The other day I got an email from my reader Lisa and wanted to share with you the edited version:
“I stumbled upon this obscure card today and thought your readers would like it. It’s called CNB Crystal Visa Infinite, and it has a $400 AF. I didn’t see any mention of it on your blog. Also, do you have a list or a blog post about obscure credit cards that people don’t often talk about?”
The reason I don’t talk about CNB Crystal Visa Infinite card
It isn’t the lack of commission, that’s for sure. I think the card can potentially be extremely lucrative and worth renewing despite the $400 annual fee. However, there are a few significant roadblocks to getting it in the first place. First, you can only apply for it in a few locations in US. Second reason: according to CNB banker, you need an income of around $100k per year to have a shot at approval. Basically, they are looking at high-networth individuals, which is fair.
I’m not sure if you can count household income or not, but either way, $100k is a significant number. My husband and I certainly don’t make anything even close to that amount. Since this blog targets middle-class families like mine, I don’t believe this product is relevant to my specific niche.
If you make around $100k (congrats!), I recommend this post on Frequent Miler blog which has all the details you need: The amazing CNB Crystal Visa Infinite Card. A deep dive.
Obscure “keeper” cards for an Average Joe
I maintain a list of cards that are a good fit for everyday spending. As in, they are products you may want to hang on to year after year rather than just apply for bonus and cancel 10 months later. I’ve also put together a post on 2-card combinations that I estimate will cover 95% of US population.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, so here are few (somewhat obscure) cards that you should definitely consider:
1) Alliant Cashback Visa Signature
What makes it special: You earn 3% cash back during first year, 2.5% afterwards. The annual fee is $59, waived during first year. There are no foreign transaction fees, which makes it superior to Citi Double Cash (earns 2% cash back on everything).
The reason I don’t mention it much: you have to jump through hoops by becoming Alliant credit union member first, before you can even apply for this credit card. Also, there is no sign-up bonus. The third and main reason: you have to spend $12k each year in order to come out ahead compared to Citi Double Cash (no annual fee). Most in our audience use more than just one card in order to optimize rewards on spending.
Still, there is no question that this is the best cash back product on the market right now for those who prefer to keep it simple.
Non-affiliate application link (you have to become credit union member first)
2) Bank of America Cash Rewards
On its own, this card is nothing to write home about. Here is the earning structure:1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. Definitely “meh”.
What makes it special: Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, specifically Platinum Honors level. Basically, if you are willing to park $100k with Bank of America, you will get a 75% bonus on certain credit card rewards. Before you say “I don’t have $100k in savings!”, keep in mind that Merril Edge IRA counts. So, if you are switching jobs and need to rollover your 401(k) money, it’s worth investigating Merrill Edge option. I keep my IRAs in Vanguard, so can’t comment on this one.
But wait, there is more! Awhile back, I got a comment from reader Robert:
“Another combo that is worth mentioning if you happen to have accounts with Bank of America is the BoA Cash Rewards card combined with the new BoA Premium Rewards card. You basically have all the main bonus categories covered along with 1.5% on non-bonus spending.
You’ll get a minimum of 3.3% on Gas, 2.2% on Grocery and Wholesale Stores, 2% on Dining and Travel, and 1.5% on non-bonus spending. The more money you have in BofA accounts (like a Merrill Edge IRA) the more these increase and you can get up to 5.25% on Gas, 3.5% on Grocery/Wholesale/Dining/Travel and 2.62% on non-bonus spending. Plus if you can take advantage of the $100 travel credit you erase the annual fee.”
Bank of America Premium Rewards card is listed in my Hot Deals page because it currently offers a $500 sign-up bonus. It has an annual fee of $99, but also comes with $100 incidentals credit, which seems to work on certain airline gift cards. The credit card is worth getting for sign-up bonus only, but could definitely become a “keeper” for some.
Obviously, parking $100k in assets (IRA or not) is a big decision, and should not be made based solely on credit card rewards.
Both of these BoA cards pay us commission. Thanks for your support if you choose to use our links!
3) American Express Platinum card for Schwab
This probably seems like a very odd choice, but hang in there. The reason I’m mentioning the card is due to its ability to cash out Membership Rewards points at 1.25 cents apiece. Our reader David T is a huge fan of this option. Personally, I prefer to use MR points towards mileage transfers, but getting 1.25 cents is definitely nothing to sneeze at.
Speaking of, just yesterday I got an email from Amex rep saying that Avianca Lifemiles program has been added as a partner. Transfer ratio will be 1:1. Read this post on why short-haul United operated flights can be a good deal via this program.
If you apply for Schwab card, you’ll get a sign-up bonus of 60k MR points and all the perks that come with the personal version of Amex Platinum. Unfortunately, the card also comes with $550 annual fee. Due to crazy high fee, it may not be a great choice to keep long-term.
However, let’s say you don’t plan to travel often and prefer cash back. Maybe you just had a baby or your income simply doesn’t allow for a lot of vacations. If you have a huge pile of MR points and need the money, Charles Schwab Amex card is the best way for you to cash them out. Again, it’s not for everyone, but the option is there.
Update: As reader Clyn6 has reminded me, you have to first open an eligible account with Schwab before you can apply for the credit card. It’s my understanding that it can be done easily, but there is a hard credit pull involved. See this Doctorofcredit post for all the details.
I also recommend you look into benefits of having a Schwab account if you travel often (according to comment from Justin).
If you have the ability to buy (in grocery stores) and then easily liquidate or spend Visa/Mastercard gift cards, you may want to also look into Amex Gold card. It earns 4 MR points per dollar on groceries, so paired up with Schwab card, it means earning 5% cash back on up to $25k each year. This isn’t something I’m interested in pursuing, but many feel differently.
Non-affiliate application link (for Amex Schwab card)
As I’ve said many times, when it comes to credit card rewards, it’s not a “one size fits all” kind of deal. What works for 95% of people may not work for you. I prefer flexible points, but I also believe that cash is highly underrated by many in our community. Also, as much as I hate annual fees, I have to admit that CNB Crystal Visa Infinite card is worth hanging onto for those who travel on a regular basis. In other words, there is an exception to every rule.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.