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Best credit cards for holiday shopping, holiday travel and avoiding holiday debt from our partners

By , CardRatings contributor

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Best credit cards for holiday shopping

HOLIDAY SPENDING | HOLIDAY TRAVEL | ZERO INTEREST

The holiday season, from Thanksgiving right on through the new year, is a season of giving, receiving, spending and – if you aren't careful – debt. Be sure to maximize your savings by earning rewards on gifts, entertainment purchases and holiday travel deals; plus, you just may be able to buy yourself some extra time to pay off a balance without racking up exorbitant interest charges.

Even with all the gifts to buy and travel to book and food – so much food – to shop for, holiday budgeting doesn't have to be difficult. While we can't get you out of that work party or trip to your in-laws, we can help you to stretch each dollar you spend a little bit further. And, if you play your cards right (pun intended), you might even have a few points or miles accumulated from all of that holiday spending to reward yourself with at the end of the season (think, quiet tropical vacation).

Whether you're interested in using a rotating category card like Discover it® - Cashback Match™ or Chase Freedom® to earn 5 percent cash back on holiday spending (and, trust us when we say you really should consider having either one or even both of those cards in your wallet), or you're more interested in a card that will give you a bit of extra leeway when it comes to paying off holiday debt, here are our top picks for the best cards to get you through this holiday season:

Best Credit Cards for Holiday Spending

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

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Why We Like It: Five percent cash back on rotating categories, plus one percent cash back on all other purchases, and a dollar-for-dollar match on all cash back earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder makes Discover it® - Cashback Match™ an almost unbeatable offer in the cash-back credit card world. And with 5 percent cash back on Amazon.com and Target purchases from October-December 2017, the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ makes holiday spending a breeze!

The Bonus: Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earn, dollar for dollar, at the end of your first year of membership.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 5 percent cash back in rotating categories each quarter – Amazon.com and Target from October-December 2017 – up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 each time you activate; plus, unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases and once your reach the cap.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

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Why We Like It: The holidays are a great time to take advantage of bonus signup offers for new cardholders. Chase Freedom® offers a $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 with the card in the first three months of account opening, as well as 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories each quarter you activate and 1 percent on all other purchases. Like many other rotating category cash-back rewards cards, this card focuses on holiday spending for October, November and December, so you can rake in up to $75 in cash back if you max out the bonus category spending at Walmart and department stores.

The Bonus: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening plus a $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same three-month period.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating categories (Walmart and department stores for October-December 2017) each quarter you activate, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good


Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

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Why We Like It: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (American Express is a CardRatings advertiser) is positioned to be the card of choice for regular grocery shoppers; earn 6 percent back on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets (then 1 percent). That will make all that Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner shopping a bit easier to handle, right? You'll also earn 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent back on all other purchases, which will go a long way offsetting those trips to the mall for your holiday spending.

The Bonus: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first three months of account opening.

The Annual Fee: $95. Terms apply, See Rates and Fees

The Rewards: Six percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1 percent after that); 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S department stores; and 1 percent on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

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Why We Like It: Sure, it's nice to earn bonus cash back on holiday shopping, but sometimes you just want the ease of knowing you'll earn the same rate no matter where you shop without having to worry about capping out in bonus categories. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, with the opportunity for new cardholders to up that amount to 1.8 percent cash back with Android Pay™ or Apple Pay™ mobile wallet purchases for the first 12 months of card ownership. Plus, just to make your holiday shopping a little bit easier, Wells Fargo even allows you to redeem your cash rewards as a withdrawal from any Wells Fargo ATM (and there are 13,000 of them nationwide). The holidays can be hectic, so no one would blame you for choosing simplicity this holiday season.

The Bonus: A $200 cash rewards bonus when you use your card to make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases and 1.8 percent cash back for the first 12 months when you use your card to make Android Pay™ or Apple Pay™ mobile wallet purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


M&T Visa® Signature Credit Card

M&T Visa® Signature Credit Card

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Why We Like It: The M&T Visa® Signature Credit Card offers the simplicity of flat-rate cash back with 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, no matter where your holiday shopping list takes you, as well as 10,000 bonus points, good for $100 in cash back, after making just $500 in purchases within the first 90 days of card membership. Furthermore, with a generous 12-month 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers, you'll have a few extra months to pay off your holiday shopping spree interest-free.

The Bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus points, good for $100 in cash back, after spending $500 with the card in the first 90 days.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Unlimited 1.5 cash back on all purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent


Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

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Why We Like It: Exclusively for Costco members, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi cardholders earn cash rewards at Costco, as you'd expect, but also on all other purchases (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser). Cardholders will earn the most cash back on gas purchases, with 4 percent cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including gas at Costco for the first $7,000 per year (then 1 percent after that), but the rewards don't stop there. The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi also offers 3 percent cash back on restaurant and travel purchases, 2 percent back on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1 percent back on everything else.

The Bonus: Enjoy a 0 percent APR on purchases for the first seven months of account membership (then, 16.24%* (Variable)).

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 4 percent cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including gas at Costco for the first $7,000 per year, and then 1 percent thereafter; 3 percent cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide; 2 percent cash back on purchases from Costco and Costco.com; and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent


U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature

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Why We Like It: With the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, each quarter you get to choose two categories from a lengthy list in which you'll earn 5 percent cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases. You'll also receive an unlimited 2 percent cash back on one everyday category that you choose each quarter and 1 percent cash back on your other purchases. Since the categories change every quarter, you have to stay on top of things if you really want to make the most of this card. Bottom line though, if you're spending a lot this holiday season, you'll always be getting cash back on something. Plus, new card holders will earn an additional .5 percent cash back on all eligible purchases made within the first year of card ownership.

The Bonus: Earn an additional .5 percent cash back on eligible purchases made within the first year of account opening, meaning your purchases could earn up to 5.5 percent back.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 5 percent cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible purchases each quarter in two categories of your choice, 2 percent on one every day category of your choice and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent


Best Credit Cards for Holiday Travel

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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Why We Like It: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a favorite with CardRatings editors because of its high rewards rate and easy-to-redeem points structure. You'll earn two points per $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants and one point per $1 on all your other purchases. The real kicker with this card, however, is the bonus opportunities. Right now, new card members can earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Those points are worth up to $625 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This card really can't be beat if you're a regular traveler or even just someone who eats at restaurants on a fairly regular basis and, let's be honest, who has time to cook during a busy holiday season?

The Bonus: Receive 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn an additional 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months of account opening.

The Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first year.

The Rewards: Earn two points per $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants and one point per $1 on all of your other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good


Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

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Why We Like It: If the huge signup bonus of 50,000 bonus miles (worth $500 in travel) once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card doesn't capture your attention, perhaps the ongoing high rewards rate will. Cardholders can receive two times the miles on every purchase, uncapped. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and, moving forward, if you average about $420 on your card each month you'll offset the annual fee no problem.

Rewards can be redeemed for miles for any flight, a hotel stay, car rentals and cruises, among other travel-related purchases, with no blackout dates to worry about. For those who have used airline-specific cards, you know how hard it can sometimes be to book the flight you really want (or need). And because points won't expire for the life of the account, there is no limit to the amount you can earn. So as you're chipping away at your holiday shopping list, each purchase can earn points toward that much-needed vacation once your in-laws leave town after the holidays.

The Bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.

The Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year.

The Rewards: Earn an unlimited two miles per $1 on every purchase, every day.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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Why We Like It: This is not the card for "I only travel at holidays" travelers. It comes with a substantial annual fee, but that annual fee nets you all kinds of comforts and perks that – should you find yourself in the airport during the chaotic travel season – could certainly come in handy.

Having this card in your wallet means you have complimentary access to hundreds of airport lounges around the globe and you'll be eligible for up to $200 in statement credit annually for annoying charges like checked bag fees and in-flight meals on a pre-selected airline as well as for up to $200 annually in Uber savings. There are also hotel credits and more for which just having this card makes you eligible. Oh, and don't forget that you'll also earn five times the points on all flights you book directly with airlines or through American Express Travel and for hotels booked through that same portal. Before you know it, that annual fee has been offset thanks to all the perks and discounts this card affords you. And, honestly, who wouldn't want a chance to escape the airport hubbub and relax in a lounge this holiday travel season?

The Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months.

The Annual Fee: $550. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees

The Rewards: Earn five times the points on flights booked directly with the airline or with American Express Travel, as well as on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Earn one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Discover it® Miles

Discover it® Miles

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Why We Like It: With a match on all miles earned during your first year of card ownership, Discover it® Miles effectively allows you to earn three miles for every $1 spent with the card during that first year. While choosing a card based strictly on an introductory offer is rarely the best idea, the good news with Discover it® Miles is that the flat earning rate of 1.5 miles for all of your purchases presents a respectable opportunity to consistently rack up rewards, even after your first year match period has passed.

