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Best Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping

Best Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping

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The holiday season can be one of the most expensive times of the year for many people. Between current high inflation and supply chain issues, it could be even more expensive this year. 

Americans plan to spend an average of $1,000 on gifts, holiday items, and other purchases for themselves and their families this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer spending survey.

If you’re looking for ways to save this holiday season, consider digging into your credit card accounts to see what rewards you have laying around to help cushion your holiday budget. “That could be cash back or that could be gift cards, especially if money is kind of tight, but you’re sitting on a lot of rewards,” says Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. 

Another great way to boost your savings and earn cash back is using your credit card to shop for gifts, especially one that’s well suited for holiday shopping. When used responsibly, credit cards can give you cash back, purchase protections, and other rewards for your holiday shopping. But to avoid overspending, you’ll need a holiday budget and a plan to pay your credit card bills on time and in full every month.

“The key is to use your credit card without overspending, so make sure it’s money you would’ve spent anyway,” Rossman says.

Here’s how you can be strategic with your credit cards over the holidays to boost your savings — and some of our favorite credit cards for holiday shopping. 

How to Maximize Your Savings This Holiday With a Credit Card

Credit cards are now bringing more value than ever to regular, everyday purchases, and you can use them during the holidays to save even more. 

For every dollar that you spend during the holidays, you can potentially earn a percentage of it back, or get other types of rewards when you use the right credit card. That includes spending on travel plans, festivities, meals, home decor, and a seemingly endless list of gifts.

Rewards

As you begin planning for the holidays, figure out where you plan to spend most of your money on gifts and holiday expenses, and take inventory of your cards to see if they align with your holiday shopping plan or are offering bonus rewards on purchases you intend to make. The more cash back and rewards you’re able to get from your credit cards, the better.

If you’re traveling during the holidays, consider booking your travel on a travel rewards card to help you build up points or miles for a future vacation. If you prefer cash back in your pocket, consider redeeming any rewards you’ve accumulated and using a cash back card for your holiday expenses.

Cash Back and Savings Offers

Consider stacking your credit card rewards on top of online shopping portals, coupons, and retail sales to save even more. Discount offers through your credit card issuer, like Capital One, Amex, or Chase, can also add another layer of savings. 

Clicking through an online shopping portal or opting into targeted offers through your credit card issuer can help you save on purchases with eligible retailers — and savings can often be even greater during the holidays, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert and founder of TrueTrae.com. For example, cash back portal Rakuten typically offers 1% to 5% cash back, but is now offering double cash back at certain retailers for the week of Black Friday. 

“What I’m seeing right now are a lot of deal sites offering additional savings on top of what the retailers are already offering. If you are buying something that’s a couple of hundred dollars, that extra cash back will really make a difference,” Bodge recently told NextAdvisor.

Purchase Protections 

Going beyond upfront cash back offers and discounts, using a credit card for your holiday shopping gives you purchase protection and other benefits, such as extended warranty. 

Purchase protections ensure goods against theft or accidental damage for a limited time, taking some stress out of the process if holiday gifts go missing or break shortly after purchasing them.

“If you are going to be doing a lot more shopping than usual, which we typically do around this time, it’s good to get familiar with those sorts of extras that your credit card offers,” says Bodge.

Best Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping

Shoppers with a spending plan and a budget can use credit cards to maximize savings during the holidays and reap the extra benefits, such as rewards and purchase protections.

Our favorite credit cards for holiday shopping have no annual fees, and many feature solid 0% introductory APR periods for new purchases, generous welcome bonuses, and great rewards.

Editorial Independence

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

Chase Freedom Flex℠: Best for Maximizing Cash Back

Best for Maximizing Cash Back Chase Freedom Flex℠ Chase Freedom Flex℠

Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)

Apply Now externa link icon At Chase’s secure site

Best for Maximizing Cash Back Chase Freedom Flex℠

Editor’s Score: (4.7/5)

  • Intro bonus:

    $200

  • Annual fee:

    $0

  • Regular APR:

    14.99 – 24.74% Variable

  • Recommended credit score:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Rewards rate:

5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter! 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®. 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases. 1% on all other purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros

  • Extensive tiered rewards structure
  • Rotating bonus rewards categories every quarter
  • Valuable welcome bonus offer
  • 0% introductory APR for purchases
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • High ongoing APR after intro period
  • Rotating quarterly bonus categories capped after $1,500 in spending
  • Keeping track of rewards categories may be more complex than some other cash back cards

The Bottom Line

The Chase Freedom Flex card offers cash back rewards in rotating rewards categories that will let you save where you spend the most. Plus, you’ll earn rewards in ongoing bonus categories year-round.

Additional Card Details

  • 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases (14.99%-24.74% variable APR thereafter)
  • 5% cash back on qualifying Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in your top spending category (among eligible categories) through Dec. 2021
  • Complimentary 3 months DashPass from DoorDash, after that, a 50% discount on DashPass for the next 9 months (activate by 12/31/21)
  • Cell phone protection
  • Free credit score and monitoring
  • Access to Chase Offers savings

Chase Freedom Flex, offers rewards on bonus categories that rotate every quarter and has one of the highest rewards rates on everyday spending among cash back cards available today — and you can earn even more over the holiday season. 

