We’ve been writing about rewards credit cards for years now because we believe in getting paid back for the money you spend. There are so many new cards entering and leaving the marketplace, which means there’s a lot to keep tabs on. Fortunately, we’re always on top of every move in the credit card industry because our goal is to provide up-to-date information you can count on.
Our top pick for 2016.
Even with all the changes, our top pick has continued to stand the test of time. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a massive signup bonus, 2X points earning potential, and access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program (the best rewards program out there).
A new addition for summer 2016!
The Discover it® Miles is worth mentioning as a new card that has caught our attention. If you buy a lot of different things and you like to travel, it’s a great option. You earn a consistent 1.5x miles on every purchase, your first year points get matched (if you earn 20,000 miles, you’ll actually earn 40,000 miles), and there’s no annual fee. Yes, it’s a Discover card, which is not as widely accepted, but I think the rewards and benefits make it a serious contender.
The Best Rewards Credit Card Combo for 2016
We continue to believe strongly that you can maximize your rewards earning potential by owning both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Freedom®.
5% cash back on rotating categories.
By getting both cards, you can take advantage of the 5X categories on the Chase Freedom® and the 2X earning potential offered with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. And since you can transfer points between the two cards, you can use points earned through either card in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Beyond the rewards for regular spending, you can also earn huge sign-up bonuses as well. For example, the signup bonus for the Chase Freedom® card is $150 after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Choosing the Right Rewards Card
But, which type of rewards card should you choose? Although some cards offer flexible rewards that can be redeemed in more than one way, others dole out rewards in the form of airline miles, hotel loyalty points, or gift cards and cash back. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you hone in on the perfect rewards credit card:
Do you want to travel?
If you travel frequently or plan to in the near future, it might be wise to focus on travel rewards cards above all else. However, it’s still important to decide whether you want to earn frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points – or both.
Would you rather earn cash back?
The top cash back cards allow you to earn cash back on all of your regular spending this year – whether it’s on a spring break trip with your family or groceries, gas, and insurance. If you don’t travel often, one of our cash back cards might be your best bet.
Do you want some flexibility?
If you’re not sure which type of rewards you ultimately want, it might be wise to get a flexible rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. This card allows you to use your points for travel, gift cards, cash back, or merchandise – and you don’t have to commit until you’re ready to redeem your points.
Keep these questions in mind as you read detailed descriptions on all of our top rewards cards. Here are our top picks for 2016 and beyond:
The Simple Dollar’s Best Rewards Credit Cards for 2016
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for Travel
- Discover it® Miles: Best No Annual Fee Rewards Card
- Chase Freedom®: Best Cash Back Rewards
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: Best Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card
- BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card: Best Bank of America Credit Card
- Discover it® Cashback Match™: Best Cash Back for New Members
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: Best Perks
If you look at the top six cards, you’ll see a combination of more general rewards cards and the more specific cash back rewards cards.
The main difference is that the general rewards cards offer up to 2x points per dollar spent (or 2%) rewards on popular purchases with no limits on the amount you can earn. Cash back cards offer a higher rewards rate (sometimes up to 5-6%) in specific spending categories or rotating spending categories. However, cash back credit cards tend to impose caps on the amount you can earn rewards on in a certain timeframe.
I always recommend pairing a consistent everyday rewards credit card with a cash back credit card to maximize your rewards.
I would start by getting one of these two cards:
A great strategy is to use one of the cards above and then combine that card with a rotating category cash back card, like the Chase Freedom®.
An added benefit to combining a general rewards card with a cash back card is that you can usually add a cash back card with no annual fee. This is an economic way to get extra rewards for free!
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Most Versatile Rewards Credit Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the most popular cards in 2016 mostly due to the card’s versatility. The reason it’s such a versatile travel card goes beyond the 2x points on travel and dining. You also get the benefit of a 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs.
If you’ve accumulated points from other rewards programs, like United MileagePlus®, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, Marriott Rewards®, or many others, you can easily consolidate. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can redeem your points for statement credit, book trips through Chase Ultimate Rewards, use your points on Amazon.com, and have the opportunity for unique entertainment and shopping experiences.
