Best rewards credit cards

By  |  Updated: July 28, 2017

Best rewards card: Spring 2017

 

Best rewards card: Spring 2016

 

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If you’re looking to squeeze more value from your spending, now is a good time to upgrade your rewards card. Our three Best Rewards Credit Cards of Spring 2017 offer new high-dollar sign-up bonuses, plentiful rewards points, thoughtful perks and flexible redemption policies.

Just be sure to choose a card that matches your habits and everyday spending. Some of the most generous rewards credit cards offer an extraordinary amount of value for frequent travelers, but don’t offer nearly as much benefit to cardholders who spend more of their time at home.  

To help you pick the best rewards card for your lifestyle, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cards in the rewards card category and asked a panel of judges to rate the CreditCards.com staff’s top three picks. Judges for Best Rewards Credit Card of Spring 2017 were credit card expert Toby Sembower, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance contributing editor Lisa Gerstner, personal finance expert Holly Johnson, CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz.

FIRST PLACE: The mega-popular Chase Sapphire Reserve card, with its generous sign-up bonus and travel benefits, easily won first place for best rewards credit card.

“The Chase Sapphire Reserve card made a dazzling entry into the credit card market last year, and for good reason: Its package of flexible rewards on spending, outstanding travel benefits and a lucrative sign-up bonus make it the most attractive premium credit card around,” says personal finance journalist Lisa Gerstner. 

No. 1: Chase Sapphire Reserve card

Best card
  • 3 points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • 50,000 points if you spend  $4,000 in first 3 months
  • $300 annual travel credit (applies to most travel purchases)
  • 1:1 point transfer to most frequent flier partners
  • $450 annual fee

Other features: $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit, no foreign transaction fee, complimentary airport lounge access, select Visa Infinite hotel, air and car rental perks

Editor's rating:
star-rating4.4/5
Read our review

 

Best card

  • 3 points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • 50,000 points if you spend  $4,000 in first 3 months
  • $300 annual travel credit (applies to most travel purchases)
  • 1:1 point transfer to most frequent flier partners
  • $450 annual fee

Other features: $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit, no foreign transaction fee, complimentary airport lounge access, select Visa Infinite hotel, air and car rental perks

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.4/5
Read our review

Despite a $450 annual fee, the Sapphire Reserve card has become a nearly universal favorite of rewards card aficionados – particularly those who love to travel. Card experts love the Reserve’s sign-up bonus, which recently dropped from a legendary 100,000 bonus points to a still-generous 50,000 points, and its lavish perks for travelers.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card made a dazzling entry into the credit card market last year, and for good reason: Its package of flexible rewards on spending, outstanding travel benefits and a lucrative sign-up bonus make it the most attractive premium credit card around.

— Lisa Gerstner
Personal Finance Journalist

"The Chase Sapphire Reserve took the personal finance world by storm recently, offering new cardholders bonuses valued at up to $1,500 in the first few months of card ownership,” says Toby Sembower, credit card expert at CardRates.com and BadCredit.org

“While that bonus has since been cut in half, the opportunity to earn $750 to use toward travel is still a ridiculously good proposition for those who look to earn rewards from their credit card purchases.”

In addition to the Sapphire Reserve’s sign-up bonus, cardholders also get a $300 travel credit that they can use for airfare, car rentals, hotel stays or other travel-related expenses. Cardholders also earn triple rewards points on dining and travel expenses and get a bevy of high-value travel benefits, such as a $100 credit for TSA Precheck, free access to premium airport lounges, and extensive travel insurance for unexpected hiccups, such as lost baggage or canceled flights. 

Our judges also praised the Reserve card’s flexible redemption policy: Cardholders can either purchase rewards-funded travel from third-party websites or get a 50 percent rewards bonus by booking travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal. Cardholders also can transfer their points on a one-to-one basis to a wide variety of airline and hotel partners.  

“While all the cards we considered this time are good ones, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card really pulls ahead,” says personal finance expert Holly Johnson. “Not only does the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offer a $300 travel credit that’s easy to use, but it lets you earn 3x points on all dining and travel purchases. 

“The fact you can transfer Chase points to popular loyalty programs like Southwest, British Airways, United, Hyatt and Marriott really sends it over the edge. Other perks like Priority Pass lounge membership and rental car status are just icing on the cake.”

Gertstner also liked that the Reserve is made of metal, making it feel weightier and more prestigious when you plunk it on a table. “Let’s face it: Trivial as it may be, carrying a card that’s made of metal comes with cachet,” she says.

The biggest downside to the Chase Sapphire Reserve is its steep annual fee, which puts it out of reach for many cardholders. Our judges, though, say the fee is worth it if you can afford to pay $450 upfront and don’t mind waiting to be reimbursed through your rewards.

“If you’re certain you’ll earn the sign-up bonus, and that you’ll continue to charge lots of purchases to the card on an ongoing basis, you’ll come out way ahead," Sembower says.

