Reward Credit Cards

April 16, 2018 - From groceries to gas, get paid for everyday purchases on your credit card. Rewards cards give you incentives - typically in cash, points or miles - based on how much you spend. You can redeem your rewards for cash, shopping or travel. We analyzed 1,640 different rewards cards to give you the best recommendations - check out the 10 best rewards credit cards from our partners below.

See the best rewards credit card offers from our partners below.

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent, Good
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • New! Earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels when you pay with your Venture card at hotels.com/venture; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Apply Now at Capital One's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
N/A
Balance Transfers Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Credit Needed
Excellent, Good

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

7,668 customer reviews

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Apply Now at Chase's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
N/A
Balance Transfers Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Credit Needed
Excellent/Good

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent, Good
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee
  • New! Earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels when you pay with your VentureOne card at hotels.com/venture; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Enjoy a low intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 13.49%-23.49% variable APR after that
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Apply Now at Capital One's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% intro on purchases for 12 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent, Good

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent, Good
  • $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, 1% back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.49% to 25.49%.
  • Over 1.5 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Apply Now at American Express's
secure site
Terms Apply
Purchases Intro APR
0% on Purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
14.49%-25.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent, Good
See Rates & Fees

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

9,179 customer reviews

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase — it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
  • No annual fee
Apply Now at Chase's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent/Good

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Android Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 14.49%-26.49% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions
Apply Now at Wells Fargo's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% for 12 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% for 12 months
Regular APR
14.49%-26.49% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent/Good

Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card

34,980 customer reviews

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
  • No annual fee
  • $150 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 14.49% - 24.49% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%
  • Easily add your Mastercard® credit card to any digital wallet for a simple, secure, and convenient way to pay online, in-app, and in-store
Apply Now at Bank of America's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% Introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.49% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent/Good

Discover it® Cashback Match™

Discover it® Cashback Match™

26,257 customer reviews

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • No annual fee.
Apply Now at Discover's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% for 14 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% for 14 months
Regular APR
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent/Good
See Rates & Fees

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

2,315 customer reviews

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent Credit
  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card for 2017’ by MONEY® Magazine
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Apply Now at Chase's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
N/A
Balance Transfers Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
Credit Needed
Excellent Credit

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now Credit Needed
Excellent, Good
  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.49%-24.49% variable APR after that
  • Balance transfers also have a 0% intro APR for 9 months; 14.49%-24.49% variable APR after that; a 3% fee applies to each balance transferred
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Apply Now at Capital One's
secure site
Purchases Intro APR
0% intro on purchases for 9 months
Balance Transfers Intro APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 9 months
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0
Credit Needed
Excellent, Good

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


Comparing Rewards Credit Card Offers

Updated: April 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:


CreditCards.com's best rewards credit cards of 2018:

Research methodology

Rewards credit cards analyzed: 1,640

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

Details on our picks for the best rewards credit cards

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.

Highlights:

  • Incredible value for booking hotels
  • Substantial sign-up bonus
  • Miles never expire

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.

Highlights:

  • 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® 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 point sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in three months, the VentureOne® offers a 20,000 point sign-up bonus with a 3-month required spend of $1,000. However, the VentureOne® also comes with no annual fee – ever.

Highlights:

  • 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 through hotels.com/venture

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.

Highlights:

  • Respectable sign-up bonus in the form of a statement credit
  • Great cash back rewards with no annual fee
  • Flexibility in redeeming cash back

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.

Highlights:

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • No expiration on rewards
  • Fairly lengthy 0% intro APR period of 15 months

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.

Highlights:

  • 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

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.

Highlights:

  • 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

Discover it® Cashback Match™

For a card that offers so much in rewards, the Discover it® Cashback Match™ 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.

Highlights:

  • 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

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

The unanimous favorite pick of our panel of experts, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a magnitude of value and flexibility that few other credit cards can approach. Offering even more rewards value than the Sapphire Preferred® the Sapphire Reserve® lets you redeem rewards for 1.5x point value when redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. With a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, that's a value of $750 right off the bat. Combine that with a $300 annual travel credit and a $100 credit for your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application, the Reserve® quickly pays for its $450 annual fee, and then some. Not to mention 3x points on travel and dining worldwide, no foreign transaction fees, airport lounge access, and more.

