The 3 types of rewards cards you must have in your wallet
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com
The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Some of the offers mentioned below may no longer be available. Please review our list of best credit cards to find our current offers, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.
There are well over 100 different rewards cards available with perks and partnerships from airlines, hotels, retailers, colleges and even big sports leagues. In fact, there seems to be a rewards card for darn near everything and everyone. So how do you narrow down which cards should be in your wallet?
The truth is, it can be tough to figure out which cards will be the best fit with your spending and lifestyle. Most people don’t get their strategy perfect right out of the gate, but with a little knowledge you can clean up your wallet and maximize your rewards.
While I have a couple of dozen rewards cards, I think there are three main types that you need in your wallet.
1. A good everyday spending credit card
The first, and possibly most important, rewards card that should be in your wallet is the one you use for the bulk of your everyday spending.
This card will preferably award bonus points for the categories you spend the most in, and will earn rewards that add value to your lifestyle. Your everyday spending credit card should also have solid built-in purchase protections in case what you buy becomes lost, damaged or simply goes on sale right after your purchase.
In most cases, you will not want this card to just award you a flat one mile or point per dollar, as you often can do better than that earnings ratio.
One good “everyday” card to consider is the appropriately named American Express Everyday Preferred Credit Card ($95 annual fee) that awards 3x points at U.S. grocery stores (up to $6,000 annually), and 2x points at U.S. gas stations.
On top of that, you get a 50 percent bonus on all points earned that month if you have 30 or more transactions in a billing cycle. This means if you use the card about an average of once a day, then you will be earning at least 1.5x points on everything. The American Express Membership Reward points can be used to book travel through AmEx or transferred to hotel and airline partners such as Delta, British Airways, Hilton and more than a dozen other loyalty programs.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) is another strong everyday rewards card contender as it awards 2x points on travel and dining, even including routine purchases such as subway passes, taxis, Uber rides and train tickets. Similar to AmEx Membership Reward points, Chase Ultimate Reward points can be used at a fixed value to book travel through Chase or transferred to popular hotel and airline partners such as United, Hyatt, Southwest and Marriott.
If you don’t want to mess with award charts and award availability, then another great everyday rewards card is the Barclaycard Arrival World Elite MasterCard ($89 annual fee, waived the first year) that earns 2x points on all charges. You can use these points at a value of 1:1 toward travel, with a 5 percent rebate of your points when you cash them in for your next trip.
2. A card that earns the perks you love the most
The next rewards card you want in your wallet is one that gives you the perks and special access to things you enjoy the most. This could be a fun rewards card that aligns with your favorite retailer to give you in-store discounts or special benefits, or perhaps one that gives you behind-the-scenes access to special events.
Some good examples of these “fun” cards are the Nordstrom Visa Signature card (no annual fee) that allows you to accumulate points to reduce purchase costs and gives you early access to its anniversary sale, the Chase Disney Visa (no annual fee) that gets your little ones free Disney character meet and greets, or the NFL Extra Points credit card (no annual fee) that gives inside NFL access, 0 percent financing on NFL ticket purchases and discounts on some NFL merchandise. As with all credit cards in your wallet, if the card in this fun slot has an annual fee, be sure you are getting your money’s worth each year.
3. A card that makes travel cheaper and easier
Assuming you travel or want to travel more, the final credit card to have is one that makes travel cheaper and easier thanks to built-in annual perks.
This is where cards such as the United MileagePlus Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year, the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Mastercard ($95 annual fee), the IHG Rewards Club Select card ($49 annual fee, waived the first year), or even the AmEx Platinum ($550 annual fee) come into play. None is particularly strong in terms of earning points on everyday charges, but all of them can make your travel experience better or potentially cheaper.
Airline co-branded credit cards typically give you a number of free checked bags, priority boarding and other unique airline-specific perks. For example, the United credit card allows access to additional saver award availability and the AAdvantage card gives you 10 percent of your redeemed miles back annually, up to 10,000 miles.
On the hotel side of things, you often can expect the co-branded credit cards to provide at least mid-tier elite status that may get you late checkout or a room upgrade, and the best ones even give you an annual award night that can offset the cost of the annual fee!
The IHG credit card provides IHG platinum status, 10 percent of your redeemed points back (up 100,000 annually), as well as an annual award night you can use at virtually any IHG property around the world, including Intercontinental Hotels in expensive cities such as New York, London or Paris.
If you have a rewards credit card that is strong for everyday spending, one that gives you special access or discounts to the places you love the most, and one that provides travel perks to streamline your adventures, you will be well on your way to having the right credit cards in your wallet to match your lifestyle.
- 6 ways to save on Valentine's Day using card rewards, perks – Valentine's can be the most romantic – and expensive – day of the year. Credit card rewards and perks can help you save on gifts, dining out and romantic getaways. Here's how ...
- Essential family packing guide for summer travel – When you have multiple people in your traveling party, a solid packing strategy becomes essential ...
- Active-duty military can get fees waived, special perks from rewards cards – Some credit card issuers waive annual fees for active-duty military members, so it may be worth considering applying for some high-end travel rewards cards ...