My Single Favorite Credit Card from Each Major Bank
I sometimes consider various credit cards to the extreme. After gleaning all I can from the major banks, I dive into those from smaller banks and credit unions. I analyze all cards along with their respective points ecosystems, which often involves holding different cards from the same bank. But I don’t often consider the best stand alone card from the heavy hitters (Amex, Chase, and Citi) – the one I would hold from each if I couldn’t hold any other. This hypothetical revalidates what makes each of them optimal for my situation and also highlights how others playing a slimmer-wallet game can benefit. Today, I’m describing my favorite credit card from each major issuer and what makes them great all by their lonesome. To be clear, I’m evaluating each bank for my specific spend situation, which varies widely by individual.
The Amex Gold is one of my favorites in three big areas – welcome offer, ongoing spend bonus categories, and benefits. Of course, we don’t want to overvalue any welcome offer in this exercise dealing with ongoing card membership, but we can’t ignore it, either. Offers vary, but there’s currently a welcome offer of 60k Membership Rewards points with $4k spend within the first six months of holding the Gold.
In my situation, I can easily obtain at least 100k points each year on the card, since it earns 4x Membership Rewards points on all U.S. supermarket spend up to $25k spent annually. I earn 4x points on dining, as well. I hardly ever pay for flights, but earning 3x on flights is a nice touch. Long term, I can easily absorb the $250 annual fee (if I don’t get a retention offer) thanks to the monthly $10 Uber/Uber Eats and $10 GrubHub/etc credits. I currently value these benefits at 90%, or $216 annually. I’ll happily pay an effective $34 annual fee for at least 100k Membership Rewards each year.
Downside: Amex redemptions and values can be trickier than with other big banks.
Chase Ink Business Cash
I picked up the Chase Ink Business Cash card years ago, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to obtain the excellent welcome offer that individuals can currently acquire. Chase is currently offering $750 cash back on $7.5k spend in the first three months from account opening. It gets better from there. Cardholders can earn 5% cash back each cardmember year on the first $25k spent in the following categories: office supply stores and internet, cable, and phone services. I earn 2% cash back on the first $25k spent at gas stations and restaurants each cardmember year. This doesn’t outdo the Gold’s restaurant or Premier’s gas station categories, but it’s nice to have the option in Chase’s ecosystem.
By simply maxing out the 5% cash back category, I can earn $1,250 annually. I can buy fee-free (or better) Visa Gift Cards routinely at office supply stores, effectively bonusing any spend at 5% cash back (or more). And I get all of this for no annual fee!
Downside: Cash is largely the only viable redemption option with this one Chase card. If you were to pair it with a premium card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and it’s 100K welcome offer), then you could use Chase’s transfer partners like Hyatt. But cash back is my favorite type of redemption. Using a Visa Gift Card (rather than a credit card) for purchases removes certain protections. Luckily, I don’t spend much on items that would require such protections.
Citi welcome offers vary, but they currently offer 80k ThankYou points with $4k spend within the first three months of account opening. In my opinion, the Citi Premier enables the broadest bonus earning in staple categories for cardholders in the industry. I enjoy 3x ThankYou points at supermarkets, gas stations, and restaurants. Again, I don’t usually pay cash for hotel and airfare, but each of those earns at 3x. I can also obtain an annual $100 hotel savings benefit that’s fairly easy to use; this can lessen the blow of the $95 annual fee. The Premier has a leg up on the Amex Gold and Chase Ink Business Cash in two different ways. I can easily cash out at 1 cent per point, unlike the Gold. I can directly transfer to travel partners, unlike the Ink Business Cash.
Downside: Depending on my situation, I may prefer Amex’s travel partners over Citi’s. Many have experienced Citi IT and fraud alert issues. Instead of fixing these problems, Citi decided to take a different course of action.
Undoubtedly, some overlapping categories exist among my three picks. However, I spend enough in the Gold’s 4x and Premier’s 3x categories to justify holding each of them rather than any other cards from their respective banks. The Ink Business Cash’s 5% cash back categories broadly complement those two cards, considering I can buy a variety of Visa and third party gift cards at office supply stores. Of course, I can (and do) earn more effectively by holding additional cards with each bank. However, I have the peace of mind that I can still obtain solid rewards with these cards as stand alone products. What is your one favorite credit card from each major bank in your situation?