May 2017 Update: Lots of changes on this list!! Some exciting new offers out right now, and some creative ways of pulling up really good ones.
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “What is the best card to get?” I usually answer by saying, “All of them,” but apparently not everyone is as obsessed with this as I am! If you haven’t before, please read the Beginner’s Guide and the FAQ since it will likely answer a lot of your questions. If you haven’t checked your credit score, read how to do that in the Beginner’s Guide. If you have checked your score and it’s below 680, I recommend starting with this post on what cards are best for people who are just building up their credit. These premium cards listed below are probably best for people 650+, but 700+ is a really safe range for approval.
So here’s my list of best credit cards. I always recommend you do your own research before you apply for anything, but hopefully this list can serve as a great starting point! You’ll notice on this list an unusually high number of Chase Bank cards – that’s for two reasons:
- Chase has the best signup bonuses of all the banks. And isn’t that why we are all here?!
- They have a rule called the “5/24” rule, which means that if you have received more than 5 credit cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months, you won’t be eligible for most Chase cards. So, if you got 5 American Express cards as your first 5 cards, you would NOT be able to get some of Chase’s best cards. Start with Chase to maximize your future points potential. Unless I specify otherwise, all Chase cards in this list are a part of that 5/24 rule.
Top Ten List, updated May 2017
1. Chase Ink Preferred (Business card) – apply using our referral link here.
- What’s the bonus? 80,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) point sign-up bonus, $95 annual fee first year. For your second year, call Chase and downgrade to the no-fee Chase Ink Cash. The Chase Ink Preferred is probably the hardest business card to get, but it’s worth it. If you have any recent Chase applications (i.e. past 3 months) you will most likely be denied. If you are starting out and have a 700+ credit score, you should be good!
- Card Description: Business cards are an interesting aspect of the credit card game, because you don’t need to have a huge business to get them. If you’ve ever sold things on eBay/Craigslist, coached, tutored, or earned money from any “side hustle,” then you technically have a business. You are a “sole proprietor” which is just a fancy word that means you are the only person in the business. With only $1 in revenue or “earnings” and only 1 employee, you can still quite easily get business cards. If you fulfill those requirements, this is the best sign-up available right now. Chase UR points are fantastic – read more about them below in Card #3, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. For a full list of benefits for the Ink Preferred, go to the bottom of this page.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Three round trip tickets to Hawaii, two RT tickets to Peru or South America, $1280 worth of Southwest flights, four nights at the 5-star all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta, etc.
- What points do I get on purchases? 3x points on travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases. 1x points on everything else.
- Anything else? You can get a 100k point sign-up offer if you apply in-branch with a Chase Business Relationship Manager, but be prepared to answer lots of questions about your business if you do this. If you only have a “business” then I would recommend applying online using the link above.
2. American Express Platinum – see application instructions below
- Whats the bonus? There are three offers out there right now: 60k points for 5k spend, 75k points for 5k spend, and 100k points for 5k spend. Obviously, we want the 100k one. There’s a new method described here on Doctor Of Credit that’s kind of crazy (who the heck figured out that going through a Chinese search engine gets past Amex’s geo-location offers?!), but it works. You can also read more datapoints/experiences here if you need more help to get the offer to show up. I think it’s definitely worth it at 100k, and maybe worth it at 75k too (but tougher call). This is definitely one you cancel after the first year.
- Card Description: Amex Platinum is a great card. Amex “MR” points are like Chase UR in that they have tons of transfer partners. The only downside is the huge $550 annual fee – but keep reading. Every calendar year they give you $200 in airline credits, so you could get $200 in Southwest gift cards in 2017 and then also $200 more in 2018 before your annual fee posts again. You also get $15/month in Uber credits and $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre-check, which brings you to a total of $700 worth of “credits” in the first 12 months, while only paying $550. Even with all these credits, it’s still a steep price – so be really sure you know what you’ll do with these points before applying. Mary and I applied for this last year during the 100k offer, and used 110k MR points each to do RT business class tickets to Europe. We had it planned out, so applying was an easy thing to do! You also get access to the Centurion Lounges (nicest lounges out there), their “Fine Hotels & Resorts” program, etc. For a full list of benefits, click here.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Four round trip tickets to Hawaii, a first-class round trip flight to Asia, 2 round trip tickets to Europe, etc.
