Best Rewards Credit Cards of 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. 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. Check out the best rewards credit cards from our partners below.

Editor: Laura Mohammad | Writer: Mariah Ackary

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January 19, 2021

Best Rewards Credit Cards

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
Discover it® Cash Back

No Annual Fee

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

5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Cashback Match™

Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable
Capital One Venture 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

2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 miles

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.49% variable
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
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

3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
2%
2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
1%
1% Cash Back on other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to $300

Earn 20% back on purchases at Amazon.com on the Card in the first 6 months, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3%
Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
2%
Earn 2% at grocery stores
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
American Express® Gold Card
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3X
Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 points

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

Annual Fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Citi Premier® Card

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
New! Earn 3 Points at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3X
Earn 3 Points at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1X
Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 points

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% variable
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3%
Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
2%
Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
1%
Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

$200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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

5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable
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
Chase Freedom Flex℠

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

5%
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores.
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable
Alliant Visa® Platinum 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

2X
Earn two reward points for every dollar spent

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
5,000 Points

Earn 5,000 bonus Alliant Rewards points after spending $500 or more in qualifying purchases during the first 90 days the account is opened.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.24% - 23.24% variable
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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

10X
Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases.
5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5X
5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
75,000 points

Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee
$550
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR

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 and Chase Sapphire Preferred® has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Comparing Rewards Credit Card Offers

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

Cash back, points, miles – whichever method you choose, the results can be, well, rewarding. But rewards credit cards can be daunting to the newcomer. Which type do you choose? Which card is the best? How do you use one? At CreditCards.com, we crunched the numbers on over 1,600 credit card offers using the criteria outlined below to pick the best rewards cards out there. Along with our top picks, we’ve also included some takes from other experts and supplemental information to help you with your decision. Here, we look at:


best rewards credit cards of 2021

Best rewards credit cards

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 – $250 after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months. However, the annual fee of $95 may give you pause. You can also check out its little sister card, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. If you’re not sure which card makes the most sense for you, check out our side-by-side comparison of the Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred.

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.

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 2020 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.

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.

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.

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.

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). 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.

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.

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.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for travel rewards with no annual fee

The VentureOne is a fine choice for the occasional traveler, in large part because you’ll earn travel rewards at a great rate while paying no annual fee. Plus, you’ll get the same 10+ travel partners as you would with the Capital One Venture Rewards Card. Options include Etihad Airways and Air France/KLM. If you travel often, you’ll likely find more value in an annual fee card, but this is a solid option for those who aren’t interested in annual fees.

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.

Alliant Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card

Our pick for good credit

If you have good credit and are looking for a flat-rate credit card with generous ongoing rewards, the Alliant Visa Platinum Rewards Credit Card offers 2X points on all purchases. You can also earn 5,000 points with a qualifying spend of $500 in the first 90 days, and there’s no annual fee. There is also the option to earn 0% intro APR the first 12 months of card membership on purchases and balance transfers, then it’s 13.24%-23.24% variable. The balance transfer fee is 2% of the amount transferred, with a minimum of $5.

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.

Summary of the Best Credit Cards for Rewards

Credit CardBest For:Rewards RateAnnual FeeCreditcards.com Review
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
$954.3 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardIntro APR on purchases1.5% cash back on every purchase$03.4 / 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
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTravel rewards2X miles on every purchase$954.2 / 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
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
American Express® Gold CardIntroductory bonus4X Membership Rewards® at Restaurants and U.S. Supermarkets
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
Citi Premier® CardHotel rewards3X points at Restaurants, Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
$953.8 / 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$04.7 / 5
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardTravel rewards with no annual fee1.25X miles on every purchase$03.5 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠Rotating categories & flat-rate combo5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards$03.9 / 5
Alliant Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit CardGood creditEarn 2 reward points for every dollar spent$04.5 / 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

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.

What are rewards credit cards and how do they work?

A rewards credit card is a lending product that gives you points, miles or cash back for your spending. You might get rewards for specific categories, or you might get a flat rate for all expenditures.

In our April 2019 poll of what’s on consumers’ credit card wish lists, we found that consumers’ favorite card features were by far that of cash back – in fact, consumers wanted 3% back on all purchases, something that might have once been considered extremely unlikely. Sign-up bonuses, a common feature of rewards cards, were also in the top 5. In another recent study, we found that rewards were the favorite use for consumers’ most used cards, at 40%.

