Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2014

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Part 1 of 4 – The Simple Dollar 2014 Rewards Credit Card Series

Updated: April 3, 2014

This is the first part in a series of four posts on rewards credit cards. In the other posts, I focus on the more specific types of rewards cards, like cash back, hotel, and airline credit cards. I let you know what the best cards are and how to maximize your rewards earning potential.

For this post, my goal was to identify the best overall rewards credit card. I wanted to find the best all-around card that offers rewards for all types of purchases, not just specific categories. If you’re signing up for a new card, you should plan on keeping it for a long time, and continuously use it to reap the most benefits.

After comparing all the cards, I found a clear choice. The best rewards credit card is the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases.

To come to this conclusion, I used a data-driven process to select the top rewards credit cards from a list of nearly 200. After comparing the data from all of the rewards cards, I eliminated the weaker cards until I was left with the top three.

The three best rewards credit cards for 2014 are:

  1. Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred®
  3. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

What makes these cards the best?

  • Versatile rewards earning potential (2x on all purchases or 2x on important purchases)
  • Unlimited rewards (no caps on earning)
  • Consistency (no rotating categories, signing up to get rewards, or confusing offers)
  • Redeem for anything (cash back, travel, exclusive events, and more)
  • Long-term stability (quality financial institutions, no reason to close your account)
  • Hefty, easy-to-achieve sign-up bonuses
  • Earn points or miles back for redeeming rewards, not just making purchases

The Best Rewards Credit Card: Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases

TSD_Barclaycard_Arrival_World_MasterCard_Earn_2x_on_All_Purchases
If you’re looking for a new credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases is your best choice. No other card offers the right combination of rewards, benefits, generous sign-up bonus, and low APR like this Barclaycard. You won’t find a more versatile credit card that fits the lifestyle and spending habits of just about anyone.

With the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases, the points start racking up right when you sign up. This newer card is a step up from the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 1x on All Purchases if you don’t have a problem paying the annual fee (and you shouldn’t given the terrific rewards).

Card Highlights:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you make $3,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening.
  • 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • You earn 2x miles on all purchases.
  • You don’t have to worry about caps, categories, or anything.
  • You can also get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel. For example, redeem 25,000 and get 2,500 miles back.
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees.
  • There is an $89 annual fee but it’s waived for the first year.

Who’s it good for?

  • Everyone with good credit.
  • The card is especially beneficial to people who travel but don’t necessarily do so with one airline or online travel site.
  • It works well if you who price hunt for travel on sites like Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, or Booking.com. You’re going to get 2x miles on any flight, any hotel, and any piece of food you eat.
  • The ability to get miles back when you redeem for travel adds another benefit for frequent travelers.
  • This card is a perfect for people who are really busy. You just use the card. No need to worry about what category your spending in.

What’s the best way to use it?

  • Use the card for anything and everything.
  • Redeeming miles for travel is a good practice to get into because you get 10% of them back.
  • This is one of the rare cases where the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases is the one and only card you need.
  • I wouldn’t recommend pairing this card with any other travel credit card unless you consistently fly one of the airlines that offers a card with rewards of 3x miles or higher.
  • It may pair nicely with the Discover it®, which isn’t as widely accepted as MasterCard. One strategy would be to hit the quarterly $1,500 cap on earning 5% cash back with your Discover it®, and then put every purchase on the Barclaycard.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

chase sapphire

One of the most-liked credit cards in the industry is the Chase Sapphire Preferred®. This is one of the two cards I own in addition to the Chase Freedom®.

Card Highlights:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards℠.
  • Earn 5,000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees, plus Chip and Signature enabled for international travel.
  • 1:1 point transfer to participating frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points.
  • 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists.
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

Who’s it good for?

  • This card is perfect for young professionals, city dwellers, and travelers.
  • If you’re not home a lot and often eat out, this is the right card for you.
  • Loyal Chase customers should also choose this card for the convenience and great rewards.

What’s the best way to use it?

  • You want to use it for any meals out and whenever you travel.
  • The 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® together to earn more rewards. Use the Chase Freedom® Card to enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months and use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® for everything else. You can transfer rewards from one card to the other if you use both. So, you can take all of your 5% categories from the Chase Freedom® Card and send them into the Chase Sapphire Preferred® account, which has more exclusive reward redemption opportunities.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture℠ Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the most popular cards around. It’s a very close competitor to both of the cards mentioned above.

Card Highlights:

  • Earn 2x miles per dollar spent on every purchase.
  • The annual fee is $0 for the first year and then $59 after that.
  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months. (Keep in mind that’s only half the bonus miles of the Barclaycard and
  • you have to spend twice as much to get the bonus.)
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • There’s no bonus for redeeming miles for travel.
  • I’m comparing it to the best of the best. You can’t find many cards that beat this one. It’s an excellent long-term choice.

Who’s it good for?

  • Anyone who wants to consistently earn rewards on all purchases, and travelers.
  • People who make a variety of purchases.
  • Loyal Capital One customers.

What’s the best way to use it?

  • You should use this card for everything you buy.
  • If you have a cash back or airlines card where you can hit rewards of 3% or higher, you’ll want to combo the two cards.
  • This card will function perfectly on its own without owning any other credit card.

