January 28, 2021

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It’s Time to Fly

Best credit cards 2021 | CNN Underscored

29 min read

(CNN) —  

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

It’s a new year and many people are resolving to improve their personal finances in 2021. It may seem counterintuitive to think about credit cards if you’re still having financial difficulties from the pandemic, but a new credit card could help by letting you finance the things you need to buy at 0% interest, or consolidating debt at a lower interest rate. Or perhaps you just want to make sure you’re earning the most in rewards when you’re ordering online or having food delivered to your home.

Our comprehensive methodology compares every aspect of each credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially help you the most. So give yourself a few minutes to take a look at our list of the best credit cards for 2021 and see if one might be useful to you right now.

Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best sign-up bonus
Chase Freedom Flex: Best for flexible rewards
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Best for U.S. supermarkets
American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for balance transfers
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best introductory rate on purchases
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for easy travel redemptions
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for small businesses
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business: Best for larger businesses

Why did we select these cards as our best credit cards for 2021? Dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.

Best for flat-rate cash back

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Citi Double Cash Card is both simple and lucrative, offering a market-leading 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your statement — for no annual fee.

This card is right for: People who want a card that will work for them but don’t have the time, patience or interest to chase bonus categories or figure out complicated travel loyalty programs.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2% cash back on all purchases with no limit.
  • 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (13.99%-23.99% variable afterward).
  • Cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points at a ratio of 1 cent per point when combined with the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier℠ Card.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: None.

What we like about the Citi Double Cash: Life is complicated enough right now — not everyone wants to make their credit cards complicated as well. If you don’t want to deal with bonus categories, transfer partners or spending caps, you can’t get much simpler than the Citi Double Cash.

But “simple” doesn’t have to mean “weak.” In fact, you’ll get 2% cash back on practically everything you buy with this card, which is the best ongoing flat-rate return you’ll find on any no-annual-fee credit card out there.

Yes, if you want to put in extra effort to maximize bonus categories or if you’re willing to pay an annual fee, you can absolutely get more in overall rewards or perks. But if you don’t want to make your credit card another thing in your life to worry about, you can put the Citi Double Cash in your purse or wallet, and set it and forget it.

The Citi Double Cash is both simple and rewarding — a good choice when there

The Citi Double Cash is both simple and rewarding — a good choice when there’s more important things to think about than credit cards.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: The Citi Double Cash is a no-frills credit card, so you won’t find any fancy travel or dining perks on it, nor are there any significant travel or purchase protections. You also won’t want to use this card for overseas purchases when travel resumes, as the 3% foreign transaction fee will offset the rewards you earn.

Having the option to convert the card’s cash back to Citi ThankYou points when you have certain other Citi cards is useful to points and miles experts, but the ThankYou program’s airline transfer partners can be challenging to leverage for beginners, who might want to just stick with the card’s cash back rewards.

The balance transfer offer does come with a 3% fee, though that’s comparable to other credit cards with similar balance transfer features. And the Citi Double Cash doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus, which means other cards might be more rewarding right out of the gate, though the Double Cash will catch up with long-term use.

Why it’s our “benchmark” credit card: The ease of use and straightforward top-of-market cash-back earning rate of the Citi Double Cash are why CNN Underscored uses the Double Cash as our “benchmark” credit card to compare the features of other credit cards and determine if they’re better or worse overall.

You can read more about our benchmark credit card concept in our credit card methodology guide, or dig into our complete review of the Citi Double Cash.

Learn more and apply now for the Citi Double Cash Card.

Best sign-up bonus

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after you open the account, and the points can be redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards, or in other eligible categories using the card’s “Pay Yourself Back tool for 1.25 cents per point through April 30, 2021.

This card is right for: People with larger than average travel and/or dining expenses who want to redeem their credit card rewards for travel.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases.
  • Earn 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022.
  • From Nov. 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021, earn 2 points per dollar on grocery store purchases, up to $1,000 per month in combined purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
  • Now through April 30, 2021, points can also be redeemed for purchases at grocery stores, dining establishments and home improvement stores at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Chase Sapphire Preferred: It may not seem like it, but at over 10 years old, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is practically the granddaddy of travel rewards credit cards.

