Best credit cards for holiday spending
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 with these credit card offers from our partners.
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).
TOP HOLIDAY CREDIT CARD OFFERS
- Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer - Cash-Back Rewards
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card - Travel Rewards
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card - Handling Holiday Debt
Whether you're interested in using an easy-to-understand flat-rate cash-back card 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:
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, spending caps and annual fees (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser). 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 with what could amount to 2% cash back on all your purchases (earn 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay off your balance). Furthermore, this card could also have been listed under our "Best 0% intro period cards for handling holiday debt" as it offers an 18 month introductory offer of no interest on balance transfers (then, 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)).
The Bonus: There isn't a traditional bonus with this card, but when it comes to holiday spending, the intro 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months could be just the bonus you need. After the intro, the APR becomes 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)). Remember to account for the balance transfer fee: Intro fee 3% of each transfer ($5 min) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, 5% of each transfer ($5 min).
The Rewards: One percent cash back on purchases and 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases (just be sure you're paying at least the minimum amount due each month, on time, to earn your rewards).
The Annual Fee: $0
Credit Needed: Excellent, Good
- By offering 1% cash back on purchases and 1% cash back on purchase payments, the this card offers an incentive to pay off holiday bills more quickly.
- If you need to transfer a balance, as a new cardholder, you won't pay any interest for 18 months so long as you make timely payments (after 18 months, the APR goes to 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)).
- This card is a good option to get unlimited cash back (and at a healthy rate) without any annual fee.
- Although there is an 18-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers, that offer doesn't apply to purchases.
- While the 2% total cash back offered by this card is good, you could get more by selecting a card such as Chase Freedom Flex℠, which, among other rewards, offers 5% cash back on quarterly categories (up to $1,500 spent in the categories) when you activate. Of course, that also requires you to be more strategic with when and where you use which credit card.
- You may want to use another card if you are traveling abroad over the holiday season. This card charges a foreign transaction fee and doesn't come with travel perks such as trip interruption insurance.
Read our full Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer review.
Why We Like It: The holidays are a great time to take advantage of bonus welcome offers for new cardholders. Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a welcome bonus opportunity worth up to $300 cash back (details below). The ongoing rewards rate of at least 1.5% cash back on all your purchases is just slightly less than what Double Cash offers and your rewards here can be combined with those earned with other Ultimate Rewards® earning cards. Plus, there are rewards categories that offer much more.
The Bonus: New cardholders earn an extra 1.5% cash back on purchases during the first year (up to $20,000 spent), for a bonus worth up to $300 cash back..
The Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through the Ultimate Rewards® portal, 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% cash back on all other eligible purchases. Cash back accumulates as Chase Ultimate Rewards®, so the rewards can technically be redeemed for cash back, travel and more.
Annual Fee: $0
Credit Needed: Excellent, Good
- No matter where you shop this holiday season, you'll earn at least 1.5% cash back. That's not bad for everything from gag gifts to New Year's Eve dresses.
- Dining out more this holiday season than cooking at home? You're sure to appreciate 3% cash back at restaurants (including takeout!).
- You also get 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers for 15 months after account opening (then, 14.99% - 23.74% Variable), which can help you to save money on interest payments.
- There are a lot of categories to keep up with here. Sure, you'll earn at least 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, but if you're someone who really likes to think about the card they're using, this one will certainly add a lot of thinking to the mix..
- There are foreign transaction fees to consider, so it's best to have another card option for your trips abroad.
Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.
Want to stretch your rewards a little further? Consider combining Chase Freedom Unlimited® with Chase Freedom Flex℠. Both are no-annual-fee cards, so you have nothing to lose when it comes to carrying them, and both utilize the same rewards system (Chase Ultimate Rewards®) so you can combine your points. The key is that Chase Freedom Unlimited® cardholders earn 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases outside the extra earning categories. That means you could use the Unlimited version for all the purchases that don't earn more back with Chase Freedom Flex℠.
