Best Credit Cards For Everyday Spend

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Update: This offer for the Barclays Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite Mastercard® is expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

If you’re big into miles & points then hopefully you’re using credit cards with category bonuses to help you maximize your everyday spend. For example, some of my favorite cards with category bonuses include:

  • Ink Plus® Business Credit Card — 5x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services; 2x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and on hotels
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — 2x points on travel and dining
  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express — 3x points on airfare purchased directly with airlines, 2x points on gas purchased at US gas stations, groceries purchased at supermarkets in the US, and dining at US restaurants

But there are a lot of people that want a simpler strategy and want to maximize the points they earn without worrying about category bonuses. Heck, I know it’s nearly a full time job reminding my dad which cards he should use for different spend categories. “Benny, zhe Ruby Tuesday, is zis considered za dining or za office supply store, because za food taste like cardboard?”

With that in mind, the way I see it there are three major miles/points credit cards that offer a return of over 2% on everyday spend. Admittedly other cards can do the same when you factor in category bonuses, threshold bonuses, etc., but I figured I’d recap the cards that I believe earn more than 2% of value back without any strings attached. These cards include:

Lets go through them one by one:

Barclays Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 within first 90 days
Annual fee: $89, waived the first year
Earnings rates: Two miles per dollar spent, plus a 5% refund when you redeem miles. Each mile is worth one cent, meaning you’re basically earning 2.1% cash back towards the cost of travel

This is in my opinion the best cashback travel credit card out there, given that you’re essentially earning 2.1% cashback towards travel. You earn two miles per dollar (each mile being worth a cent), plus a 10% refund for your redemptions, for a total of 2.1% cashback.

You can redeem that cashback towards almost any travel purchase, including airlines, travel agencies & tour operators, hotels & resorts, cruise lines, trains, or car rentals.

This is especially valuable for someone mostly looking to redeem miles for domestic or international economy travel, since you can still earn miles and points for the purchases you get reimbursed with the card.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
Earnings rates: One Starpoint per dollar spent (two Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood properties) Terms and conditions apply.

Starpoints are one of the most versatile points currencies out there, and can efficiently be redeemed for both hotel stays and airline mileage transfers.

Starpoints can be converted into airline miles in over two dozen programs at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred. That basically means you’re earning 1.25 airline miles per dollar spent. As a result I value Starpoints at about 2.2 cents each, which seems fair given how many amazing uses there are of them.

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after the first purchase, 35,000 additional points after spending $2,500 within 90 days
Annual fee: $75 (personal) and $60 (business)
Earnings rates: Five Gold Points per dollar spent (Ten Gold Points per dollar spent at Club Carlson properties)

One of the unique features of this card is that you get 40,000 points on your account anniversary each year, which unarguably more than offsets the $60-75 annual fee. So while the annual fees on the two above cards are waived for the first year, as far as I’m concerned this is the only card where it’s the equivalent of just not paying an annual fee.

Club Carlson did announce an award chart devaluation a few weeks back, but even so I find that Gold Points are still worth roughly 0.4 cents each. Given that you earn five points per dollar, that’s the equivalent of roughly a 2% return.

But the greatest benefit of this card which must be factored in is that the second night of every award redemption is free, basically meaning you get “buy one get one free” award redemptions, assuming you stay in two night increments. If you don’t mind staying in hotels in four night increments you’re basically getting a return of 4%, which is tough to beat.

Not factoring in category bonuses, are there any cards that you think are as rewarding for everyday spend as the above?

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  1. I’d say the Hilton Reserve card could qualify for the first $10,000 per year given you can get a free night out of it.

  2. I go with the United Club card for non category spend. 1.5 United miles per dollar is pretty good even with the recent devaluation.

  3. Other ideas:

    – New Amex Membership Rewards credit cards (bonus points for frequency of use, plus periodic transfer bonuses to various airlines)

    – Alaska Airlines credit card (only 1 mile per dollar, but many are valuing Alaska Airlines miles at well above $0.02 per mile)

    – United Club card (1.5x)

  4. Lucky — given your valuation of Membership Rewards points at 1.8 cents per point, won’t the new Amex Everyday preferred surge into the lead? At 1.5 points per $1 of nonbonus spend (assuming you can do 30 swipes a month) this would be 2.7 cents per $1 using the 1.8 cents per point value.

  5. @ Larry — It definitely will, though we have several more weeks before the card is launched, so figured it wasn’t worth hyping it too much more (have already had three posts on it it in three days). Agree, very excited for the card for everyday spend!

  6. I put all my everyday non-bonus spend on my Alaska card since to me those are by far the most valuable miles out there. (I don’t have SPG at the moment and already plenty of AAdvantage miles).

  7. If I were someone who doesn’t travel much and don’t care for miles or points, I would use the Fidelity Amex 2% cashback card on all purchases. I like that it helps me save 2% flat on all transactions

  8. I personally think that if you do need lounge access. the United Club Card by Chase should be a really good everyday card – it earns 1.5 miles for all of the purchase (and 2 miles for purchase spent on United airfare).

    Though its annual fee is $395, if you do need a lounge, it is way better than the Citi Executive Card 🙂

  9. Lucky, do you have a personal vendetta against the Capital One Venture card? It seems to be the same (a little worse) than the Barclays Arrival, but with $30 less annual fee.

    Hilton Surpass isn’t bad for everything in one card. ~1.5 cents on everyday purchases, ~3 cents on dining, supermarkets, and gas (depending on your Hilton points valuation)

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