Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

October 17, 2018 - From groceries to gas to gadgets, rewards cards help you earn cash, points or miles from your everyday purchases. You can redeem your rewards for cash, shopping or travel. We analyzed 1,640 different rewards cards to give you the best recommendations - check out the 10 best rewards credit cards from our partners below.

October 17, 2018 - See the best rewards credit card offers from our partners below and start earning on your everyday purchases, large and small.

Summary

Best rewards credit cards of 2018

NEW - EARN $500 BONUS + 4% CASH BACK ON DINING

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Capital One's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$500
?

$500 after you spend $3000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$95, waived first year
Regular APR
16.24% - 25.24% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
16.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
Intro Balance Transfers APR
N/A

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Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

9,755 Reviews

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Capital One's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
50,000 miles
?

50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$95, waived first year
Regular APR
14.74% - 24.74% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
Intro Balance Transfers APR
N/A

View All Card Details

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Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

43,662 Reviews

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Bank of America's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200
?

$200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • No annual fee
  • New Offer: $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 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
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%
  • Easily add your Mastercard® credit card to any digital wallet for a simple, secure, and convenient way to pay online, in-app, and in-store

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0
Intro Purchase APR
0% Introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Intro Balance Transfers APR
0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days

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Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back

26,257 Reviews

See Rates & Fees

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Discover's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Cashback Match™
?

Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 24.99% variable

See Rates & Fees

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Highlights

  • Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive Free Social Security number alerts—Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 14 months
Regular APR
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
Intro Balance Transfers APR
0% for 14 months

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American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at American Express's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
25,000 points
?

Receive 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants within the first 3 months, up to $100 back. Offer available to new Card Members who apply by 1/9/2019. Plus, earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$250
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees

See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

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Highlights

  • Get the American Express® Gold Card in Limited Edition Rose Gold, only available until 1/9/2019.
  • Receive 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants within the first 3 months, up to $100 back. Offer available to new Card Members who apply by 1/9/2019.
  • Plus, earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at US restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per year for incidental fees at one selected airline.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$250
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Intro Balance Transfers APR
N/A

View All Card Details

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Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

14,854 Reviews

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Chase's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150
?

Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
16.74% - 25.49% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
  • No annual fee

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0
Intro Purchase APR
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Regular APR
16.74% - 25.49% Variable
Intro Balance Transfers APR
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months

View All Card Details

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Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Wells Fargo's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
30,000 points
?

Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 26.99% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (fees apply), then a 14.49%-26.99% variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rates and fees
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 12 months
Regular APR
14.49%-26.99% (Variable)
Intro Balance Transfers APR
0% for 12 months

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Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

4,624 Reviews

Excellent Credit Recommended (740-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Chase's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
50,000 points
?

Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • Earn 50K 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
  • Named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card for 2017’ by MONEY® Magazine
  • 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
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$450
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Intro Balance Transfers APR
N/A

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Capital One® Quicksilver® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months

Capital One® Quicksilver® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months

5,745 Reviews

Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850) ? CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
at Capital One's Secure Site

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150
?

$150 after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.74% - 24.74% variable

Show Less

Highlights

  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 14.74%-24.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 14.74%-24.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees

Rates & Fees

Annual Fee
$0
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro on purchases for 15 months
Regular APR
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
Intro Balance Transfers APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months

View All Card Details

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Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.


Comparing Rewards Credit Card Offers

Updated: October 17, 2018

Rewards cards have proliferated in recent years, with the best offers delivering cardholders hundreds, even thousands of dollars in rewards. It is not surprising that rewards cards claim several spots on our list of the overall best credit cards of 2018.

Cashback, points, miles – whichever method you choose, the results can be, well, rewarding. In fact, because it is accepted that merchants up their prices to accommodate their costs due to credit card fees, consumers who use cards for their purchases actually come out ahead by $240 a year, while consumers who don't end up behind to the tune of $50, according to the Federal Reserve of Boston.

