So, I’ve been looking for a new credit card, one with a better return rate than the 1% I get with Welld Fargo. I’ve been eyeing the American Express “Blue” card because it… well, because it looks good. Of all the credit cards out there I want one with a good rewards program. Some people look for other features such as:

  • Low APR
  • No annual fee
  • Carry-over balance
  • Rewards programs
    • Airline
    • Hotel
    • Cash back (gift cards or just plain cash)
    • Savings account (FDIC insured high yield savings account or college fund)

The American Express web site has a great feature that lots you choose the best card to fit your lifestyle. I think all credit card companies should offer an application like this. Visa has the Card Advisor, but it’s a little hard to find on their web site. MasterCard has something similar on their site under personal cards, but… well, their site just needs a total re-design. It has the feel of 1995 with no real use of CSS or any dynamic HTML (other than the DIV float-over survey they ask you to take.)

Another thing I like about that application is that it’s designed in Flash rather than Java. (I have nothing about cross platform but Flash just has a better usability factor than Java applications as I’ve mentioned before.) The one thing I don’t like about the AmEx application is that when you select a card it browses to that page within the same window instead of opening a new window. That means each time you want to look at a new card you have to re-start the Flash application and make all your selections over again. It’s really annoying.

MasterCard has a flash based application. Although their find-a-card section is hard to find, their application is well created and when you select a card it opens a new window with information about that card. Good job on the target=”_new”! I also like that you can drag-drop up to 4 cards into the top panel of the application and “compare” them. I like this feature.

Of course there are also business cards, but we are looking for personal cards here. Most of my credit card related expenses are due to travel (hotel and airline) so credit cards that cater to shopping/grocery expenses were moved to the bottom of our list. The two AmEx cards we looked at were the:

  • Blue: Although this card purports “up to 5% cash back” it’s not really all that great, other than it looks cool. You only get 1% on everyday purchases and 0.5% on all other, up to $6,500. Anything over $6,500 gets you 5% on everyday purchases and 1.5% on all others. This sounds great until you see the definition of “everyday purchases” as: “U.S. supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores”, which is a small portion of all my expenses. I mean who spends more than $6,500 annually in those stores anyway? Also, there is no annual fee.
  • TrueEarnings (from Costco): This card, although it looks bad and is nothing I would feel proud to show others, does offer a good rewards program. The down side is the high interest rate, but if you pay your balance off at the end of each month it should not be an issue. Also, there is no annual fee (if you already have a Costco membership). The rewards include:
    • 3% cash back when you eat out at any restaurant or order for home delivery
    • 2% cash back for traveling-airline tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises
    • 1% cash back on all other purchases

As for Visa cards there are a few that were recommended. Now I have been down the road of the Visa Signature card and it is not all it’s cracked up to be. It tries to emulate the AmEx theme of being a “no limit” card and offers many benefits, none of which I ever took advantage of. The one big benefit is that it feels really cool to have one. I really enjoyed simply knowing that it was a Signature card, slightly like but not nearly as impressive as the AmEx Black card.

  • Chase Freedom Visa Card: Similar in most respects to the AmEx Blue card. Still getting 3% cash back on “eligible Gas, Grocery and Quick Service Restaurant purchases” and 1% cash back on everything else. Beware that word “eligible” … grrr.
  • None of the other cards had anything more than 1% cash back.

As an FYI, there exists one Visa Signature cards with no annual fee. Can you believe it? It’s really hard to find and only offered by Chase/BankOne, but look for it and you might find it.

Unfortunately none of the MasterCard credit cards offered anything more than 1% cash back. I was so suprised, but this just put them all out of the running.

I guess this means that although I don’t like the design or look of the AmEx TrueEarnings card, in the end, it’s the best one for me financially. There is no annual fee because I already have a Costco membership.

Speaking of which, did you know you can get gas at Costco also? Even though I shop only for a family of 2 and we still buy most of our groceries at other stores (Target and Safeway), the few purchases and now gas we can get at Costco more than pays for the membership.