Best retail credit cards
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If you’re a bargain hunter who regularly shops at wholesale warehouses and discount retailers, a high-earning retail credit card could help you buy more with less and turbocharge your savings on everything from gas purchases to home supplies.
The best retail credit cards help you shave costs by offering a substantial amount of cash back on everyday purchases. Some retail credit cards also let you cash in your earnings on gift cards or free travel. Just be sure to check the card’s APR before you apply. Store cards often feature some of the highest APRs in the industry – especially if you pick a card that isn’t co-branded with a card network such as Visa or Mastercard.
To help you pick the best retail card for your budget, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cards in the retail card category and asked a panel of judges to rate our top three picks.
Judges for the best retail credit card were personal finance writer Rebecca Lake, personal finance blogger Michelle Schroeder-Gardner (Making Sense of Cents), millennial money expert Stefanie O’Connell, CreditCards.com senior managing editor Julie Sherrier and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz.
Winner: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
Other features: Car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranty, no foreign transaction fees
A relatively new entrant to the retail card space, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature won first place in the best retail card contest.
The premium subscription service, Amazon Prime, has won a cult following from bargain hunters and convenience seekers for its free two-day shipping, high-quality streaming video and wide range of consumer-friendly perks. Now Amazon Prime members can include a great cash back card in their list of perks.
The Amazon Prime card won plaudits from judges for its ample rewards rate for Amazon purchases and additional bonus for everyday spending. Cardholders earn 5 percent back on anything they buy from Amazon.com and 2 percent back on restaurant, gas station and drug store purchases. All other purchases earn 1 percent back.
“The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card combines a generous rewards rate on Amazon.com purchases with the ability to earn a competitive rewards rate on everyday spending,” says personal finance writer Rebecca Lake.
Amazon doesn’t limit the total amount you can earn either, making it a potentially lucrative card for frequent Prime users who do most of their shopping online. It also doesn’t require you to earn a certain number of points before you can redeem them and allows you to instantly redeem any number of points at checkout.
“Two things make the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature stand out from its competitors: rewards that can be redeemed immediately on Amazon.com and no limits on how much cash back you can earn,” says CreditCards.com senior managing editor, Julie Sherrier. “Plus, you can redeem points for gift cards and travel.”
for convenience seekers
The Amazon card is also a good pick for urbanites who don’t want to trek to the suburbs for cheaper supplies, says millennial money expert Stephanie O’Connell. “As a big city dweller, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature is the clear winner for me. Prime delivery is a major convenience, as opposed to big box purchases that require a car to transport and space to store, neither of which is practical in many major cities.”
The biggest drawback to the Amazon Prime Visa Signature card is the hefty $99 fee for Amazon Prime membership. However, you should still be able to recoup the fee if you regularly order merchandise online, says personal finance writer Rebecca Lake.
“While there is the $99 fee for Amazon Prime membership to factor in, you could earn the value of the fee back through a combination of rewards and the money you’ll save on shipping for Prime purchases,” says Lake.
The Amazon card also offers a number of other credit card benefits, such as extended warranty and purchase protection, making it a good primary card for everyday spending.
“If you’re looking for a card that offers uncomplicated rewards when you shop online, fill up the tank or grab dinner out, this one’s hard to beat,” says Lake.
No. 2: Costco Anywhere Visa card
Other features: Car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranty, price protection
A good choice for big families, the Costco Anywhere Visa card won second place in the best retail card contest.
Beloved by wholesale enthusiasts and large families with a lot of mouths to feed, the wholesale warehouse Costco has earned a reputation for offering high-quality goods at a big discount. If you have a Costco in your town and are willing to pay the club’s $55 membership fee, adding a Costco Anywhere Visa card to your wallet could seriously rev up your savings.
Big rewards for gas, travel and restaurant spending
The Costco card not only offers a solid 2 percent back on Costco purchases, it also offers some of the most generous cash back earnings you can get on everyday purchases. Gas purchases earn a plump 4 percent cash back rate (for up to $7,000 in purchases), making it one of the best gas cards around. Cardholders also earn 3 percent cash back on restaurant and select travel purchases and 1 percent cash back on general purchases.
“The best retail cards should give you value in the most places,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “The Costco card not only gives members discounts when they buy from Costco, but it also gives really good cash back returns in other places.”
The Costco card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus, though, which is disappointing for a high earning rewards card. Most rewards cards these days offer some kind of bonus. However, the high earnings rate – especially on gas purchases – helps compensate for the lack of a bonus.
Unfortunately, Costco makes you jump through some serious hoops to redeem your cash back. You have to bring a special certificate from Citi on a shopping trip to Costco and either cash it out at checkout or apply it toward your purchases. You also have to wait a while to get your cash and then redeem it relatively quickly. Rewards certificates are mailed out just once per year in February and then expire on December 31. And the biggest detractor of all: If your membership lapses before the certificate is mailed out, you forfeit all your cash back for the year.
No. 3: Sam's Club Mastercard
Other features: Special financing deals, no foreign transaction fees
A leading card for gas rewards, the Sam’s Club Mastercard won third place in the best retail card contest.
