Best US Credit Cards

My friends are always asking what credit card they should get, and my answer is always that it depends on what they want. Personally, I love getting long-haul business class flights for close to free, so I’m biased towards cards that give airline miles or points that can be converted to them. But saving enough miles to get a round-trip business class ticket takes time because it usually requires 2-3 credit card bonuses. So you do a lot of work to get free flights but the moment you get on the plane and settle into your lie-flat seat, it’s all worth it ūüôā

Where should you start?

If you tend to spend a lot of money every month on credit cards ($3K) or more, then you can apply for 2-3 cards in a day (generally from different banks), meet all the spending requirements over the next 3 months, then apply for more cards then. Even if you don’t ordinarily spend that much, there are ways to “generate” spend, like paying rent/property tax with Plastiq, or paying the IRS by credit card if you tend to owe taxes every year.

If you spend a more modest amount every month, I’d focus on collecting one airline mileage currency over a period of 6 months – 1 year and apply for cards from the same family (e.g. the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards). This is because by concentrating your efforts on a single airline, you’ll more quickly accumulate enough miles for an aspirational travel experience.

Limited Time Offers

American Express Platinum Mercedes Benz

Amex Mercedes Benz Platinum

Bonus: 75,000 Membership Rewards Points after $3,000 spend in 3 months – Expires 6/22/16

Learn more about the Amex Platinum Mercedes Benz...

This is the highest I’ve ever seen the bonus on this card. Membership Rewards can be transferred to a number of airline partners including:

  • British Airways Avios
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Etihad Guest Points
  • Air France/KLM

What can you do with 75,000 points? You can transfer them to Aeroplan and fly one-way in business class to almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll almost have enough to fly one way from Singapore to the USA in their famous Suites Class.

The card has a $450 annual fee, but you get a $200 airline credit per calendar year, so if you get the card now, you can use a $200 credit in 2016, another $200 in 2017, then cancel before the next annual fee is due.¬†On top of that, you also get your $100 Global Entry application fee reimbursed, so when you add that up with the airline credits, that’s $500 saved, more than offsetting the $450 fee.

On top of that, the card lets you use AMEX’s famous Centurion Lounges at airports like SFO, SEA, DFW, MIA and IAH, and there’s a Priority Pass membership included which gives you free access to hundreds of lounges all over the world.

This card is a smoking hot¬†deal for anyone who travels and if you can spend the $3,000 in 3 months, it’s a no brainer in my opinion.

AMEX now limits bonuses to one per lifetime on all their cards, but the Mercedes Benz Platinum is a different product than the normal Platinum card, which is different from the Schwab Platinum, the Ameriprise Financial Platinum, etc.

Apply here (not an affiliate link): American Express Platinum Mercedes Benz

Best Airline Miles Cards

Citi AAdvantage Platinum

Citi AAdvantage Platinum

Bonus: 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles after $3,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Citi AAdvantage Platinum...

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum is one of my favorite frequent flyer credit cards. Besides the whopping 50,000 AAdvantage mile bonus – which will get you a domestic round-trip flight in First Class, or two economy class tickets – you’ll also get a free checked bag when flying on American Airlines, and save 25% on in-flight food and drinks.

You’ll also get access to AA’s reduced mileage awards, where you can fly to many destinations in the US/Canada for only 17,500 miles round-trip.

Besides earning 1 AA mile per $1 spent on the card, you get 2 AA miles per $1 spent on American Airlines tickets.

There are no foreign transaction fees when you use the card out of the United States, and as a MasterCard, the exchange rates are slightly better than Visa’s.

The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and unless you check bags often or take advantage of the reduced mileage awards, I probably wouldn’t keep the card beyond the first year.

Note that if you’ve had this card in the past, you won’t be able to get another one for 24 months after your last one was opened or closed.

Occasionally, Citi sends mail-out offers for 60,000 miles for this card Рif you apply for the 50,000 mile offer online, many people have had luck matching to the 60,000 mile offer by sending a polite secure message after getting approved.

Apply here (not an affiliate link): Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $4,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred...

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has been in my wallet for over 4 years and remains one of my favorite travel cards. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to:

  • United MileagePlus
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • British Airways Avios
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Korean Air

United MileagePlus, as you may know, lets you book flights on all 27 Star Alliance carriers, without any fuel surcharges. It’s one of the few mileage programs that doesn’t charge fuel surcharges no matter what airline or itinerary you book, and their online booking engine is excellent.

Other good uses of Ultimate Rewards points include transferring to Singapore KrisFlyer and flying in their famous Suites Class.

The¬†Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with other great benefits, like 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases, include hotels, airfare and dining out. They also don’t charge any foreign exchange fees when you travel outside the US, although as a Visa card, their exchange rates aren’t as good as MasterCard.

This is also a great card to hold in conjunction with the Chase Freedom, which also earns Ultimate Rewards but those points can’t be transferred to airlines unless you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is why I’m willing to pay the $95 annual fee on the¬†Chase Sapphire Preferred every year, one of only two cards where I’m willing to do this.

