8 Best Rewards Credit Cards You Should Have in Your Wallet in 2018

top credit cards

In the past five years, I’ve earned more than $20,000 in credit card rewards through sign-up bonuses and everyday rewards.

I’ve also learned how the top credit cards outshine the competition. Whether they offer massive sign-up bonuses, valuable rewards programs, or superior perks and fringe benefits, the best credit card deals provide value that can make a difference in your life.

And If you have good or excellent credit, you should have a good chance to qualify for most, if not all, of them.

8 top credit cards you need to have in your wallet

To help you decide which credit card is best for you, we’ve broken them down into two rewards categories: travel and cash back. Depending on your preference, one rewards type might sound better than the other. But keep an open mind to ensure you get the most value.

Top credit cards for travel rewards

There are scores of good credit cards in the travel rewards realm, so it’s important to know what you want. We’ve broken down travel rewards into a few more categories to give you an idea of what’s out there.

Credit Card Best For
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card General travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Reserve Premium perks
United MileagePlus Explorer Card Air travel
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Hotel stays
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card No annual fee

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for general travel rewards

The Capital One Venture card’s rewards program is its bread and butter. It’s the perfect card for someone who wants to rack up rewards without having to remember bonus categories.

You’ll earn:

  • 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 in the first three months after you open your account
  • Two miles per dollar spent

The card does have a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.

Here are some other highlights:

  • Use your rewards to book travel on any website or app. You’re not restricted to one airline or hotel chain.
  • Get free upgrades and special savings at hotels, resorts, and spas.
  • It has no foreign transaction fees.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for premium perks

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a steep $450 annual fee. But if you’re savvy enough, you’ll get the annual fee back and more in rewards and benefits every year.

For starters, the card offers:

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months (that’s worth $750 in free travel if you book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards)
  • Three points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point per dollar spent on everything else

A few other reasons you might want the card in your wallet:

  • Get up to $300 in statement credits each year as reimbursement for travel purchases you make with the card.
  • Receive a statement credit for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, worth up to $100.
  • Travel in comfort with access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Get 50 percent more value when you redeem your points for travel through Ultimate Rewards.
  • Receive special treatment from select car rental companies.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Best for air travel

Among airline-specific cards, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is the only one that offers a taste of elite perks without a premium annual fee.

The card offers two free United Club one-time passes each year. You can use them at any of the airline’s airport lounges. According to Chase, that perk alone is worth more than $100, which is more than the card’s $95 annual fee.

Here are some other details you should consider:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
  • Earn two miles per dollar spent on United ticket purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • Get a free checked bag for you and one other person every time you fly.
  • Board United-operated flights before general boarding.
  • Get primary rental car insurance; most credit cards offer secondary insurance that covers only what your personal insurance policy doesn’t.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card: Best for hotel stays

On the surface, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and the 25,000-point sign-up bonus you get after spending $3,000 in the first three months don’t sound exciting.

But The Points Guy values Starpoints at 2.7 cents apiece on average, giving the card’s sign-up bonus a dollar value of $675. You will, however, pay a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

Here are some other card highlights:

  • You’ll earn up to five points per dollar spent at participating Starwood hotels, two points per dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • Get extra flexibility by redeeming your points for free flights on more than 150 airlines or transfer your points to one of more than 30 airline rewards programs.
  • Get free premium in-room internet access when you stay at participating Starwood hotels.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

We’ve mentioned some good credit cards so far, but they all charge annual fees. For the fee-averse crowd, the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is a worthy alternative.

The card charges no annual fee but offers a 20,000-point bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Plus, you’ll get 1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase with no limits.

Here’s what else to expect:

  • You can use your points to get a statement credit for most travel purchases.
  • You’ll get a 0% APR promotion for 12 billing cycles on new purchases.
  • If you’re a Bank of America banking customer, you’ll get a 10 percent points bonus, giving you a rewards rate of 1.65 percent instead of 1.5 percent.
  • If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you could boost that bonus to up to 75 percent.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.

Top credit cards for cash-back rewards

If you prefer cash in your pocket to miles and points, it’s important to consider how you want to earn rewards. While some of the top credit cards in this category offer great flat-rate rewards, others offer extra cash back on certain purchases.

Credit Card Best For
Citi Double Cash Flat-rate rewards
Blue Cash Preferred Card Gas and groceries
Chase Freedom Everyday spending

Citi Double Cash: Best for flat-rate rewards

Some cash-back cards require you to keep track of bonus categories. The Citi Double Cash card makes it much simpler. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase you make and then another 1 percent when you pay your bill.

Because of its high rewards rate, the card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. Here are some other details to know:

  • Get a 0% APR promotion for 18 months on balance transfers.
  • Get a pass on your first late fee.
  • Pay no annual fee.

Blue Cash Preferred Card: Best for gas and groceries

If you spend a lot on groceries and gas and can stomach an annual fee, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express has the highest ongoing bonus rate of any card we know.

You’ll earn a whopping 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 spent each year. You’ll also get 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent cash back on everything else.

Here are some other highlights:

  • Earn $250 in bonus cash back after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • Get a 0% APR promotion for 12 months on both purchases and balance transfers.
  • You’ll pay an annual fee of $95, and it isn’t waived the first year.

Chase Freedom: Best for everyday spending

If your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom might be a good fit. The card offers 5 percent cash back on rotating categories that change every quarter, up to $1,500 spent in combined bonus category purchases.

Historically, these categories have included gas stations, grocery stores, holiday shopping, and more. You’ll earn just 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Here’s what else you’ll get with the card:

  • Earn $150 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months.
  • Get another $25 cash bonus when you add an authorized user to your card and make a purchase in the same three-month period.
  • Get a 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.
  • Pay no annual fee.

How to separate the good credit cards from the best ones

Before you start looking at credit card deals to choose the best one for you, it’s important to set a goal for how you want to earn rewards and how you want to use them.

For example, if you have an incurable case of wanderlust or simply want to book your next vacation for less, a travel credit card is a good option.

But if you like the flexibility of cash — you can use it for travel or just about anything else — a cash-back credit card might be a better choice.

Knowing which rewards you want helps you separate good credit cards from top credit cards for your needs.

Next, narrow down it down further. Would you prefer general travel rewards or points with your favorite hotel chain or miles with your favorite airline? Alternatively, would you rather get a high rewards rate on all your purchases or bonus rewards on things you buy frequently?

At the end of the day, it’s important to pick a credit card that fits in perfectly with your spending habits, financial goals, and everyday lifestyle. Doing so will ensure you get more value out of your credit card.

Eric Rosenberg contributed to this article.

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