Highlights:

  • Strong sign-up bonus
  • 1.5x rewards redemption through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • Absolutely stacked with perks and benefits: 3x points on travel/dining, $300 annual travel credit, and more

From Holly Porter Johnson (travel writer, ClubThrifty.com): “The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great travel credit card, but it also comes out ahead in the general rewards card space. This is mainly because there are so many options when it comes to redeeming your points. You can redeem them for travel through the Chase portal or by transferring 1:1 to an airline or hotel partner.”

From Lisa Gerstner (independent journalist): “For travelers who want to keep their options open, Chase Sapphire Reserve makes it easy to redeem points for a wide range of travel bookings. Points are worth a strong 1.5 cents apiece when you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.”

From Daniel P. Ray (editor-in-chief, CreditCards.com): “This is the card that made America realize that a high annual fee card isn’t just for the caviar and limousine crowd. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card maintains its top-of-wallet status for good reason: It delivers a lot of value for the things we would be doing anyway – traveling and dining out.”

From Laura Adams (personal finance author and speaker): “The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is a top pick because you get 3x points on purchases in the travel and restaurant categories, plus 1x points on all other purchases. And spending $4,000 within the first 90 days allows you to pile on 50,000 bonus points.”

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rounding out our selection of the best rewards cards is the Quicksilver® Cash Rewards card from Capital One. Most comparable to the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Wells Fargo Cash Wise, the Quicksilver® also offers a simple flat-rate 1.5% unlimited cash back, along with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Highlights:

  • Flexible card with unlimited 1.5% cash back
  • $150 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no expiration on rewards

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 CardsCons of Rewards Credit Cards
Can help build creditCan destroy credit with mismanagement
Can earn points or milesMay have annual fee
Excellent benefitsMay have unneeded features
Can earn cash backOngoing 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:

Gas

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

General purpose travel

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

Airline miles

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

Hotel

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

Cash back

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

Retail

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

Luxury

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

Business

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

Credit builder

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

What should I consider when choosing a rewards card?

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

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

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Calculate. Calculate how much you'll spend, making sure you will at least recoup the annual fee.
  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. Don't spend just to earn cash back or points. Only use it to buy what you were going to purchase anyway.
  5. 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.
  6. Never go over the limit or pay late. These are wasted dollars.
  7. Use shopping portals. Frequently check for deals. Just make sure you are fully rewarded for using points or miles. Some cards don't reward you for the full amount with their shopping portals or gift cards.

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

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

Redeem

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

American Express Membership Rewards

Myriad Amex cards use the Membership Rewards program, including the Premier Rewards Gold and the Blue Business Plus.

Earn

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

Redeem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilton Honors

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

Earn

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

Redeem

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

Starwood Preferred Guest

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.

Earn

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

Redeem

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

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.

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

What credit is needed for a rewards card?

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.

CardType of CardCredit RangeFeatures
Chase Sapphire PreferredTravelExcellent/Good50,000-pt signup/$4,000 in 3 mths; 2X points/worldwide travel, dining
Discover it Cashback MatchCash backExcellent/Good5% 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 RewardsGeneral-purpose travelExcellent/Good50,000-mile sign-up/$3,000 in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on all purchases
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash RewardsBuild credit, earn rewardsFair, average, limited1.5% 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:

  1. Check your credit. Before you apply, make sure you know your credit score and that you have a high likelihood of getting the card you want before you apply.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. Take full advantage of the benefits. Make full use of the benefits, such as price protection and auto rental insurance.
  5. Pay in full. Plan to pay in full each month so that you avoid paying interest charges.
  6. Pay on time. Make sure you don't impact your account or credit – pay on time each month.

Related Rewards Card Categories:

Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018 - Our Ratings

Credit CardBest For:Staff ReviewAnnual FeeTop Spending Categories
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardHotel purchases4.4 / 5$0 first year, then $95Everything, especially hotels
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardFlexible travel rewards4.3 / 5$0 first year, then $95Travel and dining
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit CardNo annual fee travel rewards3.6 / 5$0Everything
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressGrocery purchases3.5 / 5$0U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, some department stores
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Flat-rate cash back3.4 / 5$0Everything
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® CardCash back sign-up bonus3.3 / 5$0Everything
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit CardGas purchases3.6 / 5$0Grocery stores, wholesale clubs, gas stations
Discover it® Cashback Match™Rotating bonus categories3.7 / 5$0Changes each quarter, full list here
Chase Sapphire Reserve® CardLuxury travel perks4.8 / 5$450Travel and dining
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit CardAverage credit3.5 / 5$0Everything

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