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The best reward credit cards

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Jason Steele

It’s not easy to find the best reward credit cards. There are hundreds of different reward cards offered by the major banks, and the value of each is the result of considering all of its rewards, benefits and costs.

Choosing the best reward credit card

But even though the credit card industry is intensely competitive, it’s not terribly creative — and many credit cards are just subtle variations on the same old tune. To find the best cards, you have to read between the lines to find the ones that offer the most outstanding value in their class.

While you could spend all day looking at credit cards and examining their terms and conditions, that’s my job. To save you the time, check out these eight reward cards that offer tremendous value at a reasonable price.

And remember, reward credit cards are best used by those who avoid interest charges by always paying their entire statement balance in full. If you ever need to carry a balance, then you shouldn’t worry about earning rewards and instead focus on finding a low-interest credit card instead.

These are the 8 best reward cards

1. Citi Double Cash

Many people prefer good old cash back to earning points and miles towards travel rewards. It used to be that the standard cash back rewards card offered just 1% on all purchases, but now 1.5% has become the norm. Yet the Citi Double Cash card stands out by offering 1% cash back at the time of purchase, plus another 1% cash back when you pay for your purchases, for a total of up to 2%.

In addition, this card offers new applicants 18 months of interest free financing on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. Just note that this offer only applies to balance transfers completed within four months of account opening, and there is a 3% balance transfer fee. Best of all, there’s no annual fee for this card.

2. Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Another way to earn 2% cash back is as a deposit in a savings or investment account. The Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers an unlimited 2% cash back deposited into your qualifying Fidelity account including brokerage accounts, 529 college savings plans, and retirement accounts. Otherwise, this is a no-nonsense card with a 1% foreign transaction fee and no annual fee.

3. Chase Sapphire Reserve

When this card was released earlier this year, it was such an instant sensation that Chase actually ran out of its signature metal cards. The one I received was made of plain old plastic, but with all of its benefits, I really didn’t care.

To start off with, you receive a whopping 100,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. You also earn an exceptional three points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Thankfully, Chase defines travel purchases broadly enough to include charges for parking, tolls, buses and trains.

Points are earned in Chase’s excellent Ultimate Rewards program. You can redeem these points for one cent each toward cash back or merchandise, but you shouldn’t. Instead, book travel through Chase’s website and you’ll receive 1.5 cents in value per points. Or, you can transfer your points to miles with seven different airline programs and four different hotel programs. When these rewards are used for expensive last minute flights or awards in business or first class, you could realize several cents in value per point redeemed.

Customers also receive numerous perks and benefits including a $300 annual statement credit towards any travel charges. You can get a $100 credit towards the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA  PreCheck programs, both of which offer you a much faster process when passing through airport security.  You also receive airport lounge access for you and your guests in the Priority Pass Select network. Finally, you get discounts and upgrades with Avis, National and Silvercar car rentals.

There is a $450 annual fee for this card, but don’t dismiss it for that reason. Consider that the $300 annual travel credit is available once per calendar year, so you will have the opportunity to use it twice during your first year of membership. , and save $600.  Also, note that industry experts do not expect this card’s extremely generous sign-up bonus to last forever.

4. The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

This card enjoys almost mythical status among award travel enthusiasts, and it just got better. For each dollar spent with this card, you earn one point in the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which includes Westin, Sheraton and several other brands. And as a result of Starwood’s merger with Marriott., you can now transfer one Starwood point to three Marriott points.

What’s great about the Starwood program is that it offers award nights in any unsold room, so that you don’t have to work around blackout dates and capacity controls when you want to redeem your rewards. You also get your fifth night free every time you redeem your points for four consecutive award nights.

But what makes this card so popular with people who love award travel is the fact that points can be transferred to miles with 34 different airlines, more than any other credit card rewards programs. And when you redeem 20,000 points at once, you earn a 5,000 point bonus. You also receive Starwood Gold status when you use your card to spend $30,000 in a calendar year.

Cardholders earn one point per dollar spent on most purchases, and up to five points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels, depending on your status level with the program. New applicants two free nights at a category 1-5 property after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening. There is a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

5. Amex Everyday Preferred

This is another card that allows you to earn points that can be transferred to airline miles. But what makes it special is the chance to earn at least 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases. All cardholders normally earn three points per dollar on their first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets, double points at U.S. gas stations, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

But when you use your card to make 30 or more transactions during a statement period, you get a 50% bonus on all of your points earned that month. As a result, you can get 4.5x at grocery stores, 3x at gas stations, and 1.5x on all purchases.

Points can be transferred to miles with 17 different airlines, giving you great flexibility when it’s time to redeem you rewards. New applicants receive 15,000 bonus points when they make $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening, and 12 months of interest free financing on new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card.

6. Barclaycard Arrival Plus

If you want great travel rewards card, but don’t want to have to mess with the complicated rules and restrictions of a frequent flyer program, consider the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. For a limited time, new cardholders earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within 90 days of account opening. This is worth $550 in travel statement credits when you consider the 5% miles back that you receive when you redeem rewards. You also earn double miles on all purchases with no limits.

These kind of miles are simply worth one cent each as statement credits towards any airfare, hotel, car rental or other travel purchase. And because you are redeeming rewards by purchasing travel the way you normally would, you can earn miles and be eligible for upgrades when you use your miles to pay for your reservations.

New applicants receive 12 months of interest free financing on balance transfers completed within 45 days of account opening, with a 3% balance transfer fee. Furthermore, this card has no foreign transaction fees and is even compatible with the Chip and PIN system that’s in widespread use in Europe and elsewhere. There is an $89 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year.

7. Costco Anywhere Visa® Card By Citi

If you are a Costco shopper, or just anyone that prefers to earn rewards as cash back, then you should consider this card from Citi, its new financial partner that replaced American Express this year. It offers 4% cash back on all gasoline purchases, including those at Costco, although there is a $7,000 annual limit. 3% cash back is earned on restaurant and travel purchases, 2% on all Costco purchases, and 1% elsewhere. Just note that rewards are distributed once a year in February as a coupon that can be redeemed for merchandise or cash at any Costco store.

There’s no sign-up bonus offered, but new customers receive seven months of 0% APR financing on new purchases. There’s no annual fee for this card with your paid Costco membership.

8. Sam’s Club MasterCard

For warehouse store customers who prefer Sam’s Club, consider their MasterCard. It offers 5% cash back on gas purchased from Sam’s Club, on up to $6,000 spent each year. It also features 3% cash back on dining and travel, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Cash back is distributed by a check that you will receive once a year in Feburary.

In addition, new applicants earn cash back at double the rate for their first 90 days from account opening (for accounts opened through November 12, 2016). There is no annual fee for this card.

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