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

Last Updated, May 23, 2019

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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® Cash Back or Chase Freedom® to earn 5% 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

Chase Freedom®

Why We Like It: The holidays are a great time to take advantage of bonus welcome 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% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories each quarter you activate and 1% on all other purchases (and on your bonus category purchases after you reach the cap). Like many other rotating category cash-back rewards cards, this card traditionally 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 during a spend-heavy season as well as on other bonus categories throughout the year.

The Bonus: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Again, our focus here isn't on the 0% introductory offer, but this card does offer one: 15 months of no interest on purchases and balance transfers for new cardholders (then, 17.24 - 25.99% Variable).

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating categories (check out the current bonus categories) each quarter you activate, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Read our full review of Chase Freedom®.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PRO TIP:

Want to stretch your rewards a little further? Consider combining Chase Freedom® with Chase Freedom Unlimited®. 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® offers new cardholders 3% cash back on up to $20,000 spent during your first year as a cardholder and an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases after that. That means you could use the Unlimited version for all the purchases that don't earn 5% back with Chase Freedom®.

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®.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

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. Terms apply.

The Bonus: Earn $250 bonus statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.

The Annual Fee: $95. Terms apply.

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 all other purchases. Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express reviewTerms apply.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

NO ANNUAL FEE, STILL REWARDING:

Maybe the cash-back tiers look like something you could use, but you just aren't sure about paying an annual fee. That's ok, there's a no-annual fee version of the card above: the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express . With this version, you'll earn 3% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 spent annually, then 1%), 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% back on your other purchases. As we mentioned, there's no annual fee, but you can still earn a welcome bonus of $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Terms apply, See Rates and Fees.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

Why We Like It: The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card offers 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, with the opportunity for new cardholders to up that amount to 1.8% cash back with mobile wallet purchases, like those with Google Pay™ or Apple Pay®, for the first 12 months of card membership. Sometimes, it's nice to not have to think about categories or spending caps, which is what makes this card a winner for us.

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. Lastly, if you pay your cellular bill on your card, you'll enjoy cell phone protection against covered damage and theft. Terms and deductibles apply.

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. And remember that you'll earn 1.8% cash back on your mobile wallet purchases for the first 12 months you have the card. Additionally, you can take advantage of a 12-month introductory offer of no interest on purchases and qualifying balance transfers made within the first 120 days. After the intro period, the APR goes to 16.24%-28.24% Variable. Note that balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and 1.8% cash back for the first 12 months when you use your card to make mobile wallet purchases like those with Google Pay™ or Apple Pay®. Read our full review of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

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% period cards for handling holiday debt" as it offers an 18 month introductory offer of no interest on balance transfers (then, 15.74% - 25.74%* Variable).

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% 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). Read our full review of the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

Why We Like It: Five percent cash back on rotating categories for the first $1,500 you spend in that quarter means you could earn as much as $75 cash back per quarter and that's just in the bonus categories. You'll also earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. 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. And Discover's October-December 2019 bonus categories are Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com, so the Discover it® Cash Back is aiming to make 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. And, while it isn't our focus for this card, it is worth pointing out that thanks to an introductory offer, new cardholders will pay 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months (then, 14.24% - 25.24% Variable). 

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in rotating categories each quarter – Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com from October-December 2019 – each time you activate; plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases and once your reach the cap. And remember, there are 5% bonus categories all year long. Here's a look at the 2019 bonus categories calendar: January-March 2019: grocery stores; April-June 2019: gas stations, Uber and Lyft; July-September 2019: Restaurants and PayPal; October-December 2019: Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com. Read our full Discover it® Cash Back review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

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 Annual Fee: $0* (*No annual fee with your paid Costco Membership.)

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. Read our full Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi review.

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% 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. Plus, new card holders will earn an additional .5% cash back on all eligible purchases made within the first year of card ownership.

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

The Annual Fee: $0

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


Best Credit Cards for Holiday Travel

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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 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?

The Bonus: Receive 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Annual Fee: $95

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. Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review..

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why We Like It: If the huge welcome offer 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 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.

