Best Rewards Credit Cards for March 2021

Using a rewards credit card is an easy way to get a return on your everyday expenses. If you’re already going to the grocery store or filling up your gas tank, why not earn cash back or travel points on those purchases? If you can spend responsibly and pay your bill on time, a rewards card will likely be a valuable addition to your wallet.

With so many options, choosing a rewards credit card can be daunting. Our team of experts analyzed 1,640 rewards credit cards to give you our top picks, so you can safely apply for the best rewards credit card for your goals. Check out the best rewards credit cards from our partners below.

Using a rewards credit card is an easy way to get a return on your everyday expenses. If you’re already going to the grocery store or filling up your gas tank, why not earn cash back or travel points on those purchases? If you can spend responsibly and pay your bill on time, a rewards card will likely be a valuable addition to your wallet.

With so many options, choosing a rewards credit card can be daunting. Our team of experts analyzed 1,640 rewards credit cards to give you our top picks, so you can safely apply for the best rewards credit card for your goals. Check out the best rewards credit cards from our partners below.

Writer: Mariah Ackary | Editor: Laura Mohammad

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March 2, 2021

Best Rewards Credit Cards

Capital One VentureOne 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.25X
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
20,000 miles

Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
1.8%
1.8% cash rewards on digital wallet purchases including Google Pay™ or Apple Pay® during the first 12 months from account opening

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150 cash rewards

Earn a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.99% variable
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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
Earn 3X points on eating out and ordering in
3X
Earn 3X points on popular streaming services
3X
Earn 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit
3X
Earn 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
1X
Earn 1X points on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
20,000 points

Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that’s a $200 cash redemption value

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.99% variable
Discover it® Miles

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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5X
Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Discover Match®

Unlimited Bonus: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable
American Express Cash Magnet® 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
Jasper Mastercard®

No Credit History

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

Up to 6%
Get up to 6% cash back by referring friends! Start with 1% and get an extra 0.5% for a full year for every friend you bring on board

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$50

$50 signup bonus! Apply by March 31, 2021 using promo code RVPROMO to receive a $50 statement credit upon activation, if approved. Terms apply.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 24.99% variable
Petal® 2

No Credit History

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
1%
1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 26.99% variable
Citi Rewards+® 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter.
1X
Earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
15,000 points

Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

6X
Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels
3X
3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines.
2X
2 points on all other eligible purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
75,000 points

Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
15.74% - 24.74% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus 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.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Earn Companion Pass® plus 30,000 points

Earn Companion Pass® through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable

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.

All information about Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, Alliant Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Guide to rewards credit cards

The experts at CreditCards.com have put together a guide to help you safely choose the best rewards credit card for your financial goals.

How to choose a rewards credit card

The benefit of rewards credit cards is that you can earn a return on your purchases. This does not mean to spend carelessly, as it is important to take note of required payments and interest rates, as well as limits on rewards categories. When used properly, you can earn rewards in various ways, such as cash back, travel points/miles, and even hotel amenities from your spending.

Here’s what to think about when choosing a rewards card:

  • Do you have a rewards goal in mind? If you are planning to travel, a travel rewards card may be beneficial. Or, if you simply want a return on your everyday spending, then a card that rewards gas & groceries would be a good option.
  • What do you typically spend more on? Try to find a card that has better rewards for a purchase category (travel, gas, dining, entertainment, etc.) that you tend to spend in.
  • Rotating rewards categories. Some rewards cards offer increased rewards on certain purchase categories for limited periods of time, typically each quarter of the year. These can be great, but it is important to note when reward categories switch to ensure you are getting the rewards you expect. Further reading: Discover it® Cash Back rewards categories calendar 2021.
  • Rewards limits. Certain cards will grant rewards up to a defined amount of spending. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). Be sure to keep this in mind and read the card issuer details, so you can receive the rewards that you expect.
  • Watch out for fees. Some cards may have an annual fee, so you’ll want to make sure you can afford that fee and that it is worth the rewards you are getting back from the card.

