The 4 Best Credit Cards for Holiday Season 2016

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It’s nearly mid-November, how’d that happen?

I’m gearing up for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, as I’m sure many of you are, too.

holiday 2016 best credit cards

Dear everyone I know, you might get a kitchen appliance. Love, H.

Here are my top picks for cards to use for gift shopping and travel this holiday season.

Holiday 2016 best credit cards

1. Chase Freedom

Hands-down my fave. Earn an easy 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points, on up to $1,500 in combined spending at:

  • Department stores (Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sears, Nordstrom – complete list here)
  • Wholesale clubs (BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club)
  • Drugstores

Through December 31st, 2016.

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Excellent selection for the holiday season

I’ll likely spend a lot at Kohl’s, cuz that’s just how I roll. And I’ll definitely use this card at Costco, too.

Be sure to activate the bonus. This is an easy way to rack up 7,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per quarter ($1,500 x 5).

Those will transfer 1:1 to travel partners when combined with other Chase cards, including Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold.

I always get 2 cents of value from each of my Chase points (and usually much more), so I peg this as an easy $150 back toward travel.

Essentially, I make sure Chase Freedom is a 10% cashback card when I shop in the 5X quarterly bonus categories. And so should you, if you have one of the other cards listed above.

And if not, 5% back is better than nothing AKA using a debit a card. Chase Freedom is also a great “intro” card if you’re new – but I’d compare it to the Freedom Unlimited, especially if you don’t like the 5x categories.

But for holiday shopping – this is #1.

Note you can NOT get approved from this card if you opened more than 5 cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months. Sigh.

Giving Assistant has some nice payouts

Giving Assistant has some nice payouts

Pro tip: If you shop online, always start through a shopping portal. I check Cashback Monitor constantly. And saw Giving Assistant has some good payouts for department stores (like 5% cashback at Kohl’s). Get $5 free if you sign up using my link (and I’ll get $5 too). TopCashback is another good one!

2. Discover It

Dear light of heaven, I love this card. I got $2,200+ back last year from Discover It, gratis.

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Can’t shake a stick at 10% back on Amazon

Through December 31st, 2016, you can earn 5% cashback on up to $1,500 in combined spending at:

  • Amazon
  • Department stores (like Chase Freedom)
  • Sam’s Club

Just remember to activate the bonus before you start shopping.

This is an excellent complement to the Chase Freedom for when you max out the department stores category. Or instead of Chase Freedom thanks to the Amazon category.

You could even purchase $1,500 in Amazon gift cards to use any time (guilty as charged). You’d earn 5% cashback for the current billing cycle ($75). And if you’re a new cardmember, another $75 after the 12th billing cycle during an event I’ve lovingly named “The Dublin.”

For a total of $150, or 10% cashback. Not bad for a card with no annual fee!

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Can’t wait for The Dublin 2!

And now, Discover tells you exactly when your next Dublin will be. So I’m waiting patiently for October 27th, 2017. And am on track for another $1,000+ haul!

I’m on my 2nd Discover It card because you can have 2 max. But have to wait a year after the 1st one to open a 2nd.

This card is another excellent choice for holiday shopping.

3. Chase Sapphire Reserve

I product changed to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Because you can’t get approved if you’ve had more than 5 open cards in the previous 24 months. Which… I will never not have.

But I recommend this card for its:

  • Huge 100,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • $300 annual travel credit which you can use for travel in 2016 AND AGAIN in 2017
  • 3X bonus categories for travel and dining

This one isn’t so much for shopping. But for easing the sting of higher fares during the holidays. You can literally straight-up buy a plane ticket and get $300 back.

I do love this card

I do love this card

And because 2016 is winding down, the credit will reset in January 2017. The annual fee is $450, but you can recoup $600 of it very quickly.

If you plan to shop a lot, you can more easily meet the minimum spending. And then you’ll have a crap ton of points to use for travel.

Basically, turn holiday shopping into “meeting minimum spend” time.

The 3X you’ll earn on travel and dining is nice, too. I am in love with this card, even though I didn’t get a sign-up bonus *grumble grumble*

4. Citi Prestige

Yes, Citi has made massive changes to this card. But the good news is they don’t kick in until July 23, 2017. So you have a good 9 months to get your money’s worth.

Aye verily, I’ve recouped nearly $3,000 during the first year I’ve had the card. That’s insane.

The card continues to be worth it for:

  • $250 travel credit
  • 4th night free on paid hotel stays
  • Industry BEST trip delay and cancellation insurance

I book ALL my airfare with this card. Because trip delay kicks in after only 3 hours, which is industry best. Even Chase Sapphire Reserve makes you wait 6 hours. And most other cards make you wait 12!

Plus, you get $250 in travel credits, which reset after the close on your December statement. So it’s possible to recoup the $450 annual fee with $250 back in 2016 and $250 back in 2017. Again, easing the sting of higher holiday fares.

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I used the 4th night free benefit to save in Japan

If you plan on spending any time in a hotel, you get the 4th night free on paid stays. It’s a perk I use like crazy!

It’s true this card is a little less shiny than it was when it was launched. But the fact is, the changes are still pretty far away. And you can do well to assuage holiday travel if you maximize the very generous benefits that remain.

Bottom line

Those are my picks. But really, you can do well to simply get a new card and meet the minimum spending. Like the Starwood Amex card. Or whatever else strikes your fancy.

I highly recommend keeping Chase Freedom and Discover It top of mind and wallet, though (especially the latter for Amazon). And filling in around those.

If you get one of these cards in the next few days, it should arrive in time for Black Friday. But LBH, I’m in it for Cyber Monday. 😉

Thank you for using my links to get a new card. It really, really helps and is appreciated.

Any cards you’d add to the list? I’m all (digital) ears!

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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  1. For the Prestige 4th night free, do you still get points form the booking? Take Hilton for example. We’ll have around 12 nights researching new places to live in 5 cities. Right now HHonors is offering tons of points for bookings made through their app. Would I get the 4th night free AND the bundles of Hilton points? I suspect not.

    What about booking through a portal online? Would that work to still earn points? Just trying to maximize.

    • You wouldn’t get the Hilton bonus for booking through the app because you have to book through Citi. And no portal bonus, because you have to book through Citi.

      But you WILL earn elite credit and points from the stay itself. And I’d much rather save a couple hundred bucks that get 500 Hilton points – so the Citi 4th night free is still a MUCH better deal.

          • I think it’s 5,000 points, plus at least 30x points. So $400 from 4 nights would end up with at least 17,000 HHonors points vs $300. That’s half a cent, probably still better to do the 4th night free.

          • For booking through the app? I only see the triple points promotion on there.

            Just to be clear, you’ll still earn the normal amount of points for the room… you just won’t get the promotions if you book through Citi.

            But yeah, definitely do what’s best for you!

          • Yup, I found it on Lucky’s site. Looks like you need to register and then book with a Visa.

            HHonors members can earn 5,000 bonus points when booking a stay with a Visa credit card through the Hilton HHonors app. The promotion is valid for stays between November 2, 2016, and January 31, 2017, and registration is required.

            http://www.hhonors.com/VisaBonus

          • Ohhh that one! I’d still rather have the free night and earn 3X Citi ThankYou points lol. But again, whatever makes sense for you – that’s the awesome thing about this travel hobby of ours!

          • I think I’d tend to agree. $100 off is worth close to 20k HHonors points, but I’d rather save the cash. You’re still earning Prestige points like you said.

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