Many popular credit cards from well-known issuers offer valuable benefits and rewards. But there are some lesser-known cards — whether they’re from smaller banks or credit unions, or simply just less-heralded products from bigger players — that come with rare but impressive perks that few other cards offer.
The following cards feature some hard-to-find benefits, like higher-than-usual rewards rates, uncommon rewards categories, or bonuses that require very little work to snag.
1. Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card
The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card stands out for its best-in-class cash-back rate: You can earn 2.5% back on every purchase if you meet requirements. Yes, that rate is capped at $10,000 of eligible purchases per billing cycle, at which point the rewards rate falls to 1.5%. But that’s still a very high spending bar. The industry standard among flat-rate cards has long been 1.5%, and while more cards are beginning to feature a lucrative 2% flat rate, few if any can top 2.5% back on everything you buy.
First, you’ll have to join Alliant’s credit union, which can be relatively easy. But to be eligible for the 2.5% rate, you’ll also need to open an Alliant High-Rate Checking account and maintain an average daily balance of $1,000 or more each month. And again, there’s a monthly cap on that 2.5% rate. It’s a high cap, but a cap nonetheless.
2. AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, issued by Barclays, isn’t as well-marketed as other airline credit cards. It’s not even marketed as well as other cards within American Airlines’ own brand portfolio. (Citi also issues co-branded American Airlines cards.) But this card stands out with some hard-to-find perks, most notably its super-easy-to-snag sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days. That means that unlike other sign-up bonuses, which typically require a spending minimum to collect them, you can earn this pile of miles with just one purchase — even a pack of gum. That’s rare. Additionally, the card offers a lengthy introductory APR period on balance transfers, another feature that’s hard to come by among even the best travel credit cards out there.
While the card’s initial incentives make it attractive upfront, its ongoing rewards are underwhelming, especially over time. It earns 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. That means you can’t earn bonus rewards on any purchases outside of the airline brand. That’s simply not competitive with other cards in this class.
3. Bilt Rewards Mastercard®
Most landlords and services don’t allow tenants to pay rent with a credit card. And the ones that do, typically charge costly convenience fees. Enter the Bilt Rewards Mastercard®, which not only rewards holders for paying rent with the card but doesn’t charge a fee for letting you do so. In addition to rewards for dining and travel, the card pays 1 point per dollar spent on rent (up to 50,000 points annually). And holders, regardless of their typical payment processes, can use their cards to pay rent through the Bilt Rewards app and earn points. Once you activate a Bilt Rent account in the app, you’ll get a routing and account number which allows you to pay rent through your regular portal. Even if your landlord only accepts checks, you can still pay through the Bilt app this way to earn points: Bilt will send in a check for you. (Previously, only those who lived in a Bilt Rewards Alliance property were able to pay rent directly through the Bilt Rewards app.)
Note that while any tenant can join the Bilt program to pay for rent for free, you’ll earn rewards only if you have the Bilt Rewards Mastercard®.
There’s a cap on the number of rewards you can earn for rent spending. And while the average tenant won’t hit the $50,000 yearly spending cap, it’s still a limit. Additionally, Bilt’s site notes that for those who don’t live in one of its Alliance properties, applying for the card is “currently by invitation only,” which means it’s not accessible for some consumers.
Another major caveat is that you’ll have to spend with your card at least five times per billing cycle, or you’ll lose points you’ve accumulated during that month. So, for example, if you use your card to pay for rent at the start of the month, but don’t use the card four more times in that same month, you’ll lose the points you earned for paying rent.
4. Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card
Among so-called alternative credit cards for those with bad or no credit, the $0-annual-fee Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card is a stellar if inconspicuous option. Most notably, it doesn’t require a credit check, doesn’t require a minimum security deposit, nor does it even charge an APR. That’s a rare trifecta among cards designed to help you build credit. It also reports to all three major credit bureaus.
To be eligible for the card, you’re required to have a Chime Spending Account that has received at least $200 in direct deposits within the past 365 days. And as with other cards aimed at beginners, there are no ongoing rewards, nor is there a way to upgrade to a different product eventually. And to that point, while this card is more or less debt-proof, other “normal” unsecured cards will not be — meaning you may be underprepared to take that next step to a better card.
