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With 2015 just around the corner, the Nerds are feeling a little reflective. 2014 was a big year for credit cards, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the best moments. Plus, you never know what you might have missed. This is your second chance to hip to a product or feature that passed you by.
Ready to dig in? Here’s our Credit Cards Year in Review for 2014:
Best new credit card: Citi® Double Cash Card
Without question, the release of the Citi® Double Cash Card was the most exciting credit card moment of 2014. With it, consumers earn 1% cash back when they make purchases, then an additional 1% cash back when they pay them off. This is an industry-leading rewards rate for a card that charges an annual fee of $0 and places no limits on the rewards customers can earn.
Also, it’s the first (and, so far, only) card on the market that provides a lucrative incentive to make monthly payments in full. The Citi® Double Cash Card is truly a game-changing product that competitors may have a tough time besting in 2015.
Best new hotel credit card: Orbitz Rewards Visa Card
The Orbitz Rewards Visa Card hit the market in the spring of 2014, and the Nerds have been recommending it for budget hotel shoppers ever since. Again, this goes back to rewards rate – if you book a hotel with this card using the Orbitz mobile app, you stand to earn a mind-boggling 10% back in Orbucks on your reservation. We can’t think of another card out there that provides this kind of value to consumers, which easily makes the Orbitz Rewards Visa Card our favorite new hotel card of 2014.
Best new credit card for travel bargain hunters: Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi
In September 2015, Citi and Expedia released a duo of co-branded credit cards for budget travelers. The version of the card that carries an annual fee, the Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi, is definitely a 2014 superstar. Don’t get us wrong — it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ll need to do some serious research into the Expedia+ rewards program to figure out how to maximize its value. But if that’s your thing, there are definitely some deals to be had. Cardholders will earn Expedia+ points on all of their purchases (not just those made through Expedia), and they’re able to redeem for flights and hotels booked using Expedia.com. This feature gives the Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi an edge over the Orbitz Rewards Visa Card when it comes to purchasing discount flights, since Orbitz rewards can only be used to book hotels.
Another unique feature of the Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi that customers will automatically be at +gold status in the Expedia+ rewards program. This provides a host of fringe benefits and perks if you know where to look, so it makes the card stand out from the crowd. The takeaway? For travel bargain hunters (emphasis on “hunt”) the Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi is a hot new products for 2014.
Best credit card rebrand: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® isn’t a new product for 2014, but it got some significant upgrades with its rebrand in the spring. In addition to a splashy new name and card art update, features that came with the rebrand include: The addition of an EMV chip (with PIN capability), a longer window for consumers to redeem miles for travel purchases, and an expanded list of redemption options, which now includes campgrounds, limousines, timeshares and more.
Rebrands happen all the time, but this one was special because Barclaycard listened to customer feedback and revamped the card based on their requests. As a result, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is now one of the most flexible, high-earning, consumer-friendly travel cards on the market.
Best new credit card bonus feature: Preferred Rewards from Bank of America®
In fall 2014, Bank of America® rolled out its Preferred Rewards program nationwide, and it truly ups the ante on relationship banking. If a customer qualifies for the program, he or she will have the opportunity to earn a credit card points dividend of up to 75%, depending on how much they also have in total deposits with Bank of America® and/or Merill Edge® and Merill Lynch® investment accounts.
Offering a bonus to existing customers is hardly a new idea in the banking world, but Preferred Rewards provides the most generous credit card benefits we’ve seen yet. The upshot: If you’re a Bank of America® customer with a lot in assets, you’ll now earn truly stellar rewards with the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card or the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, so definitely keep them on your radar.
Best rewards portal update: Chase Ultimate Rewards
In the fall of 2014, Chase gave its Ultimate Rewards portal a facelift, and the Nerds were thoroughly impressed. Aside from just looking sleeker and more professional, it’s now much easier to see how many points you have available across all of your accounts. For consumers with multiple Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points (think Chase Freedom® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card), this is a handy way to get a grasp on where you stand in terms of total rewards.
Also, Chase’s online bonus mall, now known as Shop through Chase, was revamped to be much more user-friendly and prominently displayed on the Ultimate Rewards site. All in all, the Ultimate Rewards portal is undoubtedly one of the best in the business; it’s now easy to access, navigate and use for optimizing points.
