A significant chunk of the credit card market belongs to the Discover-Capital One-Chase trio. All three are top issuers of general-purpose credit cards. Their number of cardholders and U.S. purchase volumes ($ billions) in 2018 were:
- Chase: 93 million/$739.48
- Discover: 57 million/$139.03
- Capital One: 45 million/$336.91
With so many Americans holding one or more of these cards, we think you’ll find it useful to better understand each issuer’s characteristic strengths and weaknesses, including the benefits they offer, their bill payment options, and the quality of their customer service.
In terms of customer satisfaction, J.D. Power ranks Discover as the best, with Capital One and Chase in third and fourth place, respectively.
Whether you’re curious about how your credit cards stack up or are contemplating the acquisition of your first card, our report can help you decide whether a Discover, Chase or Capital One card belongs in your wallet.
Discover: Both an Issuer and a Payment Network
Chase, Capital One, and Discover are all credit card issuers. However, only Discover is also a payment network.
Merchants who accept the Discover card are paid over the Discover network, whereas Chase and Capital One pay merchants via the Mastercard or Visa networks. The result is, at least in theory, Discover should have lower card processing costs since it doesn’t have to pay fees to another network.
Discover is the fourth-largest credit card network, after Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, in terms of processing volume (as of the end of 2018, in $ billions):
- Visa: $1,956 (53.1% of market)
- Mastercard: $811 (22.0%)
- American Express: $778 (21.1%)
- Discover: $139 (3.8%)
The same ranking applies to market share by outstanding balance (2018):
- Visa: 48.4%
- Mastercard: 31.8%
- American Express: 12.3%
- Discover: 7.5%
The online Discover Bank issues Discover cards. One reason for Discover’s relatively small market share was a policy, since discarded, in which Visa prohibited merchants who accepted Visa to offer special deals on non-Visa-card purchases.
Despite its small market share as a payment processor, Discover is among the top 10 issuers and has many loyal cardholders. The 2018 Discover Annual Report assesses that “Our strengths include cash rewards, conservative portfolio management, and strong customer service.” These laudable traits make the Discover card a worthwhile candidate for inclusion in your wallet.
Discover Rewards and Redemptions
Discover issues eight different credit cards, including general, secured, student, and business cards. All offer rewards that never expire as long as the card account remains open.
Seven of the eight Discover credit cards provide cash back rewards, and one offers travel miles. We can categorize the cards based on rewards:
- Bonus Rewards: Three cards (Discover it® Cash Back, Discover it® Student Cash Back, and Discover it® Balance Transfer) offer bonus cash back on purchases in rotating categories each quarter, up to a maximum quarterly amount spent on those purchases. You must activate the category each quarter. All other purchases earn a standard rewards rate.
- Tiered Rewards: Three cards (Discover it® chrome, Discover it® Secured, and Discover it® Student chrome) offer more cash back on purchases at gas stations and restaurants, up to a quarterly amount of combined purchases. All other purchases earn a standard rewards rate.
- Flat-Rate Rewards: The Discover it® Business Card earns a fixed percentage of cash back on all purchases, and the The Discover it® Miles card offers a fixed number of miles on all purchases, every day. You can redeem the miles as a statement credit for travel purchases or as cash back.
You can also redeem your Discover cash back and miles rewards for purchases on Amazon.com.
All Discover it® credit cards offer a core set of benefits, including:
- Freeze it® allows you to immediately switch your account on or off
- Free FICO® credit score
- Purchase monitoring for suspicious activity
- 100% U.S.-based customer service
On the downside, Discover cards do not offer introductory bonuses in which you would get extra rewards after a set amount of spending in the first three months after opening the account. You must remain a cardholder for at least one year to attain bonus rewards. In addition, Discover no longer provides travel accident insurance, auto rental insurance, or purchase protection benefits.
Best Discover Cards
The best Discover cards for you match your credit profile and reward preferences. You can choose between cash back and miles.
Naturally, cash is the most versatile, but the miles card may be best if travel is important to you. You can also choose between two student cards that allow you to establish your credit history.
Business owners may prefer the Discover it® Business Card, and those with bad credit can apply for the Discover it® Secured card.
Whichever Discover card you choose, you get valuable benefits that can help you secure and improve your credit. The Freeze it® feature lets you immediately suspend the card if it is lost or stolen. You can also monitor your FICO Score for free, and you’ll receive alerts if Discover detects suspicious activity on your account.
