Hi there! It’s Carly from 52 Cities, here today to talk rewards credit cards. While now may not be the time for traveling, it’s still a great time to start earning points that you can redeem for free flights later—especially since with the right credit card, you can easily earn points on the purchases you’re already making.
Read on for a mini-guide to four of the best credit cards in the game. We’ve outlined who they’re best suited for, their points-earning potential, and the other key perks and features that make them our top picks!
(Note: Before we dive in, there’s one feature I want to highlight that these four cards all share in common. They earn what are called “transferrable points,” meaning that you can transfer the points you earn to a number of different airline and hotel partners, giving you maximum flexibility when you book a trip. That’s one main reason we’ve featured these particular options!)
The Four Best Credit Cards for Building Up Reward Points
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Who it’s good for: Points and miles beginners
Current welcome offer: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Annual fee: $95
Earnings rate: 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel, 5x points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other key perks: Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash (limited time), primary car rental insurance, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance and more
Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card?
When it comes to the best card for starting out in the world of travel rewards, it’s hard to top the Chase Sapphire Preferred. For starters, the welcome offer is pretty stellar; 60,000 points is enough to get you a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Europe in economy class!
Beyond that, though, the card has a great earning structure, netting you bonus points in what are normally high-spend categories for many people. Chase defines travel broadly, meaning you’ll earn 2 points per dollar on everything from tolls to taxis to plane tickets and beyond. The restaurant category, meanwhile, covers everything from Starbucks to fine dining.
Chase is also famous for its amazing travel protections, which you’ll be able to tap into with the Sapphire Preferred. If your trip is canceled or cut short for a covered reason, you can secure up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip in reimbursement for your nonrefundable travel expenses. And if your bags don’t make it to your destination, you can receive up to $100 per day for five days to purchase emergency items like clothes and toiletries.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Who it’s good for: Frequent travelers
Current welcome offer: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Annual fee: $550
Earnings rate: 3 points per dollar spent on dining and travel, 10x points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other key perks: all perks mentioned for the Chase Sapphire Preferred plus $300 annual travel credit, elevated Ultimate Rewards travel portal redemption rate, Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ fee credit, Priority Pass membership, one year of complimentary Lyft Pink, trip delay reimbursement, emergency evacuation, and transportation, lost luggage reimbursement, purchase protection, return protection, extended warranty protection and more
Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card?
Let’s cut to the chase: $550 is a lot to money to spend on a credit card annual fee. But the pricetag on the Chase Sapphire Reserve isn’t necessarily as steep as it may seem!
Each year, you’ll get reimbursed for the first $300 you spend on travel purchases, again using that same broad travel definition. Any frequent traveler (and even infrequent travelers who spend on local transportation) can hit that threshold with ease, essentially brining the fee down to $250.
That’s still no small chunk of change, which is why Chase has loaded this credit card up with perks. Priority Pass membership will get you lounge access in airports all over the world (where you can eat free, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per year if you do a lot of traveling). The Global Entry/TSA credit is worth up to $100 on its own. And on top of the travel protections you get with the Preferred, you also get lost luggage protection of up to $3,000 per passenger, plus a range of other travel and shopping protections.
That’s not to mention what are perhaps my two favorite features of this card: Its earnings rate (50% higher than the Preferred’s, with bonus points in those same broad, popular categories) and its elevated redemption rate for the Ultimate Rewards travel portal (essentially, this gives you another great option for redeeming your points—in addition to transferring to travel partners, you have the option to book travel directly through the portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, which is a solid value!).
American Express Gold Card
Who it’s good for: Foodies
Current welcome offer: 35,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Annual fee: $250
Earnings rate: 4 points per dollar spent at restaurants, 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year), 3 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other key perks: $120 dining credit, $100 airline fee credit, American Express Preferred Seating, baggage insurance, $100 hotel credit through The Hotel Collection and more
Why the American Express Gold Card?
Whether you prefer to dine out or cook at home, the American Express Gold Card makes the most of your food spending with a generous 4-points-per-dollar earnings rate. And to sweeten the deal, the card also comes along with a credit that will nab you $10 in statement credits each month when you use your card to order delivery at Grubhub or Seamless, or to buy food at a handful of participating restaurants.
But the Gold is a travel card, too, and it includes some great travel benefits (which also help to offset its mid-range annual fee). The airline fee credit will reimburse you up to $100 per year for fees (baggage, seat selection, food) incurred with an airline of your choosing, while the hotel credit will kick in when you stay at least two consecutive nights at a property booked through The Hotel Collection.
American Express also offers Gold Card holders access to premium seats for concerts and sporting events, which can come in handy for entertainment lovers.
American Express Platinum Card
Who it’s good for: Very frequent travelers
Current welcome offer: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Annual fee: $550
Earnings rate: 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines with American Express Travel, 5 points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other key perks: $200 airline fee credit, $200 Uber credit, $100 hotel credit through The Hotel Collection, Fine Hotels & Resorts program, Hilton Honors Gold Status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status, Centurion Lounge access, AmEx Concierge access and more
Why the American Express Platinum Card?
If you’re on the road a fair bit, there really is no other card out there that will make travel as comfortable as the American Express Platinum Card will.
For starters, while in transit, you’ll have $200 in airline fee credits instead of the $100 you get with the Gold Card, giving you the option to ditch your bags down below and snag the seat you want. And in addition to the Priority Pass membership the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers, the Platinum also gets you access to AmEx’s exclusive collection of top-notch Centurion Lounges.
And the luxury doesn’t stop once you arrive at your destination, either. Elite status at Hilton and Marriott hotels will get you access to preferential treatment, room upgrades and an array of other perks to enhance your stay. And booking through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program can get you elite-like benefits at non-chain hotels, too.
Frequent Uber riders will have no trouble making use of the $200 in annual credits, effectively knocking that $550 fee down to $350.
And last but not least, cardholders have access to the AmEx Concierge, a service ready and waiting to help you out with travel plans, hard-to-get restaurant reservations and anything else you may need assistance with.
If you’re looking for a travel rewards credit card, you really can’t go wrong with any of these options. Go with one that looks best suited to your lifestyle, and in no time, you’ll be raking in the points thanks to the spending you’re already doing!