The annual fee is $95 after the first year, which is free.

Note: Chase has recently started cracking down on people who apply for a lot of credit cards – if you’ve opened more than 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months you might be declined on that basis, even if your credit is otherwise excellent.

Apply here (my referral link): Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Freedom Card

Chase Freedom Card

Bonus: 15,000 Ultimate Rewards Points ($150) after $500 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Chase Freedom...

The Chase Freedom is probably hands-down one of the best everyday spend cards with no annual fee. It offers 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent at certain merchants on a rotating basis. To see which merchants currently offer 5 points per $1, see the Chase Freedom Calendar. In the past gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and even Amazon were among 5 points/$1 merchants. Outside of the those special categories, all other purchases earn 1 Ultimate Rewards point per $1 spent.

Because there’s no annual fee, this is a card that I’ve kept for over 6 years. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus card, you can transfer the points you earn to Chase’s airline partners which include United MileagePlus. Otherwise, you can cash out the points at the rate of 1 cent per point.

The bonus on this card can go as high as 25,000 points during the holiday season so personally I’d wait for a better offer.

Note: Chase has recently started cracking down on people who apply for a lot of credit cards – if you’ve opened more than 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months you might be declined on that basis, even if your credit is otherwise excellent.

Apply here (not an affiiliate link): Chase Freedom Visa

Chase Freedom Unlimited Card

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Bonus: 15,000 Ultimate Rewards Points ($150) after $500 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited...

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a newcomer to the Chase Family. It’s otherwise the same as the Chase Freedom card but instead of offering 5 Ultimate Rewards per $1 spent at rotating merchant categories, you just get a flat 1.5 points per $1 spent at all merchants. You can have this card in addition to the Chase Freedom, which makes it one of the best all-around no annual fee cards out there.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus card, you can transfer the points you earn to Chase’s airline partners which include United MileagePlus. Otherwise, you can cash out the points at the rate of 1 cent per point.

If I had to guess, the bonus on this card will probably increase later in the year as the holiday season approaches, but that’s purely speculation.

Note: Chase has recently started cracking down on people who apply for a lot of credit cards – if you’ve opened more than 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months you might be declined on that basis, even if your credit is otherwise excellent.

Apply here (not an affiiliate link): Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Ink Plus Business Card

Chase Ink Plus

Bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $5,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Chase Ink Plus...

Although the Ink Plus is a “Business” card, Chase enforces a really loose definition of “Business.” Your hobby could be a business. An idea you’re contemplating could be a business. People have been approved for this card as a sole proprietorship with $0 in business revenue. You can use your social security number where you’re asked for a federal EIN.

As with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the Chase Ink Plus card earns ultimate rewards points that can be transferred 1:1 to:

  • United MileagePlus
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • British Airways Avios
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Korean Air

United MileagePlus, as you may know, lets you book flights on all 27 Star Alliance carriers, without any fuel surcharges. It’s one of the few mileage programs that doesn’t charge fuel surcharges no matter what airline or itinerary you book, and their online booking engine is excellent.

Other good uses of Ultimate Rewards points include transferring to Singapore KrisFlyer and flying in their famous Suites Class.

The¬†Chase¬†Ink Plus also earns 5 points/dollar spent at office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot, as well as PayPal’s Gift Card Mall on eBay. At all other merchants you’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent.¬†They also don’t charge any foreign exchange fees when you travel outside the US, although as a Visa card, their exchange rates aren’t as good as MasterCard.

This is also a great card to hold in conjunction with the Chase Freedom, which also earns Ultimate Rewards but those points can’t be transferred to airlines unless you also have¬†a Chase Ultimate Rewards card that charges an annual fee (e.g. Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus).

Annual fee of $95 (not waived in the first year). However the 60,000 points are well worth it in my opinion.

Once in a blue moon, the bonus on this card gets bumped up to 70,000 points, but it’s hard to say when that will happen next.

Apply here (my referral link): Chase Ink Plus

Best Hotel Points Cards

Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Card

Chase IHG Card

Bonus: 80,000 IHG Rewards Points after $1,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more about the Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Card...

There are many hotel cards out there but the Chase IHG Rewards Club is probably the single best, in my opinion.

The 80,000 point bonus is more than enough for a free night at any of IHG’s hotels worldwide – and their brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, Hotel Indigo and Kimpton. One of my favorite hotels, the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay in Singapore, can be had for 25,000 points per night. With this card, you’ll also receive a 10% rebate on points that you redeem, so a 25,000 point hotel ends up costing 22,500 points.

There’s no annual fee for your first year, and you also get Platinum status with IHG for free – this will get you late check-out, a welcome gift, a better choice of rooms, and sometimes even a room upgrade.

After the first year you’ll pay a $49 annual fee but you’ll get one free night certificate good for any IHG hotel worldwide – spent wisely, this could be worth hundreds of dollars in prime locations.

If you add an authorized user (for no extra charge), you’ll get 5,000 bonus points after a purchase is made on their card.

You also won’t pay any foreign exchange fees when using this card outside of the United States.

Apply here (not an affiliate link): Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Card