WIth classic travel and dining bonus categories, 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2022, and a 60,000-point sign-up bonus, you should be able to score plenty of points even if you can’t fly much at the moment, since Chase defines “travel” very broadly to include purchases like mass transit, tolls, parking and even ride-shares.

But the real power of the Chase Sapphire Preferred is in its redemptions. You’ll get 1.25 cents per point in value when you redeem your points through Chase’s travel portal. And last year, Chase added a new “Pay Yourself Back” tool to the Sapphire Preferred, which allows you to redeem points on purchases beyond just travel. The current eligible categories are grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores, and through April 30, 2021, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point when redeeming this way.

Related: 6 reasons you should consider getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Plus, you can get potentially even more value when you transfer your points to one of Chase’s 13 travel partners. In fact, the Ultimate Rewards program still features some of the best transfer partners around, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, and all partners transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio (meaning you’ll get 1 point in the partner program for every 1 point you transfer from Chase).

To top it off, when international flights resume, you can safely use the Chase Sapphire Preferred overseas, since it has no foreign transaction fees on international purchases. It even provides primary car rental insurance, so you don’t have to look to your own auto policy first if you have an accident with your rental car.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has primary car rental insurance that covers you if you pay for the rental with the card and have an accident.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has primary car rental insurance that covers you if you pay for the rental with the card and have an accident.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a classic, but in some ways, it’s starting to get long in the tooth. Other credit cards now offer bonus points or cash back in the travel and dining categories, and in some cases at higher rates (though usually accompanied by higher annual fees).

Even our benchmark Citi Double Cash card earns 2% cash back -— 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay it off — on everything you buy, not just travel and dining, though you can get more value when redeeming your Sapphire Preferred points than you can with simple cash back.

For many people, the Sapphire Preferred isn’t as flashy as its big brother, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with travel perks, higher bonus rates and a $300 annual travel credit (but also a significantly higher annual fee). But if you don’t need or won’t use all those extra perks (especially in the next several months), you may be better off with this significantly less expensive version.

Related: Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve worth the annual fee?

Where it beats our benchmark card: Travel and dining bonus categories, excellent travel protections, solid airline and hotel partners, sign-up bonus.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Learn more and apply now for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Best for flexible rewards

Why it’s great in one sentence: If you’re on the fence about whether you’d prefer to rack up cash back or travel points, the new Chase Freedom Flex allows you to do both when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

This card is right for: People who want maximum flexibility in a no-annual-fee credit card.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5% cash back on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and 3% at drugstores.
  • Earn 5% cash back in bonus categories that rotate, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Expert users can convert the cash back to flexible travel points when pairing the Freedom Flex with a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.
  • 15-month 0% introductory rate on purchases (14.99% to 23.74% variable afterward).
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Now through January 13, earn $200 in bonus cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months after opening the account, plus earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart) for the first 12 months you have the card, up to $12,000 in purchases.

What we like about the Chase Freedom Flex: If you prefer cash back now but think that a dose of adventure is in your future in 2021 once travel returns to normal, the new Chase Freedom Flex can give you the best of both worlds.

The Chase Freedom Flex starts by earning cash back in three permanent bonus categories: 5% cash back on travel purchases made via Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back on dining — including takeout and delivery — and 3% cash back at drugstores.

Then you’ll also earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in bonus categories that rotate each quarter. The categories for the first three months of 2021 are wholesale clubs, internet, cable and phone services, and select streaming services, but each quarter’s categories are different.

That’s a pretty great package already for a cash back credit card. But when you pair the Chase Freedom Flex with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your cash back to points at a rate of 1 cent per point. Then you’re able to redeem those points for travel at an increased value of 1.25 to 1.5 cents apiece via the Chase travel portal, or in other categories using the “Pay Yourself Back” tool.

Even better, once you’ve converted your cash back to points, you can transfer them to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel loyalty partners. This amazing flexibility is why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece. At that rate, since you’re earning 1.5% cash back on the Freedom Flex, you could effectively end up with a 3% return on your purchases.

