Comparing Rewards Credit Card Offers
Updated: January 9, 2020
Rewards credit 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.
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 credit cards can be daunting to the newcomer. Which type do you choose? Which card is the best? How do you 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:
Best Rewards Credit Cards
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for travel rewards: The Venture Rewards offers a terrific flat rate of 2X miles on every purchase, beating out most travel rewards cards and allowing you to rack up miles without worrying about tracking spending categories.
Pros: With 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months and 2X miles on all purchases, this card offers a host of travel rewards and features. Venture Rewards is currently partnered with more than a dozen airlines where you can transfer your miles. The Venture Rewards Credit Card is a fine choice for both domestic and foreign travel because of its versatility. Fly any airline and stay at any hotel – there are no blackout dates.
Cons: Although your annual fee is waived the first year, you will eventually have to face the music by paying $95 each subsequent year.
Discover it® Cash Back
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for introductory offer: While other cards offer tiered rewards for specific spending, this card is one of the few that rewards with 5% cash back on rotating categories, plus another 5% back at the end of your first year due to Cashback Match (that’s with a max of $1,500 each quarter after activation, then 1% after that).
Pros: You can check out Discover’s 2020 cash back calendar and see how your spending habits line up with the card’s bonus categories before you apply. Enrollment is now open for the January – March bonus categories (grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS).
Cons: This card can be a bit of a hassle, because you have to enroll each quarter to qualify for the 5% rewards. Note that the 5% rewards rate will only apply up to the $1,500 quarterly maximum in purchases.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for everyday use: It has a generous rewards structure with 2% cash back at grocery stores/wholesale clubs and 3% cash back in a category of your choice. (It’s a maximum of $2,500 spend each quarter for combined categories.)
Pros: There are a lot of perks to this card. Do you spend a lot on gas commuting to work? Set gasoline to be your 3% cash back category. Have an online shopping habit? Set your 3% cash back category to online purchases.
Cons: The 2% and 3% cash back categories are capped at $2,500 in combined spend each quarter so there are limits on how much cash back you can earn with this card.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for cash rewards: This is a great card for the shopper who doesn’t want to think about which card to pull out every time she’s at the cash register. That’s because the Quicksilver offers 1.5% back on all purchases.
Pros: In addition to strong ongoing rewards, the Quicksilver’s sign-up bonus offers a nice little boost of $150 after a $500 spend within the first 3 months. Also, this card has no foreign transaction fees.
Cons: You can find a better flat rate with the Citi Double Cash, although that card doesn’t have a sign-up bonus.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, worth $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Pros: In preparation for your upcoming travel, take a look at this card, with its partnerships with major airlines and hotel brands and the 2X points for spending on travel and restaurants.
Cons: There’s so much to love about this card that it’s hard to find a downside. However, one potential setback is the $95 annual fee.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for all purchases: The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, making it a strong option for the shopper who doesn’t want to think about which cards to use where.
Pros: In addition to a sign-up bonus of $150 for spending $500 in the first 3 months, additional features include concierge service, as well as an extended warranty program and purchase protection – not bad considering there’s no annual fee.
Cons: The flat cash back rate limits your ability to earn higher rewards rates in popular categories like gas, groceries and dining.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for balance transfer: The Blue Cash Preferred is a premier rewards card for balance transfers – get 0% intro APR on balance transfers as well as purchases for 12 months. It’s 14.49%-25.49% variable after that.
Pros: This card’s cash back categories of U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations are a mainstay, and now the Blue Cash Preferred offers excellent rewards on all manner of transit as well as select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
Cons: Unlike other rewards cards with an annual fee, the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual fee of $95 isn’t waived the first year. If that’s a deal breaker, you might consider the Blue Cash Everyday, which has similar categories but with no annual fee.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for no annual fee: Few rewards cards offer such a competitive rewards rate and such comprehensive travel protections without charging an annual fee. Even better, there is no spend cap on the card’s 3X bonus categories.
Pros: With no annual fee and no limits on rewards, this card’s got what it takes to turn your head and race your heart. There’s also the 20,000 points after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months – that’s a $200 cash redemption value.
Cons: You’ll have to look hard for something not to like about this card, although there are no boosted rewards for such categories as Amazon.com, wholesale clubs and home improvement stores.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for low interest: Not only is this card’s low-end APR very reasonable given the array of other features included, it offers a 0% intro APR for the first 12 months in case you need to finance a larger purchase (13.49%-23.49% variable thereafter).
Pros: In addition to a great flat rate of 1.25X miles on every purchase, this card partners with more than a dozen airlines, which could allow you to transfer and stretch your miles even further.
Cons: The sign-up bonus and the ongoing rewards are serviceable for an occasional traveler, but they both can be beaten by other cards, particularly ones with an annual fee.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Why it’s the best rewards credit card for tiered cash back: The Blue Cash Everyday is unparalleled among cash back cards with no annual fee because it delivers boosted rewards on several everyday categories.
Pros: In addition to the great everyday categories, this card is terrific for its 0% intro APR, which you get for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers (it’s 14.49%-25.49% variable after that).
Cons: Bear in mind that while the welcome offer is serviceable, it has a high required spend – get $150 after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months.
