Our Favorite Credit Cards for How You Spend

January 19, 2021
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Credit cards can be a powerful tool in your hands. If you use them wisely, that is.

Sign-up bonuses, or welcome offers can earn you hundreds of dollars in rewards travel – or even just hundreds of dollars in cash! And these cards can also be beneficial for folks that seek to earn cash back or accrue free travel rewards on their everyday purchases. Many of these cards also offer incredible secondary benefits like car rental insurance, extended warranty coverage, travel insurance, and more. 

So we figured we should put together a list of our favorite credit cards. And because we all spend on credit cards differently, we listed our favorites based on the different ways people use them. If you are travel obsessed and want to score points to travel for free – there are some great cards for you. If you just want to maximize your cash back benefits – there are some great cards for you as well. If you are feeding a big family and you spend a whole lot at the grocery store every month there are even specific cards that will reward you for that.

HTM Favorite Credit Cards for Travel Rewards

Sapphire Preferred sits at the top of the heap!

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – this is the best overall card for folks who want to travel the world via credit card rewards. You earn a sweet welcome offer that will get you $750 in free travel if you meet the initial spending requirements. On top of that, Chase allows you to move your rewards points to other loyalty programs like JetBlue, British Airways, United Airlines, and Hyatt. One of the other major perks of this card is the ability to use it for primary rental car coverage. That’s a rare find. And if you rent cars frequently that alone makes this card incredibly valuable.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card – This is the cousin card of the Sapphire Preferred that we mentioned above. This card is for folks who travel frequently and don’t mind paying an annual fee to do so in style. So what’s the annual fee? $450. You might be thinking, “yikes!” But as an avid traveler, the first $300 you spend on travel every year is reimbursed thanks to the annual travel credit that this card offers. The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card also has some great travel perks like lounge access and reimbursement for fees when you join Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Learn more about the Venture rewards card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card – This card by Capital One offers a sweet welcome offer of 50,000 miles (or $500) if you meet the initial spending requirements of $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening and then an ongoing unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every single purchase. The annual fee is also much lower at $95 – and it is waived in year one. Miles earned on this card never expire and there’s no cap on how many miles you can earn. Capital One also makes it pretty easy to redeem the rewards that you earn. That’s because the points you earn are redeemed as statement credits. That means they aren’t limited to specific airline or hotel chains. Learn how to apply for this card here.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card – If Southwest has a major presence in the airport closest to you, getting the Southwest credit card makes a whole lot of sense. The welcome offer alone can be enough for you to book a few round-trip flights. Like any good travel reward card, you won’t have foreign transaction fees when using this card overseas. Airline-specific cards often come with a bevvy of points up front. But those points can be hard to redeem. But Southwest has the easiest rewards redemption out there. So if you fly Southwest frequently, this card is a winner.

HTM Favorite Credit Cards for 2% Cash Back on Everything

Citi Double Cash – This card is one of our favorites for simplicity. If you like to use the same card and know that it is earning you rewards every time, the Citi Double Cash is a good one to use. That’s because it earns you 2% on every purchase you make no matter where you spend – as long as you pay the minimum statement balance every month. Of course, we would suggest paying the entire balance. Just don’t use this card overseas because it comes with a 3% foreign transaction fee. Added bonus: Citi is offering an 18-month 0% interest rate for new users.

Fidelity Rewards Visa – This card is one that I have been using for years. And this card can also be an amazing help in investing more too. That’s because you get 2% cash back when you deposit it into an eligible Fidelity account. So open up a 529 account for your child or a Roth IRA for yourself and start investing the credit card rewards you earn. Some additional benefits are auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance, roadside dispatch, and lost luggage reimbursement. There is no annual fee for using this card.

Learn more and compare the best cash back credit cards at CardRatings.com

HTM Favorite Credit Cards for People with a Bad Credit Score

Petal Cash Back Visa Card – This is an awesome card for folks who have had credit trouble in the past. Petal Card doesn’t look at your credit score when issuing the card. They use an alternative algorithm that assesses your other financial behavior. So, if your credit score isn’t great and you want to change that, the Petal Cash Back Visa is an excellent option – in particular because they’ve eliminated most of the fees you would typically find with a card targeted towards people with poor credit. And you’ll even be earning rewards when using it! 

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® – This is another solid card offered by Capital One for people who have had credit struggles. Although it comes with a $39 annual fee, you’ll be earning 1.5% in cash back rewards on every purchase you make. 

Best Credit Card for High Grocery Spending

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – There’s really one card that stands alone in this category. The claim to fame for this American Express card is the incredible 6% cash back rate on all purchases at US supermarkets (with an annual spending cap of $6,000 annually). Other perks of this card include 6% cash back on US streaming services and 3% cashback on US gas stations, rideshare, and other transit expenses.

