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Best credit cards for commuters of 2020

We analyzed popular credit cards using the average American's annual spending budget to find the best credit cards for commuters who travel by train, subway, rideshare, bus and more.

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Whether you're driving to work or riding the subway, you can benefit from using a credit card that earns rewards on commuting expenses.

In fact, the average American spends roughly $2,218 a year, or $185 a month, on gas, according to a sample budget based on the latest spending data available from the location intelligence firm Esri. Public transit costs average $158 a year according to the same budget, but the cost can be much higher if you live in a major metro area.

In New York, for example, a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard costs $127 per month, which adds up to $1,524 annually. Add in the cost of a second method of transportation, such as the Long Island Railroad, and you can expect to tack on up to $500 extra per month.

But using the right rewards credit card can help offset some of your daily commute costs and provide added perks, such as roadside assistance.

CNBC Select breaks down the best credit cards for various commuters, so you can choose the one that fits your commute best.

Best credit cards for commuters

Best overall

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 25.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No blackout dates on air travel when redeemed through Go Far Rewards

Cons

  • Minimum reward redemption amount of 2,500 points
  • Balance transfers incur a 3% fee ($5 minimum)
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $584
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,120

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a well-rounded card that rewards various types of commuters, from drivers to ride hailers. Cardholders earn unlimited 3X points on gas, dining out and ordering in; rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services; plus 1X point on all other purchases.

While some cards limit rewards to gas stations, it's worth noting that the 3X rewards rate applies to many commuter purchases, like at toll bridges, highways, parking lots and garages.

In addition to rewards, this card offers no interest on purchases and balance transfers for a year (then 13.99% to 25.99% variable APR). If you have large upcoming expenses or debt on a non-Amex card, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card provides a way to finance new and old debt without incurring interest charges.

There's also roadside assistance, car rental loss and damage insurance and cell phone protection benefits that can make potential car troubles or phone damage more manageable.

Best for gas

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Information about the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X points on gas, 3X points on groceries, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    11.74% to 17.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • High 5X points on gas
  • No bonus category activations or limits to the amount of cash back you can earn
  • Competitive 11.74% to 17.99% variable APR

Cons

  • 3% balance transfer fee
  • Credit union membership is required
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $513
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,167

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus.

Who's this for? If you want to maximize rewards at gas stations, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card currently offers the highest rewards rate at 5X points per dollar spent. Charging the average American's gas spending to this card earns you approximately $111 annually.

This card has no annual fee, so road warriors can maximize their savings. In addition to earning high rewards at gas stations, cardholders also benefit from unlimited 3X points at grocery stores, which is great if you want to pick up groceries after work.

PenFed is a credit union, so membership is required to open the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card. Anyone can join by completing a few extra steps: You need to apply, open a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintain a $5 account balance.

Best for transit

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
On American Express's secure site
  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    12.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Pros

  • High 6% cash back at U.S. supermarket spending (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%)
  • Unlimited 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
  • Unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit
  • A year of no interest on new purchases and balance transfers

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • 2.7% fee on purchases made abroad
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $679
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,397

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Whether you take the subway, train or a bus, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can earn you a strong 3% cash back for transit purchases. This card also offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and 1% cash back on other purchases.

The welcome offer can help you maximize cash back: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first three months.

Beyond cash back, this card comes with money-saving Amex Offers where you can earn a statement credit or additional Amex points at select retailers. For example, a recent offer for BP and Amoco gas stations states: "Get 2 additional Membership Rewards® points per eligible dollar spent." These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.

This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but taking full advantage of the cardholder benefits and cash back earnings helps offset the cost.

Best for Uber

Uber Credit Card

Uber Credit Card
Information about the Uber Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5% back in Uber Cash on all Uber purchases including Uber rides, Uber Eats orders, and JUMP bike and scooter rides; 3% back in Uber Cash on restaurants, bars, hotels and airfare; 1% back in Uber Cash on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $100 Uber Cash after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.24% to 27.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • High rewards on all Uber purchases
  • Strong welcome bonus for a no-annual fee card
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit offerings
  • No airport lounge access
  • No special financing offers on new purchases
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $440
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,798

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If Uber is your preferred rideshare, consider the Uber Credit Card which recently relaunched with a new rewards program geared toward fans of Uber services. Cardholders earn 5% back in Uber Cash on all Uber purchases including Uber rides, Uber Eats orders and JUMP bike and scooter rides. Plus 3% back in Uber Cash on restaurants, bars, hotels and airfare and 1% back in Uber Cash on all other purchases.

This card has one of the most competitive welcome bonuses available: $100 Uber Cash after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days. That's like earning 20% back in rewards.

There are also no foreign transaction fees, so you can use this card abroad without the typical 3% fee other cards may charge.

Plus you can benefit from cell phone protection up to $600 for damage or theft, when you pay your monthly phone bill with your card.

Best for Lyft

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    18.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Relatively high balance transfer fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,231
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,755

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers unmatched rewards on Lyft purchases: Earn 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. This card also provides a complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership (worth $19.99 per month), which includes 15% off car rides, relaxed cancellations, priority airport pickups, up to three free 30-minute bike and scooter rides per month and more.

In addition to Lyft rewards, cardholders also earn a competitive 3X points on dining and travel worldwide and benefit from an annual $300 travel credit, which can cover some Lyft expenses.

This card also has a unique benefit where all points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 when redeemed toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through your Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. This perk is a great way to get the most value for your rewards.

It's worth noting that, while this card has a robust rewards program, it also comes with a steep $550 annual fee. All the card's added credits and benefits can help offset the annual cost. The $300 annual travel credit effectively reduces the annual fee to $150. Cardholders can take advantage of a Priority Pass™ Select membership that has a value of about $429. They also get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit of up to $100 every four years.

Best credit cards for commuters

Best for Credit card Estimated rewards earned after five years
OverallWells Fargo Propel American Express® Card$2,120
GasPenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card$2,167
TransitBlue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express$2,437
UberUber Credit Card$1,798
LyftChase Sapphire Reserve®$2,755

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.