In my post on the 5 credit cards with the very best signup bonuses, I offered that there are three different types of value in frequent flyer cards and each is a distinct reason to sign up.
And so I separately wrote about the five best credit card bonuses, the five cards with the best benefits, and the 5 most rewarding cards for spending.
But several readers have emailed to say that I really haven't put it all together. I carry several very mission-specific credit cards, but most readers want to know what one card is best, which one should they get since they aren't going to sign up for three or five?
So here are my top five all-around credit cards, taking into consideration signup bonus, value for every day spending, and benefits for holding the card.
These are in my opinion the very best current signup bonus offers for any credit card, since the value of the points themselves is really high.
And the earning on the cards is tough to match, as well. Both cards offer double points on gas and hotels (when you book directly with hotels, not when the spend is charged an online agent like Expedia) and quintuple points on telecommunications and office supplies. Between internet, cell phone, XM radio and cable television that's a lot of points each year, and it's amazing what you can buy at office supply stores.
Points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, and Amtrak, in many cases instantly.
Like with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus, points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, and Amtrak.
The value of the points for everyday spending, I especially like the bonuses on all travel and on dining, and it has one of the best signup bonuses to boot.
The annual fee is $0 the first year then $175 thereafter. So you need to spend a lot on the card to make it worth keeping after that first year — but if you do put $30,000 on the card in a year you receive 15000 bonus points, which is worth well more than the annual fee (and is why I continue to carry the card myself even past the first year).
I recently wrote up how to make the most of Membership Rewards points. My personal favorite is transfers to Singapore Airlines to redeem first class awards (since availability is actually really good).
This is the strongest American Express Membership Rewards card for points-earning, and I believe that Membership Rewards are one of the three most valuable currencies (along with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Starpoints).
The reason this card is great, though, is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or better). And there's a built-in 25% transfer bonus: for every 20,000 miles you transfer points into Starwood gives you 5000 additional miles. So you effectively earn 1.25 miles per dollar on all of your spend (a built-in 25% bonus), and you get to pick what airline program you want your miles in later.
The card carries a $450 annual fee, but you can designate one airline on which you'll receive a $200 fee credit for the year. The fee credit is based on a calendar year so getting the card now means you can get a $200 credit in 2013 and another $200 credit in early 2014 before the next fee hits.
The Platinum American Express also reimburses the $100 application fee for Global Entry, comes with Gold status in Starwood Preferred Guest, along with other benefits.
There's also a Mercedes-Benz co-branded version of the card that has a $475 annual fee and comes with 50,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months.
It's interesting to me that I believe the very best cards come from Chase, with the rest of the list filled out by American Express products. There are some nice niche products from Citibank, Barclays, Bank of America, and US Bank for sure. But these are the cream of the crop.
I've been a Starwood Preferred Guest cardholder for better than a decade, and I have all of these cards myself, they're also the ones I recommend as the very best in a fairly crowded and competitive field of rewards cards.
These cards represent what I believe are the very best, though I recognize there's some subjectivity to it (if you value airline lounge at zero, you wouldn't agree with me on the American Express Platinum card). But overall I think this is a pretty fair rendition. Any disagreements or cards you think are better than the ones listed above, appreciate the comments as always!
(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you're approved using my links. I try to offer only the best available cards, and most lucrative deals available for those cards. So if you're aware of better deals than I've featured please do let me know! The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)