Want to get even MORE from your rewards? Consider adding Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to the mix (it's discussed in detail below). Your rewards are worth 25% more with this card when you redeem them for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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 supermarket shoppers – earn 6% back on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%). That should make all that Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner shopping a bit easier to handle, right? You'll also earn bonus cash back in a number of other categories (details below) that could make your holiday shopping a bit less stressful. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser
The Bonus:Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first six months.
The Rewards: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1% after that) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit such as taxis, parking, tolls, train fares and more; and 1% on other purchases.
The Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
- The card offers an intro 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 months, which can give you give time to pay off holiday purchases without accruing any interest charges. After the intro period, a 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR applies.
- Online shoppers may find they save on shipping thanks to the complimentary ShopRunner membership that comes with this card. It offers free 2-day shipping at more than 100 online stores. (Enrollment required.)
- While this card offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, don't assume you can stock up on gifts from Target and Walmart and get this higher cash back amount. These retailers aren't considered supermarkets by American Express so you'll only get 1% cash back for purchases made there.
- This card charges a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. annual fee. Maxing out your spending in the 6% supermarket category alone will net you $360, so more than enough to offset the fee. Still, just make sure the card isn't costing you money – you should ALWAYS be able to offset an annual fee with your rewards, perks and features.
- If you're traveling overseas for the holidays, be aware you'll pay foreign transaction fees on purchases made in foreign currency.
Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.
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. Cardholders actually earn the most cash back on gas purchases, with 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 spent per year (then 1% after that), but the rewards don't stop there. The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi also offers bonus cash back on your travel purchases and Costco purchases (more on that below).
The Bonus: There's isn't a rewards bonus with this card, but we still like it given that it could make your holidays more rewarding whether you're just running errands and shopping at Costco or you're traveling to visit family or friends.
The Rewards: Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 spent per year, and then 1% thereafter; 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide; 2% cash back on purchases from Costco and Costco.com; and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Your rewards will accumulate throughout the year and you'll automatically receive a Costco rewards certificate once per year that you can redeem at your local Costco. The key to remember is that you don't have to spend the whole certificate on your purchase; if you want, you can buy something small, pay with your certificate and request cash back for the remainder of the rewards certificate balance.
The Annual Fee: $0 (*No annual fee with your paid Costco Membership.)
Credit Needed: Excellent
- Offering 2% cash back on Costco purchases, this is the ideal card for anyone who does their holiday shopping, whether for gifts or meals, at the warehouse club.
- In addition to cash back at Costco, this card offers 4% cash back on gas purchases of up to $7,000 per year, 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- This card doesn't charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
- You can't choose your redemption options. Rewards are sent annually in the form of a certificate that must be redeemed at Costco for cash or merchandise. It's not exactly instant gratification.
- Rewards expire, and if you fail to redeem your certificate by December 31 of the year it was issued (they are issued annually after the close of your February statement), you forfeit your cash back.
- If you don't shop at Costco regularly, there are other cards that offer more benefits and flexible redemption options.
Read our full Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi review.
Why We Like It: When Bank of America announced the opportunity to choose a top-earning category for your rewards, we took notice. When we saw that "online shopping" was one of the options, we got excited. Hello, avoiding holiday mall traffic and earning awesome cash back when you do it.
The Bonus: Earn a $200 online cash bonus after you use your card to make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of card membership.
The Rewards: Earn 3% cash back in a category of your choice from among the following: gas (the default category), online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings. Earn 2% cash back on grocery store and wholesale club purchases (3% and 2% back is on the first combined $2,500 spending in your choice category/grocery/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then 1%). Earn 1% on all your other purchases. Bank of America Preferred Rewards clients can earn 25%-75% more cash back on each purchase depending on your tier (Preferred Rewards tiers are based on average three-month balances across eligible accounts).
Annual Fee: $0
Credit Needed: Excellent/Good
- Earning 3% cash back in any category on a no-annual-fee card is a decent rate, but when you can choose the category in which you earn that, it's even better.
- The "online shopping" category is extremely broad. It means that everything from Amazon purchases to holiday party dresses could earn you 3% cash back (up to the $2,500 quarterly cap, obviously).