Capital One: Many Card Types, Options for All
In terms of outstanding customer balances, Capital One is second only to Chase. Capital One offers a staggering 19 credit cards for consumers with all credit levels, from poor to excellent. By the numbers:
- Cards with no annual fee: 14
- Cash back cards: 9
- Travel cards: 4
- Business cards: 6
- Student cards: 1
- Secured cards: 1
- Cards for excellent or good credit: 15
- Cards for average or fair credit: 4
- Cards for bad credit: 1
Capital One credit cards for consumers with poor-to-average credit provide automatic enrollment in the Credit Steps Program. Once enrolled, credit limit increases can occur automatically after five consecutive on-time payments. Also, you can request a credit limit increase or a better card if you meet certain criteria.
Capital One Rewards and Redemptions
Capital One credit cards offer several reward structures:
- Flat-Rate Cash Back: These cards offer a single cash back reward percentage on all purchases. Example: The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- Tiered Cash Back: Cards offer different cash back percentages on set purchase categories. Example: The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers reward rates from 1% to 4% on different purchase categories.
- Travel Miles: Some cards reward you with miles instead of cash. You can redeem those miles for travel, cash, or other rewards. You can also transfer your miles to one of 10+ travel partners. Example: The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card provides 2X miles on every purchase.
- CLUB Points: You earn CLUB points from a co-branded card when you make purchases at the issuer’s store. Example: The Cabela’s CLUB Card provides 2% back in club points on all purchases from Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, and 1% back in club points on all other purchases.
Capital One does not offer any credit cards with quarterly rotating bonus merchant categories. All rewards on Capital One cards are unlimited and don’t expire unless you close the account. You can redeem your rewards in any amount, at any time.
Beyond purchase rewards, Capital One cards share a common suite of benefits:
- $0 Fraud Liability: You are not responsible for unauthorized use of your card.
- Eno® Capital One® Assistant: Eno® is a virtual assistant that constantly monitors your card and alerts you to any threats. In addition, you can generate merchant-specific virtual card numbers to protect your real card number when shopping online.
- Proactive Account Alerts: You can set up your account to send you reminders and alerts.
- Personalized Payments: Specify your monthly payment date and method.
- AutoPay: You can set up monthly automatic payments.
- Card Lock: Deactivate your card quickly in case it’s lost, stolen, or misplaced.
- Mobile App: The Capital One Mobile App allows you to manage your account, pay your bills, review your transactions and balance, and receive instant purchase notifications.
- Paribus from Capital One®: Paribus is an app that allows you to find potential refunds on previous online purchases.
- CreditWise® from Capital One®: Monitor your credit score and preview the potential impact of financial decisions with CreditWise.
- Sureswipe/Touch ID: Allows you to sign in to the Capital One Mobile App using fingerprints or custom patterns.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees: Pay no fees on foreign transactions or currency conversions.
- Travel Benefits: Incudes Travel Accident Insurance, Roadside Assistance, and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver.
- Extended Warranty: Get extra warranty protection on eligible purchases for free.
- Premier Access: Get VIP access to dining, sports, and music events.
- Purchase Eraser: The Capital One Purchase Eraser allows you to redeem miles retroactively for travel-related expenses. You can use the miles to pay for hotel, airfare, and transportation costs you incurred in the last 90 days.
You can redeem Capital One miles for travel at the rate of $0.01/mile. This is true when booking new travel or using the Purchase Eraser. The same rate applies when you redeem your miles for gifts.
If you cash in your miles, you’ll get $0.005 cents per mile. Alternatively, you can transfer your Capital One miles to a travel partner’s loyalty program. The transfer ratio will range from 2:1 to 2:1.5, depending on the partner.
Best Capital One® Cards
With such a wide range of cards to choose from, the “best” Capital One card depends on your personal circumstances. The cards we’ve chosen provide the best value for consumers. Because the cards don’t have quarterly rotating bonus categories, you don’t have to activate a category each quarter.
While our picks represent the cream of the Capital One crop, your choice may be dictated by your credit score and purchase patterns. For example, if you have bad credit, you can apply for a secured credit card from Capital One®. Remember to check annual fees — in some cases, a $0 annual fee applies only to the first year.