Other benefits of the Chase Freedom Flex include cell phone protection, purchase protection, extended warranty protection and a three-month complimentary subscription to DashPass. And now through January 13, new card applicants can get an amazing 5% cash back on grocery store purchases for the first 12 months you have the card, up to $12,000 in total purchases.

You

You’ll earn 3% on all your drugstore purchases with the Chase Freedom Flex credit card.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: The increased 5% cash back bonus rate on groceries on the Chase Freedom Flex is only for the first 12 months you have the card, and only up to $12,000 in total purchases. After that, you’ll earn the same 1% cash back on groceries as you do on everything else with the card, so you may want a more permanent solution if groceries are a major expense in your household.

Also, you must remember to activate the rotating bonus categories each quarter in order to earn 5% cash back on them. While you can activate them almost anytime throughout the quarter and still get the bonus cash back retroactively on purchases you’ve already made, it’s important not to miss the deadline or you’ll lose out on an important feature of the card.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, cell phone and purchase protections, and introductory rate on purchases for 15 months.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash offers a higher overall cash back rate and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Learn more and apply now for the Chase Freedom Flex.

Best for U.S. supermarkets

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Blue Cash Everyday card earns 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) and 2% back at U.S. gas stations, while also offering a generous introductory interest rate on purchases for 15 months, all with no annual fee.

This card is right for: People who spend a significant amount of their money at U.S. supermarkets each year and don’t want to pay an annual fee for a credit card.

Highlights:

  • Earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • Earn 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores.
  • Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 15 months (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance included.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn $100 back as a statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months, plus 20% back on purchases made with the card at Amazon in the first six months, up to $200 back.

What we like most about the Blue Cash Everyday: For many Americans, a significant portion of the monthly family budget goes to supermarket expenses. The Blue Cash Everyday card dials up the bonus cash back in that category, as well as at gas stations, creating a go-to in your wallet for two routine purchases.

The card also pairs its bonus categories with an introductory 0% interest rate on purchases for the first 15 months. But you’ll want to make sure your debt is paid off by the end of the intro period, as the interest rate jumps to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% afterward.

New card members will also find a welcome bonus that should come in handy as 2021 gets underway. You’ll earn $100 cash back after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first six months, plus 20% back on purchases made with the card at Amazon in the first six months, up to $200 back. So you can score a total of up to $300 in cash back on this card in the first year, all for no annual fee.

Earn 3% at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%) with the Blue Cash Everyday card.

Earn 3% at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%) with the Blue Cash Everyday card.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: Bonus cash back isn’t earned on purchases outside of the U.S. with the Blue Cash Everyday, and there’s a 3% foreign transaction fee on top of that. Plus, there’s no way to convert your cash back to American Express Membership Rewards points, which are potentially more useful for those who may want maximum flexibility in redeeming credit card rewards for travel down the line.

You can also find credit cards that earn even more cash back at supermarkets, either for a limited time or if you’re willing to pay an annual fee. The Chase Freedom Flex is currently offering new applicants 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first 12 months you have the card, up to $12,000 in purchases.

So if you’re looking to maximize your supermarket spending solely for the next year, you might consider the Freedom Flex as an alternative, though the Blue Cash Everyday card offers cash back at U.S. supermarkets full time, not just for the first 12 months you have the card.

Also, the more expensive version of the Blue Cash Everyday is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets — double the Blue Cash Everyday — on up to $6,000 in purchases each year (1% thereafter). The Blue Cash Preferred also offers 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit.

But in exchange for those higher bonus rates, you’ll pay a $95 annual fee each year after the first year, so the Blue Cash Everyday with no annual fee could be a better choice overall.

Related: Amex Blue Cash Preferred vs. Blue Cash Everyday: Which is best for you?

Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, an introductory interest rate on purchases, car rental damage coverage.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory balance transfer offer and its cash back can be converted to Citi ThankYou travel points when combined with the Citi Prestige Card or Citi Premier Card.

Learn more and apply now for the Blue Cash Everyday card.