Research methodology

We analyzed over 1,600 rewards credit cards and most heavily weighed 10 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 rate – We took into account rewards categories and rates, earning caps and other fine print that may affect total earnings potential.
  • Interest rate – Though you shouldn’t have to worry about interest rates if you’re paying your bill in full each month, we excluded rewards cards with exorbitant interest rates.
  • Fees – We compared each card’s fees to the rewards rate and sign-up bonus to determine whether the average consumer could earn enough rewards to justify the annual fee within the first year and years to come.
  • Travel benefits – For the travel cards, we’ve assessed point values and transfer partners to help you weigh your options based on your lifestyle and goals.
  • All criteria used: Credit needed, rates & fees, transfer partners, travel benefits, point values, redemption options and flexibility, customer service, sign-up bonus, rewards rate.

best rewards credit cards of 2021

Editor’s takes: The Best Rewards Credit Cards

American Express® Gold Card

Our pick for introductory bonus

The $250 annual fee isn’t chump change, but it can be worth it for travel and dining buffs. A rate of 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide is one of the best you’ll find in that category. You’ll also earn that rate on purchases at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar) and on Uber Eats purchases. Plus, if you spend $4,000 in the first 6 months, you’ll earn 60,000 points – enough to make up for the annual fee for the first year or longer, depending on how you redeem it. Read the full review.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

Our pick for flexible cash back categories

This cash back card offers something truly unique: you get to pick and change your bonus cash back category as often as once per calendar month. You can choose from gas, dining, travel, online shopping, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings. With this freedom, you’re able to maximize your rewards by selecting your categories according to the purchases that are on your horizon. In addition to 3% cash back in your category of choice, you’ll also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (you’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter. After that it’s 1%). Read the full review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Our pick for cash back at drugstores

If you’re looking for a card that rewards everyday expenses, you’ll see several cards that offer rewards for grocery store and gas station purchases. But the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is unique because it offers 3% cash back on drugstore purchases, a somewhat rare category. It doesn’t end there; there are ample opportunities to earn rewards. In addition to the rewards you’ll earn at drugstores, you also have the opportunity to earn 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, and 5% cash back on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. All other purchases earn 1.5% cash back. With so many rewards categories, it’s pretty amazing that there’s no annual fee. Read the full review.

Discover it® Cash Back

Our pick for rotating cash back categories

This card offers a great mix of bonus spending categories, which you can find on Discover’s 2021 cash back calendar. You’ll earn 5% cash back in these rotating categories (upon enrollment, on your first $1,500 in combined quarterly spending, then 1%). While that rate is lucrative enough to stand on its own, Discover sweetens the deal by matching all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. One potential drawback for those who prefer to set and forget: You must remember to enroll each quarter when the bonus category changes if you want to earn the boosted cash back rate. Read the full review.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Our pick for travel rewards flexibility

Many travel credit cards require you to redeem your rewards through an issuer portal, which can be restrictive and inconvenient for some. The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card opens your options by allowing you to redeem points for a statement credit on travel purchase made on your card within the last 12 months. That means you can travel now and settle up your rewards redemption later. Plus, this gives you the option to use your points to pay for travel booked through third-party travel sites, giving you more flexibility to choose the best deal. With no annual fee and a rewards rate of 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase, this is a solid choice for casual travelers. Read the full review.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Our pick for low interest

In most cases, you should only get a rewards credit card if you know you’re able to pay off your bill in full each month. But even if you’re pretty sure that’s the case, it’s good to have a card that charges a reasonable interest rate just in case that you do end up carrying a balance. The Blue Cash Everyday offers just that, with an APR of 13.99% – 23.99% variable. There’s plenty to love about the rewards system, too. Cardholders earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) and 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. Read the full review.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Our pick for U.S. supermarkets

This card’s 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%) and 3% back at U.S. gas stations and transit will benefit nearly every consumer. Plus, it isn’t difficult to achieve the introductory bonus – $300 after spending $3,000 within the first 6 months. However, the annual fee of $95 may give you pause, although it is waived the first year. You can also check out its little sister card, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. Check out our side-by-side comparison of the Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred if you’re not sure which card makes the most sense for you. Read the full review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for intro APR period on purchases

