Best Credit Cards for Everyday Spending

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Editorial disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

In this post, I’ll discuss the most lucrative travel rewards credit cards for everyday spending. Several of the best credit cards for award travel earn bonus points in certain categories such as travel and dining. Anytime you make a purchase that codes as one of these categories, you will earn an extra point or two (or three) per dollar.

Transferable points are key

Many people who are new to this ask me which credit card is best for everyday spending.  I highly encourage most people to use cards that earn flexible rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. Miles earned from the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card are also transferable.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Capital One Venture

When you use an airline or hotel co-branded credit card, you earn the miles or points for that airline or hotel. Your redemption options are limited to that airline or hotel program. But if you earn a transferable bank currency, you’ll have more redemption options. This helps in two ways. First, if you cannot find availability for a redemption using miles from one airline, you can check options with other airlines. Second, you may be able to redeem less miles or points by using a different airline. If you only collect miles with one airline, you will not have these options.

For instance, if I’m trying to book a nonstop flight between DFW and Cancun operated by American Airlines, I can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Airways to book the ticket after confirming availability. But if I’m trying to book a flight to Europe in business class, a different Chase partner such as United Mileage Plus or AirFrance Flying Blue will probably result in a better redemption cost.

I suggest reading the beginner’s guide before applying for any cards because there are reasons that Chase cards should take priority if you’re new to this. After you’ve opened the Chase cards you want, you can move on to cards from other issuers such as American Express and Capital One.

Quality over quantity

High earn rate does not necessarily mean high return. Not all miles and points are equal, so making sure you’re earning the most valuable points is just as important as the number. For example, I value 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points more than twice as much as 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. You have to consider what kind of redemptions that any given type of reward currency can book.

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Bonus categories should not determine which card you open

Bonus categories are a great way to earn more points, but I’ll explain why you should not open a credit card just because you like the bonus categories.

Bonus categories are not as important as you may think

The best credit cards for everyday spending depend on your spending habits, but bonus categories are not as important as you may think, especially if you are a beginner.

There are 2 ways to earn miles and points from credit cards.

  • The first is by earning welcome bonuses when opening a new card.
  • The second is from everyday spending. Some cards have bonus categories such as dining and travel. While it’s always great to earn an extra point or two per dollar with category bonuses, welcome bonuses are the best way to get a large return on your spending.

As a beginner, much of your spend will be on whichever card you’re trying to meet a minimum spending requirement to earn a welcome bonus. And the card with the best welcome bonus may not necessarily be the best card for a bonus category. In many cases, you would have to spend a huge amount in that category in order for the category bonus to be a reason to open one card over another card with a better welcome bonus.

Here is an example:

If you spend $4,000 per year at restaurants, there are cards that earn extra points per dollar on dining purchases. Here are a few:

If you are a beginner and you are looking for your first credit card, I’ll show you why category bonuses should not be a determining factor. Each of these cards has a welcome bonus:

Welcome bonuses:

  • American Express Gold Card: 35,000 after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Terms apply.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months

Note that the minimum spending requirement does not need to be restaurant spend; any purchases would count, but for the purpose of this example, we’re going to pretend it’s all restaurant spend.

  • American Express Gold Card: 51,000 Amex Membership Rewards points (35,000 plus 16,000)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 62,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (50,000 plus 12,000)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 68,000 Ultimate Rewards points (60,000 plus 8,000)

Note: You could make the argument that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are more valuable than Amex Membership Rewards points or vice versa depending on what your goal is, but I generally value both of these currencies equally. So we’re going to assume equal value for this example. As I stated earlier, another currency, such as Marriott Bonvoy points, may not have equal value.

Even though the Amex Gold Card earns twice as much as the Chase Sapphire Preferred at restaurants, the Chase Sapphire Preferred would still be the better card to open.

Best credit cards for everyday spending and bonus categories

First of all, if you’re working on a minimum spending requirement, you’ll obviously want to put all of your purchases on that card until you meet the minimum. After that, if you want to maximize your earning potential, you may need to switch your spending to a different card.

Remember, we’re only considering everyday spending and category bonuses for this list. The best cards for everyday spending/category bonuses may not necessarily be the cards with the best welcome bonuses. The welcome bonus should be a larger factor when determining which card you should open. Other factors that should determine the best card to open are annual fees and benefits.

Some cards will be listed in multiple categories, so I’ll cover each card’s details at the first mention. Also, the cards below are personal cards. You find more info about business cards on the list of our favorite current offers.

Credit cards with the best everyday earn rates

The non-category bonus earn rate on most cards is going to be 1 point or mile per dollar, but there are a few cards with higher rates. The Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card both make great everyday spending cards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all non category purchases, which is higher than the non-category bonus earn rate on other Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred.