Matt and I both use this card regularly as our growing families spend a lot of money at Aldi and Costco! They’ve also have a generous welcome bonus where you’ll earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months with this card. Learn how to apply for this card here.

Best Credit Card for High Gas Spending

Sam’s Club Mastercard – This card from Sam’s Club offers the best cash back rewards on gas purchases. You can earn 5% back on you gas purchases (Up to $6,000 annually) when using this card to pay at the pump. This card will also earn you 3% back on dining and travel purchases. Bonus: You’ll get a free year of membership to Sam’s Club when you sign up through January 15, 2020.

Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi – It’s certainly interesting that the warehouse clubs offer the highest rewards on gas purchases. As a Costco member I, of course, have this card in my wallet. The Costco Anywhere Visa only offers 4% on eligible gas purchases up to $7,000 a year. Not quite as lofty as the 5% offered by the Sam’s Club card. But, other perks make this card a great get for Costco members. You will get 3% cash back on dining and travel. And you will also get 2% cash back on all Costco and Costco.com purchases. Your rewards can only be redeemed once a year and must be done at a Costco store. Insider tip: You can opt to redeem your reward certificate for cash. You do not have to spend it on merchandise at the store.

Best Credit Cards for Balance Transfers

American Express EveryDay Credit Card – If you are currently carrying a balance on your credit card, that stinks. This card by American Express is the only card that doesn’t charge the typical balance transfer fee of 3% of your overall balance. On top of the $0 transfer fee, you’ll also receive a 0% intro APR for 15 months. The rewards on this card isn’t much to write home about, but if you are carrying a balance, sweet rewards aren’t your main priority. This card also offers a $0 annual fee and 0% intro rate on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. (See Rates and Fees)

Best Business Credit Cards

with over 10 years of owning his own business, the Chase Ink Business Preferred is Matt’s favorite biz credit card

Chase Ink Business Preferred – This is the best credit card for business folks who want to earn travel perks. And the welcome offer is the best out there. You can earn $1,000 towards travel by spending $5k on the card in the first three months. Your points are worth the most when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards. There’s an annual fee of $95 but that’s not too bad for small business owners who can extract a good bit of value from using it regularly.

American Express Blue Business Cash Card – If you want a business card with no annual fee and solid cash back, this card from American Express is perfect for you. You’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases up to $50,000 a year and a 1% cash back amount thereafter. This card also has no annual fee. But for big spenders, you can find bigger rewards elsewhere. (See Rates and Fees)

Finding the Right Card that Meets Your Spending Needs

There are certainly a lot of reward credit card options out there. For most people, it makes sense to have three or four cards to use for different purchases in order to maximize the rewards they earn.

It’s important to note that credit card rewards are not worth it if you won’t be able to pay your bill in full when your statement arrives. A 2% cash back reward or sweet sign-up bonus doesn’t make sense if you are paying the minimum balance and accruing lots of interest. But if are able to handle credit cards responsibly, this list can be a powerful aid in helping you pick the right card to maximize rewards in your life.

*To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following links: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; Blue Business Cash Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees

* Advertiser Disclosure: How to Money has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. How to Money and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

* User Generated Content Disclosure: Responses 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.

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10 comments on “Our Favorite Credit Cards for How You Spend

  1. Hi Guys, I am going to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Do either of you currently have the card and want to give me the referral link?

    • Hey Andy, thanks for asking! We score that referral if you sign up for a credit card through any of the links on our site, including the links in this article. Enjoy that Chase Sapphire- it’s great!

  2. Avatar Jami Lyons Feb 27, 2020

    Hi guys! I was thinking of opening a travel card to pay for the trips we take each year to visit family which always require a flight cost. I’m looking at the Marriott Bonvoy card as their points can transfer to Alaskan Airlines which is the main airline we book with to visit family back in Seattle. Or, if there is enough points we can fly and stay without the costs.

    My job is in the consulting industry and requires me to spend a good amount (client/team meals, team outings, trainings, travel for meetings, etc.) and then reimburse me for those work purchases at the end of each payroll once expenses have went through for the month. I thought a separate card for all the work purchases would help keep my spending straight, currently I just see a balance on a credit card and can’t easily see what purchases I made for personal use and what was business so makes things tricky when I try to check my monthly spending.

    I did the math and we could take a trip to see family about 2x year with this card and keep my everyday purchases on another cashback card. What are your thoughts? I’ve had the same cashback card for over 10 years so haven’t ventured out from that to know if there are anything lurking after the plunge.

    Thanks! Love the show!

    • Hey Jami- that sounds like a great and easy way to keep those expenses separate! If I were in your situation, that’s exactly what I would do as well.

      And it’s also worth checking out some of the other cards mentioned above if you’re looking at boosting the benefits you’d receive from your everyday spending as well. Kate and I actually just signed up for the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card – I finally crunched the numbers really quickly and realized that our grocery and gas spending would easily outweigh the annual fee!