Best for dining

Why it’s great in one sentence: The American Express Gold Card is a top-notch card when it comes to food, as you’ll not only get a relatively high return at both restaurants and US supermarkets but also some incredible baked-in benefits.

This card is right for: People who either eat at restaurants or order food for delivery on a regular basis.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4 points for every dollar you spend at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1x).
  • Earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • Up to $120 in annual dining credits.
  • Up to $100 in airline fee credits in 2021.
  • Starting in early 2021, up to $120 in Uber Cash annually.
  • $250 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

It’s not a cheap card with a $250 annual fee, but the perks on the Amex Gold can quickly outweigh its cost, especially in 2021 thanks to its numerous statement credits.

Aside from earning a lot of points, you’ll get up to $10 in statement credits each month with the Amex Gold when you use your card to pay at select food merchants, including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations.

And starting in early 2021, you’ll also get up to $10 in Uber Cash each month, which can be used for either Uber rides or Uber Eats orders. So if you’re ordering out regularly these days, you can easily use up both the Uber Cash and the dining credits each month.

But for one year only in 2021, the Amex Gold also comes with up to $100 in annual airline fee credits. These can be used on your airline of choice for incidental fees, such as checked bag fees and carry-on pet fees. So if you’re able to utilize all of these credits in 2021, that’s up to $340 in credits, which means you’re actually ahead by $90 even after paying the card’s $250 annual fee.

Related: The American Express Gold Card is effectively paying you to have it this year.

If you

If you’re ordering regularly via Grubhub, you can get up to $120 in annual dining credits with the Amex Gold card.

PHOTO:
Grubhub

What could be better: The Amex Gold earns points that can be redeemed a number of ways, but are best used for travel. That means you’ll likely want to hold off on redeeming the points you earn with this card until travel resumes more broadly. If you’re looking for a card with rewards that you can use more immediately, you might be better off with a cash back card.

You’ll also want to look elsewhere if you can’t utilize the annual credits on the Amex Gold, which do require a bit of effort to maximize since they’re doled out monthly. Otherwise you’ll be paying a lot of money for the card and not getting the most for it.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, annual credits, bonus categories, solid airline and hotel partners.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Learn more and apply now for the American Express Gold Card.

Best for balance transfers

Why it’s great in one sentence: If you need to consolidate your debt to reduce your interest expenses right now, the Citi Diamond Preferred credit card offers an introductory interest rate on balance transfers for a full 18 months for transfers completed in the first four months after you open the card.

This card is right for: People who want to consolidate their existing debt at a low interest rate for an extended period of time.

Highlights:

  • 0% interest for 18 months on balance transfers made in the first four months after you open the card (14.74% to 24.74% variable afterward).
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 18 months (14.74% to 24.74% variable afterward).
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: None.

What we like about the Citi Diamond Preferred: The first step to getting out of credit card debt is to stop the bleeding by putting a halt to the exorbitant interest you’re paying on your accumulated debt. A credit card with a long introductory balance transfer offer is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The Citi Diamond Preferred comes with a lengthy 18-month introductory period, during which you’ll pay 0% interest on any balance transfers made during the first four months you have the card. But you’ll want to make sure you pay off your entire balance transfer during those 18 months, because when that introductory period ends, the rate will jump to between 14.74% and 24.74%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Related: Pay off your debt faster with these balance transfer credit cards.

Even better, you’ll get the same 0% interest rates on new purchases with the card for the first 18 months. Again, the rate goes to between 14.74% and 24.74% at the end of the intro period, depending on your creditworthiness, so make sure you pay off your balance before then.

The Citi Diamond Preferred card also comes with a free FICO credit score online and allows you to choose your payment due date, which is extremely helpful for those who pay their credit card bills around their paycheck schedule and need maximum flexibility.

You can use the Citi Diamond Preferred card to consolidate your existing credit card debt at a lower interest rate.

You can use the Citi Diamond Preferred card to consolidate your existing credit card debt at a lower interest rate.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: Aside from the balance transfer option and free FICO score, there aren’t a ton of exciting features with the Citi Diamond Preferred. There are no rewards on the card and no important other perks.

