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!
So here’s my list of best credit cards. As a heads up, this post can also be found under the “Cards and Points” section, where it will be updated every month to make sure you all know what the top current offers are. 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 April 2017
1. Chase Ink Preferred (Business card) – apply at the Chase website 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.
- 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 #4, 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 a 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? Some people have been able to get a 100k point sign-up offer if you apply in-branch with a Chase Business banker, but most reports are showing you also need a Chase Business Checking account to qualify for this.
- What’s the bonus? 50k Southwest points for each. $99 fee on the Southwest Premier, $69 fee on the Southwest Plus. Neither fee is waived the first year, and there isn’t a no-fee version. The public sign-up bonus is 40k, but you can use our referral links for a 50k point sign-up bonus. There is also a 60k SW Premier Business card, but it’s really rare to get approved for more than one Chase business card – which is why I put the Chase Ink Preferred instead of the Southwest one.
- Card Description: Unless you are trying to get the Companion Pass, these should not be your first cards. If you do want the Companion Pass, which you can read about here in one of our first posts, these should definitely be your first cards to give you the highest chance of approval. Southwest points are great because there isn’t “award space” like other airlines – any flight you want, you can pay with points and it’s always a fixed point value (around 1.6 cents per point). So if a flight is $160, you’ll pay 10k SW points every time. One other cool benefit that Southwest gives you with these cards is free points every card anniversary. You get 6,000 points for the Premier and 3,000 points for the Plus, which makes the annual fees essentially $0. For a full list of benefits, click here.
- What could the sign-up bonus get me? Combined the cards give you ~$1700 worth of Southwest flights. Remember though that the Companion Pass doubles that value since your designated companion always flies for free with you, so the points from the bonus give you around $3400 worth of flights on Southwest. In addition to most U.S. cities, flights to Costa Rica, Mexico, Bahamas, Aruba, Belize, etc. can be 15k points or less if you’re willing to be flexible on dates.
- What points do I get on purchases? 2x points on Southwest flights, 1x for everything else. Nothing special.
- Anything else? If you are shooting for the companion pass, it’s best to get the bonus for these cards in January so you maximize your time with the pass (since it’s valid the rest of the year you earn it and the entire next year). However, getting the cards and/or the companion pass at any time is still an incredible value!
- 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.
5. 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.
6. 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. 100k points sounds like a lot, but their dollar value is about half of Chase UR points, so that’s why this card isn’t higher up on the list. 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? 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 and Flights Package, but it requires a ton of points. I’ll write a full post soon on why the Nights and Flights value is so high, but for now check out Marriott’s description of it here. Long story short – get a 7-night stay and up to 132,000 airline miles.
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.
- 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.
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. If you can’t find the 50k MR offer, don’t apply.
- 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. 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.
10. 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 high season. 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), 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.
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?
Citi AA – American Airlines miles are good, but AA has started really limiting its award space.
Hilton cards – they lure you with 100k 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.
Amex Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) – This is actually my favorite credit card I have, and I usually recommend it to everyone who will listen because SPG points are my favorite. Unfortunately the sign-up bonus is only 25k right now (which is 75k Marriott since it transfers 1:3 to Marriott). If you can pull up a 30k or 35k sign-up bonus using Incognito, then go for it. Otherwise, hold off until they raise the bonus again.
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.