The hidden gem with this card is that points earned from Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are worth 20% more when redeemed for travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. Additionally, if you have another Chase credit card like the Freedom®, you can transfer your Freedom® points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and now those points are also worth 20% more when redeemed for travel.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- This card is perfect for young professionals, city dwellers, and travelers.
- This is the right card if you eat out often.
- Loyal Chase customers will want to choose this card for the convenience and great rewards.
- You want to use it for any meals out and whenever you travel.
- This card is loaded with travel insurance benefits that have you covered if anything gets in the way of your trip.
- I recommend strategically using the Chase Freedom® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card together to earn more rewards. Use the Chase Freedom® to enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months and use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for travel and dining purchases. You can transfer rewards from one card to the other, so you can take all of your 5% categories from the Chase Freedom® Card and send them to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account, which offers more exclusive rewards redemption opportunities.
Check out the Ultimate Rewards home page below taken from my account:
Best Cash Back Credit Card
As a cash back card, and even a rewards credit card, the Chase Freedom® is about as popular as they come. With rotating quarterly cash back categories, you’re able to take advantage of new ways to earn rewards all throughout the year — and you earn at a very high rate (5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases).
As an owner of this card, I can also say you’ll receive great protection from Chase as well as quality customer service. Their fraud monitoring is one of the best around. When you redeem rewards, it’s a smart move to take a look at the Chase Ultimate Rewards page and look for any special deals.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- This is one of the best secondary credit cards to own due to its rotating quarterly cash back categories.
- It’s a great partner to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because you can transfer rewards points from account to account if you own both cards and combine points for a larger redemption.
- If you’re a smaller spender or you like variety and change, this is a great card to own.
- Make sure you plan out any major purchases ahead of time because the card does offer 5% cash back on Amazon purchases toward the end of the year.
- You have to opt in each quarter to get 5% cash back. Don’t worry, though, because Chase will remind you to sign up. You can also opt in and get rewarded retroactively at the 5% cash back rate.
- Check the Chase Ultimate Rewards program online for any special deals on redeeming points for gift cards and more — there are often specials to be found.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Best Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card
Although you won’t have access to rotating category bonuses with this card, you’ll still earn a steady 2 miles per dollar spent on all of your purchases. And since you can use your miles for nearly any type of travel with any airline or hotel chain, the miles you earn with this card are much more versatile and flexible than other reward currencies. Simply use your card for all of your purchases to earn miles that are good for airfare, train tickets, or hotel stays – plus an array of other travel experiences or adventures.
With no foreign transaction fees and chip and pin technology, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is also the perfect card for your overseas trip. Meanwhile, you’ll earn free access to a monthly FICO score just for being a cardholder.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- The fact that you earn a flat 2% on all purchases makes this card a lucrative option for any type of traveler
- This card is a great option for anyone who doesn’t like to keep track of changing or rotating categories
- If you don’t spend a ton of money on credit each month, earning 2x miles on all purchases is a good option.
- Use your card for all of your spending in order to earn 2% back to use on any type of travel
- Earn 5% of your miles back every time you redeem miles for travel
- Use your card to pay for any type of travel, then simply redeem your miles to erase all or part of the expense from your bill.
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card
The Best No Annual Fee Rewards Credit Card
If you want great rewards and don’t want to pay an annual fee for the privilege, you can’t do better than the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card. With this card, you will earn a steady 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, regardless of what they are.
Since there are no limits to the number of points you can earn, you can safely use this card for all of your everyday spending without worrying about hitting spending or rewards limits or “opting in” to special categories. And since this card will never charge an annual fee, you don’t have to worry about paying one or cancelling it.
Earning points with the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card is simple, but redeeming those points is even easier thanks to the fact that your points work as “travel credit” you can use to book any type of travel. Gone are the days of worrying about black-out dates or capacity controls. Not having to book with a specific airline or hotel chain also makes it easier to end up with the exact itinerary you want.
If you’re already a Bank of America customer, you have the potential to score even more rewards. Current bank customers earn an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when they have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- You should get this card if you want to earn 1.5 points on all purchases without the hassle of an annual fee.