Chase Freedom Unlimited, best credit card offers of 2019
  • Currency earned: Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn rate:
    • 5% on Travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
    • 3% on Dining
    • 3% on Drugstore purchases
    • 1.5 % unlimited cash back on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Welcome bonus: $200 (or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first 3 months. Also, earn 5% cash back (or 5 points per dollar) on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

The earn rate on this no annual fee card makes it appealing, but I only recommend opening it if you also have one of the three cards that earn transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred). 

Click here for details about using a Chase Freedom Unlimited to boost your Ultimate Rewards balance.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

I finally decided to give the Capital One Venture card some consideration when Capital One added transfer partners in late 2018. Prior to that, this was essentially a cash back card. To redeem the rewards for travel, you simply used your miles as a purchase “eraser”. Now, you can transfer miles to airline programs or you can redeem the miles to erase travel purchases.

capital one venture, best credit cards 2019
  • Currency earned: Capital One Venture miles
  • Earn rate: 2 miles per dollar on everything.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived for the first year
  • Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months

This post has more details plus a comparison between your earning and redeeming potential on both the Capital One Venture and another everyday spending favorite, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. When it comes to redeeming with transfer partners, 2 miles per dollar is a little misleading, but the Capital One Venture is still a great card if you prefer simplicity.

I value rewards earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred higher than those of the rewards earned with the Capital One Venture, but some people prefer the simplicity of a cash-back type currency and this card definitely has one of the best earn rates in that case.

Another notable benefit is Global Entry. Receive up to $100 in reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Not bad for a card that has no annual fee the first year and has a welcome bonus worth at least $500! Click here for more information about the Capital One Venture.

Best credit cards for spending on travel

One important thing to point out here is that it’s important to look at what qualifies for the category bonus points. For example, both Chase cards on this list have broader definitions of travel than the Amex Platinum. The Amex Platinum only earns extra points on flights booked fdirectly with airlines or travel booked on amextravel.com.

Booking a hotel directly through that hotel’s website would earn 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you use your Amex Platinum to book a hotel direct, you would not receive the 5 points per dollar.

I’ll specify what kind of travel purchases qualify under each card, but one that deserves a mention is the American Express Green Card. Unlike the travel bonus categories on the Platinum and the Gold cards, the Green Card expands travel to include including airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, trains, taxicabs, rideshare services, tours, ferries, tolls, parking, buses, subways, on third party travel websites, and on amextravel.com.

Another issue is travel protection/trip insurance. I almost always use Chase Sapphire Reserve because their trip protection benefits are the best. Chase Sapphire Preferred also has great trip protection. In fact, that probably warrants a whole blog post, so I’ll try to get one out soon. Update: Amex will be adding trip protection benefits, and I’ll post more details soon.

The Platinum Card from American Express

If you’re a frequent flyer, The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the highest earn rates when purchasing flights. The annual fee is $550, but there are lots of benefits and credits that may help offset that fee.  The current welcome offer of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points also helps offset that annual fee.

American Express platinum
  • Currency earned: American Express Membership Rewards
  • Earn rate: 5 miles per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on travel booked at amextravel.com. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.  
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Welcome bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months

The Platinum Card from American Express will grant you access to their amazing Centurion lounges (where available). These lounges have complimentary food and drinks, and there are spa services at select locations! You’ll also get lounge access with a Priority Pass membership. 

Additional travel benefits and details:  Receive up to $200 of reimbursement on airline incidentals per calendar year, receive $200 total in Uber credits annually, receive $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually. Terms apply, learn how to apply here.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar on any purchase that codes as travel. This would include hotels, plane tickets booked from airlines or from online travel agencies, Uber, Airbnb, and much more.

  • Currency earned: Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn rate: 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Welcome bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

The annual fee is high but I’ll discuss the travel benefits that help offset that fee. First, you receive a $300 credit annually for travel purchases. This includes airlines, hotels, Uber, train tickets, online travel agencies (Expedia, etc), so it’s not very tough to use. There is also a credit for Global Entry ($100). In addition, you will receive a Priority Pass membership which grants you access to participating Priority lounges worldwide.

A few new benefits were recently added to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

  • Free Lyft Pink for a year (which normally costs $19.99 per month). Notable benefits are 15% off of Lyft rides and priority pick ups at airports
  • 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides when you pay with your Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • $60 credit per year in 2020 and 2021 with DoorDash
  • A free year of DashPass (normally $9.99 per month)

If you’re able to use some of these credits and benefits, they more than offset the recent annual fee increase.

The other benefit to this card (as opposed to the Chase Sapphire Preferred) is that your points are worth more when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The redemption rate is 1.5 cents per point. So 50,000 Ultimate Rewards are worth $750. Of course, you can also transfer those Ultimate Rewards to Chase’s airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio.

You will definitely want to rent a jeep to explore Hawaii!