You’ll also pay a 3% fee (with a $5 minimum) on any balance transfers made to the Citi Diamond Preferred. That’s roughly average for a balance transfer fee, but it’s something you should keep in mind when transferring debt to the card.

If you only need the balance transfer option and not the introductory rate on purchases, consider our benchmark Citi Double Cash card, which offers 0% interest on balance transfers for the first 18 months you have the card (then a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99% applies), but also earns 2% cash back on all purchases (though note that balance transfers don’t earn cash back).

Still, if you need to pay no interest on both your new and existing debt for an extended period, the Citi Diamond Preferred is potentially worth the extra cost to buy yourself time to get back on track and firm up your financial picture.

Where it beats our benchmark card: An introductory interest rate on purchases for 18 months.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash earns cash back rewards on all purchases.

Learn more and apply now for the Citi Diamond Preferred Card.

Best introductory rate on purchases

Why it’s great in one sentence: For those who’d rather pay no interest on purchases for as long as possible instead of earning cash back or travel rewards, the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offers 0% interest on all purchases for the first 20 billing cycles you have the card (the interest rate rises to a variable 13.99% to 23.99% after the introductory period ends).

This card is right for: People who want the longest possible introductory interest rate period on purchases when they first get a credit card.

Highlights:

  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 20 billing cycles (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • 0% interest for 20 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 60 days after you open the card (13.99% to 23.99% variable afterward).
  • Cell phone protection.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: None.

What we like about the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card: Credit cards are generally known for having sky-high interest rates, making them terrible for financing large purchases. But the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card is an exception, at least for the first 20 billing cycles (meaning your first 20 monthly statements) after you get the card.

During that time, you can charge purchases to the card and pay them off slowly without incurring any interest at all. That’s a longer intro period than almost any credit card on the market, so it’s a good way to finance a large emergency purchase or even just daily expenses if you’re in a pinch.

Related: Tight on cash? These credit cards charge 0% interest on purchases.

But be careful! Once the introductory 0% interest period ends, any balance remaining on the card jumps to a variable interest rate of 13.99% to 23.99%, depending on your creditworthiness. If you haven’t paid off all those purchases in full by then, you’ll be on the hook for some giant interest payments. Still, if you need to just make ends meet for now, this is a card that can be a useful tool in your toolbox.

There’s also an added perk on this card: ongoing cell phone protection. When you pay your cell phone bill with the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, you’ll be covered for damage or theft to your cell phone up to $600, with a $25 deductible, for up to two claims per 12-month period.

When you pay your cell phone bill with the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, your phone is covered for theft or damage.

When you pay your cell phone bill with the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum, your phone is covered for theft or damage.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: Beyond the introductory rate on purchases as well as a similar introductory interest rate on balance transfers (which comes with a 3% fee), this isn’t a card that’s going to do a lot for you. It doesn’t earn any rewards at all, doesn’t come with a sign-up bonus and doesn’t have any other significant perks.

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum has no annual fee, but it charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, so you definitely won’t want to use it overseas. In fact, aside from using it to finance purchases at 0% interest during the introductory period, it’s not a card that we’d recommend for long-term usage.

And if you’re willing to trade a slightly shorter introductory period in exchange for earning rewards, you might consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers an introductory interest rate on purchases for the first 15 months you have the card, but also offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and additional bonus categories.

Where it beats our benchmark card: An introductory interest rate on purchases for the first 20 billing cycles, cell phone insurance.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash earns rewards on all purchases.

The information for the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNN Underscored. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Best for easy travel redemptions

Why it’s great in one sentence: You’ll earn 2 Capital One miles per dollar on every purchase with the Capital One Venture Credit Card, and you can redeem those miles for any travel purchase you make (or, for a limited time, on food delivery and streaming services) at 1 cent per mile, or transfer them to Capital One’s travel partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.

