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While we are slowly coming out of “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders nationwide, it is easy to fantasize about future travel. But now is a key time to align spending habits with the best credit cards for earning points during COVID-19.
To help you out, we here at Points Panda have selected the best credit cards to maximize your rewards, and even save you money.
Each of these cards in this post can get you the best rewards for purchases of groceries and restaurant takeout, streaming services, online shopping; or even all three:
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature – Best for Online Shopping
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred – Best for Streaming Services
- Chase Freedom – Most Versatile Rewards
- Target RedCard – Best For Saving Money
- American Express Gold Card – Best for Groceries/Everyday Spend
1. Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature – Best for Online Shopping
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card earns up to 5% back and offers a $70 Amazon Gift Card upon approval.
This card is exclusively for Amazon Prime members. Prime membership costs $12.99/month ($155.88 after a year of monthly billing), but the best deal is a year of membership for $119. If you are not already an Amazon Prime member, you can join via this link.
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card earns up to 5% back:
- 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods
- 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores
- 1% back on all other purchases
Rewards earned with the Amazon Prime Rewards Card can be redeemed for purchases on Amazon.com, at a rate of 1 cent per point. There is no minimum balance to redeem, and you may use the rewards for part or all of a purchase.
Rewards can alternatively be redeemed for Cash Back, Gift Cards or travel:
Cash back can be redeemed as either a statement credit or be deposited into your bank account.
Gift Cards can be redeemed starting at a $25 gift card for 2,500 points (1 cent per point).
Additionally, rewards for travel can be redeemed through Chase’s travel portal. When redeemed for travel, rewards can be used to book flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises at a rate of 1 cent per point.
Visa Signature Benefits
The Amazon Prime Rewards Card comes with Luxury Hotel Collection and Concierge Service benefits.
The Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection offers the ability to book 900+ luxury hotels for nightly rates of $299 or less. When booking through this collection, guests are entitled to a number of VIP benefits including room (when available), complimentary breakfast for two, and a $25 food and beverage credit.
The Amazon Prime Rewards Card has no annual fee. Furthermore, the card has no foreign transaction fee.
Low credit card fees coupled with up to 5% cash back, and the the opportunity to earn a $70 Amazon.com gift card make the Amazon Prime Rewards Card a fabulous credit card for online shopping.
2. American Express Blue Cash Preferred – Best for Streaming Services
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card offers up to 6% cashback, in addition to a cash back bonus of $250. In addition, the card comes with an introductory APR of 0% for the first 12 months from the date of account opening.
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card offers the ability to earn $250 cash back after spending $1,000 in eligible purchases on the card in the first 3 (three) months of opening the account.
The Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card earns up to 6% back:
- Earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets for up to $6,000 each year in purchases. Cash back earned at supermarkets drops to 1% after $6,000 each year in supermarket purchases.
- Earn 6% cash back on US streaming service subscriptions. Cash back earned for streaming service subscriptions drops to 1% after $6,000 in streaming service purchases.
- 3% cash back on transit including taxis/ride share services, buses, trains, tolls, and more.
- Earn 3% cash back at US gas stations.
- And 1% cash back on all other purchases.
You can even earn cash back for purchases made by additional card members.
Cash back is earned in the form of Blue Cash Reward Dollars, which can be redeemed for statement credits whenever your available balance is 25 Rewards Dollars or more.
Some superstores and wholesale clubs, as well streaming subscriptions bundled with another product or service may not be eligible for 6% cash back.
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card includes a 24/7 Global Assist Hotline.
This hotline, which is available if you are traveling 100+ miles from home, and can assist with medical emergencies, passport replacement, assistance with missing luggage, and more.
The Blue Cash Preferred Card has a $95 annual fee.
As previously mentioned, the introductory APR for the card is 0% for the first 12 months.
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card is one of the better credit cards to use for earning cashback at supermarkets and gas stations, and for streaming services during SARS-cov-2.
3. Chase Freedom – Most Versatile Rewards
The Chase Freedom Card offers up to 5% cashback on revolving bonus categories, and a welcome bonus of $200 cashback or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
The Chase Freedom Card allows you to earn $200 cash back or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points, after spending $500 in eligible purchases on the card within the first 3 (three) months from account opening.
