Best Mastercard credit cards of 2020
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Most of the best travel credit cards operate on one of three payment networks: American Express, Visa or Mastercard, and there are advantages to carrying a card from each network. Beyond the various benefits and earnings you receive with different rewards credit cards, some stores may accept one card but not another.
No matter what type of rewards you prefer, there is a Mastercard that fits your needs: cash back, airline miles, hotel points or flexible travel points. Below we detail our favorite card for each category:
Best Mastercard credit cards
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best hotel card
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best cash-back card
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Best airline card
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Best business card
- Citi Premier® Card: Best travel card
- Citi Prestige® Card: Best premium travel card
- Citi Rewards+® Card: Best no-annual-fee card
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The information for the Citi Double Cash Card, Citi AAdvantage Platinum card, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card, Citi Prestige has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
There is a Mastercard that can work for you, no matter what type of rewards you like to earn. (Photo by denys999/Shutterstock)
Which is the best Mastercard?
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Best hotel card
The IHG Premier card has a 125,000 bonus points and a free night after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
If you have the old IHG Select card (no longer available to new applicants), you can still qualify for the IHG Premier card and that means you can earn two annual reward-night certificates — one on each card — each year.
In addition to the IHG Premier card’s current bonus, it also has a handful of useful perks. For starters, you’ll get IHG Platinum status as long as you have the card. It’s also a good card for earning IHG points. You’ll earn 10x IHG points at IHG hotels; 2x points at grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations, and all other purchases will earn 1 IHG point per dollar spent.
Every year you keep the card (and pay the annual fee), you’ll earn a reward night valid at IHG hotels that cost 40,000 points or less per night. You’ll also get a fourth reward-night benefit on points bookings, so for every award booking of four nights or more you’ll get a one-night discount. If you pay for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application with this card, you’ll get your application fee reimbursed (up to $100). This card has one of the smallest annual fees of any of the top credit cards offering Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
You can also earn 10,000 bonus IHG points when you spend $20,000 or more in a calendar year on the card.
$89 annual fee
A generous bonus, reasonable annual fee and excellent ongoing benefits make this a great hotel credit card. Although IHG status comes with few lucrative perks, the annual reward night is easily worth more than the card’s $89 annual fee. That means all of the card’s other benefits are gravy and there are few instances when this travel credit card isn’t worth keeping long term.
IHG points aren’t as valuable as other travel rewards, so this isn’t one of the best cards for everyday purchases. But, based on our IHG points value, the 125,000-point intro offer is worth $625 and that’s not including any value you’ll get from the card’s perks.
The biggest thing to consider before applying for this card is that it’s a Chase credit card, which means it’s subject to the Chase 5/24 rule. Opening this card limits the other Chase cards you could open and you’ll need to be under the Chase 5/24 rule before applying, which limits you to opening fewer than five cards from any bank in the past 24 months (not including most small-business credit cards).
Best cash-back card
The Citi Double Cash currently has no welcome offer.
If you have a card that earns Citi ThankYou points you can convert the cash back you earn with this card into ThankYou points at a rate of 1 dollar to 100 points.
This card is a simple as it gets. The Citi Double Cash earns 2% cash back everywhere (1% back when you buy; plus 1% back as you pay).
This is one of the top credit cards with no annual fee, so opening and keeping the card long term costs you nothing. As we mentioned before, a hidden advantage to the Citi Double Cash is that you can pair this card with a card that earns ThankYou points. Normally, you are limited to earning a welcome bonus on a single Citi ThankYou points card every 24 months, but the Citi Double Cash isn’t subject to this restriction. So it’s easier to pair it with other Citibank credit cards without locking yourself out from earning an intro bonus with another card.
The Citi Double Cash is the best of both worlds. The card earns the most cash back for everyday purchases, so it’s a great card if you like keeping your rewards simple. If you want to increase the value of your cash back, you could open the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige. This allows you to convert your cash back into points and move your points to Citi’s transfer partners.
Best airline card
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card currently has a 50,000-mile bonus after spending $2,500 in the first three months of account opening
Opening this American Airlines credit card won’t impact your ability to earn a bonus from the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card.