Best change to rewards redemption structure: Discover it® - Cashback Match™
In November 2014, Discover made a sweeping announcement about changes to the way cash back can be redeemed with its cards, including the popular Discover it® - Cashback Match™. Most exciting? Rewards can now be redeemed in any amount. This feature might not seem impressive, but it’s surprisingly tough to come by; almost all issuers require consumers to have at least $25 in rewards before they can cash in.
But what’s more, Discover will also now allow customers to redeem rewards even if they’ve closed or defaulted on their accounts. Since these actions will lead to forfeiture of rewards with nearly every other issuer out there, this was a huge piece of news. When it comes to consumer-friendliness, Discover now gets two thumbs up from the Nerds.
Best update to an existing benefit: Citi Price Rewind
As far as fringe credit card perks go, price protection is one of the best, and Citi’s Price Rewind is considered an industry leader when it comes to this benefit. In September 2014, Price Rewind was overhauled and made even better: The window for getting a better price was extended from 30 to 60 days, the $25 price difference minimum was dropped, and the annual and per-item refund customers can receive was increased.
Citi Price Rewind already had a slight edge on the price protection benefit offered through the credit card networks because it searches for better deals on the customer’s behalf. But with the 2014 updates, it’s now indisputably one of the most consumer-focused credit card perks offered by a major issuer.
Best rewards mall refresh: Discover Deals
Rewards malls are a great way to pump up the volume on the points, miles or cash back you’re earning with your card. ShopDiscover was always one of the best in the business, but Discover really outdid itself when it built on the success of its original portal and created Discover Deals. This new benefit, which all Discover credit card customers have access to, provides bonus cash back, statement credits and in-store discounts to savvy shoppers. No need to rely on retail credit cards anymore – Discover Deals has everything you’ll need to save a bundle on your next buying spree.
Best card art update: Citi Prestige® Card
There’s nothing more disappointing than a great card with lousy art, and prior to the fall of 2014, the Citi Prestige® Card looked a little less than prestigious. But with its rebrand the card got a sleek makeover that befits its fancy features – out with the drab gray and black images, in with a polished print and eye-catching teal emblem. We give this card art update an A-plus!
Best credit card commercial: The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Let’s face it: We all love a great credit card commercial. For 2014, the honor of best commercial(s) definitely goes to the series of ads Tina Fey did for The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. From yogurt facials to munching on potpourri, she had us laughing and learning about one of the key features of a new product from American Express – with The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll get a 20% points boost if you make 20 or more transactions a billing cycle.
These commercials were a lighthearted way to let consumers know that you no longer need to be a superstar to earn Membership Rewards points – The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express provides elite benefits without the elite price tag. For a brand associated with premium financial products, this was an ingenious way to communicate the card’s message.
Best effort towards EMV adoption: Citi and Chase
With retail data breaches all over the news in 2014, many issuers began scrambling to add EMV chips to their cards ahead of the October 2015 deadline. In the summer, Citi began adding chips to all of their consumer and college credit cards, a sweeping move that put them well ahead of the competition on the EMV front.
However, in the fall of 2014, Chase began catching up. It added EMV technology to several of its most popular consumer cards, including the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Slate®. Since both issuers made significant strides toward EMV adoption in 2014 – and, as a result, safer credit card transactions for consumers – we’re calling this one a tie.
Best effort toward providing free FICO access: Citi
In the fall of 2014, Citi announced that, beginning in January 2015, all customers will receive a free copy of their Equifax FICO score on monthly billing statements. Although Citi is hardly the first issuer to offer this benefit, the size of its customer base means that millions of Americans will soon have access to their credit scores each month.
Again, this is a huge stride toward improving consumer credit education – we give Citi a major tip of the hat for this one, and hope to see more of the same from other issuers in 2015.
» MORE: The History of the Credit Card
And so ends our Credit Cards Year in Review for 2014. But speaking of 2015, why not make it your New Year’s resolution to check in with the Nerds as often as you can? We’re always here to share financial news, tips, and advice – be sure to keep us in mind!
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