The 5 Best Credit Cards For Everyday Spend

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For those in the US with a good credit score, doing everything you can to maximize your return on everyday spend is a no brainer. You’re leaving points (or in many cases, cash) on the table by not doing so.

Credit cards are the primary way I rack up miles & points, between the great sign-up bonuses they offer, along with the return on everyday spend.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about the credit cards in my wallet, which I hold onto for a variety of reasons. Some are cards I got for their great return on everyday spend, while others are cards I got for their ongoing perks.

Credit-Cards

For example, the Citi Prestige® Card offers 3x points on airfare and hotels. The Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card offers 5x points on office supply stores and more. The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card offers up to 4.5x points on US supermarket purchases.

In this post I figured I’d cover the five most rewarding credit cards for everyday, non-bonused spend, given the cards which have recently been introduced. In other words, these are cards which I think are most rewarding for spend which doesn’t otherwise fall in another bonus category.

I should also clarify that the calculations of return on everyday spend are based on my valuation of those points — others may very well value the return on these cards differently based on their redemption patterns, which is fine.

With that in mind, here are what I consider to be the top five cards in terms of return on everyday, non-bonused spend:

Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Return on spend: 2.55%
Annual fee: $95

F0r a long time this has been my “go to” card for the best return on everyday spend. The card accrues Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each (which I tend to think is a conservative valuation). On top of that you earn:

  • 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2x points at US gas stations
  • 50% more points when you use your card on purchases 30 or more times in a billing period

In other words, assuming you make 30 transactions per billing cycle (which I suspect most people should be able to do, as that’s roughly one purchase per day), you’re earning 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. At a value of 1.7 cents per point, that’s a return of 2.55%.

That’s a fantastic return, especially since the card accrues “real” Membership Rewards points, and you don’t need another card to be able to transfer those points to partner programs.

Amex-EDP

Chase Freedom® Unlimited

Return on spend: 2.55%
Annual fee: none

This is Chase’s newest entrant into the market, and is clearly intended to compete with the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card.

The Freedom Unlimited Card is advertised as offering straight 1.5% cashback. If it’s cashback you’re actually after, this isn’t the card I’d recommend getting. You’re better off with something like the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers 1% cash back when you buy, and another 1% cash back when you pay for your purchase.

However, what’s fantastic is that the rewards earned on this card can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points, at a rate of one point per cent. In other words, this card offers 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, but only if you also have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Plus® Business Card.

Chase-Freedom-Unlimited

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Return on spend: 2.2%
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

On a per point basis, I consider Starpoints to be the single most valuable points currency out there, given how flexible the points are. They can be redeemed efficiently for hotel stays, airline mileage transfers, etc. So while the SPG Amex offers just one point per dollar spent, each of those points is worth a lot.

SPG-Amex

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Return on spend: ~2.1%
Annual fee: $89 (waived the first year)

This card offers two miles per dollar spent. Each mile can be redeemed for one cent towards the cost of a travel purchase, and you get a 5% refund on redeemed points. In other words, each mile is really worth ~1.05 cents, so when you’re earning two miles per dollar spent, you’re earning a return of ~2.1%.

Barclaycard-Arrival-Plus

Citi® Double Cash Card

Return on spend: 1% + 1%
Annual fee: none

In terms of straightforward cashback cards, this one is pretty tough to beat. You earn 1% cash back when you buy, plus 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases. For a no annual fee card, that’s incredible.

Citi-Double-Cash

Bottom line

Ultimately there are several components to maximizing your return on everyday spend, which is why a lot of us have several credit cards. Your strategy should differ based on how much you spend and also based on how much you’re paying in annual fees. For example, even though I spend quite a bit and maximize the bonuses pretty well, I’m thinking of canceling a couple of cards.

But just about everyone should have at least one card which is earning them the equivalent of a 2% return on spend, whatever form it may come in.

If you prefer rewards where you can get outsized and aspirational travel, consider the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit CardChase Freedom® Unlimited, or Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. If you prefer cashback towards travel, consider the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. If you prefer straight cashback, consider the Citi® Double Cash Card.

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Comments

  1. Can someone remind me which date is used as the transaction deadline when needing to meet minumum spend on a new credit card signup within three months? Is it the day the card is approved or? Do all the qualifying transactions have to be posted by that date or can also be pending?
    Thanks!

  2. AMEX MR is vastly overrated for the average user. DL is useless. BA has become useless with the new transfer ratio and North America short-haul devaluation. Unless you have a huge mileage balance that you’re going to transfer for a big long-haul premium cabin trip to one of AMEX MR’s international partners, you might as well not bother.

    Discover IT Miles is 3% back on all spend. Beats anything you have listed at least in the 1st year. No annual fee and $30 credit towards Inflight WiFi each year.

  3. If you think MR points are useless, you aren’t using them right. I have transferred them to Aeroplan to book domestic United and international Turkish flights, to ANA to travel from Shanghai to Tokyo to Beijing and Bodrum to Cairo to Luxor to Cairo to Amman to Istanbul and to Avios for Miami to Liberia and Hong Kong to Shanghai, all in the last two years. I always seem to be finding situations where a MR partner ends up being the best deal.

  4. I often see Capital One mocked here though I don’t know why. It gives a flat 1.5% cash back on everything, there are no foreign (non US$) conversion fees, it’s a Mastercard so more widely accepted, and has the chip. My AMEX is required for work but fewer and fewer places in Europe are taking it. Would someone explain why it’s looked down upon?