  3. Your links keep sending me to some other website that doesn’t have the card I want.

    • Hey Tim, depending on the card you’re looking for, some credit card issuers are only offering sign-ups directly through their own websites. So for example, while you can still apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card through our affiliate links, Capital One has paused all partnerships due to the pandemic.

  4. Avatar Shubho Bandyopadhyay Aug 5, 2020

    I disagree with most choices. Without going through the maze of valuating points and your spending patterns, think of it in this way – the credit card issuers make money from every transaction you make. Out of which, they give back 2% to you for rewards for no fees – that is pretty much the established baseline for any no-fee cashback card today. How much more are they willing to give away on top of that? Very little. It simply does not make business sense for them otherwise. They create the smokes and mirrors to want you to *think* that you have got this amazing deal while soaking you with the annual fees.

    The conclusion that I have come to after using all these cards (and more) is that you need to be darned sure that the card earns its fee. For example, if the Chase Sapphire Reserve is going to be really worth it, then the net $250 fee should be worth it when compared to some no-fee 2% cash-back card (say your net percentage back across all spending categories is 3%, which is highly debatable – see above from the issuer’s point of view. Then, in order to break even with a no-fee 2% card, you need to be spending $25,000 a year before you are better off. And remember, you get the extra points for a few categories, so the $25,000 is not the *total* use, but just in *strategic* use – e.g., just for travel and restaurants, if those are the categories where you get the extra points.)

    Finally, all those numbers about how the points get valued more when you use them for travel is, for the most part, inapplicable to most people. Chase is right when it says that the Sapphire Reserve is for people who earn more than $180K and have substantial assets (BTW, 180K in income is the low end of their preferred clientele – the average would possibly be substantially higher). Because those are the people who can actually get the value from such cards. Unless you are one of those road warriors who travel a lot by booking your own travel (and then get reimbursed by your organization), Americans, on average, simply do not travel enough for vacation (how many vacation days do we get, anyway?) when they can use these points. So, the essential component is traveling a lot, booking your own tickets for such travel – and then getting reimbursed quickly enough so that you do not have to pay your credit cards in full before you are reimbursed.

    As for those other perks? Airport lounges are simply not worth the fuss – unless you are talking of really great lounges (Qatar’s Doha lounge, for example, but when was the last time you were in Doha?). Domestically, Amex has been trying to make it a better experience than the stale peanuts and the more-than-well-aerated two-dollar Chardonnay that is the standard fare at most lounges, but really, for a couple of hours, you are better off looking at the mass of humanity from a seat near your departure gate. The truth is, economy air travel today is meant to be a soul-sucking experience, with the airlines making money from every amenity that lessens the burden – including lounges. The only way to get out of the misery is by traveling in business class (and then, you get the lounge access anyway). And if you want to use your points for business travel, you soon find out that those points do not travel very far – the airlines are not waiting for you to give you saver awards during Christmas, are they? (And if you are traveling during the off-season, you are better off spending your creative energy on point-gathering-and-reimbursing towards mastering Google Flights and other sites that can find out really good business class fares, if you know where to look. Business flights to China during some times of the year are often really inexpensive – in the $2000 range – for example.) The only time that these points make sense? When you sign up for the signup bonus for the first time. Sign up for the card, get the 100,000-point bonus, get your dream vacation, and cancel. Continuing with the card after the first year is sheer folly.

    When it comes to the no-fee cards, I have several choices that are better than the 1%-now-1%-later nonsense, 3% foreign transaction fee, poor-customer-service-laced Citi card. The Fidelity card gives 2% (the rewards can be deposited into a Fidelity account, including their what-essentially-is-a-checking account) and a 1% FTF. Alliant Credit Union has an effective 2% cash-back card, but also with an FTF. The best is the Penfed Power Cash Rewards with low APR that befits a credit union of enormous repute; 2% no-gimmick cash-back (if you have an Access America Checking account with them, which you honestly should, but otherwise 1.5%), no foreign transaction fees (better than either Fidelity or Citi), and you can enroll for an automatic deposit of your rewards to your checking/savings account of choice every month (in other words, no-hassle redemption for your rewards). Another general-rewards card that I recommend is Alliant Visa Signature Cashback, which gives 2.5% cashback but carries a $99 fee (so it makes sense over a 2% cashback card only if you spend more than $20,000 a year on the card.)

  5. Avatar Natalie C Feb 6, 2021

    Just a heads up that i just got off the phone with Amex and apparently they stopped accepting balance transfers 10 months ago on all of their cards. I was considering the one listed here to get my financial butt in order! Going to look into other options. Thanks for all you guys do! I love yalls podcast.

  6. Don’t believe Amex preferred card grants 6% back figure for wholesale clubs like Costco… just 1%
    FYI

    • Good point, Matt. But folks who are Costco members and shop there frequently should be using the Costco credit card anyway!