But rewards cards can be daunting to the newcomer. Which type do you choose? Which card is the best? Then there's the question of how to use one. At CreditCards.com, we crunched the numbers on over 1,600 different credit card offers using the criteria outlined below to pick the best rewards cards out there. Along with our top picks, we've also included some takes from other experts and supplemental information to help you with your decision. Here, we look at:

If you are a big rewards fanatic, then you've come to the right place to find the latest and greatest offers and tips to further your goals. If you are a newcomer, our guide will fill you in and help you get started. Whatever your goals, whichever type of card you choose, you'll need to know how to use a rewards card. Let us do the heavy lifting:


best rewards credit cards of 2018

Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018 - Our Ratings

While many credit cards offer some form of rewards, we've limited our list to the best current offers. For example, our top selections include the Chase Sapphire Preferred card which offers flexibility and value in travel rewards with its sizeable 50,000 point sign-up bonus.

Credit CardBest For:Staff ReviewAnnual FeeTop Spending Categories
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardFlexible rewards redemption4.2 / 5$0 first year, then $95Travel and dining
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit CardSign-up bonus4.6 / 5$0 first year, then $95Dining and entertainment
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardHotel purchases4.4 / 5$0 first year, then $95Everything, especially hotels
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit cardGas rewards3.5 / 5$0Grocery stores, wholesale clubs, gas stations
Discover it® Cash BackRotating rewards3.7 / 5$0Changes each quarter, full list here
American Express® Gold CardFood and shopping4.2 / 5$250U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
Chase Freedom®Pairing with a points rewards card3.4 / 5$0Changes each quarter, full list here
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® CardGenerous travel rewards3.9 / 5$0Travel, dining, popular streaming services
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Luxury rewards4.6 / 5$450Travel and dining
Capital One® Quicksilver® CardNo annual fee3.5 / 5$0Everything

Research methodology

Rewards credit cards analyzed: 1,640

Criteria used: Rewards rates, sign-up bonuses, redemption options, redemption flexibility, point values, travel benefits, transfer partners, extra features, rates and fees, customer service, security, credit needed

We've looked at 12 factors to identify the best cards for your lifestyle, doing the heavy lifting for you – these factors and more inform our decisions in which cards can work the hardest for you.

Criteria used

Rewards rates – When studying cards, you might see rewards as points, miles or cash back. We look at not only the type of rewards, but also how they are doled out, whether as cash back on select categories, such as Discover it Cash Back or multiplied points on every purchase, as in the case of Capital One Venture Rewards.

Sign-up bonuses – These can also come as points, miles and cash back. We study how much the bonus is, as well as the required spend and the time limit. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 within 3 months.

Customer service – Some card issuers stand out for their customer service, such as Discover's U.S.-based customer service 24/7. We look at that as well.

Redemption options – Card issuers vary in how you can redeem rewards. For example, Bank of America allows you to receive cash back by check and if you deposit your credit into a Bank of America checking or savings account, you can receive a 10% bonus each time you redeem. Issuers typically allow you to receive a statement credit, redeem for gift cards or merchandise, and in the case of the Chase Sapphire cards, earn bonuses when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Redemption flexibility – We also study minimum required redemptions and expirations. In some cases, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards, miles don't expire for the life of the card and there's no limit to how much you can earn.

Point values – Point valuations on rewards cards can vary widely, from under 1 cent to over 2 cents per point or mile. Also, you can get a bonus when redeeming for travel in some cases, such as the Ink Business Preferred.

Travel benefits – Many travel and other rewards cards offer travel and purchase benefits in addition to points, miles or cash back. These are helpful when you are on a trip and you need extra support, such as lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance with the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card.

Security – Issuers typically take their security seriously, including a number that offer a free credit score each month. Discover offers free Social Security number alerts, for example.

Transfer partners – Even if you hold a loyalty card, such as an airline or hotel card, there may be partners that you can transfer your points or miles to. We look at which and how many partners cards have and the value of the transfers, because some partners have a lower valuation than if you use the points with the original hotel or airline.

Extra features – Rewards credit cards can have additional features, such as free first checked bag and no foreign transaction fees with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express. We study those little pluses that bring added value.

Rates & fees – These range from the annual fee, if there is one, to the regular APR, which can go from less than 10% to more than 25%, depending on the card and issuer. Some issuers offer no late fee, which we study when we ascertain a rewards card's value.

Credit needed – No matter how much you love a card, the issuer will want to make sure you are a good risk and check your credit before you are granted the product. We note whether each rewards card requires credit from bad to excellent or no credit.

What are rewards cards and how do they work?

Points, sometimes called miles, on a credit card are designed to reward you for using the card or for loyalty to a brand. You can earn points through different types of spending, including general spending, restaurants and world travel, or shopping with a hotel or airline brand.