Summary of the Best Credit Cards for Rewards
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||2X miles on every purchase
||$0 first year, then $95
||4.2 / 5
|Discover it® Cash Back
||5% cash back in rotating categories^
||4.5 / 5
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
||3% cash back on a category of choice, 2% cash back on groceries and wholesale club purchases ($2,500 combined limit on 2% and 3% categories each quarter ), 1% cash back on other purchases
||3.4 / 5
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
||Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
||3.4 / 5
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
||2X points on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar on everything else
||3.9 / 5
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
||Rewards on all purchases
||Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
||3.8 / 5
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
||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 on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more,3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations,1% Cash Back on other purchases
||4.3 / 5
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
||No annual fee
||3X points for: Eating out, ordering in, gas stations, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals. 1X points on other purchases
||3.5 / 5
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
||1.25X miles on every purchase
||3.5 / 5
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
||Tiered cash back
||3% at U.S. supermarkets*, 2% at U.S. gas stations
||3.5 / 5
* Up to $6,000 in spend per year, then 1%
^ up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly and unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. Activation required.
We analyzed over 1,600 rewards credit cards and looked at 9 main factors to identify the best cards for your lifestyle – these factors and more inform our decisions in which cards can work the hardest for you.
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 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 within the first 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 and flexibility – Card issuers vary in how you can redeem rewards. For example, Bank of America allows you to receive cash back by check. 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. We also study minimum required redemptions and expirations.
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.
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.
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 credit cards?
A rewards credit card is a lending product that gives you points, miles or cash back for your spending. You might get rewards for specific categories, or you might get a flat rate for all expenditures.
In our April 2019 poll of what’s on consumers’ credit card wish list, we found that consumers’ favorite card features were by far that of cash back – in fact, consumers wanted 3% back on all purchases, something that might have once been considered extremely unlikely. Sign-up bonuses, a common feature of rewards cards, were also in the top 5. In another recent study, we found that rewards are the favorite use for consumers’ most-used cards, at 40%.
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 shopping at Walmart, the Capital One® Walmart Rewards Mastercard* is likely a good choice.
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.
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?…
- 1 card
- 2 cards
- 3 or more cards
- I don’t hold this type of card
- Source: CreditCards.com 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.
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 credit 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…
- No annual fee
- An annual fee of up to $75
- An annual fee between $76-$150
- An annual fee of at least $151
- Source: CreditCards.com rewards card survey
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 survey 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.
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:
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.
There are basically 3 types of travel cards: general purpose, airline and hotel. Some travel cards reward you with an extra boost in your points through a redemption portal, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is a good choice if you don’t travel with a particular brand. Or you can choose an airline or hotel card, which partner with specific brands, such as the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. Because hotel partnerships are so large today, you can access hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries with a single card.
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 cash back product has expanded to cards that give cash back in statement credits, checks and deposits in bank accounts. Cash back can be up to 2% back for everything, such as the Citi® Double Cash with 1% when you buy plus additional 1% as you pay for your purchases, or for quarterly categories, which typically have a greater reward, such as the Discover it® Cash Back. If you want rewards without thinking about it, a flat-rate cash back card might be the right decision.
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.
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, such as the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card.
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, such as Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card. If you often spend on business items, a business card might be an option.
Sometimes cards for fair credit and even secured cards offer rewards, typically 1% back on purchases, such as the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit.
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 redemption value 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 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 points through worldwide travel and dining, business categories, rotating categories such as gas and groceries, and more. 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.
You can earn Membership Rewards through eligible airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, retail purchases and more. There are also opportunities with eligible business purchases in the U.S., such as office supplies, wireless service, shipping, advertising and computer hardware/software/cloud computing. 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.
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.
In addition to earning points at member properties, earn points through partners for car rentals, cruises, even mobile roaming while abroad. 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.
Citi ThankYou Points
The Citi Thank You program, Citi’s points earning and redemption program, is offered through a handful of Citi cards, with options to redeem through merchandise, travel, gift cards, electronics and more, depending on the card.
Depending on the product, you might earn 1.25X points for booking travel in the same way that some Chase cards are structured. The program includes about 15 airline partners, which compares well to the Chase and American Express partnerships.
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards
There are basically 2 ways to earn Go Far Rewards – by spending on your Wells Fargo credit card or by shopping on the Earn More Mall site.
Unlike Chase and American Express, Go Far Rewards can’t be transferred to an airline partner. However, redemptions can come in a number of ways, such as cash back, statement credits, travel, gift cards, merchandise, digital downloads and even as a gift. There’s a Go Far Rewards online auction that you can use to bid on merchandise using your points.
Bank of America Preferred Rewards
The Bank of America Preferred Rewards program works a little differently from the other bank card issuer programs in that it rewards you for how much you keep in your Bank of America bank accounts. This includes funds in Merrill.
The card rewards benefits can be considerable – if you keep at least $20,000 in your accounts, you’ll earn a 25% bonus on qualified card rewards, and that goes up to 75% when you have at least $100,000 in your accounts. There are other bank-related benefits as well, such as money market savings interest rate boosters and auto loan interest rate discounts.
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:
- Calculate. Calculate how much you’ll spend, making sure you will at least recoup the annual fee.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. This is a great option for Bank of America Preferred Rewards clients.
- Statement credit. A favorite among cashback cards, you can earn your redemption through a credit that is placed on your card statement.
* All information about Capital One® Walmart Rewards Mastercard has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. Capital One® Walmart Rewards Mastercard is currently unavailable through CreditCards.com.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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