- Get this card if you want to book any type of travel with no capacity controls and no black-out dates.
- This card places no limits on the number of points you can earn and points never expire, so it’s a good option for people who don’t like to keep track of rotating categories or reward limits
- Make sure to meet the $1,000 minimum spending requirement within the first 90 days in order to earn your signup bonus.
- Use your card for all of your regular spending in order to earn as much free travel as you can.
- Use your card abroad without paying foreign transaction fees.
Discover it® Cashback Match™
Credit Card with the Best Cash Back for New Members
For new cardmember perks, the Discover it® offers an outstanding 0% introductory period and fantastic cash-back rewards that might be too good to pass up during the first 12 months.
Not only does the card offer 5% cash back on rotating categories every three months up to $1,500 and 1% cash back on all other purchases, Discover also matches all dollar-for-dollar cash back on everything you’ve earned at the end of your first 12 months – automatically. Only for new Discover it® cardmembers.
Discover also offers a stellar introductory 0% APR for the first 12 months and 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 12 months, giving new cardmembers some breathing room on interest rates for the first year.
Combine these perks with other Discover member benefits like using cash back bonus rewards instantly at Amazon.com, as well as free access to your FICO® Credit Scores and a $0 annual fee, and you’ll find the Discover it® is a solid cash-back option, especially for new cardmembers.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- This card is amazing for new cardmembers. Discover matches all cash back earnings at the end of the year – automatically.
- New cardmembers will love the 0% APR introductory period for 12 months and 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 12 months.
- Discover customers will want to choose this card for the bonus cash back categories and great rewards.
- Take advantage of dollar-for-dollar matching on all cash back you’ve earned throughout the first year.
- Enjoy 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter up to $1,500.
- Use your cash back bonus instantly on Amazon.com when you link your Discover card account.
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
Credit Card with the Best Perks
If you’re looking for a card with excellent perks for frequent travelers, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is your best choice. No other card offers the right combination of rewards and benefits for those who purchase airfare often and want to earn ongoing rewards on their everyday purchases.
Not only do Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express members earn 3X points on airfare booked directly with the airline, but they also earn 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. That is truly a unique combination for anyone who spends heavily in these categories, and better yet, you will also get 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
The best part, however, is the fact that the points you earn belong in the Membership Rewards program. Using that program, you can transfer your points to a number of popular airline and hotel loyalty programs including the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Hilton HHonors, jetBLUE, British Airways, and even Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. With Membership Rewards, you can also redeem your points for everything from statement credits to merchandise, in addition to using your points to book travel directly with American Express.
Who Should Get It
Best Way To Use It
- This card is perfect for anyone who flies frequently and uses their card for everyday spending.
- This is the right card if you spend a lot at gas stations and grocery stores.
- Loyal American Express customers will want to choose this card for the convenience and great rewards.
- You want to use it any time you book airfare directly with an airline.
- Use your card for all of your grocery and gas purchases.
- This card is excellent for anyone who wants to build up their stash of points with any of the Membership Rewards partner airlines.
Best Rewards Credit Cards: Summed Up
|Rewards Credit Cards||Best For…|
|1||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Travel|
|2||Chase Freedom®||Cash Back Rewards|
|3||Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®||Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card|
|4||BankAmericard Travel Rewards®||No Annual Fee|
|5||Discover it® Cashback Match™||Cash Back for New Members|
|6||Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||Perks|
Research the 92 Best Rewards Credit Cards for 2016
The rewards credit cards directory shown below is a comprehensive listing of every rewards credit card worth considering. It started as a list of nearly 1,630 cards. I created this directory and used it as a starting point for all of my research so that I could review all cards on the same criteria and reduce the list to a more manageable number. It’s updated weekly and reflects any new changes to the credit cards as well as new card additions and removals.
Using both the information shown in the directory and other features, I took a data-driven approach to select the top rewards credit cards. Multiple factors were taken into account, as I wasn’t looking for just the highest rewards alone. I wanted to find the card that has the best combination of the elements that are most important to the majority of people seeking a rewards card.