Many rewards cards, particularly travel rewards cards, offer generous sign-up bonuses. Used correctly, cards' sign-up bonuses can reward in the thousands of dollars. For example, at one point in 2016, Chase Sapphire Reserve rewarded up to $1,500 worth of points through a 100,000-point sign-up bonus and use of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Often, you can get boosted points for specific types of spending, 3X points and more. Points can be valued at below $0.01 and above $0.02 upon redemption, depending on the card. They can be redeemed for travel, shopping and more.

You probably have a points chaser in your life, whether it's your office mate or roommate. This person loves to build rewards to be redeemed on trips across the country or around the world. Now, you're wondering: "How do I get in on this?"

You're not alone. Actually, in a recent study, we found that when consumers switch to a new favorite card, it's invariably a rewards card.

Reasons why consumers signed up for a new card...

  •  27%
  • Rewards
  •  12%
  • Low interest rate
  •  9%
  • Easy to get
  •  8%
  • Card brand
  • Creditcards.com study

So, we've established that rewards cards are pretty awesome. What do you need to know before you get started?

First off, understand that rewards aren't just about redeeming for hotel stays or airfare. We actually found that cash back is by far the most popular of redemptions. Here's how the varying rewards rank among consumers:

Percentage of consumers who redeemed rewards in the last year...

  •  52%
  • Cash back
  •  29%
  • Gift card
  •  13%
  • Merchandise
  •  9%
  • Hotel stay
  •  8%
  • Airfare
  •  7%
  • Other rewards
  •  22%
  • No rewards redeemed in last year
  • Source: CreditCards.com Sept. 2018 rewards card survey

For example, you might be eyeing a cash back card that offers improved rewards on everyday spending, such as the Blue Cash Everyday or Blue Cash Preferred. Or you might want to look at a good general-purpose travel card, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards or VentureOne Rewards card.

When you are shopping for a rewards card, you see that they vary widely in whether they have an annual fee, a sign-up bonus and what kinds of ongoing rewards they have. So, while most cash back cards have no annual fee, many travel cards do. And while you will be hard pressed to find a cash back card with extensive travel benefits, travel cards will likely have them in abundance.

When earning rewards, whether it's cash back or points or miles, you'll want to make sure the card you choose reflects how you shop. For instance, if you do a fair amount of shuttling the family in the family van, the Bank of America Cash Rewards' 3% back on gas could be right for you.

When it comes time to redeem, you might choose a statement credit, a gift card or merchandise, or travel. Just know that certain cards favor certain types of redemptions – for example, in some cases, it may be more to your advantage to redeem for travel than to use the rewards for a gift card.

Bottom line? Take your time, shop around and use our excellent tools to pick the right card for you. Remember, if you don't choose a card that plays to your spending strengths, you are just leaving money on the table.

Details on our picks for the best rewards credit cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Like the Venture Rewards, the Sapphire Preferred has a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, although the required spend is higher, at $4,000 in 3 months (Venture has a $3,000 required minimum spend in 3 months). But the Sapphire Preferred stands out because there's a 25% bonus on points when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means your 50,000-point bonus becomes $625 toward travel.

Also, as with many travel cards, there's no foreign transaction fee.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Offering a high 4% in dining and entertainment, this card can amount to major savings really quickly if you are fond of ordering in or going out to eat. Additionally, it offers 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% back on everything else. There is a $95 annual fee but this is waived for the first year.

Perhaps most surprisingly – and impressively – of all, the Savor only requires you to spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to obtain the $500 sign-up bonus. This is a higher amount and lower requirement than most comparable cards.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards

This card has a feature not available elsewhere – earn an amazing 10X miles on thousands of hotels through hotels.com/venture. The only other major card with this reward is the Venture Rewards' sister card, VentureOne Rewards.

The Venture Rewards also offers a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after a $3,000 spend within 3 months of card membership and 2X miles on all purchases. That compares in some fashion to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with a couple of notable differences. While both have a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, the Venture Rewards' 2X miles are on all purchases, yet the Sapphire Preferred's 2X points are for worldwide travel and restaurants. But the Sapphire Preferred has one big advantage, which we'll get into in a minute.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

This card has a bit of a twist, with 3% back for gas; 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs; and 1% on all other purchases. The tiered categories can be up to $2,500 a quarter in combined purchases. It also outshines some other cards' sign-up bonuses with $200 cash back (recently upped from $150) after a $500 spend within 90 days.

