Best small business cards for 2016

Whether you’re founding a new venture in 2016 or trying to save your current business money, the right small-business credit card can help. We rounded up what we feel to be the best business cards on the market to help you weigh your options.

Before applying, though, make sure you have a full understanding of your business’s needs and each card’s terms – the cards we recommended may not be what’s best for small business credit cards

Our ranking standards

Some of the cards below are from our issuing partners, but we didn’t base our choices on that. Instead, our picks were based on rewards and benefits.

We handled our best-of list for business cards a bit differently from how we handled our rankings for cash-back and travel cards. Because “business cards” is such a broad category, we broke things down into several categories and then recommended our top pick for each.

For travel perks – the Business Platinum card from American Express OPEN (a CreditCardForum advertising partner)

If you’re constantly traveling and are willing to pay for a card that helps alleviate the stresses of the road, consider this one. The annual fee of $450 (no, it’s not waived the first year) may seem like a lot, but it gets you perks that might cost you more money and time if you tried to get them on your own:

  • Entry to airport lounges: You get complimentary access to the Centurion lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, Airspace lounges and the Delta Sky Club. Depending on the lounge, you may be able to bring others in with you for free or at a discounted rate.
  • Hotel and car rental company status: You get elite status from Starwood and Hilton just from having the card, even if you rarely stay at those properties. You also get elite membership with National Rental Car, Avis and Hertz.
  • Reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry: These programs cost $85 and $100, respectively, and save you one of the most onerous parts of travel – standing in lines.
  • Wi-Fi benefits: Each year you get 10 Gogo passes to use during flight, as well as complimentary Boingo membership.

In addition to all the above, you get a $200 credit each year to be used toward travel fees, including checked-bag fees and in-flight food and entertainment.

And don’t forget – American Express’s business cards give you access to the American Express OPEN Savings network, a program that lets you earn extra rewards with partners, including FedEx, Hertz, HP and Hyatt.

In short, this card will save you time and energy on business trips and help you concentrate on getting work done.

Caveats to consider: While the perks are first class, you earn only 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar on most spending. So, if you’re looking to accrue rewards, consider coupling this card with one that earns more MR points. AmEx offers plenty.

For free flights – Chase Ink Business Plus

This card’s $95 annual fee isn’t too intimidating, and it’s a powerful rewards-earning vehicle. All those rewards can then be easily converted into free flights.

You’ll earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent at office supply stores and cable/phone services each year; 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent with hotels and gas stations; and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

What really makes this card shine, however, is the ease with which you can turn those points into free flights. You can redeem points for flights via the Ultimate Rewards portal (and get a 20 percent point discount). Or, you can transfer your points (at a 1:1 ratio) into your frequent-flier programs with United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic (and into some hotel programs as well).

This gives you the flexibility many business owners need. Need to fly out next week? You can either find a flight in the Ultimate Rewards portal or dispatch your points to your Southwest or United account and redeem for a free flight. You’re not stuck using one program, as you would be with an airline card.

To top it all off, you get primary coverage on car rentals when you use your card. That means you don’t have to worry about involving your personal auto insurance coverage when you rent a vehicle for a business trip.

Caveats to consider: While you may be able to earn free flights relatively easy with this card, it doesn’t carry as many travel perks as higher-annual-fee travel cards.

For cash back – American Express SimplyCash Business Card

Used correctly, this card becomes a cash-back powerhouse:

  • Earn 5 percent cash back at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless phone service (directly from service providers).
  • Earn 3 percent cash back in the category of your choice (airfare, hotels, gas, restaurants and more)
  • Earn 1 percent cash back on other purchases.
  • Earn 5 percent back with merchants in the OPEN Savings network (including Hyatt, FedEx and more).

With this card, you just spend money on things lots of businesses spend money on and then get automatic statement credits. There’s no need to worry about justifying an annual fee, because there isn’t one.

Caveats to consider: If you won’t hit many of the categories above, this may not be the card for you.

For simplicity – Capital One’s Spark Business cards

Just want to earn rewards without worrying about hitting certain categories, spending with certain vendors or plotting how to redeem the best way? Check out Capital One’s suite of Spark business cards.

Some have annual fees, some don’t. All of them earn a flat rate of cash back or generic “miles” per dollar that can be redeemed against purchases:

  • Spark Miles ($59 annual fee): 2 generic miles per dollar
  • Spark Miles Select (no annual fee): 1.5 generic miles per dollar
  • Spark Cash ($59 annual fee): 2 percent back
  • Spark Cash Select (no annual fee): 1.5 percent back
  • Spark Classic for average credit (no annual fee): 1 percent back

Caveats to consider: You sacrifice big wins for simplicity with these cards – there’s no room for maximization or space for strategizing. Make sure you’re happy with a flat rate of cash back or miles.

For payment flexibility – the Plum card from American Express OPEN

There was really only one contender in this category. The Plum card ($250 annual fee) stands out by offering a unique payment structure:

  • You get a 1.5 percent discount on the amount you pay (has to be at least the minimum payment) if you pay within 10 days of your statement closing date.
  • If you pay at least 10 percent of your balance from new purchases plus any previously deferred balance by the due date, you get 60 days interest free on the rest.

Plus, you get access to all the discounts that come with the OPEN Savings network.

Caveats to consider: A $250 annual fee is a bit high for a card that won’t earn you many rewards (unless you pay early). However, the comfort of having a little extra time to pay off your balance during the rough patches could be well worth it.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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