  5. Unbonused spend on the SPG AMEX is a big loser for most except high-volume purchasers or spenders, like business owners, entrepreneurs, and frequent-guests at Starwood properties, who also happen to have status.

    Moreover, the touting of the “transferability” of starpoints and how to earn them through the SPG AMEX might have precipitated the demise of Starwood/SPG by encouraging people to acquire starpoints without ever setting foot inside a Starwood hotel. The whole model made little business sense for hospitality company depended on putting heads on beds, and not butts on premium cabin seats. In fact, there is dubious advantage to transferring points that are tough to earn to miles, when one can earn a lot more miles directly using an airline card; miles that can be used within an alliance (e.g. *A has 28 different carriers!) without the need to be transferred and potentially miss out on a great deal because a starpoints-to-miles transfer took too long….

    Cutting and pasting old material saves bloggers time, but the material needs to be updated or refreshed now and then to reflect changes that affect its value to readers…

    Cheers from 30,000 ft in the air aboard a UA flight to SIN through HKG. Flying LGA-ORD-HKG-SIN, I cleared upgrades to premium cabins for every segment using a single GPU (SWU), which is simply kool 😉

    G’day!

  6. Unbonused spend goes on whatever card I just opened for a signup bonus, because 10x trumps any category bonus. ABC – Always Be Churning.

  7. It’s nice to see the cut-and-paste troll back to his usual ways…too bad for inflight wifi sometimes.

  8. Amex MR are arguably the most useful. Like someone else said, if you think they are worthless, you’re doing it wrong. There is a lot more value out there past British Airways and Delta (Even though I think the Delta rewards are not bad if you look in the right places).

  9. @ DCS — I think you’re suggesting that Marriott acquired Starwood as a result of too many people earning SPG points through credit card spend … is that correct?

  10. @Diamond Vargas — Not exactly. There was a chain reaction to which “too many people earning SPG points through credit card spend” contributed: Starwood stopped being competitive because it was not putting enough heads on bets; growth got anemic; stockholders hollered; a CEO’s head fell; and on the auction block Starwood found itself. That’s when Marriott came in and acquired them in a dramatic fashion…

  11. These cards are all lumped together and presented as comparable based on quoted earning rates but the net return, or money in your pocket at year’s end, will be very different based on total annual spend, point redemptions rates, spending patterns, and card annual fees. Does everybody reading this article understand this? DCS already gets all of this from past comments.

  12. @Diamond Vargas – it’s your choice if you want to believe the Flat Earth Society-esque belief that somehow a nice feature of SPG (airline transferability), along with the success of their co-branded credit card, led to the company being sold.

    Most of “us” are a bit more rational than that, and understand that’s not how M&A activity works.

  13. @Diamond Vargas — What is incontrovertible is that SPG is dead and will soon be no more. If its model were as great as claimed, why is it dead — the only major program to fall under the weight of its own success? Yeah, right. It is mindbogglingly and mindnumbingly idiotic that some people just won’t get that and let it be…

    Cheers from the Thai Royal Orchid *A lounge in HKG. BTW, the UA Club lounge here is temporarily closed for renovation…

    G’day and talk to you from SIN City!

  14. As usual, some respondents lack the business acumen to understand M&A activity.

    Companies aren’t acquired because their loyalty program / credit card was SO successful it collapsed under its own weight (yes, one poster has laughingly put forth this POV). Starwood was a takeover target due to size (mid-scale), profitability, and desirable customer base.

    Marriott has already started to incorporate SPG benefits into MR, and it will likely continue to. In the end, it will have more “guarantees” (a simple concept for most, but not all folks) built into the program than many other less rewarding ones (coughHiltoncough).

  15. And to tie it back in to this thread – when it comes to feedback on loyalty programs, credit cards, etc. – readers, you can either believe:

    1) The Wisdom of the Crowds (i.e., the Bloggers) – and while they aren’t fully unbiased, they do get compensation from just about every program out there via links, so it’s mostly a wash. And at this point, they are the experts in this space, and the leading ones tend to know their stuff.
    Or,
    2) One semi-deranged poster who has a bizarre axe to grind with Starwood/SPG for some reason.

    You make the call. G’day! LOL.

  16. If the SPG program wasn’t successful and profitable then why would Marriott want them? And why would they come out and say their reward program is a huge feather in the cap and they want to keep all of the SPG members happy?

    Instead of crumbling under it’s own weight most people realize it was the crown jewel that Marriott was after. Although they will lose most of the credit card spend SPG gets if they do not adjust their program since .7% return is awful.

  17. @Mark – “If the SPG program wasn’t successful and profitable then why would Marriott want them?”

    Marriott wants Starwood as a whole, because they think adding the hotels to their portfolio will make them money. They don’t want the loyalty program, they want the entire company.

    “And why would they come out and say their reward program is a huge feather in the cap and they want to keep all of the SPG members happy?”

    What do you expect them to say? That they’re going to go out of their way to crap on SPG members? Every company says this when they acquire another company.

  18. @Brian L. — You make too much sense to be taken seriously. It seems that explanations that leave everyone some wiggle room to interpret things as they wish are preferred in travel blogosphere…

  19. @Michelle, I didn’t see that anyone responded…the clock generally starts on th he day you are approved. I highly recommend that you give yourself a week of 2 of padding to ensure that your minimum spend occurs on time. I always call and speak to a human when activating a new card and I verify the minimum spend amount and deadline. This may seem like overkill, but I lost points on one of my earlier cards by getting it wrong!

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