Discover it® Cash Back

The Discover it Cash Back comes with an incredible 5% back in rotating categories like Amazon.com, restaurants, gas stations and more each time you activate. Similar to the Chase Freedom, it has a cap of $1,500 a quarter, then it's 1% after that.

But the rewards on the Cash Back make it a special treat, because instead of a sign-up bonus, Discover matches your cash back at the end of your first year. So, if you spend $500 a month on the quarterly categories, that comes to $25 back each month or $300 for the year, plus another $300 at year-end, bringing the total to $600.

American Express® Gold Card

The newly revamped Gold Card offers a tremendous amount of rewards value, especially on dining and groceries, with its 4X points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year for the latter) as well as 3X points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. While it charges a $250 annual fee, it offers benefits like an annual $100 airline fee credit as well as an annual $120 dining credit (up to $10 per month) at participating vendors like The Cheesecake Factory, Grubhub, and more. The welcome bonus of 25,000 points for spending $2,000 in your first 3 months is also quite alluring.

Chase Freedom®

A rotating categories cash back card is a must have if you want to maximize rewards on all your spending, and the Chase Freedom card is one of the best options out there. This card has 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories and 1% cash back on all other spending. Just remember, you have to opt in to the categories each quarter to get the 5%!

Quite possibly the best part about this card is the ability to pair it with a Chase Sapphire product so you can earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points, which are worth way more than just generic cash back, especially if you like to travel. The Freedom card also comes with an easy to hit sign-up bonus of $150 when you spend $500 in the first 3 months of account opening.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Recently relaunched with much strengthened rewards, the Propel truly stands in a unique class that's a cut above the competition. In terms of its rewards, there is a great amount of variety in categories that many consumers can take advantage of: travel (including gas stations), dining, and popular streaming services. In that way, the Propel is very balanced - you can take great advantage of it on special occasions like trips abroad, but also benefit from it on everyday expenses like your Netflix or Spotify subscription.

On top of that, you can get a 30K point bonus for spending $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months. In terms of bonus amounts, this far surpasses the bar that has thus far been set by credit cards that have no annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

As the next step up from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers significantly more rewards but comes at a $450 annual fee. Fortunately, the $300 annual travel credit means that the bulk of the annual fee can be recouped easily. A rich sign-up bonus of 50,000 points makes for a nice boost if you can meet the required spend of $4,000 in your first 3 months.

In addition to earning 3X points on travel (after earning your $300 travel credit) and 3X at restaurants, the CSR boasts one of the most coveted features of any travel rewards card: the ability to redeem points for 150% of their value when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Transferring points to travel partners has the potential to provide even more value.

Capital One® Quicksilver®

As with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, there's a $150 sign-up bonus after a $500 spend within 3 months and 1.5% back on all purchases. But what makes the Quicksilver stand out is that it not only has no annual fee, but also no foreign transaction fees, which is handy when you travel overseas or make purchases online with merchants that use foreign banks. In contrast, the Freedom Unlimited charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, as do many cash back cards.

Pros and cons of rewards credit cards

We got a bit of a surprise when our October 2018 poll by YouGov PLC showed that about a quarter of those polled did not hold a credit card. With all the great rewards cards out there, that's money left on the table.

How many "active" credit cards do you currently hold?...

  •  17%
  • 1 card
  •  15%
  • 2 cards
  •  33%
  • 3 or more cards
  •  26%
  • I don't hold this type of card
  • Source: CreditCards.com Sept. 2018 rewards card survey

Rewards cards can deliver great benefits, waived fees, and of course, points, miles or cash back. However, if you have trouble meeting your budget, or you tend to overspend, then they may not be so great for you.

Some disadvantages may actually be a blessing in disguise, such as annual fees, because they can be indicative of a card that offers superior rewards. But that's not always true. That's why you should thoroughly research your choices before applying.

Here, we look at the pros and cons of rewards credit cards to help you decide if they are right for you.

Pros

Accrue points, miles or cash – Earn hundreds of dollars a year in points, miles or cash back. It doesn't get better than this.

Travel and shopping perks – Rewards cards can offer extended warranties, rental car insurance and other travel and shopping benefits.

