Published in: Credit Cards | Nov. 5, 2019

What's the Most Popular Type of Credit Card? Hint: It's Not Travel Cards

By:  Lyle Daly

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Travel cards may get most of the hype, but consumers have chosen a different favorite.

Considering that credit card blogs always seem to be raving about travel cards, you'd probably think that they'd be the most popular type of card. But this is one case in which the perception doesn't match the reality.

A recent Experian report listed the most-viewed types of credit cards using its CreditMatch™ tool, giving us a glimpse of what cards consumers search for the most. Based on that information, let's look at the four most popular types of credit cards that each take a tenth of the views and explore why they rank so highly.

Young man in glasses grinning while swiping credit card.

Image source: Getty Images

1. No-annual-fee cards

No-annual-fee cards took the No. 1 spot, receiving 27.8% of total views. Even though many consumers are willing to pay an annual fee, a large portion of them still prefer cards without one.

For some, this is because they don't spend enough for a card with an annual fee to be worth the money. Cards with annual fees usually have higher rewards rates, but people who don't spend much may not earn enough in rewards to cover the fee.

Others simply want to keep their expenses to a minimum or don't like the idea of paying for a credit card.

2. Secured cards

With 27% of total views, secured credit cards are a surprising second on this list.

Why would cards that require a security deposit and don't have many perks rank this high? In this case, it's a matter of necessity. Consumers with a poor or insufficient credit history are going to look for secured cards, because they can't qualify for anything else.

That group encompasses a significant chunk of the population, as 22% of Americans don't have a credit score and 19.1% have a score below 600.

3. Rewards cards

The ever-popular rewards credit cards received 22.1% of views. To clarify, rewards cards include any credit card that earns rewards when the cardholder spends money, whether those rewards come in the form of cash back, travel points, or store points. If a viewer checked out these cards, it means they were open to earning any type of rewards.

It's easy to see why so many consumers are looking for this type of card. Most of us love getting something back on the money we spend. In our own research on credit card debt statistics, The Ascent found that 40% of individuals said rewards influenced their decision to use a credit card. If you have good credit and you're not concerned about whether your next card has an annual fee, then odds are that you'll gravitate to the rewards cards.

4. Cash back cards

The last type of card that got over 10% of Experian's views is the cash back card, which ended up with 18.7% of total views. Again, some clarification is in order. Cash back is a subcategory of rewards cards. So, 22.1% of searches were for any type of rewards card, in addition to the 18.7% that were specifically for cash back cards.

Cash back cards are a common choice because of how simple they are. With cards that earn any type of points, you need to learn how to use those points. There's no learning curve involved to redeem cash back. And since most of the top cash back cards don't have annual fees, they can also provide an excellent value.

What about travel cards?

Travel cards rounded out the list, but they didn't get a whole lot of love. Here are the view percentages for three different types of travel cards:

  • Travel cards -- 1.9%
  • Airline cards -- 1.5%
  • Hotel cards -- 0.9%

Of all the views, a mere 4.3% showed specific interest in some type of travel card. That's a much lower figure than most would expect, and there are two primary causes: the higher likelihood of annual fees and the complexity of travel rewards.

As we saw at the beginning of this list, quite a few consumers prefer no-annual-fee cards. Many popular travel cards have an annual fee, although there is the occasional exception.

Travel cards can also be confusing for those who aren't familiar with them. How can you redeem the points that you earn? How much are a card's points actually worth? It takes some research to find out, and the answers can change depending on the card. If you're not interested in trying to understand travel rewards, then you should probably steer clear of this type of card.

What consumers want

Although everyone has their own priorities when shopping for a new credit card, the most popular option is cards with no annual fee. Consumers also like rewards cards, in particular those offering cash back. And secured credit cards are always necessary for people who don't yet have the best credit history.

Travel credit cards certainly have a passionate following, and you can get a high value for your points if you don't mind learning how to use them. But as of right now, those cards cater to a smaller niche of consumers and don't have much widespread appeal.

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