Note that you cannot have a Chase Sapphire Preferred and a Chase Sapphire Reserve open at the same time. But if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and it has been more than 48 months since you last received a welcome bonus, you can downgrade to a no annual fee Freedom Unlimited and then open the Chase Sapphire Reserve. In order to do this, you would need to be under 5/24.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2 points per dollar on travel, and the lower annual fee and higher welcome bonus make it a more appealing card than the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Chase Sapphire Preferred 2019 Best credit card offers
  • Currency earned: Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn rate on travel: 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Welcome bonus: 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

The welcome bonus is worth at least $1000 in travel when you redeem via the Ultimate Rewards portal, the annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards are easy to earn and redeem.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to 10 different airline frequent flyer programs or 3 different hotel loyalty programs.  You can also redeem the points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal.  Each point can be redeemed for 1.25 cents.  That makes the welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points worth $1000!  

American Express Green Card

The American Express Green Card recently received a facelift. Unlike the other Amex cards on this list, the Green Card expands travel to include including airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, trains, taxicabs, rideshare services, tours, ferries, tolls, parking, buses, subways, on third party travel websites, and on amextravel.com.

  • Currency earned: American Express Membership Rewards
  • Earn rate: 3 points per dollar on travel and at restaurants. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.
  • Annual fee: $150
  • Welcome bonus: 30,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months

If you apply before 1/15/20, you will receive a $100 credit for any purchase made with Away brand luggage in the first 3 months. Terms apply

American Express Gold Card

The American Express Gold Card earns up to 3 points per dollar on travel.

American Express gold card, top credit card offers 2019
  • Currency earned: American Express Membership Rewards
  • Earn rate: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or travel booked at amextravel.com. All other travel purchases would be 1 point per dollar. 4 points per dollar at restaurants and US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per year. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.
  • Annual fee: $250
  • Welcome bonus: 35,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

At $250, the annual fee seems high, but there are some benefits that may offset that. This card comes with an annual benefit of $100 in airline incidentals (which works the same as the $200 credit on the Amex Platinum Card). Also, you can receive up to $120 annually in dining credit. Terms apply.

For flights, this is not as good as the rate on the Platinum Card. It’s the same as Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Green card, but those cards have better definitions of travel in terms of bonus category. I decided to add the Gold Card to this list, though, because this is one of my favorite cards for everyday spending (you’ll see it again on this list in more categories). 3 points per dollar on flights is as good or better than most of our other favorite travel cards, but the categories that really stand out are restaurants and US supermarkets.

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Best credit cards for dining

A few airline and hotel cards now have restaurants as a bonus category, most with a rate of 2 points per dollar. Since I suggest earning flexible bank currencies instead, I’ve only considered cards that earn said currencies.

Best credit cards for grocery stores

Amex Everyday Credit Card

This is one of the only no-annual fee cards with a grocery store category bonus.

Amex Everyday Credit card 2019 no annual fee
  • Currency earned: American Express Membership Rewards
  • Earn rate: 2 miles per dollar on purchases at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year and 2 points per dollar on travel purchased at Amextravel.com. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Welcome bonus: An offer of 15,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months is available with this referral link.

Two things worth noting:

Which credit card should I use on shopping portal purchases?

See also: Earning Miles and Points Part 3: Shopping Portals

If using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal:

Terms state that you must purchase with your Ultimate Rewards card to earn the bonus points.

If using an airline portal:

Basically, the same card you would use for non-category bonus spend. You typically do not have to use an airline co-branded card to earn bonus points through an airline’s shopping portal.

or any card that earns transferable currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

American Express Offers

You must use the American Express card for which the offer is saved.

Amex Offers are a great way to save money or earn extra points at different retailers.  Find offers from different brands-for dining, shopping and more.  Add the offers to your card then use your card when you pay.  Some offers are for cash back and will post as statement credits on your bill, and some offers earn Bonus American Express Membership Rewards.  

Conclusion

If you’re working on a minimum spending requirement, you’ll obviously want to put all of your purchases on that card until you meet the minimum. After that, if you want to maximize your earning potential, you may need to switch your spending to a different card.

For example, if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred and then you open a World of Hyatt credit card, you will want to put all of your spend on the Hyatt card until you meet the minimum spending requirement. After that, you may want to switch your spending to your Chase Sapphire Preferred card. The points earned from CSP, Chase Ultimate Rewards, are transferable to Hyatt, plus they are transferable to 10 airline programs. In other words, you have more redemption options if you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Cards with category bonuses that match your spending habits are definitely something to consider, but it’s important to remember the big picture. In many cases, you would have to spend a huge amount in a category in order for that to be the deciding factor. I often hear “I spend X amount on Y every year, what’s the best credit card?” This is actually a great question, but it’s important to remember that you’re going to get a much larger return on your spending when you open a new card and earn a welcome bonus.

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Comments below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. The comments have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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