Build credit – As with most credit cards, this is a great way to build your credit, provided you pay on time each month.

Fees waived – In the case of the best travel cards, many have no foreign transaction fees and may even waive the annual fee the first year. With some cash back cards, you may not pay an annual fee at all. Here's what consumers report about the cards they have:

Consumers with at least 1 rewards card that has...

  •  72%
  • No annual fee
  •  25%
  • An annual fee of up to $75
  •  15%
  • An annual fee between $76-$150
  •  10%
  • An annual fee of at least $151
  •  15%
  • Unsure
  • Source: CreditCards.com Sept. 2018 rewards card survey

Cons

Higher credit score required – While there are credit-builder cards that have rewards, the cards with richer offers tend to require higher credit scores. Make sure you check the required score of a card before applying.

They can cost you time – Many rewards cards can require you to spend some time maximizing points or cash. For example, if it's a card with rotating categories, you need to sign up for categories, then make sure you maximize spend without going over budget. And some travel cards have blackout dates and limit your choice in travel partners. However, there are rewards cards with flat rates if you don't want to invest time on your rewards.

Damage credit/budget – While you can improve your score with each month of on-time payments, you can destroy it with high balances. Also, you can blow your budget it you don't pay attention to your spending, as well as undo any earnings you've made through rewards.

Higher interest rates – Interest rates on rewards cards tend to be higher, particularly travel cards. But if you plan to pay in full each month, that shouldn't be a problem. In our September 2018 survey by YouGov of 698 American adults, we found that 64% of consumers planned to pay off their rewards card each month, compared to 23% who did not. The number who actually followed through was considerably lower:

Consumers who actually pay off their rewards credit card each month...

  •  41%
  • Every time
  •  20%
  • Most of the time
  •  11%
  • About half the time
  •  14%
  • Less than half the time, but paid in full at least once
  •  10%
  • Never
  •  5%
  • Prefer not to say
  • Source: CreditCards.com Sept. 2018 rewards card survey

Different types of reward cards

There are a number of different types of rewards credit cards, including cash back, hotel and airline loyalty cards, and even retail and gas. In fact, more than 60% of credit cards issued in the U.S. are tied to a rewards program, according to The Wall Street Journal. Here are different types of rewards cards:

Gas

Also called fuel cards, this product dates back to the 1920s when the primary purpose was convenience. With the advent of rewards cards that also reward you for groceries, wholesale clubs and restaurants, rewards cards have all but replaced the gas credit card. That said, gas cards can reward you generously for each gallon and sometimes only require fair credit. If you're on the road a lot, this might be a good choice.

General purpose travel

Some travel cards reward you for most brands through a redemption portal that tracks your travel expenses. While the redemption rate may be lower than a loyalty travel card, you might want this card if you don't travel with a particular brand.

Airline miles

Frequent flier programs became popular in the 1980s. You can choose between a single loyalty card and a card with multiple airline partnerships. This is an option for the traveler who is loyal to a specific brand.

Hotel

A version of the airline loyalty card, this type of card product is good for the consumer who has a favorite hotel brand. Because hotel partnerships are so large today, you can access hotels in the hundreds in dozens of countries with a single card.

Cash back

Originating in 1986, Discover developed its products as a way to give money back at the end of the year based on the amount of charges. The cashback product has expanded to cards that give cash back in statement credits, checks and deposits in bank accounts. Cash back can be 1%-2% back for everything or for quarterly categories, which typically have a greater reward. If you want rewards without thinking about it, a general-purpose cashback card might be the right decision.

Retail

Sometimes called co-branded cards, this product is a type of loyalty card that is tied to department stores or other store brands. These cards can offer high percentages of cash back for first purchases and more.

Luxury

If you travel often and don't particularly love it, luxury cards can be a good choice because you can get 24/7 concierge service, access to airport lounges and more.

Business

Many card issuers offer varying types of rewards cards, frequently with greater rewards than consumer rewards cards. You can get cash back or points for business-related spending. If you often spend on business items, a business card might be an option.

Credit builder

Sometimes cards for fair credit and even secured cards offer rewards, typically 1% back on purchases.

What should I consider when choosing a rewards card?