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 over 12 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 welcome offer of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.

The Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

The Rewards: Earn an unlimited two miles per $1 on every purchase, every day. Plus, earn 10 miles per $1 when you pay for a stay using your card through Hotels.com/Venture. Read our full Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


The Platinum Card® from American Express

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.

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. Terms apply. 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?

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

The Annual Fee: $550. Terms apply.

The Rewards: Earn five times the points on flights booked directly with airlines 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. Read our full review of The Platinum Card® from American ExpressTerms apply.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Why We Like It: This card comes with a number of perks and features, as well as some excellent rewards-earning opportunities, that we're used to seeing among cards with annual fees. This one doesn't charge an annual fee, though, making it a nice choice for someone wanting a travel card, but who spent all those funds on eggnog and fruitcake (or something like that). Plus, as with many other Wells Fargo cards, if you pay your cellular bill with your card, you'll be protected against covered damage or theft of your cell phone and up to three other phones on the account.

The Bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months which is s a $300 cash redemption value. By the way, this is the rare travel rewards credit card that also offers a solid 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (fees apply), then a 16.24%-27.24% Variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn three points per $1 spent on dining (eating out or ordering in) and three points per $1 on gas station, rideshare and transit purchases. You'll also earn three points per $1 on travel purchases, which includes flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn one point per $1 on all your other purchases. Read our full Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Best 0-interest offer credit cards for handling holiday debt

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

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% 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% intro APR lasts for 12 months after account opening on new purchases and for 21 months after first balance transfer on balance transfers–among the longest 0% intro APR offers on the market. Note all transfers must be completed in the first four months, after that 16.24% - 26.24%* variable, based on creditworthiness. This card 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 fast, personal help, 24 hours a day--just say "representative."

If you transfer a balance with this offer after your 0% intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balance, are paid in full.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: In this case, the intro APR offer is really your reward. Pay no interest on purchases for 12 months from account opening and for 21 months from date of first transfer on balance transfers (then, 16.24% - 26.24%* variable, based on creditworthiness). All balance transfers must be completed in the first four months. No late fees, no penalty rate, no annual fee, ever. There is a 5% (or $5, whichever is greater) fee for every balance transfer.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card

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Why We Like It: With 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers 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. You do get easy access to your FICO® Credit Score with Wells Fargo Online®. 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's not overlook the introductory offer of no interest on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (balance transfer fee applies and transfers must be made within 120 days to qualify) for 18 months (then, 13.74%-27.24% Variable).

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Chase Slate®

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Why We Like It: If you've already started running up a balance, you may very well be able to benefit from a balance transfer credit card. Better yet, you're going to want one that lets you transfer that balance fee-free and spend some time (how does more than a year sound?) paying it off interest-free.

New Chase Slate® cardholders have 60 days from account opening to transfer a balance without incurring a balance transfer fee. Then, you have an introductory 15 months of zero interest on purchases and balance transfers (then, 16.49% - 25.24% Variable).

This is huge. Balance transfer fees are usually anywhere from 3-5% of the amount of the transfer. Sure, you'll likely still save money in the long run since you won't be paying interest, but it's quite nice to avoid that 3-5% fee. Chase Slate® allows you to do just that (after that first 60 days, Chase Slate® does charge 5% fee for each transfer, with a $5 minimum).

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: This isn't a rewards card – unless you count that you aren't paying interest on your purchases and balance transfers for 15 months as your reward (and, really, you probably should).

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good


Santander Sphere® Credit Card

Santander Sphere

Learn more about this card

Why We Like It: With the Santander Sphere® Credit Card, you can transfer balances from your other cards and enjoy the 0% introductory APR on these balances for 18 billing cycles, if taken within the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, the Santander Sphere® Credit Card also offers 0% APR on all purchases for the first 18 billing cycles 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% APR Details: Zero percent intro APR on balance transfers for 18 billing cycles if taken within the first 90 days of account opening, and 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 18 billing cycles. After the introductory periods end, a variable APR of 14.49 to 24.49% will apply.

Credit Needed: Excellent


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); Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees)

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