Credit card deals can come packaged in several ways — such as a high rewards rate, exceptional welcome bonus or exclusive perks — and can make owning a card even more valuable. Bankrate broke out a list of the five best credit card deals for 2021 so you can make an informed selection based on the type of card you’re looking to apply for.
Bankrate’s top picks for the best credit cards deals (March 2021)
- Best cash back credit card deal: Discover it® Cash Back
- Best travel credit card deal: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Best balance transfer credit card deal: Citi® Double Cash Card
- Best student credit card deal: Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card
- Best rewards credit card deal: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Discover it® Cash Back
- 5 percent cash back on rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500, then 1 percent, activation required)
- 1 percent cash back on all other purchases
Welcome bonus: Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year
Annual fee: $0
Why it’s the best cash back credit card deal
If you’re looking to literally double the amount of cash back you earn the first year, the Discover it® Cash Back is the card for you. This cash back credit card comes with Discover’s Cashback Match™ feature, meaning it will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. That means if you earn $300 in cash back in the first year, Cashback Match™ would double your earnings to $600 in cash back.
Other than its stellar welcome bonus, the Discover it Cash Back offers 5 percent cash back on rotating categories each quarter (up to $1,500, then 1 percent, activation required). For 2021, you’ll earn cash back at grocery stores, rideshare services, restaurants, select online shopping and more. You can learn more about Discover’s 2021 cash back bonus categories, here.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants
- 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome bonus: 80,000-point bonus when you spend $4,000 in your first three months
Annual fee: $95
Why it’s the best travel credit card deal
In terms of bang for your buck, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the best travel credit card deals on the market today. For a mere $95 annual fee, you earn an unlimited 2X Ultimate Rewards points on travel — including airfare, hotel stays, rental cars and more — and dining at restaurants. Until May 2022, you also earn a total of 5X points on Lyft rides (an additional 3X points on top of the 2X points you already earn on travel).
What’s so special about this card is that when you redeem your rewards for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, your points are worth 25 percent more. That means the card’s 80,000-points welcome bonus (earned after spending $4,000 in your first three months) is worth $1,000 when redeemed toward travel through the portal.
Though the Sapphire Preferred is considered a card for casual to semi-frequent travelers, it offers a few perks held by premium travel rewards cards: no foreign transaction fees, 1 to 1 point transfer with Chase airline and hotel partners, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance and more.
Citi® Double Cash Card
- A total of 2 percent cash back on every purchase (1 percent cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1 percent as you pay for those purchases)
Welcome bonus: None
Annual fee: $0
Why it’s the best balance transfer credit card deal
The Citi® Double Cash Card is a great balance transfer credit card deal for a number of reasons. First, the card’s 18-month zero percent introductory APR on balance transfers is one of the longest offers available (13.99 percent to 23.99 percent variable APR after), second to the Citi Simplicity® Card’s introductory 21-month zero percent APR on balance transfers (variable 14.74 percent to 24.74 percent after).
Second, the card can earn you up to 2 percent cash back on every purchase in a world where earning rewards with a balance transfer card isn’t guaranteed.
Lastly, the card can help keep you on track going forward with its unique earn-as-you-pay rewards structure. The Citi Double Cash gets you an unlimited 1 percent cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1 percent back on that purchase when you make at least the minimum due payment each month.
Even better, this balance transfer credit card doesn’t charge an annual fee, meaning you won’t have to factor the yearly charge into your debt payoff plan.
Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card
- 2X ThankYou® Points at supermarkets and gas stations on the first $6,000 you spend per year (1X points after)
- 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome bonus: 2,500 bonus points when you spend $500 within the first 3 months of account opening
Annual fee: $0
Why it’s the best student credit card deal
Not only does the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card have both a welcome bonus and a high spending cap for a student credit card, it also offers a point round-up feature that can boost your rewards potential on the simplest of purchases.
Besides the 2X ThankYou® Points you earn at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 per, then 1X points), Citi automatically rounds up the points you earn on each purchase to the nearest 10. That means if you spend $40 on gas — earning you 80 ThankYou® Points — Citi will round up your earnings to 90 points.
The card doesn’t charge an annual fee, and its welcome bonus can be obtained by spending just under $167 a month for three months.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1 percent)
- 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming services
- 3 percent back on transit purchases (including rideshares, tolls, parking, taxis and more)
- 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations
- 1 percent on all other purchases
Welcome bonus: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95.
Why it’s the best rewards credit card deal
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns its title as the best rewards credit card deal thanks to the variety of high-yielding rewards categories it offers for a relatively low annual fee.
You’ll have no problem extracting value from this card if your family spends a decent amount of money on U.S. supermarket purchases, select U.S. streaming services (think: Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu), transit and U.S. gas stations.
Additionally, there’s a pretty attainable welcome offer: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
Choose the best credit card deal for you
While the main selling point of a credit card may be its unique travel benefits or first-year welcome bonus, it’s important that you judge a card based on its overall value to your lifestyle. Keep these tips in mind to ensure your credit card brings you long-term value (rather than grief)
Select a card that rewards you for the spending you do most often
If you frequently dip, tap or swipe at the grocery store, for example, but only purchase airfare once every couple months, it probably doesn’t make sense to apply for a travel or airline credit card. Instead, you should look into a grocery store credit card that rewards you for stocking up your pantry.
Don’t know what you spend the most on? Take a look at your credit card or bank statement each month and divvy up your purchases into categories like groceries, gas, dining out and airfare. If it’s a clean tie, consider a rewards card that earns you a flat rate on every purchase you make.
Don’t overspend to hit a welcome offer
Though a welcome bonus is one of the most gratifying perks a credit card can offer, make sure the card you select has a bonus you can realistically meet. In the worst-case scenario, you could end up accumulating credit card debt to meet a bonus unrealistic for your budget.
A good rule of thumb is to compare a bonus’ qualifying spend and the time frame in which you have to meet it (usually three months) to what you’d normally spend in that time. A welcome bonus that requires you to spend $3,000 in your first three months, for example, wouldn’t be a responsible choice if you typically spend $1,500 within that time frame.
Weigh a card’s annual fee versus the rewards you’ll most likely earn
Luxury credit cards are luxury for a reason — they offer premium rewards structures and perks for a higher-than-average annual fee. Those who can afford to spend a significant amount on travel, for example, probably won’t have trouble earning enough rewards to cover the annual fee for their premium travel rewards card.
If you’re unsure whether your spending can cover (or more than cover) a card’s annual fee, take a closer look at the spending you do on other credit cards you own. You can also factor in the card’s welcome bonus and added perks (such as travel statement credits) to offset the cost of its annual fee.