Chase: Best for Consumers with Good Credit or Better
If you’d like to set your head spinning, contemplate the 27 different credit cards that Chase offers. By the numbers:
- Travel cards: 20
- Cash back cards: 6
- Cards with no annual fee: 9
- Business cards: 6
- Airline cards: 14
- Hotel cards: 7
- Balance transfer cards: 2
- Cards with rewards: 27
- Refer-A-Friend cards: 10
This range of categories may help explain why Chase is the largest credit card issuer, as measured by the 93 million cards it has issued. All 27 cards are aimed at consumers with good to excellent credit, which is why you won’t find a secured or even a student credit card from Chase.
With so many to choose from, you may be inclined to add one or more Chase cards to your wallet. Bear in mind that the Chase 5/24 Rule limits you to five new credit and charge cards (from any issuer) within 24 months.
Chase Rewards and Redemptions
Of the three card issuers in this review, Chase gives you the largest selection of reward types:
- Flat-Rate Cash Back: You get unlimited cash back rewards at a flat percentage rate. Example: The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card lets you earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- Rotating Bonus Categories: The merchant types at which purchases earn high cash back rewards change every quarter. Example: Chase Freedom® offers 5% cash back on purchases up to $1,500 each quarter in the current bonus category. You must activate the category each quarter, and all other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back.
- Tiered Cash Back: You earn different cash back percentages on fixed merchant categories. Example: The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card offers reward rates from 1% to 3% on different purchase categories.
- Miles: Several Chase cards offer reward miles. Example: The Chase UnitedSM Explorer Card earns you 2 miles per $1 spent for purchases at restaurants, hotels, and United Airlines, and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Points: Points are versatile rewards you can use for purchases or convert into miles or cash. Example: Chase Sapphire Preferred® offers 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants. By the way, three Chase cards offer “Avios,” which are points by another name.
Several of the cards offer added perks, such as free checked bags, a free overnight hotel stay, or bonus anniversary rewards. Many Chase cards offer bonus rewards when you spend a set amount on purchases during the first three months after opening an account.
In addition, four Chase cards, including the Ink Business Unlimited™Credit Card, offer a 0% introductory APR to new cardmembers for a set period after opening an account.
When it comes time to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, you have three options:
- Travel Redemptions: The value of your points depends on which credit card you hold. The default value is $0.01/point. However, you can redeem points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card for $0.0125/point. Even better, the redemption value for points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card is $0.015/point. And, if you own multiple Chase cards, you can combine your points and get the highest rate.
- Gift Cards or Cash Back: You can redeem your points for cash back or gift cards for $0.01 each.
- Travel Partner Transfers: You can transfer your points on a 1:1 basis to Chase’s travel partners in 1,000-point increments.
Chase cards offer a rich array of benefits. The following benefits are available from one or more Chase credit cards:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards®: You can earn bonus points on select purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards® Shop through Chase®, and redeem them for cash back, gift cards, travel, and more. You can book your vacation on Chase Ultimate Rewards® and use points to help pay for it. In fact, points redeemed for travel are worth 25% to 50% more. You can also transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to hotel reward programs to earn free nights. In addition, you can use your points to pay for purchases at the Apple Ultimate Rewards Store and at Amazon.com.
- Chase Credit Journey: This benefit includes free credit scores, weekly score updates, credit alerts, and a score simulator.
- Chase Pay: Consolidate your cards, wallets, loyalty programs and rewards in one place. Tap the Chase Pay button to pay quickly and securely. You can also link your card to PayPal® to shop at millions of places online.
- Travel Benefits: There are 21 Chase cards that offer various travel benefits. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card provides trip cancellation/trip interruption/trip delay insurance, baggage delay/loss insurance, roadside dispatch, and auto rental collision damage waiver. Additional travel benefits include travel accident insurance, travel and emergency assistance, and no foreign transaction fees.
- Zero Liability: You are not responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card.
- 24/7 Fraud Monitoring: You will be alerted to any unusual activity on your account.
- Chase Mobile® App: You can use the app to pay your Chase credit card and monitor your account activity.
- Extended Warranty Protection: Adds one additional year of coverage on eligible warranties of three years or less.
- Purchase Protection: Covers new purchases against damage or theft for defined periods and coverage amounts.
- Chase Experiences®: Premium access to concerts, shows, sports events, and dining experiences.
- Refer-A-Friend: Rewards are available from 10 Chase credit cards. This program allows you to earn up to $500 cash back per year for referring up to five new customers to one of these cards.
With so many added perks and protections, it’s no wonder Chase is so popular among cardholders.