- The new cardholder bonus of $200 online cash rewards requires a low spending threshold of just $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
- You can only change your 3% category once per calendar month, so this card does require some planning to truly maximize your cash-back earning.
- Since you earn 3% and 2% on the choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases only up to $2,500 spent quarterly, it makes sense to ONLY use this card for your 3% spending as that means you'll earn more. That's great, but again, requires some planning and strategy.
Why We Like It:: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases automatically. This means you could earn as much as $75 cash back per quarter and that's just in the bonus categories. Furthermore, the innovative bonus offer from Discover is worth noting: Discover will match dollar-for-dollar all the cash back earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder.
- INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
- Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
- Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
- Combine this card with the Bank of America card above and choose online shopping as your category for those months. Once you max out the quarterly spending with Discover, start using the BofA card and you stand to earn a LOT of cash back.
- Discover will match all the cash back you earn in the first year after opening an account, with no limit. It's a delayed gratification kind of bonus, but it could be quite lucrative.
- While Discover offers 5% cash back on quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent), you need to remember to opt in to receive that amount. Otherwise, you'll only get 1% cash back on those purchases.
- The 5% cash back you'll receive from bonus categories is capped at $1,500 of purchases each quarter. While the holiday categories are often very good (Amazon has been among the categories for the past several years), it could be easy to max out that spend pretty quickly during a season that is often high-spend for people.
- This card doesn't come with extra perks such as extended warranty or purchase protection.
Read our full Discover it® Cash Back review.
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
Why We Like It: With the this card, each quarter you get to choose two categories from a lengthy list in which you'll earn 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases. You'll also receive an unlimited 2% cash back on one everyday category that you choose each quarter and 1% 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.
The Bonus: There isn't currently a bonus offer with this card, but the regular earning has the potential to be sky-high, so don't just pass over this card.
The Annual Fee: None
The Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible purchases each quarter in two categories of your choice, 2% on one every day category of your choice and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Credit Needed: Good,Excellent
- This is one of the most flexible cards available when it comes to bonus categories. Cardholders receive 5% cash back on two categories of their choice (up to $2,000 spent quarterly) as well as 2% cash back on one additional category. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
- The spending cap in the 5% categories is $2,000 per quarter – many rotating categories cards cap spending in the bonus categories at $1,500, so this higher amount means more cash back for you.
- Cardholders who spend $500 within 90 days of opening an account receive a $150 rewards bonus.
- You need to remember to opt in to the bonus categories, and the 5% cash back offer is limited to $2,000 in purchases each quarter.
- If you want to redeem your rewards for direct deposit, you'll need a U.S. Bank deposit account, otherwise, you'll have to settle for a check or U.S. Bank rewards cards (which take time, obviously) or statement credit.
- Plan to carry another card when you travel abroad as this one charges foreign transaction fees.
Read our full U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card review.
Why We Like It: You can fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime and not have to worry about blackout dates. 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). Plus, you can transfer your miles to several leading travel loyalty programs. And because miles 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 miles toward that much-needed vacation once your in-laws leave town after the holidays.
The Bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.
The Rewards: Earn an unlimited two miles per $1 on every purchase, every day.
The Annual Fee: $95
Credit Needed: Excellent, Good
- The Venture Rewards card is a good choice for all your holiday travel. It offers an unlimited two miles per $1 spent, which means your trip to the in-laws can help you earn miles for a nice vacation far away from them later on.
- If you don't have any travel plans in your future, miles can be used for purchases on Amazon.com.
- Cardholders get access to Wikibuy which can help you find the best price when shopping online and Paribus which will look for lower prices on previous purchases and help you get a refund for the difference.
- You'll need to pay an annual fee to carry this card, but that's not unusual for travel rewards cards. This one is reasonable, so just make sure you'll more than offset it with the rewards you earn and redeem as well as the card's other perks and features.
- Unlike some other travel rewards cards, miles can't be redeemed directly for cash, though there are other redemption options should you choose to go a different route.
- There is no introductory APR for purchases or balance transfers on this card.
Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
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. The real kicker with this card, however, is the bonus opportunities. Right now, new card members can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Those points are worth up to $750 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? If delivery is more your style, you can also enjoy unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate with your Chase Sapphire® card by March 31, 2022 to participate.
The Bonus: Earn a bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
The Rewards: Earn five points per $1 on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; three points per $1 on dining (including eligible delivery and takeout), select streaming services and on online grocery store purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); two points per $1 on travel; and one point per $1 on all of your other purchases. Plus earn five points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's three points in addition to the two points you already earn on travel.
The Annual Fee: $95
Credit Needed: Excellent, Good
- If you plan to travel this holiday season, the 60,000 bonus points offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be redeemed for up to $750 worth of travel (or more if you want to look for the best deals and transfer your points to one of a number of travel loyalty partners).
- The card also has extensive travel perks, including bonus rewards on travel and dining, baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and the option to transfer points to other travel loyalty programs.
- Gifts purchased with this card may be protected by its extended warranty and purchase protection benefits.
- There is a $95 annual fee which is reasonable for a travel rewards credit card but may be off-putting to some.
- The extra rewards earning categories are nice, but the base earning is just one point per $1 spent on most things. If you really want to maximize points earning, you'll want to combine this card with one or two others in the Ultimate Rewards® family – here's what we're talking about
- If you want to earn the 60,000 bonus points, you'll need to spend $4,000 within three months of opening your account, which is a not insignificant amount to spend in three months time.
Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.
Why We Like It: This is not the card for "I only travel at the 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. Plus, that extra shopping you'll likely do during the holiday season could be an excellent way to meet your minimum spend requirement and earn a nice welcome bonus.
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. Oh, and don't forget that you'll also earn bonus points for 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? Enrollment required for select benefits.
The Bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
The Rewards: Earn 5X the points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), as well as on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Earn one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
The Annual Fee: $695
Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
- You won't find many cards that are more rewarding than this one. This luxury card offers a long list of benefits as well as the opportunity to earn travel rewards points.
- Travel benefits include airport lounge access and complimentary gold status in the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programs.
- Enrollment required for select benefits.
- The card's $695 annual fee will put it out of reach for some people. It also means that you need to do some serious budget and lifestyle searching to ensure it's the right card for your wallet.
- While cardholders receive five points per $1 spent on airfare and hotels, you'll need to book through Amex or directly with an airline to receive them.
- New cardholders can receive a bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points, but there is a relatively steep spending requirement to earn them. The welcome offer only goes to those who spend $6,000 in purchases, but you do have six months to reach this threshold.
Read our full review of The Platinum Card® from American Express.
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. We certainly condone responsible credit card use and spending within your means (even when it comes to holiday spending), 0% intro APR credit cards can help bridge the gap when increased spending arises during the holiday season and this card has a lengthy period for both purchases and balance transfers.
The Bonus: There's not a traditional bonus (it isn't a rewards card), but you should think about the money you're saving on interest as a kind of bonus. Save with an intro 21 months 0% APR on balance transfers from date of first transfer (and made within the first four months) and 12 months 0% APR on purchases from date of account opening.
Ongoing APR: 13.74% - 23.74% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee: Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
The Rewards: There aren't rewards to consider, but remember that awesome introductory APR is the prize.
The Annual Fee: $0
Credit Needed: Excellent, Good
- With no annual fee and a stellar intro 0% APR offer, this card is a winner for people looking to save on interest.
- New cardholders enjoy a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and 21 months on balance transfers, great benefits for those who need time to pay off their holiday spending. After the intro period, a 13.74% - 23.74% Variable APR kicks in.
- Cardholders receive special access to tickets and other entertainment through Citi Entertainment®
- This card lacks the bells and whistles of other cards such as extended warranty protection and travel benefits.
- You won't earn any rewards or cash back with this card either.
- Since the card doesn't offer rewards, there is no special welcome offer for signing up beyond the introductory 0% APR.
Read our full Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card review.
To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured in this post, please visit the following links: The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees; terms apply); Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees; terms apply)
Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.
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