Comparing Rewards Credit Card Offers
Updated: June 19, 2018
Rewards cards have proliferated in recent years, with the best offers delivering cardholders hundreds, even thousands of dollars in rewards.
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 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:
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 - 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 Card||Best For:||Staff Review||Annual Fee||Top Spending Categories|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Flexible travel rewards||4.2 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||Travel and dining|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Hotel purchases||4.4 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||Everything, especially hotels|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Flat-rate cash back||3.3 / 5||$0||Everything|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No foreign transaction fee||3.6 / 5||$0||Everything|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Amazon.com shopping||3.7 / 5||$0||Changes each quarter, full list here|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||No annual fee||N/A||$0||Everything|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Gas rewards||3.6 / 5||$0||Grocery stores, wholesale clubs, gas stations|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||Sign-up bonus||3.3 / 5||$0||Everything|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating rewards||3.3 / 5||$0||Changes each quarter, full list here|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Grocery purchases||3.5 / 5||$0||U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, some department stores|
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
Details on our picks for the best rewards credit cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase's credit cards are held in high regard for a number of reasons, not least of which is the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal which affords cardholders a wide degree of flexibility in redemption options. One of the most useful features of the Sapphire Preferred® is that it allows users to redeem points for 1.25x their base value when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Get more value when redeeming points for travel with Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Solid sign-up bonus
- 2X points on travel and dining worldwide with no foreign transaction fees
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One® Venture® is one of the must-have cards for anyone who loves to travel. It is especially nifty for booking hotels - the Venture® card boasts a high reward rate of 10 miles per dollar when purchasing hotel stays via hotels.com/venture.
- Incredible value for booking hotels
- Substantial sign-up bonus
- Miles never expire
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
For those looking for a straightforward cash back rewards card with no need to keep track of rotating categories, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is one of the best options out there. 1.5 is the number to remember; with this card, every single purchase will earn you a flat rate of 1.5% cash back. It's that simple — no need to remember different rates, no need to worry about rewards ever expiring.
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- No expiration on rewards
- Fairly lengthy 0% intro APR period of 15 months, then 16.49% - 25.24% variable
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
The VentureOne® Rewards card features a smaller (but still respectable) sign-up bonus than its bigger brother, the Venture® card. Whereas the Venture® offers a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in three months, the VentureOne® offers a 20,000 mile sign-up bonus with a 3-month required spend of $1,000. However, the VentureOne® also comes with no annual fee – ever.
- No annual fee, no hassle
- Unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every single purchase
- Like the Venture® card, earn a 10x rewards rate when you book and pay through hotels.com/venture
Discover it® Cash Back
For a card that offers so much in rewards, the Discover it® Cash Back makes it easy to keep track of and use all the rewards you rack up. With one of the more unique – and valuable ® twists for new cardholders, Discover will automatically match all of the cash back that you earned during your first year. That includes earnings from cash back categories which rotate with each quarter, as well as the unlimited 1% cash back on everything outside of those quarterly categories. That all comes with an annual fee of $0.
- Strong rewards rate on select categories each quarter
- Discover matches all cash back earned at the end of your first year
- Easily use your rewards when checking out at Amazon.com
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card
In summary, the Capital One Quicksilver is a very solid credit card, with many of the same positive qualities as competing rewards cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Namely, the Quicksilver card offers an easily attainable sign-up bonus, unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and no annual fee.
- Unlimited flat-rate rewards of 1.5% cash back
- Rewards never expire
- No annual fee and no foreign transaction fee
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Comparable to the Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express, this credit card is also a strong candidate for purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, and everywhere in between. It should also be noted that the Cash Rewards card offers a $150 sign-up bonus (requires $500 spend in first 90 days) and charges no annual fee.
- Generous cash back rate for gas
- Solid cash back rate for groceries and wholesale clubs
- 10% bonus for customers redeeming cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
Also a flat-rate cash rewards card with no annual fee, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise competes against the likes of Chase's Freedom Unlimited® card. However, while the Cash Wise offers the same 1.5% cash back on all purchases as the Freedom Unlimited®, its sign-up bonus does come in $50 higher at $200 (but also requires a higher spend at $1,000). It also brings some unique perks to the table — with an elevated rewards rate on mobile wallet purchases and a cell phone protection option, this card from Wells Fargo is very much in touch with avid smartphone users.
- Solid $200 sign-up bonus
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases, which goes up to 1.8% for mobile purchases in the first year
- Up to $600 protection on cell phone damage/theft when paying your monthly phone bill with this card
The Chase Freedom is a great card for people who purchase a variety of different items, thanks to its rotating rewards categories. Each quarter, different category purchases will earn 5% back up to $1,500 in combined purchases, allowing cardholders to rack up rewards from multiple sources throughout the year. Meanwhile, all other purchases earn the standard 1% back – not bad at all.
- No annual fee
- $150 sign-up bonus
- Rotating reward categories
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Everyday® is well named – it is indeed one of the best cards you can use for everyday purchases. Of note is its generous 3% cash back rate at U.S. supermarkets which makes it a popular choice at the checkout line among grocery shoppers. With 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations, the Blue Cash Everyday® is also a strong option for paying at the pump.