- What points do I get on purchases? The Platinum earns 5x on airfare (great if you travel for work!) and 5x on hotels booked directly through AmexTravel.com. 1x everywhere else.
- Anything else? If you can get a 100k offer, I think this is a card you should do. Even if you never use Uber or Uber Eats, you are essentially paying $150 ($550 fee – $400 in airline gift cards that you could sell or use) for 100k points, worth around $2000 of travel. That’s a pretty dang good return.
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP)– Use our referral link to apply here.
- What’s the bonus? 50,000 point sign-up bonus. $0 annual fee first year. For your second year, call Chase and downgrade to the no-fee Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited.
- Card Description: The Sapphire Preferred points are called Chase “Ultimate Reward” or UR points, and they are the most versatile points out there. Chase gives you the option to either transfer your points to one of their travel partners (Southwest, United, British Airways, Air France, Korean Air, and Hyatt are my favorite transfer partners) OR to use them through the “Chase Travel Portal”. The Chase Portal is an Orbitz-like travel agency website, but instead of paying in cash you pay with points – every point is worth 1.25 cents if you have the CSP. For a full list of benefits click here.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Two round trip tickets to Hawaii, one round trip ticket to Europe, $750 worth of Southwest flights, two nights at a 5-star all-inclusive Hyatt resort in Cancun, etc.
- What points do I get on purchases? The CSP earns 2x points on travel and dining, and 1x points on everything else.
- Anything else? Some people have been able to get a 70k point sign-up bonus by applying in branch. It isn’t common, but it can’t hurt to stop by a Chase branch and check. You also get a 5k UR bonus for adding an Authorized User (AU) – Chase doesn’t require a Social Security for the AU, so it’s best to just request another card for yourself using a nickname or middle name. Since it isn’t your (or your spouse’s) real name, it won’t count against the 5/24 limit.
4. Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) – apply at the Chase website here.
- What’s the bonus? 50,000 UR point sign-up bonus plus $600 in travel credits in the first year. $450 annual fee first year. For your second year, call Chase and downgrade to the no-fee Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited.
- Card Description: I want to be clear that this card is an overall greater value than the Sapphire Preferred, but the upfront annual fee scares some people -which is why I put it after the Preferred. The CSR is the premium version of the CSP – so you get all kinds of travel benefits, such as TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry ($100 value) and lounge access at airports. Every calendar year you get $300 in travel credits for any travel-related purchase, such as Uber rides, flight/hotel taxes, plane tickets, airline gift cards, AirBnb’s, etc. So, if you get the card in June, you would get $300 for June – December 2017 and another $300 for January – June 2018. I recommend downgrading before your second annual fee posts, meaning you pay the $450 annual fee only one time, but get $600 in travel credits (net gain of $150). Sapphire Reserve cardholders get 1.5 cents in the travel portal instead of 1.25 with the CSP or Ink Preferred; since you can combine all your UR points together between cards and family members, this means that getting this card makes ALL your Chase UR points 20% more valuable. For a full list of benefits click here.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Two round trip tickets to Hawaii, one round trip ticket to Europe, $750 worth of Southwest flights, two nights at a 5-star all-inclusive Hyatt resort in Cancun, etc.
- What points do I get on purchases? The CSR earns 3x points on travel and dining, and 1x point everywhere else.
- Anything else? The sign-up bonus used to be 100k points until March 12th of this year, so it’s possible (but highly unlikely) that the offer could go back up.
AS OF MAY 4, 2017, CHASE HAS REMOVED ALL LINKS FOR THE 100k MARRIOTT OFFER. If you still really want Marriott points (maybe you’re shooting for a nights and flights package) you can use our 80k point referral link here. If you don’t have any plans for these points, I would instead apply for other Chase cards or the Amex SPG cards.
