for these reimbursements and Amex states that you will only be reimbursed for airline fees such as seat upgrades and baggage fees (though some people report you can buy small amounts of gift cards also). This credit is for $200 each calendar year so if you use this and the Uber credit, that’s worth $400 towards the $550 annual fee.
– Amex Platinum cardholders also are given “gold” status with Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest. Plus, now that Starwood has been taken over by Marriott, this status also extends to Marriott. At a minimum, Gold status with these hotels will typically get you a small room upgrade and will help you earn points and a higher rate.
– The Amex Platinum comes with the same Priority Pass membership as the Citi Prestige and other high-end credit cards but also grants you access to Delta lounges when you fly Delta Airlines. Further, American Express has a network of high-end airport lounges around the world called Centurion Lounges. If there’s a Centurion Lounge at your home airport, this is a huge benefit!
– This card doesn’t have great bonus categories outside of 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline.
Best for: People who live in a city that has a Centurion Lounge. People who regularly stay at Hilton, Marriott, or Starwood properties but don’t stay enough to earn “Gold” status on their own. Frequent Uber users.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Annual Fee: $95 (waived in the 1st year)
Current Sign-Up Offer: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4k in 3 months
Why I Like It:
– The remaining cards on this list have a much lower annual fee than the Citi Prestige and Amex Platinum. As such, they come with fewer benefits but still have great value. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great option for a card with a lower annual fee that earns valuable points towards travel. The 2x points on dining and travel is one of the best parts of this card. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are considered to be more valuable than Amex or Citi points so 2x points is the equivalent of about 4% back towards travel.
– So why are Chase Ultimate Rewards points more valuable than points earned from other credit cards? The short answer is that they have better transfer partners. Each of the major credit card companies has established partnerships with airlines and hotels. Chase has 13 total transfer partners and is the only one to partner with United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Hyatt hotels, all of which are quite valuable. In fact, given how easy it is to redeem points for flights with the other programs, I transfer almost all of my points to Hyatt hotels where you can get a room for as little as 5,000 points.
– Given the value of the transfer partners, a 50,000-point sign-up bonus is quite valuable especially considering the annual fee is waived in the first year.
Best for: This is one of the most versatile credit cards that’s good for just about anyone who travels.
Chase Hyatt (or Chase IHG)
Annual Fee: $75
Current Sign-Up Offer: 40,000 Hyatt points after spending $2k in 3 months
Why I Like It:
– The best part about this card is the free hotel night every year that you renew and pay the annual fee. There are very few restrictions on this so the $75 fee is a great value! I don’t actually spend very much on this card but I intend to keep it as long as they keep offering the free night.
– When I do spend on this card, I use it at restaurants where I earn 2x points on all purchases.
– Hyatt points are valuable and you can get a free night with as little as 5,000 Hyatt points. 40,000 points can get you a bunch of free nights at lower end properties or 2 nights at some of Hyatt’s luxury properties.
Best for: Hotel loyalists. IHG has a similar annual free night for renewing the card which is a great choice if you prefer IHG. IHG also runs regular promotions which makes it easier to earn points. I prefer Hyatt because their points are more valuable but IHG is a great option as well. Marriott offers an annual free night as well though they place some restrictions on where you can use the free night.
Fidelity Investment Rewards
Annual Fee: $0
Current Sign-Up Offer: No sign-up bonus
Why I Like It:
– Though there are now several credit cards that offer 2% cash back, I like this one the best because it puts the money into your Fidelity investment account which encourages you to save more than the other credit cards. Here’s a quick example: Let’s say you spend $1,000 per month. With 2% cash back, $20 goes into your Fidelity investment account. Over time, if you invest that money and earn 7% annually from the stock market (subject to volatility), that $20/month becomes a lot more. In fact, in 10 years of saving and investing, you would earn an additional $1,061 on top of the $2,400 you’ve earned in cash back.
Best for: Aggressive savers
Disclaimer: I included referral links in this post. If you decide to apply for one of the cards, I’d appreciate it if you used these links to apply. I’ll earn some bonus points if you do.