Rewards Credit Cards Directory
The directory also includes all the various types of rewards credit cards. You can use the rewards credit card directory to sort and filter by the components that are most important to you. To rank the cards, I rated each rewards credit card feature in order of importance based on my research.
When evaluating rewards credit cards in general, you’ll see that so many categories have an impact on rating each card. I took nearly 14 different components into account. Based on all of the features and data collected, I developed a Rewards Credit Card Rating, which is essentially a summary of how a card performs as a rewards card. The Overall Rating is a measure of the card compared to every single type of card.
Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best rewards credit card for you.
To better describe the data and overall rating, I’ll explain each valuable component below. These aren’t the only factors that went into rating each card, but these are some of the most valuable and the features that you’ll want to understand before getting any rewards card.
Rewards Rate refers to the actual rate at which you can earn rewards using the rewards credit card. Most of the consistent rewards credit cards will offer 2x points, miles, or cash back on common purchases without any limits. These cards are very versatile and are the best credit cards to own as your primary card.
Cash back credit cards offer higher rewards rates in specific categories, but have limits on the amount you can earn. The rotating category cash back credit cards enable you to earn 5% cash back every quarter on something different, but once you hit the $1,500 limit each quarter your rewards rate drops down to 1%. This is why owning a consistent 2x rewards card is important — to pick up the slack and continue earning double the points.
Then, there are rewards credit cards that are tied to one brand. Again, Rewards Rate as a whole measures the amount of rewards you can earn, plus the places where you can earn those extra rewards. An airline credit card, hotel credit card, or brand loyalty (affinity) credit card will enable you to earn high rewards with that specific brand.
However, if you make purchases away from the brand, it’s likely that you’ll only earn at a 1% or 1x points rate, which means you’re missing out. This is generally why I only recommend these cards in special circumstances or if you’re looking to add a third, fourth, or fifth credit card and you spend a lot of money.
There are many benefits to owning a rewards card beyond what’s advertised. First off, many of the top cards have travel insurance benefits, car rental insurance, and purchase protection insurance. Beyond that, premium cards offer you special VIP services, access to exclusive events, and use of airport lounges.
Airline credit cards are probably near the top when it comes perks for a rewards credit card. Since the cards only offer rewards for purchases made on the airline (in most cases), they compensate by offering priority boarding, free checked bags, companion fares, and other travel benefits on the airline. These can be great perks for people that travel often, especially the companion fare.
The consistent all-around rewards credit cards tend to offer some of the largest sign-up bonuses in the industry. Often, you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money to get these bonuses dropped into your account. Usually it’s anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 spent in the 90 days. The top cards offer sign-up bonuses of up to $400, while others go up to $200. The key here is to make sure you capitalize on your sign-up bonus!
Airline credit cards also have large bonuses in the form of air miles. Essentially, it’s the same monetary value as, say, a $400 statement credit bonus. However, in my experience it’s much less straightforward booking a flight with air miles than it is to get $400 to show up on your statement as a credit.
Cash back credit cards have some of the smallest bonuses in the industry, likely because the rewards rate on purchases is so high (even though there’s a limit to the amount you can earn). Still, the bonuses on these cards are nice and tend to be around $50 to $100, although I’ve seen special offers as high as $200.
Introductory APR isn’t too important as it relates to earning rewards, but it gives you the flexibility and freedom to make purchases without having to worry about carrying a balance as a new cardholder. For example, some of the best introductory offers in the industry can go as high as 0% APR for 18 months. That means you don’t have to make a payment for 18 months. Of course, you still need to pay attention and keep up with your payments so you aren’t left with a massive balance a year and a half after signing up for the card!
An Intro APR can be a dangerous tool or a wise tool depending on how you look at it. If you know you need to make a major purchase in the next few months and you can pay it off without hesitation in the next year, it’s fine to take advantage of these offers. However, if you’re signing up for a card and spending way more than you should because you don’t have to pay interest, you might get into trouble.
I advise you to tread cautiously and carry the least amount of balance possible if you plan on taking advantage of a 0% intro APR deal.
I included ongoing APR because it’s important to think about. You shouldn’t sign up for a rewards credit card if you plan on carrying a balance. Any way you look at it, the amount you’ll earn in rewards won’t be able to offset the high costs of paying off a balance that’s accumulating interest each month.
