Best Credit Cards for Travel, Rewards, Cash-Back and More [2017]

Best Credit Cards for Travel, Cash-Back, Airlines and More

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We compare credit cards by breaking them into 7 different categories to help you find which one will be the best for you in your own personal situation. Finding the best credit card offers depends on your own personal spending habits, your reward goals, and even your credit score.

Find out more about each category below, check out the card category pages to find out information about the various cards included, and look at the detailed reviews of the cards you are interested in so that you can make a decision.

To find a credit card, you can apply by clicking on one of the links in the category or review pages to be taken to the application page for that card!

10 Best Credit Cards

Our 10 best credit cards list are hand-picked favorites based on their earnings potential, annual fees, and benefits. There is no one credit card company we recommend; each has their own merits. Also, know that the ratings are not based on credit limit or credit score, as these differ per person.

These cards are a mixture of all the other card categories: travel rewards, cash-back, airline, hotel, business credit cards, and no annual fee.

Some may be featured due to a killer sign-up bonus or another great limited time offer or simply because it’s a consistently high-value card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Other cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express come with a great benefit such as this card’s $100 airline fee credit.

Travel Rewards Credit Cards

The travel rewards credit cards category are all those which earn flexible points that can either be transferred directly into a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program, or whose reward points can be redeemed for travel rewards.

These cards are mostly made of the cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Citi ThankYou Rewards programs, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express.

There are a few travel cards that are independent of these rewards programs; these cards earn points on the card itself and the points are redeemed to offset travel purchases. One great example is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

Almost all Travel Rewards Cards come with an annual fee, however many have fees waived during the first year. This allows you to try the card out without risk for the first year, and if you like it you can keep it.

On top of having great flexibility and other benefits (like lounge access, free WiFi, no foreign transaction fees and more), these credit cards often come with great card insurance benefits that can protect your purchases, trips, rental cards, and more.

Airline Rewards Credit Cards

If you are a frequent traveler on a specific airline, getting an Airline Credit Card might be your best choice. These cards earn points that are deposited directly into the frequent flyer program account of the card you have.

For instance, you can earn TrueBlue points with the JetBlue Plus Card.

Many airlines have multiple tiers of cards, where the benefits and rewards get better as you go up the tiers. For instance, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express is the mid-tier card for Delta, and you can earn Medallion Qualification Miles through spending on the card.

Except for the most basic cards, most of these comes with an annual fee, but they also come with a sign-up bonus as well, which is perhaps the most valuable offer on the card.

Besides earning frequent flyer miles, these cards often come with additional benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, and in-flight purchase discounts.

Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel credit cards are similar to airline credit cards in that they earn points directly in the hotel loyalty program that they are associated with. They also provide additional benefits such as elite status in the program, or similar benefits to an elite status member.

Whereas most Airline Credit Cards only earn bonus miles (greater than 1x points per dollar) for airline purchases, hotel credit cards often come with additional bonus categories to make earning points more lucrative.

For instance, the Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express earns bonus points at Hilton hotels, but also for U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.

Other cards may not earn bonus points outside of their branded hotel, but offer other benefits like free Boingo WiFi. One example is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

Hotel Credit Cards come with insurance benefits often times, although they are typically less comprehensive.

Business Credit Cards

Business owners face the task of managing their finances on a regular basis, so why not earn some rewards for doing so? There are many great business credit cards, and they have similar if not even better rewards and benefits than their personal card counterparts and work great as a merchant account for your business.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN is a card that delivers a lot of value with multiple bonus point categories for Membership Rewards points, and also comes with great insurance benefits.

If you don’t want to manage the bonus points, transfer to travel partners and find award flights, then you can always use a simple cash-back business credit card to earn reward points. One great card in this category is the SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express.

Cash Back Credit Cards

If you are new to the world of credit card rewards, you might want to start with something simple. We would recommend starting with a cash-back credit card in this case, as these cards will earn you rewards in everyday categories like supermarkets and gas stations which you can apply for a statement credit.

Other cards will earn a flat-rate cash-back for all purchases, which makes it very simple to earn and redeem rewards. Typically, these cards have no annual fee, although there are some premium cash-back cards like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.

Most cash-back cards only earn rewards through the card itself, however, the cash-back earned with Chase credit cards can combine rewards points with the Chase Ultimate Rewards points as long as you have a Chase travel rewards card as well. One example is the Chase Freedom Unlimited℠.

There are few fringe benefits or insurance benefits with these basic reward cards, but this should be expected with a basic card with no annual fee. Some cash reward cards do offer certain benefits and partnerships, and these can be very valuable!

No Annual Fee Credit Cards

The last category of credit card we review are no annual fee credit cards. This is not really a reward card category but are great for those looking for a new card to fill in some reward gaps, make a balance transfer to save on finance charges, or to replace your debit card.

Many people will utilize The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express in this way, because it earns Membership Rewards points, has a bonus category at U.S. Supermarkets, and also comes with a 20% bonus for making more than 20 transactions in a month.

These credit cards can also be fantastic if you are looking to build up a weak credit score, as cards can be opened and kept open, even without using, which will build your credit history over time. A popular card used in this way is the Chase Slate® Card.

Each credit card issuer has similar cards, so be sure to use one that fits in with an existing point balance if you have one!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
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FAQ

Which credit card has the best rewards?
The best rewards card for you might be different than someone else. It depends on your goals. Do you want to travel? Do you want simple cash back? Are you interested in gaining other benefits?

Once you figure out your goals, you can search for credit cards in the 7 rewards categories that we use to review cards:

How do rewards work on a credit card?
It is simple: open the card (complete a credit card application online or in a bank branch), then once it is delivered start spending money in the bonus categories.

Depending on the card, reward points or cash back will accrue in the bank or credit card portal, or in a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program account.

After that, you can use your points for statement credit, travel rewards, free nights, or other rewards like gift cards!

What is a travel credit card?
A travel credit card is a card whose rewards, collected upon purchasing things with the card, can be used for travel rewards.

These rewards can be used directly as statement credit in some cases, or in other cases the points must be transferred to travel partners and then used via their loyalty program.

What is the best credit card for travel?
The best credit card for travel depends on where you want to go and where you spend most of your money. Chase credit cards are popular in the travel and dining categories, and American Express has many different rewards categories among their cards as well.

How do I find the best credit card for me?
Figure out how much money you spend in various categories such as travel, dining, supermarkets, gas, and so forth. Once you find out where you spend most of your money, find a card that earns rewards in that category.

If you don’t spend a lot in any one category, consider getting a reward card that earns evenly across all categories.

What is cash back rewards? How does a cash back credit card work?
Cash back rewards are earned every time you use a cash back card. You may earn anywhere from 1% up to 6% cash back for your purchases, depending on the card and where you are shopping.

Cash back is not typically automatically applied to your account. Instead, it accumulates into an account which you must redeem from after accruing the minimum amount of redemption value.

Which credit card gives the most cash back?
This depends on where you spend the most money and which credit card you are using. Some credit cards earn a flat 1.5% cash-back for all purchases, other cards earn between 1-3% cash-back from a number of different categories.

What are the best credit cards to build credit?
The best cards to build credit are no annual fee credit cards typically, because you can leave them open indefinitely without having to pay any fees. However, any credit card that you open and use and get value from will build your credit.