With the Quicksilver, you can get 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases (then it’s 15.49%-25.49% variable). That means if you have a pending renovation or major appliance purchase, the Quicksilver can help you pay strategically. However, you should remember that this only applies to purchases made with the card; there is no 0% intro APR offer for balance transfers. Your first few months are made even more valuable by the welcome bonus, $200 after you spend just $500 within the first 3 months. Aside from the new cardholder benefits, the ongoing value is good, too. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases – no need to keep track of bonus categories. Read the full review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for travel rewards

There’s a reason the Venture card is revered by travel enthusiasts; with an excellent rate of 2X miles on every purchase, the Venture Rewards Card allows you to rack up miles without worrying about spending categories. Additionally, the sign-up bonus is one of the best: 60,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months. Lastly, but certainly not to be overlooked, is the Venture’s redemption flexibility. In addition to the wealth of transfer partners, there are no blackout dates. Read the full review.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Our pick for combining rotating cash back and flat-rate spending

Indecisive? The Chase Freedom Flex gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to cash back. Earn 5% cash back on quarterly categories for up to a combined $1,500, then earn a flat rate of 5% on travel purchases made through Chase and 3% cash back at restaurants and drug stores. The Freedom Flex also offers $200 to those who spend $500 within the first 3 months. Read the full review.

Sam’s Club® Mastercard®

Our pick for gas

For many people, gas is one of those unavoidable, perpetual expenses. For that reason, choosing a credit card that rewards gas purchases is one of the best ways to ensure you’re continuously earning rewards. With the Sam’s Club Mastercard, you’ll earn 5% cash back every time you fill up your tank (on up to $6,000 annually, then 1%). You’ll also earn 3% cash back on dining. There are several limitations, though. First, rewards earnings are capped at $5,000 annually and come in the form of a check that can only be cashed at a Sam’s Club. You only receive your rewards once per year (in February), and the check will expire 180 days from the issue date. If you’re a regular Sam’s Club shopper, this may not be a problem. But those seeking more freedom can find better gas rewards cards. Read the full review.

Citi Premier® Card

Our pick for hotel rewards

Cardholders earn 3 points for every dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, air travel and hotel bookings. Accommodation is often the most expensive part of a vacation, so using your Citi Premier Card to pay for hotel stays is a great way to earn a significant amount of rewards with one purchase. Plus, if you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months, you’ll receive 60,000 ThankYou points, which can be redeemed for travel, statement credits, gift cards and more. The $95 annual fee does cut into the overall value, but frequent travelers can make up that cost and more with regular card use. Read the full review.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Our pick for luxury travel benefits

The first thing you might notice about this card is the startling $550 annual fee. But for frequent travelers, especially those who like to travel in style, the long list of rewards, benefits and credits can easily make up that value. To start, flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel earn 5X points. The same rate applies to hotels booked on amextravel.com. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on flights per calendar year. Cardholders also have access to a wealth of annual credits: up to $200 in Uber credit, up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit (enrollment required) and up to a $100 hotel credit. Every four years, cardholders get a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck® credit. Read the full review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for dining and entertainment

The SavorOne’s 3% cash back on dining and entertainment is highly competitive, especially for a no annual fee card. You’ll also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores, a nice touch of practicality to complement the dining and entertainment categories. While this is a strong no-annual-fee cash back card, it may not make sense for the ultra-frugal consumer. If you’re trying to cut back on eating out, as many people do when budgeting, you miss out on the card’s most lucrative rewards category. If you’d like to earn rewards for cooking meals at home, you can find higher rewards rates with the Blue Cash Everyday. Read the full review.

Understanding rewards credit cards

What is a rewards credit card?

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. Typically, you’ll need at least good credit to be approved for a rewards credit card, though there are exceptions.

Our April 2019 poll of favorite credit card features confirmed that Americans love their credit card rewards. The poll found that 3% cash back – something that might have once been considered extremely unlikely – was at the top of the credit card wish list for 40% of consumers. Sign-up bonuses, a common feature of rewards cards, were also in the top 5. In another recent survey, the majority of consumers said rewards were the best benefit offered by their favorite credit card.

How do rewards credit cards work?

