Guide to contactless credit cards

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The U.S. is lagging when it comes to adopting contactless payment systems. Credit card holders in other parts of the world, like Europe and Australia, have been using this useful technology for years.

The good news is, most U.S. card issuers have started to convert to contactless cards. So we’ve included a list of the top contactless cards below. A number of the best credit cards for travel are contactless, so you may even have one in your wallet without even knowing it!

(Photo by Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock)

What is a contactless card?

Contactless credit cards don’t require you to insert your card chip or swipe your card when making a purchase. They use EMV chip technology (chip security developed for Europay, Mastercard and Visa but now used by many cards) with NFC (near-field communication) for payments. Contactless cards are used much like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay, where you can “tap-and-go” just by waving your card near the card readers.

Why would you use a contactless card?

Speed is the main reason one might want to consider using and accepting contactless card payments. This is true for both the consumer and the merchant. it’s estimated that a contactless card payment takes about half the time that a normal payment might take – one where you either swipe your card or insert your card into the chip reader.

Another reason, especially given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic, is cleanliness. With a contactless payment, you won’t have to touch anything and there’s no reason the cashier would need to touch your card either. And in theory, this could reduce the likelihood of germs spreading from one surface to another.

What are the best contactless cards?

There are numerous U.S. credit cards that already have contactless capability, but our top picks include:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for overall value

When you sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account.

Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits and perks including the ability to earn 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Also, through March 2022 you’ll earn 5x points on Lyft rides.

This card also comes with primary car rental insurance when you pay for the rental with your card. You’ll even get solid trip delay insurance for up to $500 back per ticket on incidentals like transportation, meals and lodging when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay. And if your baggage is delayed you’ll be reimbursed up to $100 per day for up to five days for incidental expenses like toiletries and clothing if the delay is longer than 6 hours.

Sapphire Preferred cardmembers are eligible for at least a complimentary year of DashPass, which normally costs $9.99/month and gets you waived delivery fees on DoorDash orders of $12+ at participating restaurants. You must activate this benefit by Dec. 31, 2021 to qualify.

The card has a $95 annual fee.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the #1 card we recommend for beginners in the miles and points hobby. This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can transfer to airline and hotel partners like Hyatt, Southwest and United Airlines. Or you can quickly redeem points to save on airfare, hotels or car rentals through the Chase travel portal. The sign-up bonus is worth $750 in travel when you book through the Chase portal. Because Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to so many partners, this card gives you more flexibility than even the best airline credit cards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best for travelers

When you sign up for Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.  

The Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits include the ability to earn 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 10x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and dining worldwide and one Chase point on all other purchases.

The best perk for this card is the annual $300 in travel credits, which are automatically earned whenever you make a qualify purchase including airfare, hotels, rental cars and more. You also get an application fee credit (worth up to $100) for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. The card also includes a Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you and up to two guests access to 1,200+ airport lounges.

You can also receive a free year of a Lyft Pink membership when you activate the benefit by March 31, 2022. Lyft Pink is a membership that normally costs $19.99/month and comes with perks, like:

  • 15% off all rides
  • Three free cancellations a month (if you rebook within 15 minutes)
  • Three free bike/scooter rides per month
  • Priority airport pickups
  • Waived lost and found fees
  • “Surprise offers” — including seasonal discounts and exclusive savings

To activate your membership add your Sapphire Reserve card as a payment option in your Lyft app and you’ll be prompted to activate your Lyft Pink membership.

The card also comes with $60 in DoorDash credit in 2020 and another $60 in credit in 2021. The credit will automatically be applied to DoorDash orders when you pay with the card. On top of that, you’re also eligible for at least a year of free DashPass (normally $9.99/month), you must activate the offer by Dec. 31, 2021. DashPass gets you waived delivery fees on orders of $12 or more at participating restaurants.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee is $550.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best premium travel rewards credit card. The Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonus is worth at least $750 in travel. And with the $300 annual credit for travel purchases every cardmember anniversary, that’s $1,050 in value in the first year, not counting other money-saving perks you enjoy as a cardholder.

Be sure to run the numbers when deciding between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve. For example, you’re effectively paying a $250 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee – $300 travel credit). You’ll pay a $95 annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. So you’ll effectively pay $155 more each year ($250 – $95) to get many extra perks, like lounge access, more bonus points on travel and dining purchases, rental car discounts and much more.

Chase has these restrictions for their Sapphire-branded credit cards. You cannot have more than one Sapphire-branded credit card open at the same time.

American Express® Gold Card

Best for restaurant purchases

The American Express Gold card has a welcome bonus of 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening.

With this card, you’ll get:

  • 4 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar at restaurants worldwide
  • 4 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then 1x)
  • 3 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com
  • Terms apply

The Amex Gold card’s benefits and perks are loaded with valuable credits. You can earn up to $120 dining credit ($10 monthly) each year at participating restaurants (enrollment required).

This card also has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Annual fee

There’s a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), but the credits you’ll earn will offset most of that cost.

With the card’s earnings rates and perks, this card has essentially become one of the best cards for restaurants. Plus, the $250 annual fee is quickly covered when you eat out and shop for groceries at U.S. supermarkets and account for the value of the statement credits you can earn make the Amex Gold card worth it for many people.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for premium travel

With the Amex Platinum card you can earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first six months of opening your account.

The 5x Membership Rewards points you’ll earn on flights booked directly with the airlines and on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel is the highest earning rate for flights of any credit card. Note: starting Jan. 1, 2021, you’ll earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

The Amex Platinum’s benefits also include valuable perks like up to $200 in Uber credits annually, up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S (up to $20 per month on each, from May through December 2020), up to $200 annual airline-fee credit, Airport lounge access and more.

And later this year eligible The Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders can earn up to a $200 statement credit on qualifying purchases made through Amex Travel. Here are the terms:

  • Valid between August 2020 and December 2021
  • Valid for the personal version of the card only, and only for those who renew their card between April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020

For information on lounges at your home airport or favorite airport, check out this post on how to find Amex Platinum airport lounges. This card also now has new travel coverages, including trip delay insurance and trip cancellation/interruption coverage.

The card has a $550 annual fee, which is not waived (see rates & fees).

The Amex Platinum is useful for anyone looking to earn a nice stash of Amex Membership Rewards points through travel spending, especially if you can make the most of the card’s perks. If you use the card’s perks and credits, you’ll easily come out ahead and find the Amex Platinum’s annual fee worth it.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Best for simple travel rewards

After approval, and for a limited time, you can earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 on purchases within 12 months of account opening. Or still earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

In addition to the card’s valuable welcome bonus, the Capital One Venture’s benefits and perks, include 2x Venture miles on all purchases, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100) and no foreign transaction fees.

The card also comes with Visa Signature benefits, like secondary rental car insurance, travel accident insurance and lost luggage insurance.

Being able to earn two Venture miles on every purchase is pretty great, especially because you don’t have to worry about tracking bonus categories — everything is simple and straightforward.

The card has a $95 annual fee.

The welcome offer alone is worth $1,000 or more if you transfer your Capital One miles to the right travel partners. And another thing that makes the Capital One Venture worth is is its straightforward rewards program. All you have to do is pay for travel expenses (such as airfare, hotel stays and parking) with your credit card, then log in to your account and erase the charge by redeeming your miles.

It also has a smaller annual fee than other cards that reimburse Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, which usually have higher annual fees that are often between $450 and $550 .

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.

Meghan Hunter is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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