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Nomadic Matt's Top Credit Card Picks

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Updated, July 1, 2020

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By Matt Kepnes, founder NomadicMatt.com

Hey there! Looking for an awesome card to help you travel cheaper, better and longer? These are my go-to cards when it comes to collecting points and miles. Whether you’re looking for free flights, discounts, or free hotel stays, these cards have you covered. They offer lucrative signup/welcome bonuses, awesome perks, and are great for everyday purchases. They are a must for any traveler, so if you’re serious about free travel, get these cards — and I’ve partnered with my friends at CardRatings to bring them to you! – Nomadic Matt (Read more about Nomadic Matt below)

FEATURED OFFERS

ANNUAL FEE
$550
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 points, worth up to $750, after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel (after earning your $300 travel credit) and on dining; 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
There's no traditional welcome offer, but you can take advantage of an intro 18 months no interest on balance transfers before a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR kicks in. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2% cash back on every purchase in the form of 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Earn $150 cash back after $500 spent in the first three months.
Rewards Rate
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$89
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 125,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 25 points total for every $1 spent at IHG hotels; 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and 1 point per $1 on your other purchases.
APPLY

BEST CREDIT CARD OVERALL

ANNUAL FEE
$550
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 points, worth up to $750, after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel (after earning your $300 travel credit) and on dining; 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
MATT'S TAKE

For folks new to the credit card rewards landscape, this card offers plenty of bang for your buck without a lot of strategy required. Your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are transferable to a number of popular hotel and airline loyalty programs, which could allow you to receive significantly more value than the standard $.01 each. Even if you don't choose to transfer your points, when you redeem through the Ultimate Rewards® portal, points with this card are worth 50% more; that means your 50,000 bonus points are worth $750 when redeemed for travel.

BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BEGINNERS

Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Earn $150 cash back after $500 spent in the first three months.
Rewards Rate
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
There's no traditional welcome offer, but you can take advantage of an intro 18 months no interest on balance transfers before a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR kicks in. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2% cash back on every purchase in the form of 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay.
APPLY

BEST GENERAL TRAVEL REWARDS CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$550
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 points, worth up to $750, after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel (after earning your $300 travel credit) and on dining; 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
CREDIT CARD
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2x ThankYou® Points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 point per $1) and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Rewards are automatically rounded up to the nearest 10 points for every purchase.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$195
WELCOME OFFER
There isn't a traditional welcome offer, but you can take advantage of an intro 0% APR on balance transfers (made within 45 days of account opening) for 15 billing cycles (then, 14.99% Variable)
REWARDS RATE
Earn one point per $1 spent on all your purchases. Points are worth 2% when redeemed for airfare, so 50,000 points are worth $1,000 in airfare.
APPLY

BEST CASH BACK CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
There's no traditional welcome offer, but you can take advantage of an intro 18 months no interest on balance transfers before a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR kicks in. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2% cash back on every purchase in the form of 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Earn $150 cash back after $500 spent in the first three months.
Rewards Rate
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
N/A
Rewards Rate
Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases (up to $7,000 spent annually); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel; 2% on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1% on everything else.
APPLY
Credit Card
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student after your first purchase with your new card ($59 value).
Rewards Rate
Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases.
APPLY
CREDIT CARD
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2x ThankYou® Points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 point per $1) and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Rewards are automatically rounded up to the nearest 10 points for every purchase.
APPLY

BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases with United; earn 1 mile per $1 on everyting else.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$99
Welcome Offer
Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Receive 6,000 bonus points each year after your card member anniversary.
Rewards Rate
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$69
Welcome Offer
Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Rewards Rate
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Receive 3,000 bonus points each year after you cardholder anniversary.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$450
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$99, waived for first 12 months
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months.
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and at restaurants. Earn 1 mile per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at grocery stores (including grocery delivery services) and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$99, waived for first 12 months
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and on purchases with telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations. Earn 1 mile per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
MATT'S TAKE

For the exceptionally brand-loyal, branded credit cards offer perks and features that you will no doubt appreciate. However, if you find yourself shopping around for the cheapest price and best times rather than going for an airline-specific ticket no matter what, a general travel rewards credit card could be a better, more beneficial card for you. If you plan to frequently fly with one specific airline though, it's probably worth having a co-branded credit card. Not only do they provide extra perks for members, but they also come with all the benefits standard on other cards such as limited liability for fraudulent charges which is especially important while traveling.

BEST HOTEL CREDIT CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 6X points for every $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2X points everywhere else.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first three months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 3x points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on other travel purchases such as airfare, taxis, trains and more.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn up to 50,000 bonus points. Spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to earn 25,000 points; then earn another 25,000 points after spending a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 9 points for every $1 spent at Hyatt and 2 points per $1 at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly with airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club/gym memberships. Earn 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$89
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 125,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 25 points total for every $1 spent at IHG hotels; 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and 1 point per $1 on your other purchases.
APPLY
MATT'S TAKE

Like with airline credit cards, hotel credit cards can be a good fit for the truly brand-loyal, but since general travel rewards cards offer options that allow you to transfer rewards to loyalty programs or redeem rewards with flexibility for any hotel, depending on what type of traveler you are, a co-branded card might not always be right for you. If you are loyal to Hilton or Marriott though, it's tough to beat these cards. A Hilton Honors credit card is the easiest way to boost your points balance; the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card automatically provides you with gold elite status which provides you with a plethora of perks, including an 80% bonus on base points earned with the card. Same with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card— this card gets you automatic elite silver silver status, and puts you on a path to gold status.

BEST BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Take advantage of an intro 18 months 0% interest on balance transfers (all transfers must be completed within the first 4 months) and 18 months no interest on purchases (then, 14.74% - 24.74% Variable).
REWARDS RATE
N/A
APPLY
CREDIT CARD
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Introductory 15 months 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases (then, 13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)). Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2x ThankYou® Points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 point per $1) and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Rewards are automatically rounded up to the nearest 10 points for every purchase.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
There's no traditional welcome offer, but you can take advantage of an intro 18 months no interest on balance transfers before a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR kicks in. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2% cash back on every purchase in the form of 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay.
APPLY

Get to know Nomadic Matt: Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He took his first trip to Costa Rica in 2004 and fell in love with the freedom and possibility travel had to offer. After a trip to Thailand in 2005, Matt decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and head off into the world.

His original trip was supposed to last a year.

His writings and advice have been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, BBC, Time, Wall Street Journal, and countless other publications. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the handle @nomadicmatt.