As you make purchases with a rewards credit card, you’ll get a little something in return, usually cash back, points or airline miles. Depending on the type of rewards card you have, you can redeem your earnings for money deposited into your bank account, free or discounted flights, hotel stays, gift cards and more.

What you can do with your rewards depends on what type of card you have. Cash back gives you the most flexibility with your rewards. Since you’ll typically get cash back as a statement credit or direct deposit, you can use your rewards like cash to buy anything you want. On the other hand, travel rewards can be used to book flights, hotels and other types of travel.

Further reading: How to get the most from rewards credit cards

How much are credit card rewards points worth?

The value of credit card rewards points depends on how you redeem them. For example, you might get a value of 1 cent per point when redeeming for travel on the issuer’s website. However, you may have the option to transfer your points to an airline, in which case your points may stretch further, making them worth 1.5 or 2 cents apiece. You also may have to option to redeem points for gift cards or cash back. To get the best value from your points, you’ll have to compare your options and do some quick math.

Further reading: How to know how much a rewards point is worth

How many credit card rewards points can I earn?

Your point-earning potential depends on two things: how much you spend on the card and whether it offers unlimited rewards. Some cards set no limit to the number of points you can earn at a boosted rate, while others might decrease your rewards rate after you hit a certain spending threshold. For example, you might earn 2X points on all purchases on the first $5,000 spent annually, then 1X on purchases after that.

Which is better: cash back or travel points?

The answer depends on your spending habits and how you want to redeem your rewards. Cash back cards are good for those who wish to simply press a button to redeem their rewards for cash. It’s also less common for cash back cards to charge an annual fee, another perk for those who like to keep it simple. On the other hand, travel rewards cards typically offer more bang for your buck in terms of rewards value. However, redeeming your travel rewards may require some extra research and comparison in order to get the best value. Read our full comparison of cash back and travel rewards.

What credit score is needed to get a rewards credit card?

Most rewards cards require at least good credit, which is a FICO® score of 670 or greater. With very good or excellent credit, you’ll likely have access to the best rewards credit cards. There are some credit cards for bad credit that offer modest rewards, like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, which offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, as well as 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Types of rewards cards

The two main types of rewards cards are cash back and travel cards. Both types of cards can help you earn rewards through the everyday purchases you make or the flights you’re already booking. Although this sounds simple enough, it can be confusing when trying to find the right card for you because there are so many to choose from within each category. So to make it a little easier for you, we’ve gone into detail about the different types of rewards credit cards and what they can offer you:

Cash back cards

With a cash back credit card, a percentage of each qualifying purchase will be paid back to you in the form of statement credits, checks or bank account deposits. For example, a card with a 2% cash back rate would reward you with $2 for every $100 spent.

This can be a great way to earn money for the purchases you make every day, and with the right card, the rewards won’t expire for the life of the account – so the rewards that you earn will always be yours. There are several types of cash back credit cards.

Flat-rate cash back cards

These are the simplest type of rewards cards, offering the same rate of cash back on all purchases, usually between 1% and 2%. This is a great choice for someone who has a wide variety of expenses or doesn’t want to have to remember bonus categories. A flat-rate card can also be a good choice if you only want one credit card to use for everything. A great option: the Citi® Double Cash Card, which essentially offers 2% cash back on all purchases excluding gift cards, (1% as you buy, 1% as you pay off your purchases).

Tiered cash back cards

Tiered bonus category cards reward specific spending categories, such as dining or gas, at a higher rate, while all other purchases will typically earn 1% cash back. This is a great choice for those who have recurring, significant expenses in certain categories. A great option: the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.

Rotating category cash back cards

Similar to tiered cards, rotating category cards offer boosted rewards rates in certain categories. However, the bonus categories change, usually each quarter, and are often seasonally relevant. Those who want to capitalize on seasonal expenses, such as online shopping during the holidays or travel during the summer, might consider a rotating category card. A great option: the Discover it® Cash Back card, which is offering 5% cash back on Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com purchases from October through December 2020 on up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly after activating (then 1%), right on time for holiday gift purchases. Quarterly sign-up required.

Further reading: How do cash back credit cards work?