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card’s benefits include the ability to earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and at gas stations and restaurants. You’ll also earn 1 American Airlines mile per dollar spent on other purchases.
This card comes with all the perks you’d expect from a cobranded airline credit card. Your first checked bag is free (for you and up to four companions), and you get preferred boarding (Group 5 for you and up to four companions) and 25% back on inflight food and beverage purchases. Having this card will also give you access to the American Airlines reduced-mileage awards allowing you to save on awards flights at a rotating list of 100+ airports. You can also earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after spending $20,000 or more on your card in a membership year and renewing the card.
This card has no foreign transaction fees.
$99, waived for the first 12 months.
If you don’t have American Airlines elite status, but travel with American Airlines a couple of times a year it makes sense to carry a cobranded card. The free-checked-bag perk alone offsets the card’s annual fee, which is waived the first 12 months. But, if you don’t check bags often or can’t take advantage of the reduced-mileage awards, then it might not be worth keeping long term.
This is a good American Airlines card with a bonus worth ~$700, according to our valuation of American Airlines miles. You can only earn a welcome bonus on this card once every 48 months and we’ve seen slightly bigger welcome offers in the past. So now isn’t the best time to apply for this card.
Best business card
You can earn 65,000 bonus miles with the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card after spending $4,000 in the first four months from opening the account.
Citibank business cards won’t add to your Chase 5/24 count, so applying for this card is a great way to earn miles without limiting your options with other banks if you qualify for business credit cards.
The CitiBusiness American Airlines card has benefits similar to what you’ll get with the personal version. You’ll earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar spent.
You’ll also get your first checked bag free and Group 5 preferred boarding for the cardholder and up to four companions. This card’s 25% inflight savings include food, beverages and even Wi-Fi, which isn’t discounted with the personal card. This card also grants you access to AA’s reduced-mileage awards and a $99 companion certificate for spending $30,000+ on the card during the cardmember year and renewing your card (account must remain open at least 45 days after account anniversary).
$99, waived for the first 12 months.
If you have qualifying business activities (including independent contractor and freelance work), this card largely provides long-term value similar to what you’d get with the personal Citi Platinum Select card. So if you travel with American Airlines a few times per year, but not enough to earn elite status, the CitiBusiness Platinum card is worth it.
The intro offer for this card is worth $910 in AA flights based on our American Airlines miles valuation. Because the annual fee is waived for the first 12 months, it’s worth giving this card at least a test run. Personally, I’ve had the card for several years because the free checked bag and preferred boarding perks make me more comfortable purchasing cheaper basic economy tickets. That savings alone makes up for the annual fee.
Best travel card
The Citi Premier card has a 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
If you combine your ThankYou points accounts with a Citi Premier card, you can book travel through the thankyou.com website for 1 cent per point.
Most of the insurance and travel coverage perks have been removed from this card. The bonus categories for all Citi Premier cardholders are: 3x points per dollar spent on air travel, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. The categories don’t include entertainment, and the travel category is more narrow and won’t apply to purchases like parking, tolls or cruises.
The Citi Premier is the cheapest card to keep that allows you to transfer ThankYou points to all Citi travel partners. When you consider how much more valuable your ThankYou points become when you can take advantage of the best ThankYou points redemptions, this is an invaluable perk. You can easily combine ThankYou points card accounts (under one person’s name) or share points between Citi ThankYou accounts. And once the new bonus categories go into effect, this will be one of the top credit cards for spending at grocery stores and gas stations.
This bonus is worth $1,020 according to our Citi ThankYou points valuation, making it one of the best travel credit card bonuses. Overall, this is a great travel card, but without the valuable travel insurance protections, it falls a bit short of other comparable cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has the same annual fee ($95), the same minimum spending requirement of $4,000 in the first three months and an 60,000-point bonus. But the Sapphire Preferred earns slightly more valuable Ultimate Rewards points and comes with top-tier travel protections, like trip delay insurance and baggage delay coverage.
Best premium travel card
You can earn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from opening your Citi Prestige card.
If you get to the point where the Citi Prestige is no longer worth it, rather than cancel, you can always downgrade your card to the no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash card. This allows you to keep the account open, which helps preserve the age of your account and improve your credit score.
