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Best Credit Cards

July 2017: No big changes since last month, but some of the big offers are only available via loopholes right now. If you still want Southwest, get it ASAP because only a few 60k links remain. United is supposed to end the 70k offer this month, and Delta big offers are only available via referral link. We are traveling from Mid-July to Mid-August, so I will update when I get back end of August (or earlier if deals come/go).

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. Usually you need income around 30k+ to get approved for most of these, but if you’re in college and below that just still put around 20-30k because it’s “household” income and if you are still claimed on their taxes then you’re in their household. If you’re married, use your combined household income.

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! As always, remember there are certain “rules” in play for applications, most notably the Chase 5/24 rule. Chase won’t approve you for most of their cards if you have more than 5 personal cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months, so I tell most people to start their credit card points journey with Chase cards and then move on to other banks in the future. If you don’t plan on getting more than 2-3 cards this doesn’t apply to you.

Top Ten List, updated July 2017

1. Chase Southwest Plus/Premier – if you want the Southwest Companion Pass, get these now. If you don’t, skip down to the rest of the list (since I don’t think each of these cards make the top 10 on their own, only when combined to get the Companion Pass). You can read all about what they will get you (and find the application links) on our recent Southwest Companion Pass post. Estimated bonus value = $4000 (combined with Companion Pass). Highest in the game!

As of July 15, the bonuses on the Personal Premier is down to 40k, so in order to get companion pass you would need to do Southwest Plus and Southwest BUSINESS Premier.

Montego Bay, Jamaica

2. Chase Ink Preferred (Business card) – apply using our referral link here for an 80k point bonus, or see below for the (more risky) instructions to get a 100k offer.

  • 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! Estimated bonus value = $1600.
  • 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, including revenue, profits, expenses, business plan, etc. If you only have a “business” then I would recommend applying online using the link above.

    Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

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. Estimated bonus value = $1000.
  • 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, $850 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 who are “Chase Private Client” (250k+ in assets with Chase) have been able to get a 70k point sign-up bonus by applying in branch. If you don’t have that much with them (and if you do why are you reading this blog?!), just go for the 50k offer. 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.

    Wedding Beach, Maui

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. Estimated bonus value = $1150.
  • 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 / 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, $850 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.

    Kauai

5. Bank of America Merrill Plus – only available via phone. See instructions below.

  • How can I apply? To apply, you’ll need to call 866-751-1257 and say you want to apply for the Merrill Plus credit card. If they don’t know what you’re talking about or need a code, say “BAABZX.” It’s technically a code that is supposed to be for Merrill Lynch employees only, but it isn’t being enforced. Most phone reps don’t even ask for the code, so you should be fine. If a phone rep doesn’t allow you to apply since you aren’t a Merrill Lynch employee, HUCA (hang up call again) to talk to someone different. I WOULD confirm with the phone rep that the bonus is still 50k points.
  • What’s the bonus? 50k points and NO annual fee. Merrill+ points are super interesting because they have a base value of 1 cent per point (so you could just take this bonus as $500 cash if you want), or you can redeem them for flights. Any flight between $250-$500 is 25k points in the Bank of America portal, so this means your 50k points could get you UP to $1000 in flights. Doctor of Credit has a very detailed description on how to use Merrill+ points, so I’ll just defer you there to read more about it! Estimated bonus value = $1000.
  • Card Description: This card really is meaningless outside of the bonus. It is just a basic no annual fee card that earns 1 point on everything. I would not use this as my main spending card, but would use a Chase Freedom Unlimited, Amex SPG or any 2% cash back card (Citi DoubleCash, etc). You can read a more complete review of the card here on Doctor of Credit (but there really isn’t much to read!). It does have no foreign transaction fees like many of the other travel cards right now.
  • What could the sign-up bonus get me? $1000 of flights or $500 cash. I would stalk pages like The Flight Deal and Scott’s Cheap Flights to find tickets right around $500 so that you max out the value of the points. I was able to pull up 2 round trip tickets to Tokyo with these points when a flight deal came around! Insane value for one card.
  • What points do I get on purchases? 1x on every purchase.
  • Anything else? This use to be available online, and they cut that a few months ago. I don’t know how long this bonus will last…so if you’re over 5/24 (or don’t care about 5/24 rules) then I would really recommend getting this. $1000 of bonus for no fee is really, really good in this game – especially since you don’t have to search for award space and can use these points on any flight. DO IT!