Travel rewards credit cards

Travel credit cards reward cardholders with points or miles instead of cash. What’s great about travel credit cards is that you don’t always have to be a frequent traveler to earn significant travel rewards. You can choose a credit card that awards points and miles for purchases like flights, hotels and transportation, or you can choose a card that rewards general, everyday purchases.

You can redeem points or miles to book travel, and with some travel rewards cards, you’ll gain access to luxurious perks like airport lounge access. Among the best travel credit cards, you’ll also find perks like free companion passes, free checked bags, TSA PreCheck® credits and more. There are three main types of travel credit cards.

General-purpose travel cards

With a general-purpose travel card, you’ll earn points, which can be redeemed for flights or hotel stays. General-purpose cards are the most flexible type of travel credit card because they allow you to redeem with a variety of partner brands, so you’re not tied to one airline or hotel chain. Also, many general-purpose travel credit cards reward you with an extra boost in your points if you redeem through the issuer-specific redemption portal, rather than transferring your points to an airline or hotel loyalty program. A great option: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which rewards cardholders with 2X points on travel and at restaurants.

Airline credit cards

Airline credit cards reward cardholders with miles for a specific airline. You earn those miles at a boosted rate through spending on flights or other categories, such as gas stations or dining. If you’re loyal to one brand, you’ll likely find your best redemption value with an airline card instead of a general-purpose card. A great option: the Delta Skymiles® Gold American Express Card, which offers 2X miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets.

Hotel credit cards

Hotel credit cards, like airline cards, are co-branded and encourage loyalty to a single brand. As rewards stack up, you can earn free nights and become eligible for room upgrades, free breakfast and status boosts. A great option: the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card.

Other types of rewards cards

Gas:

Gas cards can reward you generously for each gallon and sometimes only require fair credit. You can get a credit card that rewards purchases at any gas station, or one that rewards purchases at a specific gas station chain.A great option: the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card.

Retail:

Sometimes called a co-branded card, 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. A great option: the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, which offers rewards on Amazon Prime and Whole Foods purchases.

Business:

Many card issuers offer varying types of business cards, frequently with greater rewards than consumer rewards cards. You can get cash back or points for business-related spending, as well as money-saving perks and benefits. A great option: the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, which rewards cardholders with 1.5% cash back on all purchases. 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. A great option: the Credit One Bank® Visa® for Rebuilding Credit.

Are rewards credit cards worth it?

In a best-case scenario, using a rewards credit card can be a great way to earn cash back or discounted travel at no cost to you. In that case, a rewards credit card is worth having. However, several criteria must be true if you want your rewards credit card to be worth it:

  1. You spend responsibly and within your means. Adopting a “buy now, pay sometime in the future” mentality may make it easy to overspend. It’s important to think of credit card charges in the same way as debit charges – once you swipe, that money is gone.
  2. You pay your balance in full. If you aren’t able to do this, you probably shouldn’t use a rewards credit card. The interest charges you’ll accrue will likely be greater than any rewards earnings. If you’re going to carry a balance, it’s better to get a low interest credit card.
  3. You only get a card with an annual fee if the rewards and benefits make up for it. There are plenty of lucrative rewards cards that don’t charge an annual fee, with which you’ll never have to worry about recouping that yearly expense. If you’ve got your eye on a card with an annual fee, break down your monthly budget and estimate how much you’ll earn in rewards annually. If you’re confident you can achieve the rewards earnings each year to surpass the cost of the annual fee, it would probably be worth it. You should also weigh the value of money-saving perks and benefits, like a TSA PreCheck credit or a free checked bag.

Are rewards cards with annual fees worth it?

As you do your research, you may start to notice that the cards with the best rewards earnings and benefits usually charge an annual fee, especially travel rewards cards. Is paying the annual fee worth it?

The answer depends on how much you’re going to spend on the card, especially within the bonus categories. For cash back cards, it can be as simple as doing a quick calculation. For this example, we’ll assess the value of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express for someone who spends $2,400 each year on gas and $4,800 each year on groceries.

Credit cardOngoing Annual feeRewards rateAnnual earnings breakdownWorth it?
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express$95*6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations($4,800 x .06) + ($2,400 x .03) = $360Yes. After subtracting the $95 annual fee, this person’s rewards earnings would be $265.