Best Chase Credit Cards
The top Chase cards have hefty fees and bountiful benefits. But Chase also offers seven cards with no annual fees, and some of these offer valuable benefits. Chase has chosen to focus on travel cards, which comprise 21 of its 29 cards. We give the following cards our top rating:
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- No annual fee
- No minimum to redeem for cash back
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
0% 15 Months
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Chase is the leading credit card issuer for good reason. It offers a wide variety of cards with different rewards and benefits structures. Even the most modest Chase cards offer many core benefits. Decisions, decisions.
Differences Between Discover, Capital One, Chase
While they offer broadly similar features, many differences exist, including:
- Quarterly Rotating Bonus Categories: Capital One does not offer rotating categories, while the other two do. Examples include the Discover it® Cash Back and Chase Freedom® cards.
- Rewards Points: Only Chase offers rewards in the form of generally usable points, as, for example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card. Capital One has two cards, including the Capital One® Cabela’s CLUB Card, that offer specialized points that can only be used for shopping at the co-branded retailer.
- Anniversary Bonus: Only Chase offers cards with anniversary bonuses, such as the World of Hyatt Credit Card, where you earn one free overnight stay on each account anniversary.
- Introductory Bonus: Discover cards do not offer introductory bonuses, whereas these are available from Chase (e.g., Chase Sapphire Preferred®) and Capital One (e.g., Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards).
- Secured Offerings: If you have bad credit, Capital One offers the Secured Mastercard®. So does Discover with its Discover it® Secured. Chase doesn’t offer a secured credit card.
- Student Cards: Chase does not offer a student credit card. If you want a student card, you can consider ones from the other issuers, including the Discover it® Student Cash Back and the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.
- Annual Fees: Capital One and Chase offer cards with and without annual fees.
- Card Network: Only Discover is both a card network and a card issuer.
- Cards for Fair or Poor Credit: Chase cards are targeted to consumers with good or excellent credit. If you have bad credit, try the secured cards from Discover and Capital One.
- Airline/Hotel Transfer Partners: This is only available from Chase and Capital One. Discover doesn’t offer a card that allows you to transfer miles or points to a travel partner.
- Standard Perks: Chase and Capital One provide free travel and auto rental insurance, purchase and return protection, and extended warranties. Discover does not offer any of these perks.
If you have an idea of which features from a bank and card are important to you, this list of differences can help separate the issuers so you can make an informed choice. While many differences exist, all three issuers are great options.
Similarities Among Discover, Capital One, Chase
These three card issuers offer a number of similar features, including:
- Flat and Tiered Cash Back Rewards: All issuers have card portfolios that include cards with flat and tiered cash back rewards.
- Balance Transfers: All three issuers offer card options with introductory APR offers on balance transfers to new cardmembers for a set period after opening an account.
- Miles Rewards: Each issuer has at least one card that offers rewards in the form of miles. For example, there is the Discover it® Miles card, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and Chase UnitedSM Explorer Card.
- Co-Branded Cards: All three issuers offer co-branded cards. These include the NHL® Discover it®, Capital One® Walmart Rewards™ Card, and Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.
- Business Cards: All three issuers offer business credit cards, including the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card, Discover it® Business Card, and Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business.
- Security Features: Each of these issuers offers basic security features, such as alerts for suspicious account activity.
- Introductory Rates: All three issuers offer card options with introductory APR offers to new cardmembers on purchases for a set period after opening the account.
- No Blackout Dates: Each issuer offers at least one travel card that lets you book travel without blackout dates on any airline. These include the Discover it® Miles, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and Chase Sapphire Preferred®.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees: All three issuers offer cards that charge no foreign transaction fees.
- $0 Fraud Liability: These issuers all offer cards with fraud liability.
- Rewards Don’t Expire: You get to keep the rewards you earn from any of these issuers as long as you keep your account open.
- Mobile Apps: They all have mobile apps: Discover Mobile App, Capital One® Mobile App, and Chase Mobile® Banking.
It’s hard to be competitive if the competition offers rewards and protections that you don’t. Therefore, many card issuers share similarities that have become standard among big banks — and customers expect in a major credit card.
So, Which is Best?
Each issuer has strong positives that will attract certain consumers more than others. Discover has a large selection of cards with various rewards and friendly terms that you can pick from based on your wants and needs at the time. However, Discover’s travel and purchase benefits are lacking when compared with Chase and Capital One.
Folks with bad credit will find the most choices at Capital One. Chase caters to consumers with good to excellent credit, with a humongous variety of cards, including the premium Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
The bottom line is that all three issuers offer very good cards, and the best issuer is the one that works best for you.