5. Chase Marriott Rewards – apply at the Chase website here. What’s the bonus? 100k Marriott Points with an $85 annual fee first year. There aren’t any no-fee options, so you can either cancel after the first year or keep it if the “anniversary free night” is worth $85 to you. Card Description: The Marriott Card usually has an 80k sign-up bonus, so this is a good increased offer for the next few months. This card is especially good if you pair it with another Marriott card (spouse/friend) or an SPG card to get enough points for the Nights + Flights Package (see my post on that here). It’s also important to know that Marriott recently bought out Starwood Hotels (SPG), so Marriott points can transfer to SPG points and give you even more options. One of the other card benefits is an “annual free night” – every year you get a free night at a Category 1-5 Marriott. You won’t find any crazy nice hotels in that range, but if you regularly stay at Marriott hotels then you can likely make good use of that. For a full list of benefits click here. What could the sign-up bonus get me? It can get you some of the way to the Nights and Flights package, one of the best benefits in the game. For just normal standard redemptions, Courtyard Marriotts are usually 15-20k points per night and JW Marriotts are around 35-50k points per night. SPG hotels (Westin, St. Regis, Sheraton, etc.) have a similar range. Depending on whether you want cheap or fancy, this card can get you anywhere from 2-7 free nights at a hotel. For example, 6 nights at the Courtyard Marriott in Cancun (20k/night + 5th night free on award stays) or 3 nights at the JW Marriott Costa Rica (35k/night). What points do I get on purchases? 5x points at Marriott/SPG hotels, 2x on airline tickets, and 1x point everywhere else. Anything else? The best value of Marriott Points is for the Marriott Nights + Flights Package, but it requires a ton of points. It’s good on its own, but it’s incredible when redeemed for that.
6. Chase United– see application instructions below for best offer.
- What’s the bonus? 50k United miles + $50 credit (some people are seeing a 70k offer right now, so that would be even better!). To get this offer, including the $50 statement credit, start the process of making any fake booking on United.com and look for the card offer on the second page. $95 annual fee first year, downgrade to the no-fee version second year. If you don’t have a United frequent flyer account yet, sign up for that and within 2-3 weeks they will probably send you the 70k offer via email – it’s worked for me + four others this past month.
- Card Description: If you can get the 70k point offer, this card is a must-do. If not, this shouldn’t be your first card. I always recommend transferable point cards (points that can be transferred to many airlines) before airline-specific ones because airline-specific points limit your options. If you want a flight to Europe and United has no award space, and you only have United miles…you’re out of luck. If you already have the best transferable-point cards, then this is a great next card! If you also find yourself flying United a lot, then the free checked bag for you and one other person might be helpful for you. Since United is also a transfer partner of Chase UR points, it can be really easy to combine this bonus with a UR-card bonus to get an award flight you need. For a full list of benefits click here.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? A roundtrip ticket to Europe is 60k, Asia is 70-80k (depending on region), Mexico/Caribbean is 35k, South America is 40k/60k depending on region, and domestic is 25k.
- What points do I get on purchases? 2x points on United purchases, 1x point on everything else.
- Anything else? One cool benefit of United miles is that they allow you to do a “stopover” on a roundtrip ticket to see another city for free. As an example, you could fly SLC – Paris (stop for 5 days) – London (your actual destination) and then back home for the same exact price as a SLC – London round trip.
7. American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) – see application instructions below.
- What’s the bonus? 30k SPG after 3k spend, no annual fee first year. Since SPG transfers to Marriott 1:3, this is essentially a 99k Marriott offer. The only reason I put it behind the Marriott offer is that this card is not under the 5/24 rule, so you should get Marriott first. To get the 30k offer, search for it in Incognito browsers (Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.). I searched for “Amex spg credit card” in Google Chrome Incognito and got it first try. You can also use the “Baidu” method described by Doctor of Credit here (although he describes it for the Platinum, it works for the SPG card too).