The Chase Freedom Flex 5% bonus categories this quarter are Walmart and PayPal (up to $1,500 in combined quarterly purchases, with activation). Through the end of 2021 (and after activating quarterly categories), you’ll also earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the eligible category you spend most. These categories include travel (including transit), dining, home improvement stores, grocery stores (not including Target or Walmart), drug stores, gas stations, select live entertainment, select streaming services, and fitness clubs. Because there’s overlap between eligible categories in the temporary offer and Freedom Flex’s ongoing bonus categories, you can potentially earn up to 9% cash back on certain purchases. 

For example, if your top spend category is groceries and you’re also eligible for the first-year 5% rewards at grocery stores, you’ll get both rewards bonuses for a total 9% back (1% flat rate on everything plus 4% new cardmember bonus, plus 4% top spend category quarterly bonus).

In addition, you’ll get 5% cash back on cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in your first year. You can also get 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% back on Lyft rides through 2022, 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

You can also get a $200 welcome bonus after spending at least $500 within three months of account opening, and there’s an introductory 0% APR on new purchases for 15 months (14.99% – 24.74% variable APR thereafter).

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: Best for Online Shopping

Best for Online Shopping Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Editor’s Score: (3.8/5)

Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site

Best for Online Shopping Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Editor’s Score: (3.8/5)

  • Intro bonus:

    Up to $150 Amazon Gift Card

  • Annual fee:

    $0

  • Regular APR:

    14.24% to 22.24% Variable

  • Recommended credit score:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Rewards rate:

5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market with eligible Prime membership* 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores* 1% back on all other purchases*

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros

  • Rewards on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases, plus popular everyday spending categories
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Metal card

Cons

  • Sign up bonus comes in the form of an Amazon gift card
  • No annual fee, but $119 Amazon Prime membership required
  • High variable APR

The Bottom Line

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card from Chase is a game-changer for people who spend a lot on Amazon.com or at Whole Foods — both categories net you 5% in cash back. You’ll also earn rewards in other popular everyday categories along with some pretty sweet additional benefits, all for no annual fee (as long as you’re a Prime member).

Additional Card Details

  • Visa Signature Card with benefits like Visa Signature Concierge Service and Luxury Hotel Collection access
  • Travel and emergency assistance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement and baggage delay coverage
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Purchase protection
  • Extended warranties
  • Auto rental coverage and roadside assistance

Nearly 80% of online shoppers expect to spend most of their holiday shopping budgets at Amazon this year, according to a recent survey from discount platform DealAid. 

If you plan to make most of your purchases on Amazon, you can use the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, to earn the best rewards rate on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. Unlike traditional retail cards, you can also use the card anywhere Visa cards are accepted. 

The card offers 5% cash back on Amazon.com and at Whole Foods (with eligible Prime membership); 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores; and 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee, but you’ll need an Amazon Prime membership (worth $119 annually) to get approved. You’ll also qualify for an Amazon.com gift card worth up to $150 instantly upon approval.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best for 0% Interest on New Purchases

Best for 0% Interest on New Purchases U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Editor’s Score: (4.1/5)

Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site

Best for 0% Interest on New Purchases U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Editor’s Score: (4.1/5)

  • Intro bonus:

    N/A

  • Annual fee:

    $0*

  • Regular APR:

    14.49% – 24.49%* (Variable)

  • Recommended credit score:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

If you’re planning to make any big purchases over the holidays, and you want the flexibility to pay them off over time, consider a card that offers a 0% interest period for new purchases. U.S. Bank Visa Platinum has a 20-billing-cycle intro period, making it NextAdvisor’s top choice for 0% interest on new purchases. The offer also applies to  balance transfers, and there’s a 14.49% – 24.49% variable APR thereafter. 

This card doesn’t offer ongoing rewards, but its intro APR offer makes it worthwhile if you want to spread out payment of large purchases over time. If you do plan to use a 0% APR card for holiday spending, be careful to spend only what you know you can afford to pay down within the intro period. Stay disciplined about paying your balance on time and have a solid plan to pay off as much of your balance as possible before the intro period ends before applying.

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card: Best for 2% Cash Back

Best for 2% Cash Back Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

Editor’s Score: (4.6/5)

Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site

Best for 2% Cash Back Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

Editor’s Score: (4.6/5)

  • Intro bonus:

    $200 cash rewards

  • Annual fee:

    $0

  • Regular APR:

    14.99%-24.99% (Variable)

  • Recommended credit score:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros

  • 2% unlimited cash rewards on purchases
  • Valuable welcome bonus
  • Introductory 0% APR from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers
  • Cellphone and travel protections

Cons

  • High variable APR after introductory offer ends
  • No bonus categories to maximize
  • 3% foreign transaction fee

The Bottom Line

The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card comes with an enticing 2% cash rewards on purchases, along with a valuable welcome bonus. You won’t pay an annual fee, and can also benefit from 0% intro APR from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 15 months (followed by a variable APR of 14.99% – 24.99%).