Other rewards credit cards close to the top 3

The competition was tough in this group. The cards below didn’t make the top three, but don’t beat yourself up if you own one of them. These are still some of the better credit cards available, but they’re not quite as good as the ones mentioned above.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Card Highlights:

  • 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and no annual fee
  • One-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
  • No limit on the miles you earn and miles don’t expire

Why it didn’t make the cut

  • You only earn 1.25 points per dollar on every purchase, which is is 0.75 less than the best cards.
  • The sign-up bonus is just average at 20,000 bonus points.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Card Highlights:

  • Earn 1.5 points per $1 on every purchase every time, with no annual fee
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after qualifying purchases that can be $100 towards travel purchases
  • No limit to the total number of points you can earn and points don’t expire

Why it didn’t make the cut

  • You only earn 1.5 points per $1 on every purchase, which is less than the top cards.
  • The sign-up bonus is lacking, at only 10,000 bonus points.

U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® card

Card Highlights:

  • Get 20,000 Bonus FlexPoints after the first $3,500 in net purchases in the first 150 days
  • Award travel starts at just 20,000 FlexPoints (up to a $400 ticket value) on over 150 airlines with no blackout dates or redemption fees
  • Earn two FlexPoints for every $1 spent on gas, grocery, or airline purchases — whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle — and on most cell phone expenses
  • Earn Triple FlexPoints for your charitable donations
  • $0 Annual Fee* the first year, after that $49
  • Earn 3,500 bonus FlexPoints each year when you spend $24,000 in Net Purchases. You can redeem these FlexPoints for your annual fee or combine them with other FlexPoints for travel.

Why it didn’t make the cut

  • The sign-up bonus is half as much as some of the top rewards cards and you have to spend much more to achieve it.
  • Earning two FlexPoints for every $1 spent on gas, grocery, or airlines is on par with the other top cards.
  • You don’t earn 2:1 rewards points on everything, but these are big enough categories to capitalize on unless you eat out a lot.

How I chose one card from a list of hundreds

Overall, I wasn’t looking for just the highest rewards. I wanted to find the card that has the best combination of everything — the kind of card that you tell your entire family to sign up for. In my mind, if you own the best rewards card, it should be the only card you need to own.

Here’s some insight into the process I went through to name the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases as the best 2014 rewards credit card:

  1. I compiled a list of nearly 200 popular credit cards.
  2. I pulled out the 80 consumer rewards credit cards.
  3. I studied the most important features for the 80 cards and ranked them in order of importance (rewards and yearly savings being the most important).
  4. I cut the list of 80 down to 30 rewards cards because comparing every data point with that many cards would take months (if you did it the right way).

At this point, I wanted to dig deep into each of these cards. The features I looked at far surpassed what I found on other review websites.

Most credit card review sites only 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

In addition to analyzing this data, I put myself in the position of the cardholder. My only limitations were that I couldn’t sign up for every card. I compensated by learning about the sign-up processes and the benefits of the cards that often can’t be measured. I read thousands of reviews from the actual cardholders to see if I could pick up additional information that the data couldn’t measure.

Consistently earning rewards is all that really matters

There’s so much data to consider when picking a rewards credit card. It’s hard to tell what’s important because much of the information is geared toward people who aren’t using the cards the right way. Nothing else matters except rewards if you use the card the right way.

Don’t carry a balance on your credit card

Pay your credit card off each month. Avoid carrying a balance at all costs. No credit card is worth getting if you plan on carrying a balance on the card. The interest you’ll have to pay each month will surpass any rewards you earn. It’s simply not worth it.

APRs won’t matter if you don’t carry a balance

A lower APR is clearly better, but you shouldn’t be concerned about the APR unless you want to carry a balance.

Annual fees are an investment to gain higher rewards

Don’t be scared away by annual fees. Most of the best cards have annual fees, which you normally have to pay in your second year of card membership. Given the extra rewards you can earn for using the card, annual fees won’t turn out to be an additional cost. The annual fee cards are well worth it.

Long-term rewards earning potential is important

The top rewards cards enable you to earn 2x on every dollar spent. Over time, the 2x adds up because it’s unlimited, and you can earn it with every purchase. You may not get the 5% and 6% earning potential, but those purchases are capped quarterly or yearly. I guarantee you’ll accumulate more rewards in the long run with a 2x on all purchases card.

Consistent rewards are better than higher rewards in one category

Some of the airline cards and hotel credit cards are able to offer you a higher rewards earning potential, but only if you make purchases from their brand. They’re able to do so by merging the rewards from the credit card into their own customer loyalty or rewards program. While this gives you the potential to earn high rewards for that particular brand, you’re limited to very targeted purchases. The rest of your purchases will only earn you 1x miles or points back.

Make sure to capitalize on sign-up bonuses

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 rewards can reach values of $500 or more so make sure you collect your bonus.

Is your favorite general rewards card missing from my top three? Do you have any unique strategies to maximize your rewards? Feel free to share and let’s discuss!

Written by Mike Jelinek
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Read Part 2 -> The Best Airline Credit Cards
Read Part 3 -> The Best Cash Back Credit Cards
Read Part 4 -> The Best Hotel Credit Cards

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