- Card Description: SPG is my absolute favorite card, since the points are worth around 2.1-2.7 cents per point. Especially since you can transfer to Marriott, these points are incredibly valuable. I think this is actually my favorite everyday spend card since the points are so valuable. If you want to really extract the most value, I recommend combining this card with a Marriott card or two and doing a Marriott Nights + Flights Package out of these. You can read our full description of the Marriott Nights + Flights package here.
- What could the sign up bonus get me? Alone, the sign up bonus isn’t huge. But it still could get you 5 nights at the Westin in Cancun, etc. It’s best when combined and getting you enough points for the Nights and Flights package.
- Anything else? Did I mention I love SPG points?
8. Amex Premier Rewards Gold (PRG)– see application instructions below.
- What’s the bonus? 50k MR (Membership Rewards) points. Same as Chase UR, but just American Express’ program. $0 annual fee first year, cancel after one year. There isn’t a 50k public application link right now, but most people can find it online if you search for it in an “incognito” browser or using the method described here on Doctor of Credit.
- Card Description: The Amex PRG is essentially American Express’ version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred. MR points transfer to tons of different airlines, but lack good hotel transfers. Additionally, there is no “portal” that you can use to book any flight, which is why the CSP and CSR are rated higher. You get $100 per calendar year in “airline fee” credits on your selected airline; the credits are supposed to be used for bag fees, food, etc. but most people (Mary and I included) have bought gift cards and had that trigger the $100 credit. If you do that, that equals a $200 profit on top of your 50k sign-up bonus. For a full list of benefits, go to the “Travel Benefits” section on this page.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? MR points transfer to tons of airlines – see a full list here. Although MR points transfer to more airlines, UR points by far have better airlines, which is why this card isn’t higher on our list. With this sign-up bonus you could get 1 RT ticket to Europe, 1 RT ticket to Japan, 2 RT domestic tickets, etc. For more ideas, click here.
- What points do I get on purchases? 3x on flights, 2x on dining/gas/groceries, 1x everywhere else.
- Anything else? Since Amex doesn’t have a 5/24 rule about approving people for their cards, I recommend starting with Chase cards first. This would be fine for a 6th or 7th card if you ever want to get that far!
9. Chase Ritz Carlton Card – Apply on the website here.
- What’s the bonus? 3 Free nights at any Tier 1-4 Ritz Carlton. The bonus says 2 nights, but there used to be a 3 night offer – since that offer still exists but for targeted people, you can request a match to the 3 night offer from Chase via their Secure Message tool. I have seen 10 data points this week of a successful match (and not a single denial), including for Mary three days ago, so I feel confident they will continue to match the 3 night offer. The 3 night offer increases the spending requirement to $5000 though.
- Card Description: The Ritz Carlton card is awesome just as a one-time card (definitely not a long term card). Better yet, it is NOT under the 5/24 rule so you can get it after the other Chase cards. The annual fee seems steep at $450, but you get $300 in travel credits every calendar year (for $600 total in your first year of having the card). The credits aren’t as easy to use as the CSR because you have to manually request them to be credited, and it’s not supposed to be for gift cards but it works most of the time. If you want to read more about what has been counting for the travel credit, go to a Doctor of Credit article about it here or search on the Reddit Churning page. Additionally, there is a $100 discount anytime you book 2 airline tickets together in the U.S. So, if you and a spouse fly to some city and you book both tickets on the same itinerary, you get $100 off. A full review of that companion benefit was done by One Mile at a Time here. I haven’t used this yet because I prefer to fly Southwest with our Companion Pass (and this doesn’t work on Southwest), but it might be great for some people who don’t have the companion pass or who don’t fly Southwest often. Since this card has the potential to give you $600 in airline gift cards, $100 off airfare as many times as you want, 3 free nights at a Ritz Carlton, and only costs $450….I think it’s a good one. It also gives you Gold Marriott status, which can help you get upgrades if you also got Marriott/SPG cards for stays. See full list of benefits here.