Sometimes, things happen and you might get into a situation where you have to carry a balance. In that case, cash back cards generally have the lowest ongoing APRs. Again, you really want to avoid this at all costs. A credit card is a great financial tool if used the right way. You can be paid back for making purchases in the form of rewards and build your credit.
If used the wrong way, your credit can be destroyed. You’ll be stuck making high interest payments and you’ll trigger a financial downward spiral. Make sure you pay off your balance each month or cut back on your spending. (Side note: I’ll probably hammer this point home at least one more time as you continue reading.)
The Truth About Rewards Credit Cards
There’s so much data to consider when choosing a rewards credit card. With all the data points, it’s often hard to distinguish what’s most important because much of this information is geared toward people who aren’t using credit cards the right way. When you use a credit card responsibly, finding the right rewards credit card is relatively simple: nothing else matters except rewards, bonuses, and benefits.
Most credit card review sites look at the following data points:
- Introductory APR
- Standard APR
- Sign-up bonus
- Rewards rate
- Additional bonus rewards
- Introductory balance transfer rate
- Standard balance transfer rate
These data points are all worth knowing. I also looked at each of these. The problem is when you don’t carry a balance, APR doesn’t matter, balance transfer rates don’t matter, and fees don’t matter. All that’s left is to analyze are the rewards, bonuses, and perks as well as how they can be used.
The key factor of rating a rewards credit card lies below the surface-level details. How can you redeem your rewards? Are there extra advantages and amenities not included in the data points above? The answer is yes.
To get a better feel for each card, I put myself in the position of the cardholder. I dove into the nuances of the best rewards credit card programs to find the truth about rewards credit cards.
The Golden Rule: Don’t Carry a Monthly Balance on Your Credit Card
I mentioned this already, but I’m making a point of highlighting it here because of how important it is. If you want a rewards credit card, avoid carrying a balance at all costs. Your interest payments will completely wipe out your point accumulation and cost you too much money, time, and headaches. It’s simply not worth it.
If you currently have a balance and you want to pay it down, consider a balance transfer card to get back on track.
If you adhere to this rule, you will never need to worry about what ongoing APR your card offers. A lower APR is clearly better, but you shouldn’t be concerned about the APR unless you carry a balance.
Annual Fees Are an Investment to Earn More Rewards
Most people cringe at the thought of coughing up dough for the privilege of using a rewards card, but the truth is that paying the annual fee is usually worth it. Many of the best rewards cards have annual fees that are normally waived in the first year. Given the extra rewards you can earn for using the card and the massive sign-up bonuses, annual fees won’t turn out to be an additional cost. It really depends on how much you plan on spending on the card, though.
Think of it this way: If you spend $20,000 per year and get 1x point per dollar spent with a no annual fee card, you’ll receive $200 worth of points. If you spend the same amount with a rewards card that earns 2x per dollar but has a $95 annual fee, you’ll get $305 worth of points ($400 minus $95). That’s a 52.5% increase!
Your annual fee investment is $95 and your increase is $105. This amounts to a “return on investment” (ROI) of $105/$95, or 110.5%. No investor on Wall Street can match that return year in and year out.
There are plenty of great rewards credit cards out there with no annual fee. I’m just advising that you shouldn’t make your choice solely based on the fee because the bonus and additional rewards you earn will usually offset the fee.
Capitalize on Sign-Up Bonuses
Almost every top rewards credit card has a great sign-up point bonus. This is serious free money you don’t want to miss out on when signing up. You’re defeating the purpose of signing up for a top rewards credit card if you don’t meet the spending requirements to collect your sign-up bonus.
These bonuses can reach values of $400 or more, so make sure you collect on it. In most cases, when you meet the required spending,
Ways to Redeem Points Are As Valuable As Ways to Earn Points
One of the key benefits of a great rewards card is being able to redeem points the way you want to. Your points don’t do you any good if you can’t use them. This applies across the board for different types of rewards cards. We talk a lot about general rewards, but some of the airline cards and hotel credit cards are able to offer you a higher rewards earning potential for purchases with their brand.
