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Best Credit Cards for Black Friday and the Holidays, 2017

Balance Transfer Credit Cards, Cash Back Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Promos, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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Whether you rush out to the mall for the doorbusters on Black Friday or wear out your keyboard chasing deals online, you’ll want to use the right credit card for your holiday shopping. Smart deployment of your plastic can save you as much as 5% on purchases. The Nerds are here to help you choose which card to use when.

TABLE of contents

Credit cards for department store shopping
Credit cards for Amazon shopping
Credit cards for wholesale clubs
Credit cards for general shopping
Credit cards for supermarkets
0% credit cards for paying off holiday bills
Credit cards for price protection
Credit cards for purchase protection
Credit cards for buying gift cards

Credit cards for department store shopping

5% cash back at department stores, walmart and Target

The Chase Freedom® is paying 5% cash back on purchases at department stores and Walmart from October through December of 2017. Eligible department stores include JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack, Sears, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s and many more. You’ll get the 5% back on up to $1,500 in total combined spending at Walmart and department stores in the quarter, and 1% back on all other spending.

Target doesn’t count as a department store for the 5% rewards on the Chase Freedom®. But guess what: The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ is offering 5% cash back at Target and Amazon.com in the fourth quarter of 2017. If you’re a new cardholder, you can effectively double that rate to 10% with Discover’s unique bonus offer: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically. As with the Chase card, you earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, and 1% after that.

With both cards, you have to activate the bonus categories each quarter, so do that now if you haven’t already.

3% or 2% CASH BACK AT Select U.S. DEPARTMENT STORES

American Express has two cards that offer bonus rewards at select U.S. department stores:

The higher cash-back rates on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express come at a cost — an annual fee of $95. The annual fee on the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is $0. With either card, you don’t have to worry about which spending category is in season. These bonus rewards rates apply year-round.

Credit cards for Amazon shopping

Amazon is the most valuable retailer in the U.S. It has reported selling an astounding 500 items per second during peak holiday shopping times. So it’s not surprising that some credit cards go out of their way to encourage you to use them with Amazon.

PAY WITH Credit card REWARDS points

You can pay for Amazon purchases directly using your rewards points from major card issuers’ programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Discover Cashback Bonus. You must register your card on Amazon to pay with points.

5% CASH BACK AT AMAZON

The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ gives you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases at Amazon.com and Target in the fourth quarter of 2017. (Once you hit the $1,500 mark, you earn the same 1% cash back that applies to all other purchases.) To get the 5% cash back, you must activate the bonus category online. New cardholders can effectively double their cash back to 10% (and 2% after $1,500) with Discover’s bonus offer: Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

AMAZON-BRANDED CREDIT CARDS

Of course, if you do a ton of shopping on Amazon.com, consider applying for one of the company’s branded credit cards:

  • The Amazon Prime Store Card earns an unlimited 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases. Rewards can be redeemed for credit against Amazon purchases. The card has no annual fee, but you must be an Amazon Prime member, which costs $99 a year. Since it’s a store card, it can only be used at Amazon.
  • The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card was introduced this year. Since it’s a Visa, you can use it just about anywhere. It gives you 5% back at Amazon, 2% back at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else. It, too, has no annual fee, but you must be an Amazon Prime member, which costs $99 a year. Cardholders can use their rewards to pay for purchases on Amazon or redeem them for cash, gift cards or travel.
  • The Amazon Credit Card, also known as the Amazon Rewards Visa, is for non-Prime members. It earns 3% back on Amazon spending; 2% back at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores; and 1% back on everything else.  The $0.*

Credit cards for wholesale clubs

Wholesale clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s make one-stop shopping easy, selling electronics, home goods, clothes, food and drugs in one discounted megastore. Need more incentive to shop at wholesale clubs? Credit card issuers have cards that pay cash back on your whole haul. These include:

WHOLESALE CLUB STORE-BRANDED CARDS

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: Issued by Citi, this card pays 4% cash back on gas on up to $7,000 per year in spending (then 1%); 3% on restaurants and eligible travel; 2% cash back on all shopping at Costco and Costco.com; and 1% cash back on all other spending. The annual fee is $0, but you must be a Costco member — $60 per year for basic membership. Rewards are redeemable at Costco for credit against purchases or for cash.

Sam's Club MasterCard: Issued by Synchrony Bank, this card pays 5% cash back on gas on up to $6,000 per year in spending (then 1%); 3% cash back on dining and travel; and 1% on all other spending. Cash back is capped at $5,000 annually. The annual fee is Sam's Club MasterCard, but you must be a Sam’s Club member — $45 a year for basic membership.

