- What kind of card do you need? We break it down for you.
- Win on international flights or business transactions day-in and day-out.
- Remember to consider your consumer debt before chasing one of these awesome cards.
If you’re managing your investments and tracking your spending with Personal Capital, you already know how important keeping a close eye on your personal budget can be. As we all know, life’s little expenses tend to add up in a big way over time, often leaving insufficient resources behind to grow a nest egg for the future.
Of course, the most resourceful, affluent individuals think outside of the box when it comes to maximizing the money they earn – and that can mean putting tools like credit card rewards to use. With good credit and bit of ingenuity, you can rack up rewards to pay for anything from international travel, to cash-back that covers a splurge every once in a while.
As someone who travels constantly and writes about credit cards for a living, I’m intimately familiar with the rewards game. Just like tracking your net worth and spending is important, utilizing your resources – including access to credit – is a smart move too.
Top Rewards Credit Cards 2016
With so many rewards credit cards on the market, a list of the best ones will constantly be changing. Yet, some cards stand the test of time in gaining market share and earning consumer recognition year after year.
From best cash-back card to top hotel rewards card, check out a few of our favorite rewards credit cards for 2015:
Best All-Around Rewards Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card consistently ranks as the top rewards card with sites like The Simple Dollar, NerdWallet, and Credit Karma. It offers some of the most flexible rewards points on the market, plus plenty of perks that make using it worthwhile.
In addition to a healthy sign-up bonus (currently 40,000 points after you spend $4,000 within 90 days) it allows for quick point accrual with a flat 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases, plus 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants. But, how can you use those points? Several options exist: Redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for a 20% discount, transfer them to a slew of hotel and airline loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio, or cash them in for a statement credit, gift cards, or merchandise.
Best Business Credit Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
Similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card is also part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. With a heftier sign-up bonus (currently 50,000 points after you spend $5,000 within 90 days), however, this card offers a slightly bigger bang for your buck.
With this card, you earn 5 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year. Meanwhile, you earn 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year. Since you’re earning Ultimate Rewards points, you can use them to book travel through the bank’s travel portal, transfer them to a number of popular partners, or redeem them for cash back, gift cards, or merchandise.
Best Cash-Back Credit Card
Consistently ranked as one of the best cash-back cards is the Chase Freedom® card. This card offers a wealth of consumer friendly benefits and the opportunity to earn as much as 5 points per dollar spent on categories that rotate every quarter, plus 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases. For 2015, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent at gas stations and Kohl’s from July – September. For October – December, purchases made through Amazon.com will qualify for 5% cash back.
If you have just the Chase Freedom® card, you can redeem your points in a number of ways, including cash-back, statement credits, gift cards, or merchandise. If you pair this card with a card in the Ultimate Rewards family like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can pool your points to unlock more options – like transferring them out to a number of hotel and airline partners or redeeming them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Best Hotel Credit Card
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
By all accounts, star points earned through the Starwood Preferred Guest program are the most valuable hotel points out there. Not only can you redeem free nights for as little as 2,000 points, but you can also transfer the points to a number of high value frequent flyer programs that haven’t forged partnerships with other comparable programs.
Other program perks like the “5th night free” when you book with points and Starwood’s Nights & Flights program sweeten the deal by helping you maximize the points you earn and, ultimately, scoring more free travel. The signup bonus alone (currently 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 within 90 days) on this card means up to ten free nights at Category 1 properties.
Best Airline Credit Card for Domestic Travel
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
By sticking to a mostly fare-based system, the Southwest Rapid Rewards program offers the most valuable points out there for domestic travel and flights to the Caribbean. Even better, Southwest’s Companion Pass offer allows you to earn all of your flights buy-one-get-one, even if you pay for your first flight with points. Although you can earn the companion pass by flying a certain number of Southwest flights within one calendar year, the easiest way is to rack up at least 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points during that timeframe instead.
The current signup bonus on this card (25,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $2,000 within 90 days) is enough for one round-trip domestic flight, but the 50,000-point offers that appear every few months are worth the wait. Meanwhile, you also earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases made directly with the airline, 2 points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partners, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Best Airline Credit Card for International Travel
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
The best card and frequent flyer program for international travel depends a lot on which airport you fly out of and its availability, but I’ve found the most value with the American Airlines AAdvantage program. Flights to Europe cost only 30,000 AAdantage miles per leg during peak travel periods, and 20,000 AAdvantage miles during off-peak, which stretches from October 15th – May 15th each year.
This card offers a sign-up bonus that fluctuates between 30,000 and 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days. Keep an eye out for other AAdvantage card offers, however. Various cards within the Citi AAdvantage family have been known to offer sign-up bonuses worth 75,000 miles, or even 100,000 miles.
Finding the Best Rewards Deals with Credit Cards
Getting the most out of the top credit card rewards offers isn’t hard. The most important thing to remember is that maximizing the potential of these rewards requires a watchful eye on your spending, and a commitment to paying your bill in full every month.
Of course, if you’re carrying any consumer debt, it doesn’t make sense to pursue these cards. Should that be the case for you, steer clear of point-earning cards until you get your debt squared away.
When you use credit cards the right way, there is plenty of value to be found, assuming you are debt-free and not overspending just to rack up rewards points. With a thoughtful plan, you might have enough rewards in the credit card bank to cash in on a little vacation by this time next year.
And always remember, go link any credit card account to your Personal Capital dashboard, to help you track all of our spending in one place.