*Note: The annual fee is waived for the first year on the Blue Cash Preferred, $95 thereafter.

With travel cards, it may be a bit more difficult to calculate value, since rewards come in the form of points or miles, rather than cash back. You’ll want to do your research to determine how far you can stretch your points with that card’s particular loyalty program. The Points Guy’s monthly point valuations take some of the heavy lifting out of this research so that you can compare loyalty programs apples-to-apples.

Let’s try calculating the value of a popular travel rewards card, the American Express® Gold Card. In this scenario, we’re calculating the earnings of someone who annually spends $4,800 at U.S. supermarkets, $1,500 at restaurants worldwide, and $1,000 on flights. American Express Membership Rewards points are valued at 2 cents apiece.

Credit cardAnnual feeRewards rateAnnual earnings breakdownWorth it?
American Express® Gold Card$2504X points on dining and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1X). 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.($4,800 x 4) + ($1,500 x 4) + ($1,000 x 3) = 28,200 points = $564Yes. After subtracting the $250 annual fee, this person’s rewards earnings would be $314.

 

You’ll also want to consider other factors aside from rewards earnings. Maybe you determine that you’ll just break even between rewards earnings and the annual fee. Consider the additional perks the card offers. Maybe the benefit of airport lounge access, free checked bags or a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit is where you find the most value.

Whether the annual fee will be worth it depends on your spending habits, so it’s important to be honest with yourself and choose a card that matches how you already spend or plan to spend. If you aren’t sure, many issuers allow the option to upgrade a card in the future, so you can always start with the no annual fee version and trade up later.

How to use a rewards credit card

How to earn credit card rewards

You’ll earn rewards by using your credit card. For most credit cards, you can expect to earn at least 1% cash back or 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases. That would mean that, for every $100 you spend on your card, you would earn $1 in cash back or 100 points.

However, that’s just a baseline – many credit cards offer better rewards rates. For example, plenty of cards offer 1% or 1X points per dollar spent on general purchases, plus boosted rewards rates on particular types of purchases, like groceries or travel.

What determines which purchases qualify for bonus rewards?

Say your credit card offers 3% cash back at restaurants. You might wonder what qualifies as a restaurant. Do breweries, food trucks and fast food chains count?

When calculating the rewards you’ve earned from a purchase, credit card companies look at the business instead of the actual item you’ve purchased. Payment networks like Visa and Mastercard categorize businesses using merchant category codes, which give businesses a label, such as “grocery store” or “restaurant.” So buying a loaf of bread at a gas station would not typically register as a grocery purchase, but rather, a gas station purchase.

Because each payment network assigns an MCC, one business may have several MCC’s between the major payment networks. You can find a business’s merchant category code in several ways. If you’re a Visa cardholder, you can look it up online with their supplier locator tool. If your card uses a different Network, like Mastercard or American Express, you’ll have to call your issuer or check your statement after making a purchase.

How to redeem rewards

Whether you are redeeming cash back, points or miles, card issuers usually offer numerous ways to cash out. You can redeem through statement credits, gift cards, even checks. Here are a few common ways to redeem credit card rewards:

  • A travel portal. 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. With some cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get boosted value for using the portal to book rewards travel.
  • 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.
  • Direct deposit into a 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.

How to maximize 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. Calculate: Calculate how much you’ll spend, making sure you will at least recoup the annual fee.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Take full advantage of the benefits: Make full use of the benefits, such as price protection and auto rental insurance.
  7. Consider multiple cards: Having multiple credit cards can be a great way to maximize your hard-earned rewards, especially if you have a hotel or an airline card. Since cards such as these two are used primarily for booking rooms or flights, it may be useful to have a cash back card or a luxury rewards card as well to bolster your earnings. For example, partnering the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card could boost your earnings through expanding your rewards categories.

Further reading: Full guide to maximizing credit card rewards

The best rewards credit card programs

You can compare individual credit cards endlessly, but knowing a little bit about each issuer’s rewards program can help you narrow your search. Credit card rewards programs come in any number of flavors, and one of them is bound to work well for you. Just remember that not every credit card from an issuer will qualify for their rewards program.