With this premium travel card you’ll get Priority Pass airport lounge access and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application-fee credit — both perks that you’d expect with a card that has a high annual fee. The Citi Prestige also has top-notch bonus spending categories: You’ll earn 5x ThankYou points on airfare and at restaurants; 3x points with hotels and cruise lines, and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
The best perk of this card is its $250 annual travel credit, which is automatically applied to eligible travel purchases, such as airfare, hotels and car rentals. With the Prestige card, you’ll also get the fourth night free on hotel bookings of four nights or more booked through Citi. You can use this perk twice per calendar year. The Citi Prestige lacks the travel protections you’d expect to have with a premium travel card, but the card does come with cellphone insurance. With this insurance you’ll get up to $1,500 in coverage per year when you pay your cellphone bill with your card. You can be reimbursed for up to $1,000 per claim with a $50 deductible.
This is one of the two Citi ThankYou cards that allows you to transfer points to any Citi airline partner. Also, the $495 annual fee shouldn’t end up costing you that much out of pocket because the $250 annual travel credit is easy to use. So, if you can get more than $245 in value from the card’s ongoing perks, it’s worth keeping.
Although the Citi Prestige has a good bonus offer worth $850, according to our ThankYou points valuation, it lacks some of the benefits you should get with a premium travel card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with trip delay, trip cancellation/interruption coverage, primary rental car insurance and lost or delay luggage insurance. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve has a slight bigger annual travel credit of up to $300, which offsets the Reserve’s slightly higher annual fee of $550.
Best no-annual-fee card
The Citi Rewards+ card is currently offering 20,000 bonus points after you spend $1,500 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $200 in gift cards at thankyou.com. Plus, For a limited time, earn 5 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on air travel and hotels up to $6,000 in the first 12 months and then 1 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent thereafter.
If you combine your Citi Rewards+ account with other ThankYou points, the card’s 10% points rebate on the first 100,000 points redeemed each year will apply to the points you’ve earned with other cards. Plus if you have the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige, the 10% rebate will apply to transfers to Citi airline partners.
The Citi Rewards+ card has a couple of unique perks that you won’t find on other cards. As we mentioned before, you’ll get a 10% points rebate on the first 100,000 points you redeem each year. Also, the points you earn on every purchase will be rounded up the the nearest 10. So a $1 purchase earns 10 points, which makes this an excellent card for small purchases.
This card earns 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 in purchases each calendar year (then 1 point). Every other purchase earns 1 point per dollar spent.
Even if this card had an annual fee, the 10% points rebate might still be worth it because it applies to other ThankYou points cards you have. Because this card has no annual fee, keeping it is a bit of a no-brainer.
This card’s intro bonus offer isn’t mind-blowing, but it doesn’t have an annual fee and it’s a great card to pair with the Citi Double Cash because you can convert the cash back you earn into ThankYou points. On top of that, when you redeem those points, you get 10% back (on the first 100,000 points redeemed per year).
This is also a great card to pair with the Citi Premier, but the problem is that you can only earn the welcome offer on one Citi ThankYou card every 24 months. So if you want to earn the bonus on both cards, you’ll have to wait for a while. One way around this is to product-change an existing card to the Citi Rewards+ or Citi Premier.
What types of Mastercards are there?
There are three types of consumer Mastercards:
- World Mastercard
- World Elite Mastercard
The actual designation of any card will vary, but in general you’ll find World and World Elite designations on cards with an annual fee. There are also a variety of perks associated with each type of Mastercard, with the best benefits attached to the World Elite Mastercard.
The exact benefits attached to your Mastercard will vary by card and by card issuer, but could include perks like:
- Lyft credits (World Elite cards only)
- Access to VIP events
- Price protection
- Extended warranty
- Hotel stay guarantee
- Lowest hotel rate guarantee
- Postmates discount
- Rental car status and discounts (World Elite cards only)
You can read our guide to the World Elite Mastercard benefits for more details on these perks.
What are the advantages to having a Mastercard?
The other advantage to using a Mastercard outside of the country is that you’ll typically get a better exchange rate when paying with a credit card compared to exchanging cash. Just be sure to always pay the bill in the local currency so you’re not hit with egregious dynamic currency conversation fees. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got a Mastercard that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card or the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®.
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