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I’m Getting Ready for the Holiday Season – Which Credit Card Should I Apply For?

Credit Cards
With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we spend literally 1,000s of hours researching partner offers and following strict editorial integrity to match you with the perfect choice. We even share how we make money so you can enjoy our expert advice and researched recommendations with total clarity and confidence.

The holiday season is right around the corner, and it never hurts to get prepared early. Making your shopping and travel plans well in advance could save you big bucks.

Case in point: Applying for the right credit card now could result in serious rewards earning that you can leverage into purchasing gifts, trips to visit family and more. Looking for a few suggestions? Here are some of the Nerds’ top picks:

If you’re a big department store shopper: Chase Freedom®

The Chase Freedom® is a great card to carry any time of year, but it will come in especially handy during the winter gift-buying season. With this card, you’ll earn 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. You’ll also earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. Here are the current categories:

Chase Freedom® bonus rewards categories for 2017
Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)Gas stations and local commuter transportation (not including parking, tolls or Amtrak)
Q2 (April 1 - June 30)Grocery stores and drugstores
Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)Restaurants and movie theaters
Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Walmart and department stores

Remember, the Chase Freedom® charges an annual fee of $0 and will get you started with a small signup bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. That’s a nice little cash boost you can use to buy more gifts for loved ones if you’d like, or maybe even a little treat for yourself.

MORE>> How to Pick the Best Credit Card for You: 4 Easy Steps

If you’re a big online shopper: Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Another great card for holiday shopping is the Discover it® - Cashback Match™, especially if you prefer the convenience of making your gift purchases online as opposed to elbowing your way through crowded malls. With this card, you’ll earn 5% cash back in quarterly rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Here are the current categories:

DISCOVER BONUS CATEGORIES FOR LATE 2017 AND 2018
Q4 2017 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Amazon.com and Target
Q1 2018 (Jan. 1 – March 31)Gas stations and wholesale clubs
Q2 2018 (April 1 – June 30)Grocery stores
Q3 2018 (July 1 – Sept. 30)Restaurants
Q4 2018 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Amazon.com and wholesale clubs

If you shop through Discover Deals, you’ll have the opportunity to earn even more cash back at select retailers.

Also, if you plan on taking longer than a month to pay off your holiday gifts, the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ will give you 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. That’s a long time at 0%, so you don’t have to worry about racking up interest on your holiday spending.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ provides all these great features with an annual fee of $0.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling for the holidays: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

For many folks, the holidays mean traveling a little farther than over the river and through the woods. If you’ll be hitting the skies, rails or seas to celebrate the season with family, getting a good travel credit card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is a smart idea.

With this card, you’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend. Since each mile is worth $.01, you’re getting a rewards rate of 2%. However, you get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem, which effectively drives the rewards rate up to 2.1%. That’s pretty generous, given that the industry standard is only 1%.

When it comes time to redeem rewards, you have the flexibility to go online and book your travel as you normally would, then pay yourself back with your miles in the form of a statement credit. Whether you’ll be flying cross-country to see relatives for Thanksgiving or going on a cruise to celebrate the New Year, the miles earned with your Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® can help foot the bill.

Plus, you’ll start off with a killer signup bonus: Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase. This could go a long way toward helping pay for your holiday travel if you complete the spending requirement quickly. Remember, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® does charge an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $89. But since this card will go far in helping you visit loved ones far and wide this holiday season, we think that’s a small price to pay!

Holiday shopper image via Shutterstock