Credit Cards

The Best Credit Cards in America: Cash Back and Travel Rewards

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards in America

The Winner

best-travel-rewards-credit-card-penfedPenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card


This is a fabulous credit card from both a rewards and a cost standpoint. The home page for this card states: Experience a new level of rewards. Well, they aren’t kidding. But the low cost of this card is a selling feature, too.

Free Credit Check & MonitoringWhy it won

The rewards: Spend $650 in the first three months and get 20,000 bonus points. You earn 5 points for every dollar spent on airfare. Then you earn one point for every dollar spent on everything else. There’s no limit on the number of points you can earn.

You get to enjoy a concierge service and outstanding travel benefits and discounts. Once you spend $15,000, you get a complimentary membership to Priority Pass, which gives you access to more than 600 airport lounges.

The costs: It’s unusual to find a card that offers truly generous benefits and rewards has along with a low cost. There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and no cash advance fee. You get a 13.99 percent APR, which doesn’t blow you away but it still isn’t bad considering the level of rewards. The card offers the same rate for a cash advance, which is usually around 25 percent.

Through June 30, 2011 you can also get a 4.99 percent introductory rate (and pay no fee) on balance transfers. The 4.99 percent APR stays in place for the life of the balance.

1st Runner-Up

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Many rewards programs are so complex it’s a wonder that consumers can make it through the fine print and emerge with a clear understanding of the details. The simplicity of this program is a thing of beauty.

Why it won 1st runner-up

The rewards: Spend $1,000 within the first three months of opening your account and earn 10,000 bonus miles. You get two miles for every dollar spent on all purchases. You can use your miles for any travel expense.

[See More Winners: Best Airlines Miles Credit Cards.]

The costs: You can get an APR as low as 11.9 percent. This applies to both purchases and to balance transfers. There’s no balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fees. There’s a $59 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year. The low cost of the card more than covers the annual fee.

At publishing time, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is offered on product pages and may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for the card. However, this relationship does not result in ANY preferential editorial treatment.

Tie for 2nd Runner-Up

Escape by Discover

This card makes it easy to accumulate miles quickly. And while you’re racking up miles, you can enjoy the low cost that comes with this card.

Why it won a tie for 2nd runner-up

The rewards: You get 1,000 bonus miles for making at least one purchase a month. This program lasts for 25 months, which gives you an opportunity to earn 25,000 bonus miles. You get two miles for every dollar you spend on all purchases and the number of miles you can earn are unlimited.

The costs: You get a six-month zero percent introductory APR on purchases and on balance transfers. But what really makes this card stand out in its category is the low variable APR, which starts at 10.99 percent. There’s a $60 annual fee, but the cost-friendly terms and conditions more than offsets it.

At publishing time, Escape by Discover is offered on product pages and may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for the card. However, this relationship does not result in ANY preferential editorial treatment.

Tie for 2nd Runner-Up

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

This card usually takes a backseat to other travel rewards cards, but what is often overlooked is the low-cost credit card terms.

Why it won a tie for 2nd runner-up

The rewards: You get 1.25 miles for every dollar spent on every purchase. The points you can earn are unlimited. You can fly on any airline and there are no blackout dates. Redeem miles for flights, hotels, car rentals and more.

The costs: You get a 12-month zero percent introductory APR on purchases. After the intro period ends, you can get an APR as low as 11.9 percent. There’s no annual fee, no balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fees.

At publishing time, Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is offered on product pages and may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for the card. However, this relationship does not result in ANY preferential editorial treatment.

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Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Linda Clover

    Now THAT is news I can use! Thanks for the information Beverly. This is really helpful for someone like me who travels a lot.

  • Beverly Blair Harzog

    Linda–I’m glad you found this information helpful!

  • Melissa

    Such a helpful post, as we have been considering a card. Thanks!

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  • Beverly Blair Harzog

    Melissa–Thanks for your comment! I’m glad this was helpful.

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  • D. Bowers

    After years with a Discover “Open Road” card, I’ve learned my cash back points are capped after the first $250 each month. What a letdown! I earn double points for automotive related purchases: gasoline, oil, changes, tires, repairs; and 1% for all others. Occasionally there are offers of double points in other catagories. Usually just 1% cash back, no annual fee. Interest rate is 11.99%, despite my excellent credit rating and exemplary payment history. Are there similar monthly limits on the cards you’ve reviewed here? I’m shopping.

    • Beverly Blair Harzog

      I agree that the Discover card’s cap is disappointing. The Chase Freedom Visa that won for best cash back credit card in America caps the 5% quarterly rotating categories at $1,500. That’s not bad! Plus, you get 1% cash back on all other purchase and there are no limits to what you can earn at 1%. Since you have excellent credit, you might qualify for a low interest rate on this card.

  • http://credit.comnews Mary Beltman

    I use Capital One Business card for the airmiles. How would you rate this card?

    • Beverly Harzog

      Mary–Do you have Capital One Spark Miles (or Miles Select) for Business? I was focusing only on consumer cards for this competition. But I think the new Cap One Spark cards are quite good. Love it that they have no foreign transaction fees!

  • raymond vasta

    I have a american express cash rewards card . i

  • Marty H. Allen

    Quite frankly the only CC we use is Sam.s Club Discover. . After almost 6 years being rewarded roughly $ My cash back check received in February of each year for the previous calendar year. The smallest check received was just under $400. We use it to pay for everything we can, which amounts to nearly 90 percent of our discretionary spending. About March of each year our introductory rate kicks in 2 percent on EVERYTHING we buy, providing merchant accepts Discover ( 99 percent do). The trick is, to make it profitable like we have, pay your monthly bill IN FULL AND ON TIME.

