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Nomadic Matt's Top Credit Card Picks

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Updated, August 16, 2019

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

LIMITED TIME/RECENTLY INCREASED OFFERS

ANNUAL FEE
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 60,000 points, worth up $750, after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and on dining; 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Earn 3% back on the first $20,000 spent during your first year as a cardholder.
Rewards Rate
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
Credit Card
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
Earn a $250 bonus statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account membership.

Terms apply
Rewards Rate
Earn 6% back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets annually and 6% back on select U.S. streaming services; unlimited 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit purchases, and 1% back on everything else.

Terms apply
Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a free weekend night reward after you use your new card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months of card membership.

Terms apply
Rewards Rate
Earn 12X Hilton Honors points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio; earn 6X Hilton Honors points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and earn 3X Hilton Honors points for all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply
Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
For a limited time, earn up to 100,000 bonus miles. Earn 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months; earn another 50,000 miles after you spend $25,000 total in the first 6 months of account opening.
Rewards Rate
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores and on United purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 on everything else.
APPLY

BEST CREDIT CARD OVERALL

ANNUAL FEE
$450
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
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 60,000 points, worth up $750, after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and on dining; 1 point per $1 on other purchases.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$0
Welcome Offer
Earn 3% back on the first $20,000 spent during your first year as a cardholder.
Rewards Rate
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn a $150 cash-back bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
APPLY
MATT'S TAKE

To make the most out of your spending, consider combining the two Chase cards to earn top rewards in categories beyond travel and dining. Use Chase Freedom Unlimited® to earn 3% back (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year for new cardholders, then, an unlimited 1.5% back) on everything that doesn't earn more with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Then transfer all your points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card where your points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

If, however, you're just looking for a single no-annual-fee card with a simple earning structure, and you do plan to travel abroad, you'd be better off with the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card as it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, a rarity among cash-back cards.

BEST GENERAL TRAVEL REWARDS CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 miles, worth $500 in travel, after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
REWARDS RATE
Earn unlimited two miles per every dollar spent.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$250
Welcome Offer
Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.

Terms apply
Rewards Rate
Earn 4x Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide as well as at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 spent each year, then 1x). Earn 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com.

Terms apply
Annual Fee
$550
Welcome Offer
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.

Terms apply
Rewards Rate
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel; 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com; and 1X points on all other purchases.

Terms apply

BEST CASH BACK CARD

ANNUAL FEE
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn a $250 bonus statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account membership.

Terms apply
REWARDS RATE
Earn 6% back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets annually and 6% back on select U.S. streaming services; unlimited 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit purchases, and 1% back on everything else.

Terms apply

BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

ANNUAL FEE
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months. You can also earn a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase on your new card in the same time frame.

Terms apply
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile for every eligible dollar spent on all other purchases.

Terms apply
Annual Fee
$99
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.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
For a limited time, earn up to 100,000 bonus miles. Earn 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months; earn another 50,000 miles after you spend $25,000 total in the first 6 months of account opening.
Rewards Rate
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores and on United purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 on everything else.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months and earn a $50 statement credit when you use your new card to make a Delta purchase in the same time frame.

Terms apply
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible $1 spent on all other purchases.

Terms apply
ANNUAL FEE
$195
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase on your new card within the first three months.

Terms apply
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible $1 spent on all other purchases.

Terms 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 3 months from account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 6X points for every $1 spent at over 6,900 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2X points everywhere else.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a free weekend night reward after you use your new card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months of card membership.

Terms apply
Rewards Rate
Earn 12X Hilton Honors points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio; earn 6X Hilton Honors points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and earn 3X Hilton Honors points for all other eligible purchases.

Terms 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. Terms apply. 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 BUSINESS CREDIT CARD

ANNUAL FEE
$95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases-with no limit to the amount you can earn.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0
WELCOME OFFER
Earn a $500 cash-back bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 5% back on the first $25,000 in combined spending at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 in combined spending at gas stations and restaurants each account year. Earn 1% back on everything else.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$595
WELCOME OFFER
Earn up to 75,000 points – earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $10,000 and earn another 25,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 on purchases all within the first 3 months of card membership.

Terms apply
REWARDS RATE
Earn 5x the Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels through amextravel.com. Earn 1.5 points per $1 on purchases of $5,000 or more and earn 1 point per $1 on everything else.

Terms apply
ANNUAL FEE
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
WELCOME OFFER
Earn a $500 cash bonus after you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2% cash back on all your purchases.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 50,000 bonus miles – worth $500 in travel – after you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all your purchases.
APPLY
Annual Fee
$95
Welcome Offer
For a limited time, earn up to 100,000 bonus miles. Earn 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months; earn another 50,000 miles after you spend $25,000 total in the first 6 months of account opening.
Rewards Rate
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores and on United purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 on everything else.
APPLY
ANNUAL FEE
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months and receive a $50 statement credit when you use you card to make a Delta purchase in the first three months.

Terms apply
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible $1 spent on all other purchases.

Terms apply
ANNUAL FEE
$195
WELCOME OFFER
Earn 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase on your new card within the first three months.

Terms apply
 
REWARDS RATE
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible $1 spent on all other purchases.

Terms apply

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following linksBlue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: See Rates and Fees; American Express® Gold Card: See Rates and Fees; The Platinum Card® from American Express: See Rates and Fees; The Business Platinum® Card from American ExpressSee Rates and Fees