You may also be ineligible for this offer if you have received five (5) or more personal credit cards in the past 24 months. This general rule, known as the “Chase 5/24 Rule,” applies to credit cards issued by any bank which may appear on your credit report.
After meeting the $5,000 spend requirement, you will receive 20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus points, which can be redeemed for cash back, used in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, or transferred to travel partners.
The Chase Freedom Card allows you to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 each quarter, in revolving bonus categories.
The bonus categories for the current quarter (April – June 2020) are for spending on grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart), fitness clubs, and gym memberships.
Also, Chase Freedom card members may earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022.
While the remaining quarterly bonus categories have not been announced, it is possible to speculate on what they might be. Based on the Chase Freedom bonus categories for 2018 and 2019, potential bonus categories for the rest of 2020 include gas stations (once more), department stores, payment service such as PayPal and Apple Pay, drug stores, and wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club.
All other spend categories that are not a quarterly category bonus or Lyft rides will earn 1% cash back.
Redeeming Rewards for Cash Back
The welcome bonus of 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed in the form of cash back via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal .
When doing so, you have the opportunity to receive cash back as either a credit card statement credit, or in the form of a deposit to your bank account.
Redeeming Rewards for Purchases
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can also be redeemed for purchases with Amazon, Apple, and countless retailer and restaurant gift cards.
Ultimate Rewards points used to make Amazon purchases are redeemed at a rate of 0,8 cents each, while points used for Apple and gift card purchases are redeemed at a rate of 1 cent per point.
Redeeming Rewards via Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal also allows Chase points to be redeemed directly for flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and experiences such as tours and museums. When using points to book travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you can receive 1.25 cents of value for each point.
Redeeming Rewards with Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners
One of the most useful ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points is transfer them to hotel and airline partners, at a 1:1 ratio.
Airline transfer partners include Southwest, United, and Singapore Airlines:
Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners are IHG Hotels, Marriott, and Hyatt:
The Chase Freedom Card comes with partner benefits for DoorDash.
A complimentary 3-month subscription to DashPass is included. Dash Pass is DoorDash’s subscription service and provides an unlimited $0 delivery fee on DoorDash orders of $12 or more.
After the complimentary 3 (three) month subscription, you will automatically be enrolled in DashPass at a discount of 50% off for the remaining nine (9) months. Per DoorDash’s website, DoorPass costs $9.99 per month.
The Chase Freedom Card does not have an annual fee.
In addition, the card has an introductory APR of 0% for the first 15 months from account opening.
The Chase Freedom Card has versatile rewards, while earning up to 5% cash back on quarterly categories. On top of that, no annual fee and a 0% intro APR makes the Chase Freedom Card the perfect card to have during lockdown, or while coming out of lockdown.
4. Target RedCard – Best For Saving Money
The Target RedCard allows you to save 5% off at Target.
Terms & Conditions
The Target RedCard is offered as either a Target RedCard Debit Card or Target REDCard Credit Card, and does not have a welcome bonus.
The 5% discount at Target does not apply to some times, such as prescriptions, Target gift cards, and prepaid cards.
The Target RedCard provides a 5% discount, at the time of purchase, for eligible in-store purchases including top deals and clearance items, in-store Starbucks locations, and certain specialty gift cards.
Target RedCard members receive a 5% discount on Target Subscription purchases, which allows certain items such as grocery, toiletry items, and houstehold essentials to be delivered on a regular basis.
The Card also provides free 2-day shipping for most online purchases, an extra 30 days to return items, and even 10% off of a purchase on your card anniversary.
One additional benefit of the Target RedCard is that it does offer a 10% discount on hotels booked via Hotels.com
The Target RedCard carries no annual fee.
The Target RedCard does not offer rewards, but it does offer savings for Target purchases in-store and online. This is one of the best credit cards to use during SARS-cov-2 for anyone whom shops frequently with Target or likes to subscribe to receive regular items like groceries and household essentials.
5. American Express Gold Card – Best for Groceries/Everyday Spend
The American Express Gold Card earns up to 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, and currently offers a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points.
You can earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points with the American Express Gold Card after spending $4,000 in the first 3 (three) months of opening the credit card account.
