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When it comes to earning travel rewards, nothing beats a credit card with a hefty welcome bonus, great earnings levels and ongoing perks. But there’s a catch: Many popular credit cards also carry high annual fees.
While the perks often justify the cost, not everyone will maximize the benefits of a card enough to get their money’s worth. The good news is that for every top-rated credit card, there is a cheaper alternative that offers similar benefits at a lower annual fee. Here are five to consider.
Capital One Spark 2% Cash Plus scores highly thanks to earning 2% cash back on all purchases, plus 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. The card also offers a generous welcome bonus: $500 after you spend $5,000 in the first six months and another $500 once you spend $50,000 in the first six months. It has a $150 annual fee, which can be offset by a $200 annual cash bonus when you spend $200,000 or more per year.
With a high annual fee and high spending requirements, the 2% Cash Plus Spark Card can be a tough sell for some business owners. In contrast, American Express’s The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card may be a better alternative. There is no annual fee (see rates and fees) and earn 2 American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on all purchases (up to $50,000, then 1 point per dollar).
The card has a lower welcome bonus than the 2% Cash Plus Spark Card, but lower spending requirements: 15,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Plus, Blue Business Plus offers a promotional 0% APR on purchases made within the first 12 months of account opening.
Read the Blue Business Plus review from CNN Underscored.
Learn more and apply now for a Blue Business Plus card.
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® card has many useful features over a $95 annual fee card (see rates and fees). Namely, it offers automatic Hilton Gold elite status, ten complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge visits annually and one yearly free night if you spend $15,000 per calendar year. The welcome bonus is a generous 150,000 points once you spend $3,000 within six months of card membership.
This bonus can be very useful as the Hilton awards night starts at 5,000 points. Card category bonuses also help you get free nights faster. It earns 12 points per dollar at Hilton hotels, 6 points per dollar for dining, gas and groceries in the US and 3 points per dollar for everything else.
But if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is worth considering. The card has no annual fee (see rates and fees) but still offers a hefty welcome bonus and earn rate. Cardholders receive 100,000 points after spending $2,000 within six months of card membership. It earns 7 points per dollar at Hilton hotels, 5 points per dollar at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets in the US and 3 points per dollar elsewhere.
Although the Hilton Honors Card only comes with Silver elite status, you can upgrade to Gold after spending $20,000 in a calendar year. This makes the Hilton Honors card a good alternative to the Surpass Card if you want to earn Hilton points but avoid paying an annual fee.
Read the CNN Underscored Hilton Honors card review.
Learn more and register now for a Hilton Honors card.
If you’re renting a home, the Bilt World Elite Mastercard® is an excellent alternative to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offering superior rewards and no annual fees (see rates and fees). The Bilt Mastercard earns 3 points per dollar for dining, 2 points per dollar for travel (flights, hotels, rental cars, and cruises booked directly), up to 5 points per dollar for Lyft travel and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. You must make five transactions per reporting period to receive points for your purchases.
Meanwhile, Sapphire Preferred earns 5 points per dollar for travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, 2 points per dollar for all other travel, 3 points per dollar for dining, grocery delivery, and streaming services, 5 points per dollar for Lyft travel ( to March 2025 ) and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Unlike the Bilt Mastercard, Sapphire Preferred has a welcome bonus: 60,000 points after $4,000 is spent within three months of account opening.
Bilt Mastercard rewards points for rental payments. You’ll earn 1 point per $1 spent on rent payments, up to $50,000 per year. Rental payments are processed free of charge to any landlord. In fact, Bilt will send a check to your landlord or provide you with a bank account number to use when making payments through the online portal.
Bilt offers double points during the monthly “Rent Day” promotion on the first day of each month. Rental payments are not included, but cardholders earn 6 points per dollar for dining, 4 points per dollar for travel, and 2 points per dollar elsewhere.
While the Bilt Mastercard doesn’t have a welcome bonus, its category bonuses and ability to earn points on rentals can make for more rewards in the long run. Other than that, Bilt Rewards points are similar to Chase Ultimate Rewards in that you can redeem them through the Bilt travel portal for 1.25 cents per point or transfer them to various partner airlines and hotels:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Air Canada plane
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue
- American Airlines profits
- British Airways Executive Club
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Emirates Skywards
- Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMikes
- Iberia Plus
- IHG One Prize
- Miles & Smiles Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines MileagePlus
- Red Virgin
- Hyatt World
Learn more and register now for the Bilt Mastercard.
The Citi Premier® card is a great choice for everyday spending, thanks to earning 3 points per dollar at restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, airlines and hotels. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.
The card also includes $100 annual hotel savings (applicable to bookings of $500 or more), partially offsetting the $95 annual fee. Plus, the welcome bonus of 60,000 card points earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening can be very rewarding, as the Citi ThankYou program has many great redemption opportunities.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, consider the Citi® Double Cash Card. The card does not have a welcome bonus but does not charge an annual fee either. Best of all, it earns 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off). Cashback is earned in the form of Citi ThankYou points, but you’ll have fewer redemption options with Double Cash (unless paired with a premium Citi card).
More importantly, if most of your expenses fall outside the bonus Citi Premier category, you will earn more points with the Citi Double Cash card. It also offers a 0% APR deal on balance transfers for 18 months, which carries a 3% fee. These offers can be useful for refinancing credit card debt as you will save on interest costs for over a year.
Read Citi Double Cash CNN Underscored review.
Learn more and register now for Citi Double Cash.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of the most popular travel gift cards thanks to its strong welcome bonus and earnings structure. The card offers 60,000 points once you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. In addition, cardholders earn 10 points per dollar for Ultimate Rewards hotel and car rental bookings, 10 points per dollar for Chase Dining, 5 points per dollar for flights booked through Ultimate Rewards, and 3 points per dollar for dining and all travel purchases. other. It has offered a $300 annual travel credit to partially offset its $550 annual fee, along with a Priority Pass membership.
However, you can get many of the same benefits and a higher welcome bonus from Capital One Venture X. The card’s $395 annual fee is largely offset by a $300 annual travel credit (applies to Capital One Travel bookings) and 10,000 anniversary miles (value $100). Cardholders also get Priority Pass membership and access to Capital One’s (albeit limited) airport lounge network.
Even better, new cardholders earn 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. The card earns 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5 miles per dollar on Capital One Travel flight bookings, and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases. You can use Capital One miles to offset travel purchases (at a rate of 1 cent per mile) or transfer them to partner airlines and hotels.
Learn more about Capital One Venture X.
Click Here for Blue Business Plus card rates and fees.
Click Here for Hilton Honors Surpass card rates and fees.
Click Here for Hilton Honors card rates and fees.
For more credit card info, read CNN Underscored’s guide to best travel credit card currently available.
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