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.

Rewards programHighlightsOur review
American Express Membership Rewards
  • Transfer points to 22 airline and hotel partners
  • Accumulate rewards from multiple American Express cards in one account
American Express Membership Rewards program review
Bank of America Preferred Rewards
  • Must have a minimum of $20,000 across Bank or America and/or Merrill accounts to qualify
  • Can receive a 25%-75% boost on credit card rewards, depending on qualifying account balances
Bank of America Preferred Rewards program review
Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Transfer points at a 1:1 rate to one of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners
  • Several redemption options, including travel, statement credits, direct deposits and gift cards.
Chase Ultimate Rewards program review
Citi ThankYou rewards program
  • Redeem points for cash back, travel, statement credits, gift cards and more.
  • Transfer points to one of their 16 airline partners at a value of 1 cent apiece.
Citi ThankYou rewards program review
Hilton Honors rewards program
  • Redeem points for hotel nights, car rentals, cruise certificates and more.
  • Hotel coverage includes 6,100 properties in 119+ countries.
Hilton Honors rewards program review
Wells Fargo Go Far® Rewards
  • Earn points by using your credit card or shopping on the Earn More Mall® site.
  • No option to transfer points to airlines or hotels, but you can redeem them in a variety of ways, including cash back, travel, gift cards, statement credits and merchandise.
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards program review

Comparing the highest-earning rewards cards

If you’re a big spender, you’ll want to take advantage of a card with unlimited cash back or points. Choosing a card with a hefty sign-up bonus is another way to boost your total rewards earnings. Here, we compare some of the best sign up bonuses and unlimited rewards offers with the average offers for the 20 most popular rewards cards.

Rewards CategoryTop CardOfferAverageLowest
Welcome bonus
Points
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred
60,000 points40,625 points15,000 points
Unlimited cash back
All spending categories
Citi Double Cash
Citi Double Cash
2%1.625%1.5%
Welcome bonus
Cash back
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards$300$183.33$150
Unlimited points or miles
All spending categories
Capital One Venture Rewards2X miles1.58X points or miles1.25X miles

 

Further reading: How much can you earn with a cash back card?

Summary: top rewards credit cards

Credit CardBest For:Rewards RateAnnual FeeCreditcards.com Review
American Express® Gold CardIntroductory bonus4X Membership Rewards® at Restaurants, U.S. Supermarkets, and on Uber Eats purchases Up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases at U.S. Supermarkets, then 1X. Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines on amextravel.com $2504.3 / 5
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit cardFlexible cash back categories3% cash back on a category of choice 2% cash back on grocery stores and wholesale club purchases ($2,500 combined limit on 2% and 3% categories each quarter), 1% cash back on other purchases $03.4 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Cash back at drugstores5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards 3% cash back on dining at restaurants and drugstores. 1.5% back on all other purchases $04.7 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackRotating category rewards5% cash back in rotating categories Up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly, then 1%, and unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. Activation required. $04.5 / 5
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit cardTravel rewards flexibility1.5X points per dollar on every purchase$03.4 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressLow interest3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%), 2% cash back on U.S. gas stations, 1% cash back on other purchases $03.3 / 5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressEveryday purchases6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, 1% cash back on general purchases $95 (waived for the first year)4.3 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardIntro APR on purchases1.5% cash back on every purchase$03.4 / 5
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTravel rewards2X miles on every purchase$954.2 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠Rotating categories & flat-rate combo5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards$03.9 / 5
Sam’s Club® Mastercard®Gas5% cash back on gas (on up to the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%) and 3% cash back on dining Maximum of $5,000 in cash back earnings per year $0 $45 Sam’s Club Membership required 3.6 / 5
Citi Premier® CardHotel rewards3X points per $1 spent at Restaurants, Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases $953.8 / 5
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressLuxury travel benefits5X on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel Starting 1/1/21, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year $5504.5 / 5
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit CardDining and entertainment3% cash back on dining and entertainment 2% cash back at grocery stores, 1% cash back on other purchases $03.7 / 5