  • J Gronczewski

    How does one CANCEL a zero balance, unused credit card? How do you get a CC company to STOP mailing out those stacks of balance transfer checks??
    Thanks, JG

    • Beverly Harzog

      J–to cancel your card, call your issuer and request it. As for the checks, they are a pain, aren’t they? You might try calling the issuer and telling them you have no interest in the checks.

  • Ralph Justice

    I recently applied for a Bank of America cash back card that rebates 3% on gas, 2% on groceries, and 1% on all other. How does this card compare with the ones you rated?

    • Beverly Harzog

      Ralph–That’s not a bad card. In fact, it has a solid rewards program and didn’t finish too far behind the winners. I like the option to have 10% of your rewards placed into your savings account.

  • Celia

    I want to get the Chase Freedom Visa, but want to know more details before signing up about the way earning points works. Is it from only certain grocery stores, gas stations and drugstores that you can earn points? Are prescriptions included in your drugstore purchases? Do non-food items, such as dog food, clothing items, prescriptions, etc count from grocery stores such as Target or Walmart? Are places like McDonalds and locally owned barbeque eatteries counted in dining? And lastly, does Chase Freedom Visa have charges or fees for purchases made while travelling out of the country, and do the points or rewards ever expire?

    • Beverly Harzog

      Celia–I’m totally impressed with your questions! That’s great that you want these answers before you waste your time. I suggest you call Chase and ask every single question: 1-800-432-3117.

      I don’t believe that prescriptions are included in the savings. I do know that sometimes an item won’t be eligible (particularly the category discounts) if the merchant doesn’t code the sale correctly. But, in general, the other items you mention should qualify. But call and ask. That’s really the best strategy when you’re asking about specific merchants.

      Foreign transaction fees are 3 percent. The cash back rewards never expire.

      Also, here’s an easy-to-read FAQs that might help you with a lot of your questions:

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  • Jackie

    I clicked on the Penfeld link but can find no mention ot the airport lounge privileges. Where can I find this?

  • Gary Labowitz

    I have one card for all my online purchases, and two major cards I used for my living expanses (gas, groceries, restaurants, etc.), namely: Discover card and Citizens MasterCard. They have 5% cashback on rotating categories and a high enough cap that it covers us. I particularly like that Discover redemption got me $100 gift card for $80. That’s an instant 20% saving!
    I still have a number of other cards that I don’t use and am afraid to close….

  • Cenor

    Currently I’m using Citibank Cash Back. Once the accumulated cash back reach $50, it will be credited into my credit card’s account. Based on my monthly credit card expenses, I’m constantly received $50 in every 2 months. Definitely I will not go back to bonus or rewards type credit card.

  • wyoman

    Page three fails to give a benefits /rewards score on the remaining credit cards. If you mention these cards as part of your survey you should include a score.

  • Ray

    I was disapointed to not see AMEX Blue Cash, I get 5% year around at: gas stations, drug stores and groceries. 1.5% everywhere else with no cap. Lower interest rate and option to carry balances and NO annual fee. I travel frequently and find very few places that don’t take AMEX. I also like the option of taking cash credits on my monthly statement whenever I want instead of waiting for anniversary date.

    • Beverly Blair Harzog

      Ray–I agree that the AmEx Blue Cash is a great card. You must have an older version of the card to be getting those kinds of rewards on gas, groceries and drug stores. Hang onto that card, Ray!

      AmEx changed the Blue Cash brand last spring. The new Blue Cash Preferred offers 6 percent at grocery stores, 3 percent on gas and department stores and 1 percent on everything else. There’s also a Blue Cash Everyday that offers good rewards without an annual fee.

      I’ll be looking at the best cash back cards again very soon. You can bet that the AmEx Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred will be in the running!

  • Randy

    I just applied for a Capital One Rewards Venture Card. I have excellant credit and the person I talked to when applying by phone and on the form stated that interest rates were 11.9%-19.9% based on your credit. I told them I was not interested if I was not going to get the best rate. I was told it should be no problem. After she took the application over the phone I was instantly approve for $5K and when I asked her what my rate will be she said I would be notified by mail. Three day later I got a letter saying I was approved for $5K and my rate would be 19.9%. They also under rated my reported FICA score, because I looked at it online with thier report from Equifax and it was deflated by 37 points to bring it only into the Great catagory instead on my Excellant catagory. They verified they used Equifax credit on the form they mailed to me. This is what I refer to as a bate and switch program. I called them and told them no thanks and do not send the card. I preceded to check the BBB and sure enough they have over 7400 complaints in 36 months with only 2000+ settled. I filed a complaint with the BBB and didn’t get a possitive results. This company appears to be bad news all around.

    • Beverly Blair Harzog

      Randy–You’re wise to pay close attention to your interest rate. I can understand why you were surprised to get the highest rate. FICO scores do fluctuate daily but 37 points seems like a lot. Have you checked your credit report from Equifax? I’d check it just to see if there’s an error or if something new is on your report that would cause your score to drop.

  • gene karst

    Beverly: I could not get fico score, they said they couldn’t give one because I didn’t owe or borrow any money for the last six years and always paid credit cards in full and before they were due. Fico dosn’t mean a thing it is useless. My credit is perfect and they can’t give me a score?, Bull Sh–

    • Beverly Blair Harzog

      Gene-In order to have a credit score, you have to be actively using credit. Since it’s been six years since you’ve actually borrowed money, there isn’t a score to generate. I understand your frustration. It sounds like you’ve done a good job with your finances. If you’d like to get your score going again, get a credit card (a secured card if you’re having problems getting an unsecured card) and give it six months. Use the card for purchases to show you can manage credit and pay if off monthly to avoid interest.

  • Boniface

    We are planning on relocating to the US in spring next year and i happened to see your credit card reviews here. What advice would you give as new immigrants for the best card to start building our credit?

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