Sam’s Club doesn’t get nearly as much hype as Costco, but loyal shoppers love it for its steep discounts and quality selection of everything from bulk groceries to eyeglasses and electronics.
The warehouse club’s credit card also offers some of the best cash back rewards on the market – particularly if you use it for gas. A leader when it comes to gas rewards, the Sam’s Club Mastercard offers a supremely generous 5 percent cash back rate on the first $6,000 you spend on gas – a huge cost-saver for families who regularly commute. It also competes with the Costco card by offering 3 percent cash back on dining and travel. Regular purchases earn 1 percent cash back.
Membership to Sam’s Club is also slightly less expensive than membership to Costco. It costs just $45 to be a member and qualify for the Sam’s Club Mastercard. However, Sam’s Club will waive the membership cost for the first year if you open a Sam’s Club Mastercard and charge $100 on the same day.
“The Sam’s Club Mastercard wins my vote in this round,” says Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. “With a $0 annual fee (and the lowest membership fee required out of the three), along with 5 percent cash back on gas, 3 percent cash back dining and travel and 1 percent on everything else, this credit card easily wins in my book!”
Cardholders will have to wait, though, to earn their rewards. Like Costco, Sam’s Club sends out rewards redemptions just once per year. According to CreditCards.com senior managing editor Julie Sherrier, that could be a big drawback for some cardholders. The Costco and Sam’s Club cards “have great loyalty programs,” says Sherrier. “But [they] require cardholders to be very patient as cardholders have to wait a year for their annual rewards check or certificate.”
The Sam’s Club card doesn’t give cardholders much time to redeem their rewards either. Cardholders have just 180 days to cash their check at their local Sam’s Club.
Meet the Judges
Stefanie O'Connell, millennial money expert
Favorite retail card: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
“As a big city dweller, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature is the clear winner for me. Prime delivery is a major convenience, as opposed to big box purchases that require a car to transport and space to store, neither of which is practical in many major cities.”
Rebecca Lake, personal finance writer
Favorite retail card: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
“The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card combines a generous rewards rate on Amazon.com purchases with the ability to earn a competitive rewards rate on everyday spending.”
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, personal finance blogger
Favorite retail card: Sam's Club Mastercard
“The Sam’s Club Mastercard wins my vote in this round. With a $0 annual fee (and the lowest membership fee required out of the three), along with 5 percent cash back on gas, 3 percent cash back on dining and travel and 1 percent on everything else, this credit card easily wins in my book!”
Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com
Favorite retail card: Costco Anywhere Visa card
“The Costco card not only gives members discounts when they buy from Costco, but it also gives really good cash back returns in other places. Four percent back on gas and 3 percent on travel and dining makes this card really competitive with other cards out there and gives it the slightest edge over the Amazon card.”
Julie Sherrier, senior managing editor at CreditCards.com
Favorite retail card: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
“Two things make the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature stand out from its competitors: rewards that can be redeemed immediately on Amazon.com and there are no limits on how much cash back you can earn. Plus you can redeem points for gift cards and travel.”
How we choose our best cards
This is the second year that CreditCards.com has held a contest for best cards in their class. To help choose the best cards for each category, we consulted credit card and personal finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. Our staff also rated cards through our credit card reviews program.
For each review, our staff ranks the cards using a weighted scoring system that assesses the cards’ most relevant attributes. Each card attribute is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. For cash back cards, we evaluate a number of common retail card features, including:
- Estimated rewards value (40 percent): Because card applicants typically place a high value on rewards earnings, we give the greatest weight to the amount of earnings cardholders take home. We use a formula to calculate the estimated yearly value, assuming cardholders spend $1,325 per month, averaged over three years. The formula includes an average rewards rate, sign-up bonus and annual fee. We then assign a score depending on how the estimated rewards value compares to other cards.
- Rewards flexibility (30 percent): We focus heavily on the flexibility of card redemption options and assign a substantial amount of weight to that category. Using a scale of 1 to 5, we rate factors such as expiration dates, how easy it is to earn and redeem cash back, whether there are limits on how much cardholders can earn, minimum redemption thresholds and whether cardholders can transfer card rewards.
- Annual percentage rate (APR) (20 percent): Retail cards often charge very high APRs, saddling unwary cardholders with an excess of interest if they miss their payment deadlines. This can seriously undermine the value of a card’s rewards as well as land an inexperienced cardholder in debt, so we’ve given substantial weighting to this feature. We assign a score depending on how the average APR and the introductory APR compares to other rewards cards.
- Features (10 percent): We also consider the quantity, uniqueness and value of the features for each card and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5.
After three cards were chosen as finalists for the best retail card contest, our judges were asked to independently judge the finalists and rank them in order of preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner.
See related: 2017 retail store card survey: customers lured to high interest cards with more rewards, Store credit cards: 6 ways to stay out of trouble, Should you get a store card after retailer files for bankruptcy?
All best credit card stories are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the story is accurate as of the date of the story. Check the credit card terms and conditions link on the issuing bank’s website for the most current information.