- What could the sign up bonus get me? 3 nights at Ritz Carlton Maui, Ritz Carlton Dana Point, New York, Aruba, etc. See a full list of Ritz Carlton properties here, but remember the bonus is only for Tier 1-4. We are using Mary’s Ritz bonus for 3 nights at the Ritz Laguna Niguel, which was $880/night for the dates we booked in July. I would NEVER pay that…but that’s awesome for free. I’ll take $2700 of value from a sign up bonus!
- What points do I get on purchases? Nothing special. 5x on Marriott purchases (SPG earns 2x SPG or 6x Marriott, so that’s better), 2x on airfare and rental cars, 1x everywhere else.
- Anything else? Be sure you understand the $100 airfare benefit and the $300 travel credit really well before you apply for this card. If you don’t have a way to make back that $450 fee, then you’re just paying $450 for 3 nights at a Ritz, which is good but certainly not the point of the game.
10. Barclaycard Arrival Plus– apply on the website here.
- What’s the bonus? 50k points or $500 towards any travel purchase. The usual offer is 40k points, so this is a good offer for now. $0 annual fee first year, downgrade to no-fee version for second year.
- Card Description: The Arrival Plus / Arrival+ is interesting because the points are essentially cash – you “redeem” points and it just pays for any travel purchase, like rental cars, resort fees, AirBnb, etc. In the instance that you don’t have other points for random flights or small hostels, this card can be great to fill in the gaps and “pay” for those purchases. That might sound similar to the Chase Travel Portal and it sort of is – the reason this bonus isn’t higher is because it’s maxed out at $500. The points don’t transfer anywhere, so it’s just straight cash towards travel. Some experienced people might recognize it’s eerily similar to the Capital One Venture card too. I recommend the Arrival+ over the Venture card because the bonus is 50k right now and the Venture is 40k, so $500 vs. $400…and I’m sick of Jennifer Garner making the Venture card seem like the bee’s knees when it clearly isn’t. Full list of benefits can be found at the benefits tab of this page.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? The signup bonus is just straight $500 towards any purchase. Whether you want to do $175 on a hotel, $200 on a rental car and $125 on the bag fees, or any other combination of that, is totally up to you.
- What points do I get on purchases? 2x points on every purchase.
- Anything else? A great sign-up bonus if you’ve already gotten the good Chase cards and you are finding the random little purchases on trips to be breaking your bank.
Chase Hyatt– apply at the Chase website here.
- What’s the bonus? 2 Free nights at any Hyatt in the world. $75 annual fee first year. Like the Marriott Card, you get a free night at a category 1-4 Hyatt every year. If you value that higher than $75, then keep the card – otherwise cancel after one year.
- Card Description: The Hyatt card is awesome because the card isn’t points – it’s just 2 free nights. That means you can use it anywhere, at any level of fanciness, and don’t need to feel guilty about not rationing your points. This card is obviously best for fancy stays, but the annual free night (which you get starting the second year) actually has some great options too. You can see all Hyatt hotels by category here, but some cool options to use your annual free night (really $75 night with the annual fee) are the Hyatt Place in Waikiki Beach, Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica, Hyatt Regency in San Diego, etc. which all run $300+ a night in the summer. If you and a spouse or friend both have the card, you can each use your free night to combine for a quick 3-day, 2-night getaway at a beautiful resort. Hyatt is also a UR transfer partner, so it’s easy to transfer over more points to extend that stay by a day or two. For a full list of benefits go to the bottom of this page.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives ($1000/night normally), Park Hyatt Sydney overlooking the Opera House ($800/night normally), Hyatt Zilara Cancun, Park Hyatt Paris, Park Hyatt New York, Park Hyatt Zurich, Andaz Tokyo, Andaz Maui, etc. Any Hyatt is an option! If you and a spouse or friend both have the card, double up your reservation for a 5-day, 4-night stay at somewhere incredible!
- What points do I get on purchases? 3x points on Hyatt, 1x everywhere else.
- Anything else? This card is NOT under the 5/24 rule, which is why it’s lower on the list. Even if you have 25 credit cards you can still qualify for this, so this can be one of your first cards after your 5/24 slots are completed. Start with Chase cards that are restricted by 5/24, or get this one early only if you don’t think you’ll get more than one or two cards.