Rewards CategoryWhat to Consider
General purpose travelHow often you travel; lower rewards
Airline, hotelRewards brand loyalty; annual fee
Cash backCan avoid annual fee; may have quarterly categories
BusinessRewards for business-related expenses
LuxuryHigher annual fees; luxury benefits
RetailHigher rewards for brand loyalty
GasMight accept fair credit; higher rewards for gas

Popular credit card rewards programs

Credit card rewards programs come in any number of flavors, and one of them is bound to work well for you.

There's Chase Ultimate Rewards, with generous rewards for your loyalty. And what about American Express Membership Rewards? Then, there are popular hotel rewards plans.

Here are some popular rewards programs and how they work.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards is a travel portal that can pack points into your account if used correctly. There are 2 types of Ultimate Reward cards, a total of 6 cards:

  • Cards with annual fees – Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve and Ink Business Preferred boost your Ultimate Rewards by 25% or 50%, depending on the card, when you use the points toward travel in the portal.
  • Cards without annual fees – You can use the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited and the Ink Business Cash to collect points to be used on the Ultimate Reward portal. One benefit: You can transfer the points on these cards to the cards with annual fees and enjoy the boosted bonus of the superior card.

Earn

Earn points through worldwide travel and dining, business categories, rotating categories such as gas and groceries, and more.

Redeem

With the Ultimate Rewards portal, you can book all types of travel with partner brands, including air travel and cruises, or enjoy redemptions for such items as gift cards and merchandise.

American Express Membership Rewards

Myriad Amex cards use the Membership Rewards program, including the American Express® Gold Card and the Blue Business Plus.

Earn

You can earn Membership Rewards through airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, retail purchases and more. There are also opportunities with business purchases, including office supplies, wireless service, shipping, advertising and computer hardware/software/cloud computing.

Redeem

Membership Rewards points can be used toward a shopping portal for such brands as Amazon.com and Staples. You can also use your points to cover card charges or for gift cards.

One of the most popular uses is as a travel portal. You can enjoy more value when you transfer the Membership Rewards points to miles and redeem them for international flights in business or first class. You can also experience bonus points for transfers with American Express' airline partners.

Here's how to use your Membership Rewards points toward travel:

  1. Choose your flight, prepaid hotel, vacation package or cruise.
  2. When you arrive at checkout, select the option to "Use all or some Membership Rewards points."
  3. Choose the amount of points you would like to redeem and select "Apply."

Heads up that if you cancel your booking, points will be returned in the form of a statement credit.

Also, you have to use an Amex card that is enrolled in the Membership Rewards program and redeem at least 5,000 points.

Hilton Honors

With the Hilton portfolio, which includes such brands as Waldorf Astoria, Homewood Suites and Curio, you have access to 5,000 hotels and resorts around the world. Add to that, you can experience the benefits of the Hilton Honors program, which gives you access to these properties through the points you have collected with purchases.

Earn

In addition to earning points at member properties, earn points through partners for car rentals, cruises, even mobile roaming while abroad.

Redeem

You can use the points as a gift by purchasing gift cards at Hilton locations or treat yourself with a weekend at a favorite spot. Also enjoy using the points toward flights and rail travel, vehicle upgrades and more.

Starwood Preferred Guest

With the unification of the Starwood Preferred Guest, Ritz-Carlton, and Marriott loyalty programs into one rewards program, you have access to 6,700 participating hotels across 29 brands after combining your rewards accounts. Member properties include Westin, Renaissance Hotels, Springhill Suites and more.

Earn

With the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you can earn points through bonus sign-ups and ongoing purchases with a credit card partnering with the program, such as the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. Also, earn points or miles through purchases at Hilton properties or participating partners.

Redeem

Points can be used toward stays at these properties or through partners, allowing you to use them toward air travel, ground transportation, and gift certificates to such brands as Starbucks and iTunes. They can also be donated to charity.

How to choose your rewards card

When you are trying to choose the right rewards card for your lifestyle, it can be overwhelming. But with a little homework, you will find the perfect card.

It's really just a matter of asking yourself a few questions, such as what you plan to use it for and what benefits does the card offer, then deciding if that card will work into your shopping and budgeting routine.