- Respectable welcome offer in the form of a statement credit
- Great cash back rewards with no annual fee
- Flexibility in redeeming cash back
Pros and cons of rewards credit cards
If you want to build credit, earn points or enjoy the convenience of carrying a card, then rewards credit cards are a good option. 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 are some pros and cons of rewards credit cards:
|Pros of Rewards Credit Cards||Cons of Rewards Credit Cards|
|Can help build credit||Can destroy credit with mismanagement|
|Can earn points or miles||May have annual fee|
|Excellent benefits||May have unneeded features|
|Can earn cash back||Ongoing balance could incur interest charges|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Category||What to Consider|
|General purpose travel||How often you travel; lower rewards|
|Airline, hotel||Rewards brand loyalty; annual fee|
|Cash back||Can avoid annual fee; may have quarterly categories|
|Business||Rewards for business-related expenses|
|Luxury||Higher annual fees; luxury benefits|
|Retail||Higher rewards for brand loyalty|
|Gas||Might accept fair credit; higher rewards for gas|
What types of cards people have and how they are using them
Balance transfer. Rewards. Building credit. These are just a few of the types of cards available today. Rewards lead the pack, with options ranging from cash back to airline and hotel brands. Credit bureau Experian conducted a poll to learn more about what's in consumers' wallets. Here's what they found:
What types of cards do people have?
- Retail/store-specific card 41%
- Other type of rewards card 39%
- Secured card 32%
- Balance transfer card 18%
- Airline-specific card 16%
- Business/corporate card 13%
- Student card 3%
Experian Poll, August 2017
How do we use our cards?
Edelman Intelligence conducted a survey of more than 1,000 adult consumers for Experian to learn more about how we use our cards. The results were surprising, with using cards as cushions for emergencies leading the list. Here's how we use our credit cards:
- Cushion for emergencies 42%
- Not having to carry cash 38%
- Rewards 36%
- Building credit 34%
- Keeping record of all transactions 19%
- Protection against fraud 15%
- Help managing budget 12%
- Speed of transactions 10%
- Cash advances 9%
- Balance transfer/debt consolidation 7%
- Exclusive status of premium cards 4%
Experian Poll, August 2017
It's also worth considering some of the lesser known credit card perks:
What are rewards points on a credit card?
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.
Strategies 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:
- Choose carefully. To use a rewards card successfully – and the points or miles – you'll need to find the right card for your lifestyle. Do you travel often? Are you a big grocery shopper?
- Calculate. Calculate how much you'll spend, making sure you will at least recoup the annual fee.
- 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.
- Don't spend just to earn cash back or points. Only use it to buy what you were going to purchase anyway.
- Pay in full. 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.
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.
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 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 Premier Rewards Gold and the Blue Business Plus.
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.
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:
- Choose your flight, prepaid hotel, vacation package or cruise.
- When you arrive at checkout, select the option to "Use all or some Membership Rewards points."
- 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.
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.
Starwood Preferred Guest
The SPG program includes brands such as Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Aloft and Westin Hotels & Resorts. In fact, there are almost 1,200 member properties in more than 110 countries.
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.
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.
What type of credit card rewards is right for me?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Will you shop? Often, cards will have shopping portals in which you can use your points or miles.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Typically, the better your credit (shoot for at least 740 on a scale of 300-850), the richer the rewards, although there are credit-builder cards with rewards. Better rewards cards can also have excellent benefits, such as annual travel credits, auto rental insurance and more. Here are some popular cards with their rewards rates and required credit ranges. As you can see, having better credit typically gives you a higher chance to get approved for a card with better rewards.
|Card||Type of Card||Credit Range||Features|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||Travel||Excellent/Good||50,000-pt signup/$4,000 in 3 mths; 2X points/worldwide travel, dining|
|Discover it Cash Back||Cash back||Excellent/Good||5% back on up to $1,500 on purchases in rotating categories throughout the year (enroll every quarter); cash back matched at first year-end|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||General-purpose travel||Excellent/Good||50,000-mile sign-up/$3,000 in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on all purchases|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards||Build credit, earn rewards||Fair, average, limited||1.5% back on all purchases|
Tips for properly using a rewards card
Not sure how to make your rewards card work well for you? It all starts with getting the right card for your lifestyle.
A rewards card not used correctly can mean lost money and even lost credit score points. Here's what you need to know:
- 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.
- Get the right card. Make sure it's a card you will use both to make purchases and to redeem rewards. So, you don't want a card that rewards well for groceries if you don't do much grocery shopping. Instead, you would want a card that rewards for restaurants.
- Take advantage of the sign-up bonus. Are you going to be able to pay the required amount within the required time for the sign-up bonus?
- Take full advantage of the benefits. Make full use of the benefits, such as price protection and auto rental insurance.
- Pay in full. Plan to pay in full each month so that you avoid paying interest charges.
- Pay on time. Make sure you don't impact your account or credit – pay on time each month.
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