Chase IHG – apply at the Chase Website here
- What’s the bonus? The real bonus is 80k IHG points. The link currently says 60k points, but if you request a match to 80k IHG using the Secure Message tool on Chase, they’ll match it for you. The best part of this card is the yearly benefit though, not the sign-up bonus.
- Card Description: The IHG card has an annual fee of $49, waived the first year. It is not a card I would ever actually use for my everyday spending, but that annual fee is pretty sweet. If you want to see all IHG properties, go to Award Mapper and filter only for Intercontinental. Since some of their nice properties can be up to $500+ a night, you are paying $49 (the annual fee) for a super luxurious stay somewhere. Incredible deal! Double up with a spouse for a yearly 3-day, 2-night getaway.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Wait to use these points til after year 1, when you can combine them with your annual free night. 3 nights at the Intercontinental Fiji, Tahiti, New York, etc.
- What points do I get on purchases? Nothing good, don’t use this for everyday purchases. 5x on IHG hotels, 2x on grocery/gas/restaurants, and 1x everywhere else.
- Anything else? This card is NOT under the 5/24 rule, so save this until after you have filled your Chase 5/24 slots.
Citi AA –
- There are some 60k AA miles links floating around. If you find one, it might be worth it. I still think AA miles are impossible to use lately unless you go international on one of their partners (Cathay Pacific, JAL, etc.), so be careful before you apply. Definitely don’t do this before your 5/24 is filled up.
Amex Hilton Surpass –
- The 100k offer that comes with an anniversary free night is good, but Hilton has hugely variable points costs for their hotels, so just be careful with it. Sometimes the same hotel will be 20k and other times it will be 120k, so you just need to understand that before you apply. If you find space at a hotel you want at a decent rate, then go for this. I feel much less comfortable holding Hilton points than Marriott/SPG/etc. Definitely don’t do this before your 5/24 is filled up.
Removed off the list from April:
- Southwest Cards. The bonus went down to 40k instead of 50k, so it’s hard to get the Companion Pass now. Hold off until November – December if you want to get these, then hit your minimum spend in early January so that ALL your points (and your companion pass) post in January 2018 for a 2018/2019 companion pass.
So there’s the list! I’ll update this monthly to accommodate any new card offers that come out or that are increased. Equally important to what is on the list is what isn’t on the list, since many sub-par card offers are marketed extensively.
What popular cards AREN’T on here?
Other Hilton cards – They lure you with 80k points sign-up bonuses, but Hilton points are undoubtedly the least valuable points of the major hotels/airlines in the game. Hilton Hotels themselves are great, as has been my customer service there, but the points are tough right now. De-prioritize these on your list. The Hilton Reserve offer with 2 free weekend nights is fine, but be aware that it’s tough to find availability at their nice hotels.
Capital One Venture – As mentioned above, it’s similar to the Barclay Arrival+ but a lower bonus…so don’t appease Jennifer Garner as she continues to falsely claim it’s the best card out there.
Amex Delta – Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, so it’s really hard to know how many miles you should expect to pay for flights. If you fly Delta a ton (aka most people out of SLC) then the free bag could be worth it on its own – but probably de-prioritize this card when comparing to flexible point cards or the United/Southwest ones.
Citi Costco – It’s great for everyday spend, but the bonus is a rotisserie chicken. Come on. If anything, get a different Citi card with a higher bonus and call Citi to convert to this after a year.
Bank of America Alaska Airlines – Alaska miles are great for certain things, but it’s only 30k miles right now. If you are ready to go hardcore in credit cards, you can get multiple of these at the same time and really build up Alaska miles. If you are only looking for one card, this probably isn’t the most helpful.
Citi DoubleCash – Best 2% cash back card on the market…but don’t apply for it directly since it has no (or sometimes an incredibly low) bonus. Apply for a Citi card with a bonus (like the AA one), then call Citi to convert to this after a year.