Additional Card Details

  • 0% intro APR from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99% – 24.99%
  • Cellphone protection protection worth up to $600 (subject to a $25 deductible)
  • Visa Concierge Service
  • Emergency cash disbursement and card replacement
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • Roadside dispatch

If your holiday shopping doesn’t fall within common bonus categories, or you want to make sure you’re maximizing value on every dollar you spend, a flat 2% cash back card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card is a great option. This card shines for its simple rewards structure, welcome bonus, and intro offer. With the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card, you’ll earn a flat 2% cash back on all purchases, which could net you hundreds in annual rewards without having to worry about activating rotating bonus categories or spending within specific bonus categories. 

There’s a 0% intro APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99%, 19.99%, or 24.99%. And you can earn a generous welcome bonus: $200 in cash rewards if you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card Review: Best for Customizable Rewards

Best for Customizable Rewards U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Editor’s Score: (N/A)

  • Intro bonus:

    $200

  • Annual fee:

    $0*

  • Regular APR:

    13.99% – 23.99%* (Variable)

  • Recommended credit score:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Rewards rate:

5% cash back on your first $2,000 in eligible net purchases each quarter on the combined two categories you choose. 2% cash back on your choice on one everyday category, like Gas Stations, Grocery Stores or Restaurants. 1% cash back on all other eligible net purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros

  • Pick your bonus rewards categories
  • 0% intro APR offer for balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • Cash welcome bonus offer

Cons

  • Quarterly caps limit 5% cash back
  • Introductory APR offer does not apply to purchases
  • Limited rewards redemption options
  • Must reactivate categories each quarter

The Bottom Line

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature takes some thought to maximize, but can offer great savings. You’ll earn 5% back in two categories you choose each quarter, as well as 2% back in one of three everyday spending categories. There’s no annual fee, and an introductory offer for balance transfers can help you save by consolidating debt.

Additional Card Details

  • 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 billing cycles, followed by a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Zero fraud liability
  • Contactless payment options
  • Travel and purchase protections through Visa Signature program

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card can offer great savings for holiday shopping thanks to its customizable rewards — even in categories not often found among rewards cards — where you spend the most every quarter. Many of these categories are also useful for holiday shopping, like department stores and electronics stores, or entertaining holiday visitors, like movie theaters.  

You’ll earn 5% back in two categories you choose each quarter (up to $2,000 in combined quarterly spending), among the following:

  • Fast food
  • TV, internet, and streaming services
  • Cellphone providers
  • Home utilities
  • Department stores
  • Electronics stores
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Movie theaters
  • Gyms/fitness centers
  • Furniture stores
  • Ground transportation

You’ll also get  2% back in one of three everyday spending categories: groceries, gas stations, or restaurants, and 1% back on everything else. You must activate your 5% and 2% choice categories each quarter, or you’ll forgo the bonus rewards and earn just 1% on all spending. 

You can earn $200 bonus cash when you spend $1,000 on purchases within 120 days of account opening. If you’re willing to strategize and use this card for holiday purchases you were planning to make anyway, you could meet the card’s minimum spending requirement and earn some cash back. Just remember to pay your balance in full and on time every month to avoid interest charges.

Why It’s Important to Shop With the Right Credit Card

Look at your credit cards and make sure you’re using the best credit cards for your holiday shopping, says Bodge.

“I think it’s always good when you’re starting to holiday shop to get really familiar with what your credit card offers,” says Bodge. 

The right rewards card will earn you points or cash back on your spending, and in turn, help you save money. But to make the most of it this season, you’ll need to make sure your rewards credit card aligns with your spending. Having a budget and holiday shopping plan can help tremendously with this

Pro Tip

If you’re on a tight budget, make this holiday season about spending time with family and friends. That can be even more rewarding than giving or receiving a gift.

One easy way to ensure you’re earning rewards for spending during the holidays is to use a cash back credit card that earns a flat rate on every purchase. With flat rewards, you can earn anywhere from 1.5% to 2% cash back on every purchase. 

Rotating bonus category cards require a bit more strategy, but can be even more valuable during the holidays. That’s because they typically offer a higher 5% cash back rate on different spending categories each quarter, and many issuers center their fourth quarter bonus categories on retailers —  just in time for holiday shopping. 

If you’re not getting the value you’d like from your current credit card, you may want to ask your issuer for a product change to a card that better suits your needs. Another option is applying for a new credit card that better aligns with your spending than the ones you have now. Either way, you’ll want to avoid closing any of your credit card accounts outright, since that can potentially hurt your credit score.

Other Holiday Shopping Tips

  • Start budgeting early: Prices are higher than usual for consumer goods, primarily due to supply chain shortages and inflation. Do your shopping early and plan your budget ahead of time to ensure you don’t spend more than you can afford.
  • Research price fluctuations: Use price comparison sites and apps to spot good deals when they appear and look for coupons to bring the price down even more.
  • Be ready to buy when you find a deal: If you can find a good deal on something you were already planning to buy, you’ll probably want to press “buy” sooner rather than later. Waiting until the busiest shopping day of the year could mean missing out on in-demand gifts because of issues with stock or shipping delays. If you’re not ready to buy just yet, keep a backup plan in mind.

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