5. Navy Federal Credit Union® More Rewards American Express® Credit Card
The Navy Federal Credit Union® More Rewards American Express® Credit Card is a low-radar rarity for one main reason: It offers exceptional rewards across a wide swath of common household spending categories, including all of the biggies. Cardholders earn an unlimited 3 points per $1 spent in the popular categories of groceries, dining, gas and transit (and 1 point per $1 on everything else). You can find other $0-annual fee cards that earn 3x back or more on groceries, or 3x back or more on dining, but usually not in both of those key categories. Also of note: The card is available to consumers with fair credit (FICO scores of at least 630), which is an underserved market.
To be eligible for the card, you have to be a member of the Navy Federal Credit Union, which is nearly impossible unless you have ties to the armed forces, Department of Defense or National Guard.
6. PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card
The PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card is unique in that it offers lucrative travel credits for, potentially, nothing. Normally, it charges a $95 annual fee — but that can be waived if you meet certain requirements (see below). If so, it means you’ll pay no yearly cost for the card’s top-notch travel benefits — including lucrative rewards on travel purchases; a $100 annual credit toward ancillary airline fees; statement credit for reimbursement of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees; and a complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge annual membership. Getting that kind of value back on a $0-annual-fee travel credit card is virtually unheard of.
To qualify for the card, you must be a PenFed Credit Union member. And to qualify for a $0 annual fee with the card, you’ll need to be a PenFed Honors Advantage member, which can be achieved by opening and maintaining a PenFed Access America checking account or being a current or previous member of the military. If you’re not affiliated with the military, you have to maintain a minimum of $500 daily in an eligible PenFed checking account or set up monthly direct deposits of $500 or more to keep Honors Advantage eligibility.
7. State Farm® Premier Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card
The State Farm® Premier Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card earns bonus cash back on common household expenses like grocery stores and dining, but what makes it stand out is that it also gets you 3% cash back on insurance premium payments, on up to $4,000 spent annually. That’s an unusual bonus category that could make sense for those who carry multiple policies.
You have to be a State Farm customer to be eligible for the card. And again, there’s a cap on the amount of cash back you can earn on insurance premium payments.
Nerdy tip: State Farm also offers the State Farm® Good Neighbor Visa® Card and the State Farm® Business Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card, the latter of which also offers 3% cash back on insurance premium payments (up to $4,000 spent annually).
8. Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa®
The Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa® is a nontraditional card with several nontraditional features. For starters, it can function as either a credit card or a personal loan. If you use it as a credit card and don’t pay your bill in full, the balance becomes a fixed-rate loan you pay back monthly in equal installments. If you use it as a personal loan, you can transfer funds to your bank account (up to your credit limit) and pay down that debt at a fixed interest rate over a period of time. Additionally, the card earns bonus rewards in the hard-to-find categories of home, auto and health — which include large-expense items like landscaping services, car repairs and hospital visits. Other atypical perks abound: Applicants will be shown their card terms, including their credit limit and APR, before they agree to apply. Plus, once approved, you’ll get a virtual instant-use number, which means you don’t have to wait for the physical card to start using it.
Unlike other cash-back cards, rewards earned with the Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa® are automatically applied toward your next card balance, which means you don’t have the choice to decide what to do with your cash back or when to use it.
Other cards with unique features
The following cards from major issuers aren’t obscure products, but they do offer uncommon perks:
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: The winning feature on this $75-annual-fee card is its automatic yearly Companion Fare perk, which can cover a flying buddy’s Alaska Airlines ticket for as little as $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees, starting at $22). Other cards offer companion tickets, but some require that you meet a spending threshold first. And none of them has such a relatively low price point.
Chase Slate Edge℠: This card offers an automatic 2% APR reduction consideration each year (until it reaches the prime rate plus 9.74%) when you make payments on time and spend at least $1,000 by your next account anniversary.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: You’ll earn 5% back in one eligible spend category, on up to $500 each billing cycle, and an unlimited 1% back on all other purchases. And what makes this card a little different is that the eligible category is automated and adjusted for you based on your spending habits. You don’t need to remember a quarterly bonus calendar or activate categories each month. The card does it for you.
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card: This card features a unique, if complex, rewards structure. It earns 5% cash back on the first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases each quarter in two categories you choose from a list. Plus, it earns an unlimited 2% back in one “everyday” category that you choose from a smaller list. Few other cards offer this level of customization or such specific yet useful bonus categories, like home utilities, gyms and furniture stores.
Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card: Among credit cards from major issuers that feature promotional interest-free periods, none can top this card’s offer: a 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and then an ongoing APR of 12.99%-24.99% Variable APR. Intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro and extension periods. If you meet those requirements, that’s an almost two-year break on interest payments.