  1. Do you have the right card? Before doing anything else, make sure you have the right card for your habits. If you travel often with a favorite airline, a branded card might be a good option. If you are an occasional traveler, a general-purpose card might be best.
  2. What are you using it for? Use your card for everything you were going to buy anyway. With it, pay for insurance, your cellphone, groceries – pretty much anything that won't charge a convenience fee.
  3. What are the benefits? Rewards cards often have benefits beyond points that make using your card worthwhile, including access to airport lounges and rental car insurance.
  4. Will you shop? Often, cards will have shopping portals in which you can use your points or miles.
  5. Are you overreaching? Don't put anything on your card that you don't already have the money for. Remember, credit cards aren't designed to be long-term loans.
  6. Are you paying in full? Each and every month, pay in full to avoid those interest charges you pay when you carry over a balance to the next month, charges that basically undo the rewards you've received.
  7. Are you paying on time? Paying late can mean not only late charges, it can put your account and credit in jeopardy.

What credit is needed for a rewards card?

Most rewards cards call for at least good credit (at least a score of 700 on a scale of 300-850), but there are exceptions, such as some student cards and even secured cards.

While many rewards cards have annual fees, these fees together with the required good credit are the trade-off for superior travel and shopping benefits, such as price protection and free checked bags. However, there are many cash back cards with no annual fee. Here are sample cards, their purposes and their credit ranges:

CardType of cardCredit rangeFeaturesAnnual fee
Hilton Honors American Express Ascend CardTravelExcellent/good12X points on purchases at participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio; 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3X point on other eligible purchases$95
Discover it Cash BackCash backExcellent/good5% cash back on up to $1,500 on purchases in rotating categories throughout the year (enroll every quarter); cash back matched at first year-end$0
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash RewardsBuild credit, earn rewardsFair/good1.5% back on all purchases$39
Discover it SecuredBuild creditBad/fairEarn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter; cash back matched at end of first year$0
Journey Student Rewards from Capital OneBuild credit, gain experienceFair/goodEarn 1% cash back on all your purchases; pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month$0

How to maximize your credit card rewards

To take full advantage of your points, you need to look at the rewards card from all angles, including how much you'll spend and what you'll buy. Here's a quick guide on how to maximize your points:

  1. Check your credit. Before you apply, make sure you know your credit score and that you have a high likelihood of getting the card you want before you apply.
  2. Choose carefully. To use a rewards card successfully – and the points or miles – you'll need to find the right card for your lifestyle. For example, if you travel frequently, then focus on travel rewards cards; if you buy a lot of groceries, then get a card that earns high rewards on groceries.
  3. Calculate. Calculate how much you'll spend, making sure you will at least recoup the annual fee.
  4. Take advantage of the sign-up bonus. Make sure that you will be able to spend the required amount within the required time for the sign-up bonus, but avoid the temptation of making extra purchases just for the sake of reaching the required spend. Stick to sign-up bonuses that you know are attainable from your regular or pre-planned purchases.
  5. Make it your go-to card. See if you can pay your rent, insurance and utilities with it, but make sure there are no convenience fees. Buy your groceries with it, and pull it out at restaurants.
  6. Pay in full and pay on time. If you can't pay it off in full each month, there's no point in acquiring it. The interest fees will overshadow any cash back or points you've earned. Never go over the limit or pay late; these are wasted dollars.
  7. Use shopping portals. Frequently check for deals. Just make sure you are fully rewarded for using points or miles. Some cards don't reward you for the full amount with their shopping portals or gift cards.
  8. Take full advantage of the benefits. Make full use of the benefits, such as price protection and auto rental insurance.

How to redeem your credit card rewards

Whether you are earning points, miles or cash back, card issuers offer numerous ways to redeem those rewards. You can redeem through statement credits, gift cards, even checks. Here are some ways:

  • A portal for travel purchases. With some cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, a travel portal can be used to make purchases using points, with additional rewards for using the portal.
  • A portal for redemption. With general-purpose travel cards, you can redeem your miles for all manner of travel through a portal that monitors your rewards and travel spending.
  • Redeeming for specific brands. With hotel- and airline-branded cards, you can redeem for those specific brands and sometimes their partners.
  • Online shopping. Redeem your points through a shopping portal for such items as clothing, health and beauty aids, gift cards, and more.
  • Get a check. A few card issuers will issue a check for your cash rewards.
  • Deposit into bank account. Bank of America actually rewards you for depositing cash back into your BofA account.
  • Statement credit. A favorite among cashback cards, you can earn your redemption through a credit that is placed on your card statement.

Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at laura.mohammad@creditcards.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.


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