The American Express Gold Card earns up to four (4) Membership Rewards points per dollar:
- 4x points at US Supermarkets on up to $25,000 each year in purchases
- 4x points at restaurants worldwide, including takeout
- 3x points for flights booked through with airlines or on amextravel.com
Redeeming Rewards for a Statement Credit
American Express allows Membership Rewards points to be used as a statement credit to cover charges. You can redeem points online for eligible charges after they have posted to your account.
This may not be the best use of American Express points as points are redeemed at a rate of 0.6 cents each.
Redeeming Rewards for Shopping Purchases
Membership Rewards points can also be used at checkout for purchases with select merchants and services as Amazon, AMEX Express Checkout, GrubHub, Saks Fifth Avenue, PayPal, and Walmart.
A similar option for using Membership Rewards points is through AMEX’s Go Shopping portal. The Go Shopping portal allows to use points to make purchases from Apple, Best Buy, Bose, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tumi, and Yeti,
The key difference between using Membership Rewards points for purchases with shopping partners vs. the Go Shopping portal is how much value you can milk from your points. While you can redeem points for purchases with AMEX’s shoppping partners at a rate of 0.7 cents each, the Go Shopping portal only allows you to redeem points at a rate of 0.5 cents each.
Redeeming Rewards for for Gift Cards
Another way to use your points to cover purchases is to redeem Membership Rewards points for gift cards with dozens of retailers like Apple, Nike, and World Market.
The value you can receive for each Membership Rewards point when redeeming for gift cards varies by retailer, but you can expect to receive 0.5 – 1 cent per point.
Redeeming Rewards for Travel through AMEX Travel
AMEX Travel allows Membership Rewards points to be redeemed for flights, hotels, rental cars, and cruises.
Another intriguing way of using American Express points for travel is to Upgrade Your Flight with Points.
American Express has partnered with over 20 airlines to allow Membership Rewards points to be used for flight upgrades on eligible itineraries. You can upgrade your eligible itineraries regardless if you booked directly through the respective airline(s), and whether or not you paid with your American Express card.
You do need at least 5,000 Membership Rewards points to redeem for travel and upgrades. Points redeemed through AMEX Travel can be used to book hotels, rental cars, and cruises. You can get 1 cent per point redeemed for flights/flight upgrades, and 0.7 cents per point for other travel redemptions.
Redeeming Rewards by Transferring Points to Airline and Hotel Partners
Transferring points to airline and hotel transfer partners has the potential to be the best use of American Express Membership Rewards points. Points can be transferred to most airline and hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 rate.
American Express Membership Rewards airline transfer partners include Delta, Singapore, and British Airways:
The American Express Membership Rewards hotel transfer partners Choice Hotels, Hilton, and Marriott.
A very useful benefit of the American Express Gold Card is the $100 Airline Fee Credit.
When you select one qualifying airline, you can receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental airline fees charged to your Gold Card liked checked bags and in-flight refreshments.
Similar to the Amazon Visa Signature Card benefits, the Gold card comes with American Express’ own curated collection of luxury hotels, dubbed The Hotel Collection.
Benefits of hotel stays booked via The Hotel Collection include an upgrade, if available; and a $100 hotel credit that can be spent on qualifying dining, spa, and resort activities.
Another travel benefit of the Gold Card is you can book flights and hotels, and schedule ground transportation through American Express’ personalized travel service.
And for when more assistance is needed, the Gold Card has access to the 24/7 Global Assist Hotline.
The AMEX Gold Card also comes with an annual dining credit of $120.
Through this credit, you can receive a $10 statement credit each month when you pay with the Gold Card for purchases with Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Bon Appetite!
While the American Express Gold Card does have a $250 annual fee, it does have no foreign transaction fee.
The American Express Gold Card is a great card for earning bonus points at supermarkets and on dining during COVID-19, and is aided by an annual dining credit of $120.
Furthermore, this is a fantastic card for travelers with no foreign transaction fee, access to The Hotel Collection, an annual airline fee credit of $120, and the ability to transfer points earned to over 20 airline and hotel programs.
What Points Panda Recommends
While the United States is slowly moving towards reopening, now is a great time to prepare for future travel by being wise about which credit cards you use during COVID-19.
We encourage you to match what each card offers to your spending abilities and habits. It may be useful to start small with versatile rewards credit cards like the Chase Freedom Card and American Express Gold Card.