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The Best Credit Cards, January 2013

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is arguably the best option for earning flexible travel rewards. You will earn one point for every dollar spent on purchases with the card. Your travel expenses as well as your restaurant dining expenses earn double. Each year, Chase will credit a 7% Annual Points Dividend on every point you earned during the prior 12 months, even if you've already redeemed the points.

Chase is encouraging its cardholders to book travel through their own online agency. When you do, your points are worth 20% more. For example, a $500 flight normally requires 50,000 points; booking through Chase reduces that requirement to 40,000 points. If you'd rather book directly with your airline, you can transfer your points to participating airline frequent flyer programs on a one-to-one basis.

New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus points (enough for $500 in travel rewards as mentioned above, or transferable to frequent flyer programs) by spending $3,000 by the end of the first three months after being approved for the card. Another benefit for travelers is the 0% foreign transaction fee.

There is a downside to owning this card. Chase charges a $95 annual fee, but it is waived for the first year. If you make heavy use of travel rewards, it might be worth the $95. If the benefits outweigh the cost, apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

For a less expensive travel rewards card, the $75 Blue Sky Preferred® from American Express offers a 15,000 bonus point sign-up bonus (after spending $1,000 in the first three months). 15,000 points are worth a $200 statement credit, so the ratio of rewards to points is more favorable.

The best credit card sign-up bonus

Ink Cash® Business Card. Although it's a card for business owners, I like the bonus Chase is offering. For new cardholders that spend $3,000 in the first three months of owning the card, the Ink Cash Business Card provides a $200 cash back bonus.

The card also offers a generous rewards program. In addition to the standard 1% cash back on purchases, cardholders can earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent each year with office supply stores, mobile phone carriers, and internet and cable television services. Equipment purchases aren't included in that category, unfortunately. Cardholders can also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent annually at gas stations and restaurants. Take note that introductory offers and APRs change often, so be sure to review the application and the terms and conditions carefully when you apply for the Ink Cash Business Card. Also, although it's a business card, any qualified individual can apply.

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