The two premier rewards platforms that give you the most flexibility when redeeming points are Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Points. You can’t go wrong with either of these platforms when redeeming points for travel, entertainment, gift cards, or cash back.
If you carry more than one rewards credit card like I do, it can really pay off to have them on the same rewards platform. That way, you can combine points and take advantage of special point dividends, bonuses, or deals. Always think about how you’ll redeem points before signing up for a rewards card.
How To Save More Money By Maximizing Rewards
I’ve talked at length about the benefits of using a rewards credit card. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all card that delivers superior rewards on every conceivable spending category AND has the most flexible point redemption options.
Given the limitations, many people will want to employ some strategies to get the most out of their rewards. My recommendation is to use at least two rewards credit cards. Using more can help, but the added annual fees may eat away at the benefits of carrying an additional card if you don’t spend enough.
Let’s assume you want to completely max out your rewards earning potential without owning an excessive amount of cards. Owning two or three cards is the right number to get the most rewards and still keep the cards active (assuming you’re paying off the balances). You’ll be able to take advantage of the bonuses and ongoing rewards without major limitations.
There are many strategies to maximizing your rewards cards while keeping the number of credit cards you own down to a minimum. Here are a few examples:
- Overlap categories on the same rewards platform (like Chase Ultimate Rewards).
- Combine business and personal rewards credit cards.
- Use a consistent rewards card and a cash back card.
- Overlap two types of travel rewards cards
Case Study #1: Overlap Categories on the Same Rewards Platform
The goal with this strategy is to take two or more rewards cards that earn bonus points in different categories and combine them to earn more than you would by just earning 1% on all other purchases. The ideal situation is to keep both cards on the same rewards platform so you can easily combine the points from each card when you want to redeem them.
My favorite way to do this right now is to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. If you used the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn 2x points on travel and dining, you could add the Chase Freedom® to take care of rotating bonus categories like groceries, gas, and department stores.
There are a couple added benefits to using these two cards. First, the Chase Freedom® card does not have an annual fee, so you can employ this strategy for just $95 per year (the annual fee on Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card). Second, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points are worth 20% more when redeemed for travel on the Ultimate Rewards platform. The Chase Freedom® points are not eligible for this benefit as a standalone card.
Here’s the good news: Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you combine card points, so you can transfer your Chase Freedom® points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and those additional points will be worth 20% more when redeemed for travel!
The Power of the Platform
Let’s say you accumulate 50,000 points on your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and 20,000 points on a second card on a different rewards platform. You then decide to take that Caribbean vacation you’ve always wanted and use Chase Ultimate Rewards to book your trip. You see that two flights cost a combined $750. Your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points when redeemed for travel will cover $625 of the cost, but you have to pay out of pocket for the remaining $125 because you can’t combine your points.
Now, let’s say you’re in the same scenario except your “other card” is the Chase Freedom®. You decide to combine your points with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points, so you now have 70,000 points to use. On most other rewards platforms, 70,000 points equals $700. However, with the 20% bump you get with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your combined 70,000 points now are worth $875 — enough to cover your airfare for your vacation!
Case Study #2: Combine Business and Personal Rewards Cards
If you run a small business or are self-employed in some way, you can use one of the best business credit cards as your secondary card. Business cards often have better rewards in different categories that can be overlapped. My colleague uses the Chase Ink® business cards for his business and combines points with his personal credit cards on the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform to get maximum value.
For example, he puts all of his gas and hotel stays on his Chase Ink Bold® for 2x points. He also charges his cell phone bill, Internet service, and landline to that card to earn 5x points. Then, he books any travel or dining on his Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn 2x points.
Redeeming is easy because both cards will get you 20% more when redeemed for travel through Chase. All he has to do is combine the points and book his tickets.
Case Study #3: Consistent Rewards + Cash Back
When you want a simple strategy for rewards and you’re not as concerned with your cards being on the same platform, you can split up your cards. Your goal here is to earn a straight 2% back on all purchases while giving yourself a boost above 2% in certain spending categories.
One way to do this is to sign up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® to earn 2x miles on all purchases. From here, you have several options to add a cash back card that earns high rewards in rotating categories.