    Tokyo, Japan

6. Delta Gold Personal – you can apply for a 60k + $50 offer here using our referral link, which is higher than the public 30k Delta miles link right now. 

    San Diego, CA

7. 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. Estimated bonus value (for 70k) = $1200.
  • 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.

    London, England

8. Citi American Airlines Platinum Select – see instructions below for best offer.

  • What’s the bonus? 65k AA miles. $0 annual fee for the first year, downgrade to a Citi AA Bronze card (no fee) or a Citi DoubleCash card for your second year before the annual fee posts. To get this, you apply for the 60k offer here and then, once you get approved, you message Citi and tell them you’ve seen a 65k offer and want your 60k offer “matched” to that (Citi has been mailing it to some people). I’ve seen 100% success so far matching the 65k offer. Some people ALSO have seen a 75k offer and have been able to get matched to that as well. Estimated bonus value = $1000.
  • Card Description: This card is really similar to the Delta Gold 60k, United 70k, Southwest 60k, etc. in the sense that it really isn’t a good everyday spending card but it has a good bonus and good benefits if you fly on that airline a lot. Bag fees are waived on AA with this card, so if you regularly check bags that could be worth something to you. Another cool feature is that you get 10% of your “redeemed” miles back every year, so that helps conserve some of your miles for future trips. You can check out the AA award chart here to see where these miles can take you.
  • What could the sign up bonus get me? Lots of domestic trips, 1 round trip to Europe, 1 round trip to Asia during off-peak times, etc. Check out all the award chart options here.
  • What points do I get on purchases? 2 on AA purchases, 1 on everything else.
  • Anything else? If you want more AA miles, also consider doing the Barclay AAviator Card, which is another 50k AA miles. It has no minimum spending requirement, but the $95 fee makes it a worse option than this one. AA probably has the best availability out of ALL the airlines for flights to Asia (since they partner with Cathay Pacific) and to Australia (since they partner with Qantas), so if you want to go there I recommend AA miles!

    Sydney, Australia

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 past month of a successful match (and not a single denial), including for Mary a few weeks 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. Estimated bonus value = $1300.
  • 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 Southwest 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.

    Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

10. American Express Platinum – use our referral link here for a 60k point offer, or see below for instructions on how to possibly pull up a higher offer.

  • Whats the bonus? The standard offer is 60k Amex MR points. If you don’t have any previous Amex cards it’s possible to get a 100k point offer as well sometimes – check the “pre-qualified offers” page at Amex to see if you’re currently targeted for it. Data suggests that they only use this for people with NO Amex cards, and even then maybe 10% of people I know have been able to get the 100k offer. Estimated bonus value = $2000 (if you can get the 100k offer).
  • 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. Read more about the travel credit here. You also get $15/month in Uber/UberEats credits and $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre-check credit, which brings you to a total of $700 worth of value in the first 12 months, while only paying $550. So, if you can use those credits easily then it’s a $150 net gain for the first year! 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. You also get access to the Centurion Lounges (nicest lounges out there), their “Fine Hotels & Resorts” program, Amex Offers, etc. For a full list of benefits, click here.
  • What could the sign-up bonus get me? 2 round trip tickets to Hawaii, 1 round trip tickets to Europe, 2 round trip tickets to the Caribbean, a business-class one way flight to Asia, 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? Here is the link to how people were pulling up the 100k point offer before using the Chinese Search Engine method. You can also read more datapoints/experiences here if you need more help to get the offer to show up. I don’t think it’s working much anymore, but it could be worth it if you can pull it up!

Honorable Mention

Bonus expired July 26. Delta Platinum Card – The only way to get the higher offer is via referral link, since Delta reduced the bonus on their website to 35k points. You can use our referral link here or ask a friend/family member for theirs.

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 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.

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.

Citi Costco – It’s great for everyday spend, but the bonus is a rotisserie chicken. Come on. If anything, get a different Citi card like the AA one 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. The other big benefit is the Companion Pass (which unlike Southwest is just a one-use thing), which might be good for those out of the west coast or near Alaska hubs. Unless you plan on pursuing multiple of these cards (some people try to get 2-3 at once) then I would de-prioritize this card.

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.