This card is right for: People who want to earn easily redeemable miles to use for travel, but with the option to learn how to master transferable miles down the line for even greater value.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases with no limit.
  • Redeem miles for any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • For a limited time now through April 30, 2021, redeem miles for food delivery and streaming services at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • Miles can also be transferred to any of 15 airline and hotel partners.
  • Up to $100 credit when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Capital One Venture: With coronavirus vaccines on the way, you might be starting to think about travel in 2021. And that means you might want a credit card that earns travel rewards you can use to take a sorely-needed vacation when the current worldwide crisis has ebbed.

But what kind of rewards should you earn? Easy-to-redeem fixed-value miles, or flexible miles that can be used for more complicated advanced redemptions that get more value?

The Capital One Venture card gives you the best of both worlds. For folks who don’t want to deal with complex charts or award availability, you can use the Venture’s “Purchase Eraser” feature to wipe away any travel purchases that you make with the card at a rate of 1 cent per mile, making the card’s 60,000-mile sign-up bonus worth at least $600 in travel.

And for a limited time from now through April 30, 2021, Capital One is bolstering the Venture’s lineup of redemption options by adding both food delivery and streaming services to the mix. Eligible food delivery services include DoorDash, Uber Eats, Postmates and other popular options — plus delivery ordered directly from local restaurants — while streaming services include Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Disney+, Kindle Unlimited and more.

For others who want to put in the time and research to find first- or business-class flight redemptions, Capital One’s 15 transfer partners provide another option. You can transfer miles to most of those partners at a 2-to-1.5 ratio (meaning for every 2 Venture miles you transfer, you’ll get 1.5 airline miles on the other end), while Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Accor Hotels transfer at a 2-to-1 ratio.

The Capital One Venture does come with a $95 annual fee, but you’ll also get up to a $100 fee credit with the card when applying for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and the card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

If you

If you’re dreaming of a sorely-needed vacation when the current worldwide crisis is over, you might consider earning travel rewards instead of cash back.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: There’s only one bonus category on the Capital One Venture card — you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels or car rentals, but only when you book them through Capital One Travel. Unfortunately, you likely won’t get elite credit or have your elite benefits honored when booking a hotel through a travel portal instead of directly with the hotel.

There’s also no balance transfer or introductory interest rate on purchases, so don’t plan to carry a balance with the Venture card. And if you’re only planning to redeem your miles using the “Purchase Eraser,” you could be better off with our benchmark Citi Double Cash card, since you’ll be effectively earning 2 cents per dollar spent either way, but the Venture card has a $95 annual fee.

Capital One’s transfer partners also include only one U.S. airline option (JetBlue), though advanced card holders will be able to leverage international airline alliances to score domestic redemptions. But if you think you’ll mix in some airline transfers even down the line, the Venture card serves as a great beginner gateway to the world of transferable points.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, purchase protections, travel protections.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read our complete Capital One Venture credit card review.

Best for small businesses

Why it’s great in one sentence: For businesses with less than $50,000 in annual expenses, the Blue Business Plus from American Express is a great and simple choice, since it earns a flat rate of 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar you spend on all your business purchases up to $50,000 a year, then 1 point per dollar spent thereafter, and all with no annual fee.

This card is right for: Small businesses that want to stockpile transferable travel rewards to use for the future and a credit card with no annual fee.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on all purchases up to $50,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar thereafter.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through Amex Travel at a rate of up to 1 cent per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Amex’s 21 airline and hotel partners.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (13.24%-19.24% variable afterward).
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: None.

What we like about the Blue Business Plus: For small businesses looking for a business credit card comparable to the personal Citi Double Cash, our benchmark card, the Blue Business Plus is worthy of consideration.

The Blue Business Plus earns 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on all purchases, up to $50,000 each calendar year. And if you’re already thinking about future travel in 2021, the points can be redeemed directly for travel at a rate of up to 1 cent per point, or transferred to any of Amex’s 21 airline and hotel partners for potentially even more value.

Your business can also take advantage of the card’s 0% introductory interest rate on purchases for the first 12 months you have the card — just make sure it’s paid off by the end of that time, or you’ll find yourself facing an ongoing interest rate of 13.24%-19.24%, depending on your creditworthiness. Overall, it’s a pretty sweet package for small businesses, and all for no annual fee.

