Each bank has at least one rewards card designed to deliver maximum value without charging an annual fee that puts it out of reach for budget-conscious travelers.
These mid-tier cards are often the ones that see the fiercest competition between banks—which is great for points collectors. That drive to attract customers means lucrative bonuses, and constant pressure to maintain valuable benefits.
And right now, two of these cards are dueling it out with increased offers, so now is a great time to look at our favorite mid-tier cards in 2022.
Our Top Three Mid-Tier Flexible Rewards Cards
Bridging the gap between a fixed-value purchase eraser and a flexible rewards card, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers cardholders the best of both worlds. You can transfer Venture Miles to a wide range of airline and hotel partners (almost all now transfer at a 1:1 ratio) — including Air Canada, British Airways, and Wyndham Rewards. Or, simply use your points at a fixed value of 1¢ per point to wipe out travel expenses charged to your Capital One Venture.
Right now, the Capital One Venture is sporting its first increased bonus since July 2021, offering a one-time 75,000-mile bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That is a minimum of $750 in travel if you redeem for a fixed value, or potentially much more if you transfer to one of Capital One’s stellar list of travel partners.
What’s more, cardholders earn a solid 2x miles on every purchase, meaning you’ll get up to 2x airline miles on everything you spend on the card. That is one of the best returns on non-bonus spending you’ll find on any rewards card.
What makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card a crowd favorite year in and year out? In addition to a valuable signup bonus, this card offers some of the best travel and purchase protections of any card in its class.
Cardholders earn 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases, and 2x on all other travel purchases. Ultimate Rewards transfer to 14 airline and hotel partners — including United, Southwest, and Hyatt. So, there is no shortage of options when it’s time to redeem your points.
The Sapphire Preferred is currently offering an increased bonus of 80,000 points when you sign up and spend a total of $4,000 in the first 3 months you hold the card. But if you want to take advantage of this offer, you’ll need to be quick. Applications close at 6pm EST on May 31st.
A longtime AwardWallet favorite, the Citi Premier® Card takes the top prize for rewarding bonus category spending, helping to anchor your rewards strategy with top earning rates and transfer partners. The Citi Premier charges an affordable annual fee of $95 and earns extra points on a wide range of bonus categories. You can transfer points earned on the card to 16 airline transfer partners, 2 hotel partners and even a shopping partner — including JetBlue, Emirates, and Choice Privileges.
Cardholders earn 3x points per $1 spent on airfare and hotels, and at gas stations, restaurants, and supermarkets. Add to that the 60,000-point welcome offer and the $100 annual hotel credit, and you get an excellent bang for your buck.
Why No Amex Cards in the Top Three?
American Express offers two rewards cards that could potentially fall into the mid-tier category. However, both charge annual fees north of $100 (Rates & Fees), which is where we would typically draw the line for a mid-tier rewards card.
While the Amex Gold charges the higher annual fee of the two cards, you get some of the best returns on dining, groceries, and flights of any rewards card, period. Cardholders earn 4x at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., 4x at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, and 3x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. You can also get up to $240 in dining and Uber credits each year, which goes some way towards offsetting the annual fee. Enrollment is required for select Amex benefits.
The other card worth mentioning from Amex is the American Express® Green Card. While it doesn’t receive the same press as its more expensive stablemate, the American Express® Green Card is a more travel-focused product that earns 3x points on travel (including airfare, hotels, cruises, tours, and car rentals), 3x on transit (including trains, buses, ferries, and subways), and 3x point at restaurants (including takeout and delivery in the U.S.). You can also take advantage of a $100 Clear credit and a $100 LoungeBuddy credit.
The Best Mid-Tier Fixed Value Rewards Card
Taking home first prize in the fixed-value rewards category is the U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card. This card provides cardholders a monster return on spending courtesy of some excellent bonus categories, and also features one of the most accessible welcome offers of any card in its class.
New cardmembers can earn 50,000 points after spending an affordable $2,000 in the first 120 days. That’s just $500 per month required to earn a signup bonus worth $500. You also receive 5x points on prepaid hotels and rental cars booked through the Altitude Rewards Center, 4x points on all other travel (including airlines, hotels, rental cars, cruises, taxis, trains, and limousines), 4x points at gas stations and on electric vehicle charging, and 2x points at grocery stores, grocery delivery, dining, and streaming services.
You don’t need the hassle of a wallet full of cards to build out a profitable rewards strategy. Focusing on a handful of cards that give you a high-value return on your spending, offer tangible benefits that help offset the annual fee, and don’t hit you hard in the hip pocket is likely the optimal strategy for most points and miles fans. Each of the cards discussed in this post delivers on these criteria and will help to anchor your rewards strategy while keeping your out-of-pocket costs to a minimum.