Credit Check: Rewards Cards Going Bonkers
(MONEY Magazine) – Want a credit card that earns you free private-jet travel? Check out the new Stratus Rewards Visa. Gift certificates for your dog? There's a new card for that too. Even Donald Trump recently launched a rewards card--and when The Donald shows up, you know something's in heat. In fact, more than half of credit-card offers now dangle a reward component. "The card market is saturated, and rebates are the carrot that card issuers are using with increased zeal to attract new customers," says Curtis Arnold of CardRatings.com. Here are our favorite deals.
--MERRILL+VISA. For folks with stellar credit, it's easier to get this black card (card.ml.com) than American Express' invite-only Centurion, and the annual fee is currently zilch vs. $2,500 for Centurion. Where Merrill+ really excels: the perks for just holding on to the card, such as free companion tickets on British Airways. Spend more than $50,000 a year and get three free nights at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
--CITI HOME REBATE PLATINUM SELECT MASTERCARD. The 1% rebate on purchases goes directly to your mortgage principal, regardless of your lender. (Go to citicards.com to calculate potential savings.) There's no cap on the rebates you can earn and no annual fee. Home rewards are new but likely to catch on: MBNA has followed Citi's lead with its GMAC MORTGAGE EQUITY REWARDS MASTERCARD (800-821-8758), which offers similar bonuses, though only for GMAC mortgage holders.
--CITI UPROMISE PLATINUM SELECT MASTERCARD (CITICARDS.COM). Before, 1% on purchases (up to $300 yearly) could go into a Upromise college savings account. Now, in addition to the $300, you can gain 10% rebates on select drug and grocery sales and 2% on Exxon and Mobil gas buys. (America Online subscribers get double those rewards.) No annual fee.
For every gem, there are duds, so visit review sites like CardRatings.com and read any offer's fine print. Cards often don't reward balance transfers. Others dole out primo points only for carrying a balance--since rewards cards charge higher rates, you'll want to pay off your balance every month. And as much as we like The Apprentice, sign up for the Trump Rewards Visa only if you're a frequent contributor to his bottom line: Every 2,500 points earns a $25 certificate good at Trump properties or a $15 chip for his casinos. --CAROLYN BIGDA AND MEGAN JOHNSTON