The Bonus: Enjoy a match on all the miles you've earned during your first year. For example, 30,000 miles turns into 60,000 miles.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn unlimited 1.5 miles for every $1 spent on all purchases – from airfare and hotels to groceries and online shopping.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

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Why We Like It: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers more value than other hotel cards, making it easy for frequent travelers to amass rewards and free nights. The SPG program is divided into three tiers: Preferred Guest, Gold Preferred and Platinum Preferred. Preferred members get two points for every $1 spent at participating SPG and Marriott hotels, while Gold and Platinum members earn three points. That's on top of the two points for every $1 spent that American Express® automatically gives card members for eligible purchases at participating SPG and Marriott properties. That means your purchases with participating SPG and Marriott hotels are worth up to five points per $1 spent.

The Bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.

The Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year. Terms apply; See Rates and Fees

The Rewards: Get up to five Starpoints® for each $1 of eligible purchases at participating SPG and Marriott hotels – that's two Starpoints® for which you may be eligible as a cardholder in addition to the two or three Starpoints® for which you may be eligible as an SPG member.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Best 0-interest Offer Credit Cards for Handling Holiday Debt

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

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Why We Like It: While cash-back rewards are always welcome, sometimes just having a bit of extra leeway when it comes to paying off holiday spending is what you want. While we condone responsible credit card use and spending within your means, 0 percent APR credit cards can help bridge the gap when increased spending arises during the holiday season.

If you are a new cardholder of Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever, the 0 percent intro APR lasts for 21 months – among the longest 0 percent intro APR offers currently on the market. Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever also comes with a no-late-fee policy to go with its no annual fee. Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever is one of the Citi® cards that comes with the Citi Price Rewind feature, too, so not only do you have some extra time to ensure you're paying off your debts, you'll also be able to guarantee you're paying the lowest price every time you use your card.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: In this case, the intro APR offer is really your reward. Pay no interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 21 months (then, 14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)). No late fees, no penalty rate, no annual fee, ever. There is a 3 percent (minimum $5) fee for every balance transfer.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

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Why We Like It: The Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer is a great option if you would prefer to put your cash-back program on autopilot and do away with rotating categories, specific store requirements and annual fees. Perfect if you aren't quite sure where this holiday season will direct your purchasing. Unlike some reward cards that operate on a system that offers rotating categories that give a little more back on spending with specific department stores or websites during the holiday season (but exclude other practical expenditures) Citi® keeps it easy – no rotating categories, simply 1 percent cash back for all purchases made and then another 1 percent cash back as you pay for your purchases.

Cardholders also receive the benefits of Citi Price Rewind. Every time you use your Citi® card to make a purchase – such as holiday gifts – Citi Price Rewind will perform a 60-day search for a lower price on the item you purchased. If you didn't get the lowest price available, then you can request a refund of the price difference. If you're in a holiday hurry, don't waste time comparing store prices, just use your Citi card to do the grunt work.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: One percent cash back on purchases and 1 percent cash back as you pay for those purchases.

0 Percent APR Details: Zero percent intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (then, 14.49% - 24.49%* (Variable)). Keep in mind that a balance transfer fee of 3 percent, with a $5 minimum, applies to all transfers.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

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Why We Like It: With 0 percent intro APR for the first 18 months of card ownership, the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card is a no-frills, no-annual-fee credit card you can count on to snag you a bit of extra time to pay off consolidated credit card debt or a big holiday purchase. Plus, Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card cardholders can also enjoy a little more comfort with an item that most of us carry everywhere – a cell phone – with up to $600 in cell phone protection for covered damage and theft when the cell phone bill is paid with your card.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible) in cell phone protection when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with your eligible Wells Fargo consumer credit card. Plus, let't not overlook the reward of not paying interest on your purchases and balance transfers (balance transfer fee applies) for 18 months (then, 16.15%-25.99% (Variable)).

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Santander Sphere® Credit Card

Santander Sphere

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Why We Like It: With the Santander Sphere® Credit Card, you can transfer balances from your other cards and enjoy the 0 percent introductory APR on these balances for 24 billing cycles, if taken within the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, the Santander Sphere® Credit Card also offers 0 percent APR on all purchases for the first year of account membership and easy points-earning potential with one point earned for every $1 spent.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn one reward point for every $1 spent, with no limits.

0 Percent APR Details: Zero percent intro APR on balance transfers for 24 billing cycles if taken within the first 90 days of account opening, and 0 percent intro APR on purchases for the first 12 billing cycles. After the introductory periods end, a variable APR of 13.49-23.49 percent will apply.

Credit Needed: Excellent

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