Having the right credit card is like having the right tool for the job — if that job just happens to be purchasing things. No matter if you’re a frequent flyer, gear junkie, or ski bum, there are credit cards that reward you for every dollar you put toward your travel, kit, and swag. So if you aren’t using a card that rewards you for spending on the things that you care about, you’re leaving money on the table. We asked Jason Steele, who specializes in credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance, for cards that will get you the most bang for your buck for every kind of activity. Here are his top picks.
Best Card for Gear Junkies
REI Mastercard US Bank
It already pays to be a member of REI when you’re constantly updating your gear closet and stocking up on anything from Clif bars to Camelbaks, since the outdoor retailer offers 10 percent back annually on all purchases for members. But to up the rewards ante, the REI MasterCard gives you an additional 5 percent back on every REI purchase — totaling your annual dividend to 15 percent. And because you can’t buy everything at REI, the REI MasterCard also gives you 1 percent back on all purchases.
Best Card for Road Trips
Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi
When you think of road trips, Costco probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But as Steele points out, there are Costcos all over the country, and this card would cover most everything you could want or need on the road — most notably gas. The Costco Anywhere Visa card has no annual fee with your paid Costco membership and gives you 4 percent cash back on gas purchases, whereas most cards top out at 3 percent. Additionally, you’ll get 3 percent cash back on restaurant and travel purchases, 2 percent back on all purchases from Costco, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Best Card for Skiers and Snowboarders
Wyndham Rewards Visa
This card is unique because, in addition to hotels, Wyndham owns thousands of condos and timeshares — so 15,000 points can get you a free night in any property they offer, be it a cabin in the Smokey Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to a slope-side condo in Deer Valley or Aspen. The Wyndham Rewards Visa gifts you 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase — good for one night in a Wyndham mountain getaway — and additionally gives you three points per dollar spent during travel and two points per dollar on gas, utility, and grocery purchases.
Best Card for Globe Trotting: Chase Sapphire Reserve
When Chase debuted the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, they couldn’t make them fast enough to keep up with the demand. The card is a do-it-all travel-purchase savior that offers exceptional travel insurance that allows you to be reimbursed (no questions asked) if your luggage is lost or you experience some other expensive travel hiccup. Additionally, it benefits holders with a priority pass membership that gives you access to hundreds of lounges in airports. “This card also offers really cool benefits that you wouldn’t normally think about, like no foreign transaction fees and the ability to transfer reward points,” Steele says.
Best Card for Outdoorsmen
Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Rewards by Bank of America
The Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Rewards card by Bank of America allows you to earn 5 percent in rewards points on all qualifying purchases in-store — whether you’re buying a fly fishing rig, some hunting gear, or an ATV. The card has no annual fee and allows holders to earn unlimited redeemable rewards points. And so you can feel good about your purchases, this card is part of a program that supports conservation efforts — with Bass Pro Shops guaranteeing a yearly contribution as high as $1 million. To date, sportsmen have used this card to contribute over $13 million to conservation.
Best Card for Your Closet
L.L. Bean Visa or Brooks Brothers Platinum MasterCard
“Basically, every business and store you can think of has a partnership with a bank and have some sort of rewards program and a credit card,” explains Steele. “So wherever you enjoy shopping the most — whether you’re a suit-and-tie guy or you just wear flannels and jeans — there are cards that reward you for being brand-loyal.” The L.L.Bean Visa earns you 3 percent on all L.L. Bean purchases and 1 percent everywhere else. The Brooks Brothers Platinum MasterCard offers obvious clothing benefits such as 15 percent off your first day's purchases and a $20 rewards card for every $500 spent at Brooks Brothers — but the card also offers travel and warranty benefits so you can be insured while on the go.
Best Card for Frequent Flyers
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
With this simple but high-value card, you get double miles on all purchases and a 5 percent rebate when you redeem miles. "That's a lot of bang for your buck,” as Steele says. Additionally, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard earns you 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — which is basically earning your next vacation to Europe by just paying your bills.
Best Card for All Types of Travel
Citi ThankYou Premier
The Citi ThankYou Premier card is the ideal choice for people who travel frequently but aren’t sold on the idea of having a different credit card for every type of purchase. Steele says it has good purchase protection and travel insurance and allows you to transfer miles you’ve earned between airlines, so you don’t get stuck with one airline — "great for people who may not have frequent-flyer status,” Steele points out. Additionally, with the Citi ThankYou Premier card, benefits include three points per dollar on travel purchases and two points on entertainment and restaurant purchases.