First up are the cards that can get you the most value if you're willing to put in the work: travel rewards credit cards that earn Amex, Chase, and other bank points. You can transfer these points to various airline and hotel partners, as well as use them to book travel directly through your credit card issuer.
American Express Gold Card — If dining is one of your top spending categories, the Amex Gold is a great card for you. It earns 4x points at restaurants (and 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 each year, then 1x) and each month you get up to $10 in statement credits when you use the card at GrubHub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shacks. There's a $250 annual fee. Read the Amex Gold Card review.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card — Like the Sapphire Preferred, the Venture Rewards Card packs in a lot of benefits for a sub-$100-annual-fee card, and in this case the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You'll earn 2x miles on all purchases, and 10x miles on hotel bookings made with the card via hotels.com/venture. You can redeem miles to cover travel purchases on your statement, or transfer them to a selection of airline programs. Read the Capital One Venture Rewards card review.
Not everyone travels enough to make cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred worth it. If you'd prefer to earn money back on your spending, you have plenty of great options as well. Unless otherwise specified, these cards don't have an annual fee.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card — This is a top cash-back card thanks to its many bonus categories. You'll earn 3x points (3% cash back) on eating out and ordering in, on travel, gas stations, rideshares, and transit, and on popular streaming services, and 1% back on everything else. It's also one of the rare no-annual-fee cash-back cards to waive foreign transaction fees. Read the Wells Fargo Propel Amex card review.
Chase Freedom Unlimited — This card offers a solid flat rate (1.5% back) on every purchase, and it's one of the most flexible cash-back cards around, because it gives you options. If you decide you'd like to get into travel rewards further down the line, you can combine your cash-back earnings from the Freedom Unlimited with Chase Ultimate Rewards points from a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred to use them toward travel. Read the Chase Freedom Unlimited review.
Chase Freedom — Like the Freedom Unlimited, the Chase Freedom earns cash back on every purchase. But instead of offering a flat cash-back rate, it offers 5% back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter of the year in rotating bonus categories, such as gas stations and streaming services, and 1% back on everything else. You have to activate the bonus each quarter to earn the 5% back. The Freedom's cash-back earnings can be combined with Ultimate Rewards points if you have a more premium Chase card. Read the Chase Freedom review.
If you're loyal to a specific airline — or even if you just travel with the same airline multiple times a year — it could be worth holding a co-branded credit card to get a free checked bag, priority boarding, and other perks. Airline credit cards run the gamut from entry-level to premium options, and the best choice for you will depend on how frequently you travel.
Hotel co-branded credit cards can get you complimentary elite status, bonus points on stays, and other solid perks. As with airline credit cards, the options run the gamut from basic cards with annual fees under $100 to premium picks that offer fancier benefits.
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express — This card has a $450 annual fee, but if you have even just a few Hilton stays in a year it can be well worth it. You get complimentary Hilton Diamond status, which can get you free breakfast and complimentary room upgrades, and each cardmember year you'll get up to $250 in Hilton resort credits and up to $250 in airline fee credits each calendar year. Read the Hilton Aspire card review.
If you run your own company or even if you just have a side gig like freelancing or selling items online, a business credit card is a great way to separate your work expenses and earn rewards targeted to business spenders. Many business credit cards offer bonus points on categories like office supplies, and if you opt for a high-end card you can enjoy luxury travel benefits like airport lounge access.