Related: CNN Underscored’s complete review of the American Express Blue Business Plus.

Use the introductory interest rate on purchases with the Blue Business Plus to cover business expenses for several months.

Use the introductory interest rate on purchases with the Blue Business Plus to cover business expenses for several months.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: Membership Rewards points earned with the Blue Business Plus can be converted to cash back, but at a poor rate of 0.6 cents per point, so small businesses focused on earning cash back instead of travel rewards should instead choose the American Express® Blue Business Cash Card, which has all the same features as the Blue Business Plus but earns cash back instead of points.

You also won’t want to use either card for international purchases, as both carry a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on overseas transactions. And larger businesses with more than $50,000 in credit card expenses each year will find the Blue Business cards limiting, as all charges beyond that amount in a calendar year earn only 1 point per dollar. (Businesses with bigger annual expenses should instead look below to our option for larger businesses.)

Where it beats our benchmark card: Extensive airline and hotel partners, some travel and purchase protections, introductory rate on purchases.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy-to-redeem cash back.

Learn more and apply now for the Blue Business Plus Card.

Best for larger businesses

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Capital One Spark Miles for Business card earns an unlimited 2 miles for every dollar you spend on the card — plus 3 additional miles for hotel and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel with the card — and those miles can be redeemed for any travel purchase you make at 1 cent per mile or transferred to Capital One’s airline partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.

This card is right for: Larger businesses that want easy-to-redeem travel rewards miles, with the option to learn how to master transferable miles down the line for greater value.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5 miles for every dollar you spend on your card on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One travel.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases with no cap.
  • Redeem miles for any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • For a limited time now through April 30, 2021, redeem miles for food delivery or wireless phone services at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • Miles can also be transferred to any of 15 airline and hotel partners.
  • Up to $100 credit when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year, then $95 per year.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,500 in the first three months of your account opening.

What we like about the Capital One Spark Miles: Businesses with large expenses that can be charged to a credit card will love the unlimited 2 miles per dollar of the Spark Miles for Business card, along with the extra 3x miles bump they’ll get when booking hotels or car rentals through Capital One Travel with the card.

Capital One miles are easy for businesses to redeem on any travel purchases made with the card at a rate of 1 cent per mile, or the miles can be transferred to any of Capital One’s 15 airline and hotel partners for potentially higher value with some extra work.

Also, for a limited time, Capital One has widened its redemption options on the Capital One Spark Miles. From now through April 30, 2021, you can also redeem the card’s miles for food delivery services and purchases made from eligible wireless phone service providers, such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and select others.

The Spark Miles card also comes with a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after you spend $4,500 in the first three months you have the card, which is a pretty low threshold for any business with significant monthly expenses.

The best part is the card’s $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can try it out for 12 months and see if it works for your business needs.

The Capital One Spark Miles credit card is a good choice for larger businesses.

The Capital One Spark Miles credit card is a good choice for larger businesses.

PHOTO:
iStock

What could be better: Travel likely isn’t top-of-mind for most businesses at the moment, so if you’d rather earn cash back instead of miles, you can look at the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business card as an option. It earns 2% cash back on all purchases and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year, but it’s missing a few perks such as 5x on car rentals and hotels at Capital One Travel and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit.

Capital One deserves credit for expanding its mileage program in 2018 to include transfer partners, but since it’s a relatively new part of the program, the Spark Miles for Business airline partners aren’t quite as lucrative as those from Chase and American Express, though with some effort you can still find terrific value.

It’s also not ideal that you have to book through Capital One Travel to earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals, especially since most hotels won’t honor earned elite status or award elite nights or points for reservations booked through third-party sites.

The $95 annual fee you’ll pay for the Spark Miles after the first year makes this a more expensive card than our benchmark Citi Double Cash, so businesses will want to make sure they’re getting enough extra value from their miles to make the cost worth it.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, purchase protections, travel protections.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Learn more about the Capital One Spark Miles for Business.

Need help getting rid of credit card debt? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best balance transfer credit cards of 2021.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.

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