Published in: Credit Cards | Aug. 26, 2020
By: Lyle Daly
After trying over a dozen credit cards, these are the ones that have gotten me the most value.
Often, the biggest challenge with credit cards is deciding which ones are keepers. It's also an area where most credit card advice doesn't seem to be aimed at the typical consumer. I've read plenty of articles where the author goes on about how much value they get from the top hotel, airline, and rewards cards. And I'm always left wondering just how much they spend on annual fees to be able to get all those benefits.
I consider myself more of a typical consumer. Although I like to travel, I won't pay for credit cards just to get elite status in an airline or hotel loyalty program. And since I'm frugal with my spending, I can't justify shelling out annual fees for more than one or two credit cards. I'm just not going to earn enough rewards to justify those fees.
If you're in a similar situation, then the credit cards I've chosen to use regularly could help you figure out which cards are worthy of your own wallet.
My premium travel card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It isn't cheap at $550 per year, but there is a $300 annual travel credit. Since I always use that, the card effectively costs me $250 per year. For frequent travelers who can afford that type of annual fee, I'd always recommend carrying a premium credit card, because the benefits can save you a lot of money and get you a much better travel experience.
What I like most about this card is all the ways you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I think the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is the best credit card rewards program on the market. You can transfer points to an extensive roster of airline and hotel partners, including United and Southwest, two major domestic airlines. Or, you can use your rewards as cash at a rate of $0.015 per point through the Chase travel portal. Here are a few of the ways I've used my Chase points:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® also offers airport lounge access through the Priority Pass program. Even though that's a common perk for travel credit cards in this price range, it can still be very valuable and a great reason to spring for a premium card. I love being able to relax in airport lounges, eat, and have a few drinks before my flight. Lounge access has especially come through in the clutch (and helped me stay sane) when I've had unexpected layovers and been stuck in the airport for hours.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is in my wallet for a simple reason: It earns 1.5% back on every purchase, and I can transfer those rewards to my Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has some bonus categories, it earns 1 point per $1 on all non-bonus spending. On those purchases, it makes more sense for me to use the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and earn 1.5 points per $1.
The difference adds up over time, especially since many purchases aren't in any bonus categories. This card doesn't have an annual fee, so I can maximize credit card rewards without needing to take on any additional costs.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting to like the Citi Premier℠ Card as much as I do. When I applied for it, I was mainly interested in the 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in three months.
Now that I've used it more and Citi has made a few key upgrades, I think the Citi Premier℠ Card is the most underappreciated travel credit card. Its reward rate is fantastic, as it earns 3 points per $1 on air travel, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations. In addition, it offers an annual $100 discount off one hotel booking per year of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, made through thankyou.com.
There's also the Citi ThankYou Rewards program. To be fair, I don't think it's quite as useful as the rewards programs Chase and American Express offer. But it does have Avianca's LifeMiles program as one of its transfer partners, and Chase doesn't. LifeMiles offers some high-value award ticket deals, and it works especially well for me because Avianca is based in Colombia, where I live now.
Thanks to my Citi Premier℠ Card, I've been able to transfer my Citi ThankYou points to the LifeMiles program and spend just 33,000 miles to book international business-class tickets that would normally cost between $1,000 and $1,500.
My recommendation for choosing the best credit cards is to go with those that have features and rewards you're confident you can use. For me, that has meant prioritizing versatility. I prefer credit cards that give me options, both in where I use their benefits and how I redeem rewards, rather than cards that are limited to a single airline or hotel.
It's also smart to stay flexible and to evaluate your options regularly. Credit cards go through changes. You may find that one of your cards isn't as useful as it once was, or that a card you wrote off has gone through major improvements and deserves another look.
As long as you pay them off each month, credit cards are a no-brainer for savvy Americans. They protect against fraud far better than debit cards, help raise your credit score, and can put hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars in rewards back in your pocket each year.
But with so many cards out there, you need to choose wisely. This top-rated card offers the ability to pay 0% interest on purchases until late 2021, has some of the most generous cash back rewards we’ve ever seen (up to 5%!), and somehow still sports a $0 annual fee.
That’s why our expert – who has reviewed hundreds of cards – signed up for this one personally. Click here to get free access to our expert’s top pick.
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