 “Chase Sapphire Reserve isn’t for everyone,” says Gerstner. “You have to pony up $4,450 in the first three months to cover the annual fee and earn the sign-up bonus – not a friendly prospect for someone on a tight budget. Adding an authorized user sets you back an additional $75 a year.

“If you don’t travel much, you’ll probably have a hard time justifying the hefty annual fee,” she says. “And even if you calculate that you’d come out ahead, Chase’s so-called 5/24 rule could stop you in your tracks: If you’ve opened five or more credit card accounts in the past two years, Chase may deny your application no matter how clean your credit.”

SECOND PLACE: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which offers substantial rewards without charging a lofty annual fee, placed second in the best rewards card contest. 

 

No. 2: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard card
  • 2 points per dollar on all purchases
  • Redeem points as statement credits to cover travel purchases
  • 5% bonus when you redeem points for statement credits
  • 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in first 90 days
  • $89 annual fee, waived first year
  • This offer is expired

Other features: No foreign transaction fees, free upgrades and discounts on business class tickets with partner airlines

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.4/5
Read our review

 

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard card

  • 2 points per dollar on all purchases
  • Redeem points as statement credits to cover travel purchases
  • 5% bonus when you redeem points for statement credits
  • 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in first 90 days
  • $89 annual fee, waived first year
  • This offer is expired

Other features: No foreign transaction fees, free upgrades and discounts on business class tickets with partner airlines

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.4/5
Read our review

Judges said the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card’s $89 annual fee (waived the first year) makes it a better value than many of its pricier competitors.

“The Chase Sapphire Reserve has dominated the headlines, and if you’re a frequent traveler, it’s a pretty great card, even with the reduced sign-up bonus,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “For most people, however, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is a better choice.”

For that much lower annual fee, the Arrival Plus card offers a sizable sign-up bonus – 50,000 bonus points if cardholders spend $3,000 in the card’s first three months.

The premium Barclaycard also makes it easy for cardholders to pad their rewards balances by offering a flat rewards rate of two miles for every purchase and an additional 5 percent back each time miles are redeemed.

“The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite gives a lot for a relatively low annual fee,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray. 

The Arrival Plus card has won praise from travel card experts for its flexible redemption policy, which allows cardholders to purchase rewards-funded travel themselves and claim a statement credit, and for not charging foreign transaction fees.

“Add in the fact that the card is chip-and-PIN capable – a rarity in the U.S. and a big deal for international travelers – and the Arrival Plus World Elite card is a great choice,” says Schulz.

THIRD PLACE: The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express, beloved for its generously priced rewards points and lucrative travel benefits, placed third in the best rewards credit card contest. 

 

No. 3: Starwood Preferred Guest credit card

Starwood Preferred Guest card
  • 2 points per dollar at participating hotels
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • 1:1 point transfer to most frequent flier partners
  • $95 annual fee, waived first year

Other features: Free night’s stay when you redeem points for 3-5 consecutive nights, no foreign transaction fee

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.4/5
Read our review

 

Starwood Preferred Guest card

  • 2 points per dollar at participating hotels
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • 1:1 point transfer to most frequent flier partners
  • $95 annual fee, waived first year

Other features: Free night’s stay when you redeem points for 3-5 consecutive nights, no foreign transaction fee

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.4/5
Read our review

Best known for its generously priced rewards points, the Starwood Preferred Guest card (with a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year) offers credit card points that are worth significantly more than the average card rewards point, making the Starwood rewards program sweeter than it seems.

The Starwood card’s rewards bonuses, though, aren’t nearly as plentiful as the bonuses offered by competitors. For example, the Starwood card’s sign-up bonus is just 25,000 points.

Cardholders also are awarded just one point for every dollar spent on general purchases, two points for every dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels and two points for every dollar spent at Starwood properties. But because Starpoints are worth more than average, cardholders can buy more with their earnings.

Starwood properties also tend to be much more luxurious than the average hotel chain property, so cardholders get more value from their rewards-funded stays.

“If laying your head down on fine linen in an upscale hotel is your thing, you can’t beat the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card,” says Ray.

In addition, Starwood has won the loyalty of travel card experts by offering 1:1 point transfers with a wide variety of travel partners and by offering an additional 5,000-point bonus each time cardholders transfer their miles.

The Starwood card also offers a number of valuable benefits that help smooth out cardholders’ travel, including free in-room Internet access, no foreign transaction fees, competitive travel insurance and roadside assistance.

The best cards competition
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, CreditCards.com’s staff consulted credit card and personal finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. CreditCards.com staff also rated cards through its credit card reviews program.

A panel of five judges – including personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff – were asked to independently judge the three finalists and rank them in order of preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner. 

See related: 7 ways to get the most from rewards credit cards, 5 questions to ask before applying for a rewards card, Poll: Cardholders love rewards but many don't shop around

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.

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About this Award

CreditCards.com’s Best Credit Cards awards program brings together prominent industry experts and journalists to choose the best credit card within a monthly category. Our editorial staff nominates cards based on a set of objective criteria. CreditCards.com is not compensated for any of the nominations or awards. Advertiser disclosure.



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