This selection will largely be situational depending on what you spend your money on. My favorite cash back card is the Chase Freedom®, just for the variety alone. You have more choices here because you can open your options to cards on different rewards platforms.
You most likely will not use your cash back card as much as your Barclaycard, so I would use those cash back points either as statement credits, spending money, or to redeem for gift cards. Then, use all of your Barclaycard points for travel-related or larger purchases.
You can’t maximize your rewards by only owning a cash back card. Even the best cash back card must be used in combination with another rewards credit card to ensure you earn greater than 1% back on every purchase you make.
Remember, you won’t be able to combine points in this scenario, so make sure you have options for redeeming each set of points. Since you’ll be using your cash back card in limited situations, it might not make sense to pay an additional annual fee, which is why I recommend the Chase Freedom®.
Case Study #4: Overlap Two Travel Rewards Cards
If you travel often, you may want a little extra juice in your rewards program. Here, you need to take into consideration frequent flyer programs, preferred airlines or hotels, and point transfer partners so you can use your points in the most efficient way possible.
What I recommend is pairing a solid, general rewards card with an airline or hotel card.
What’s important to remember:
- Most airline and hotel cards don’t earn higher than 1x points away from their own brands.
- The best general rewards cards have frequent flyer transfer partners.
- Your rewards are attached to the airline or hotel rewards program and changes do happen.
- Most rewards cards and airline cards carry annual fees, so don’t sign up for all of them!
Keeping those points in mind, there are many ways to execute this strategy. Below is an example to illustrate how you could maximize your rewards points.
Travel Card + Airline or Hotel Card = Max Travel Rewards
Sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to get a great sign-up bonus and solid rewards on travel and dining, plus capitalize on the 20% bonus point redemption. This is your starting point for earning travel rewards.
Next, choose your preferred airline or hotel. This is much more difficult since it depends on your preferences and geography. One way to choose is to look at your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card point transfer partners. With this program, you can transfer your points to partners such as United, British Airways, Southwest, Hyatt, and Marriott. Points transfer on a 1:1 basis, so you should first consider any of these specialty cards.
If you fly one airline a lot you can double dip on points and miles, then transfer credit card points to airline miles. Adding the United MileagePlus® Explorer card won’t net you any immediate points difference, since both cards earn 2x on United purchases. However, you might travel United enough to take advantage of mileage deals by transferring Ultimate Rewards points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
Finally, with these two cards you’ll be paying two annual fees. Consider adding a no annual fee cash back card to boost your points on rotating categories that aren’t covered by Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You might need gas or groceries while traveling, and cash back cards can cover you in these categories.
The marketplace for rewards credit cards is enormous. I collected data on 1,630 credit cards for this project. It’s been an ongoing effort that I’ve been a part of for nearly two years.
One priority for me is to make sure this page is continuously updated. I get emails daily about changes and updates directly from the credit card issuers so we’re able to make the changes fast, keeping everything current. This page can be updated as often as daily or weekly, so you’ll see some details change from time to time.
Beyond simply presenting the research and the numbers, I looked for strategies to help you make the best decision and use your credit cards wisely.
Many of the tips and practices outlined here are things I actually put into practice on a daily basis. I made an effort to put myself in your position — the position of the cardholder — in order to create something useful. Luckily, I own several of these cards myself and I’m able to speak from personal experiences.
While this article mainly focuses on overall rewards credit cards, I also completed several other pieces that discuss each rewards type more specifically. If you’re interested in credit card rewards, I encourage you to check out some of the other articles, as each piece offers more depth on the individual card types.
You can take a look at my article on cash back credit cards. I also wrote another detailed article on airline credit cards, which you’ll find useful if you fly on one airline or travel often. My colleague wrote a great piece on travel credit cards that sums up any credit card you should consider for travel, including general travel cards and various types of brand credit cards.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. I do my best to respond to everyone!
About this resource:
Created on: August 16, 2016
Updated on: August 26, 2016
Edited by: Sarah Ban, Michael Gardon
Research by: Mike Jelinek, Montana Thomas, Michael Gardon