We all know that in life, nothing is free. That doesn’t mean that we can’t squeeze as much as possible out of every dollar we spend. Comparison shopping, coupon cutting, and the old “five finger discount” are all well and good for paying less, but with a rewards credit card, you actually get something extra for the money you spend. Wow! It’s like ordering two scoops and getting a maraschino cherry without even asking for it!
- Chase Freedom. The name alone instills a sense of confidence and patriotism: “Buy your stuff with this card and you are a hunter of liberty!” While the summer offer of “5% back on up to $1,500 spent at gas stations and restaurants” expires at the end of September, no sooner does that end than you save 5% on airlines, hotels, Kohl’s, and Best Buy. Considering the state of that last retailer’s profits, next month would be a good time to buy that 64″ 3D LCD TV that’s been on your wish list.
- Capital One Venture. With a 2% rewards rate on every purchase, it’s easy to see how Capital One can hire filthy, uncouth barbarians to sell its card and still remain one of the most popular pieces of plastic in the United States and the Hyborean hinterlands. There is a $59 annual fee (waived the first year), but there are no foreign transaction fees, so if you buy enough pashmina scarves on your next trip to Firenze, your rewards will cover the yearly cost.
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred. There are rewards cards for business moguls who brunch in Dubai and Vegas, and those who think nothing of dropping six figures on bling for someone who breathed on a pair of dice, but where is the card for the regular Joe or Jane or Batman Bin Superman? The AEBCP has a hefty $75 annual fee, but with a whopping 6% cash back on grocery purchases, the average family spender should have no trouble covering that many times over in diapers alone. Gas and department stores pay back a respectable 3%, and all other purchases get you 1%. With all the money you get back, you can increase your car insurance deductable to cover Acts of Child with Carbonated Beverage.
- American Express Gold Delta Skymiles. Miles: the meat and potatoes of the rewards buffet. Read the fine print for restrictions, but even with blackout dates, baggage fees, and the occasional inappropriate pat-down from an overzealous TSA agent, frequent travelers will be hard pressed to find a better deal than 2X miles on Delta purchases and a 30,000 mile bonus for spending $500 within the first three months of signup.
- Capital One Cash Rewards. This is another one for the average consumer. While the 1% cash back doesn’t immediately illicit shrieks of delight, perhaps learning that there is no annual fee and you get a “50% bonus on the cash back you earn every year” is worth a whoop or squeal.
Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and Law Enforcement. He writes about a wide variety of topics including how to save money on car insurance as well as how to best run a small business.