WHOLESALE CLUB BONUS Rewards

The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: You earn 2% cash back at wholesale clubs and grocery stores and 3% on gas, on up to a combined $2,500 per quarter on gas/grocery/wholesale club spending. All other spending earns 1%. You don’t have to sign up for the bonus categories, and the annual fee is $0. Bank of America® checking or savings customers also earn a 10% bonus when they redeem their cash back as a deposit into their account. This is a Visa card, which means you can use it at Costco, which takes credit cards only if they’re on the Visa network.

Credit cards for general shopping

Are the holidays too hectic for you to keep track of which categories pay extra cash at which stores? A flat-rate rewards card might be right for you. Flat-rate cards give you the same rewards on every purchase. Great cash-back picks include:

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer pays 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off. This may motivate you to pay off your holiday bills as soon as you can. The annual fee is $0.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers 1.5% cash back on everything you buy. It has an annual fee of $0 and a sign-up bonus that may be fairly easy to attain, especially with extra year-end expenses: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

If you’re planning a winter getaway or a spring fling, you might prefer travel rewards to cash. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 2 miles per dollar spent on everything. Miles can be redeemed for credit against any travel purchase. The card has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

Credit cards for supermarkets

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending a year (then 1%). You also earn 3% at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, and 1% on all other purchases. The card has an annual fee of $95, but if you spend more than $31 a week, you’ll offset the fee with rewards. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express also has a sign-up bonus for new cardholders: $200 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.

If that annual fee is too rich for your blood, consider the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. For an annual fee of $0, it gives you 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending a year (then 1%), 2% at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% on all other purchases. It, too, has a sign-up bonus: $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Torn between them? If you spend more than $61 a week at the supermarket, you’ll do better with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Less than that, go with the no-fee option.

Before you jump at either of these options, though, be aware that a “supermarket” to AmEx is a store that primarily sells groceries. Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart don’t qualify as supermarkets.

0% credit cards for paying off holiday bills

No one likes the holiday hangover, especially when it’s a credit card bill that may not be paid off until the crocuses are blooming. You can ease the burden by putting your purchases on a new card with an introductory 0% APR period, or by transferring your balances to a 0% card afterward. Some of these cards also earn rewards. Our favorites include (click through for full card details):

Credit cards for price protection

Price protection is a handy credit card feature when you’re doing a flurry of shopping. Here’s how it works: When you purchase an item with your credit card, register it on your credit card website. If you find a lower price within a certain time frame, you’ll be refunded the difference.

Price protection is available on cards from American Express, Citi, Chase and Discover, as well as other eligible MasterCards (check your benefits). The best-in-class Citi Price Rewind program goes the extra mile and searches for a better price for you. All Citi credit cards have this benefit.

Credit cards for purchase protection

Another useful feature on many cards is purchase protection. If merchandise you’ve bought with your credit card is stolen or damaged within a set period of time — usually 90 days — you can be reimbursed for the cost. If you have insurance, this protection kicks in after you’ve filed an insurance claim.

Purchase protection is generally available through your credit card’s payment network — American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa. But not all cards offer it. Be sure to check your credit card’s benefits to see whether your gifts are covered.

Credit cards for buying gift cards

Gift cards are the most popular gift to give and to get, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2015, 59% of consumers surveyed said they’d like to receive a gift card.

BUYING gift cards with credit card points

If you’re buying gift cards as holiday gifts, consider using rewards points. You can buy a gift card using rewards points from most issuers. The downside is that the redemption value is sometimes less than 1 cent per point. Citi ThankYou Points are worth 1 cent per point when redeemed for gift cards, but with the other popular rewards programs — Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Discover Cashback Bonus — the value of the points varies depending on which gift card you choose. For instance, on the American Express website, you can cash in 10,000 rewards points for a $50 American Express gift card, whereas the same number of points will buy a $100 gift card for The Home Depot.

Think there’s something wrong with using your points to buy a gift? Nope. You’ve earned those points, and you should think of them as cash.

EARNING SUPERMARKET REWARDS FOR GIFT CARDS

Don’t forget that supermarkets sell gift cards for many retailers. If you’re using a card that earns bonus rewards at the supermarket, you can buy gift cards for your favorite stores and effectively expand the scope of those rewards.


* Information related to the Amazon Credit Card and the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of these cards card.


Updated Nov. 9, 2017.

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