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? Knowing exactly what kind of purchases qualify for your card’s bonus rewards will help you maximize your earnings.

The answer lies in the merchant category code. Payment networks like Visa and Mastercard assign merchants a code that categorizes the type of business it is. 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 online with Visa’s supplier locator tool. Unfortunately, Mastercard and American Express do not offer similar tools.

What are the different 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 are the simplest type of rewards cards, offering a standard percent cash back on all purchases, usually between 1% and 2%. 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 reward specific spending categories 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. Common categories are groceries, gas and dining. 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 are similar to tiered cards in that they offer boosted rewards in certain categories. However, the bonus categories change, usually each quarter, and are often seasonally relevant. 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.

How to know which type of cash back card is right for you

There’s no one-size-fits-all credit card; the best cash back card for you depends on a few factors.

Consider a flat-rate cash back card if:

  • You have a wide variety of expenses
  • You don’t want to have to remember bonus categories
  • You want to use just one credit card for all of your spending

Consider a tiered cash back card if:

  • You have one or two types of expenses that make up a significant portion of your budget
  • You already have a flat-rate card, but you want to maximize your cash back earnings in specific categories

Consider a rotating category cash back card if:

  • You want to capitalize on seasonal spending, like online shopping during the holidays, or travel during the summer
  • You don’t want to be tied to one cash back category

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 these 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.

Types of travel rewards credit cards

  • General-purpose travel credit cards reward cardholders with 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 portal 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 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, 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.

Choosing the right travel rewards card for you

Consider a general purpose travel card if:

  • You want flexibility in your redemption options
  • You want to maximize your rewards by redeeming through the issuer portal

Consider an airline rewards card if:

  • You’re willing to be loyal to one airline
  • You’re not particularly interested in earning or redeeming rewards on hotel stays

Consider a hotel rewards card if:

  • You stay in hotels often, rather than Airbnb or other home rentals.
  • You’re willing to be loyal to one hotel brand

Other 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 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. 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 rewards cards, frequently with greater rewards than consumer rewards cards. You can get cash back or points for business-related spending. 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?

Credit card rewards can be a way to earn lucrative cash back bonuses and benefits. And depending on your rewards card, you can also earn cash back for things that you’re buying every day.

In order to truly maximize your rewards, you’ll need to stay on top of your points, miles, or cash back earned. While there may be a small learning curve, free flights, hotel stays and cash back in your pocket are certainly worth the time.

If you don’t have the time or desire to strategize your spending, a flat-rate rewards card is an easy and valuable option as well. One thing that can detract from or even outweigh your rewards value is carrying a balance from month to month. If you spend within your means and pay off your balance each month, a rewards card can easily be worth your while.

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

Pros

  1. Accrue points, miles or cash: Earn hundreds of dollars a year in points, miles or cash back. It doesn’t get better than this.
  2. Travel and shopping perks: Rewards cards can offer extended warranties, rental car insurance and other travel and shopping benefits.
  3. Build credit: As with most credit cards, this is a great way to build your credit, provided you pay on time each month.
  4. Fees waived: In the case of the best travel credit cards, many have no foreign transaction fees and may even waive the annual fee the first year. With some cash back cards, you may not pay an annual fee at all.

Cons

  1. Higher credit score required: While there are credit-builder cards that have rewards, the cards with richer offers tend to require higher credit scores. Make sure you check the required score of a card before applying.
  2. They can cost you time: Many rewards cards can require you to spend some time maximizing points or cash. For example, if it’s a card with rotating categories, you need to sign up for categories, then make sure you maximize spend without going over budget. And some travel cards have blackout dates and limit your choice in travel partners. However, there are rewards cards with flat rates if you don’t want to invest time in your rewards.
  3. Damage credit/budget: While you can improve your score with each month of on-time payments, you can destroy it with high balances. Also, you can blow your budget if you don’t pay attention to your spending, as well as undo any earnings you’ve made through rewards.
  4. Higher interest rates: Interest rates on rewards cards tend to be higher, particularly travel cards. But if you plan to pay in full each month, that shouldn’t be a problem. In our October 2018 rewards survey, only 41% of consumers said they pay off their rewards card each month.

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 cardAnnual feeRewards rateAnnual earnings breakdownWorth it?
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express$956% 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.

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 do you 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.

Our analysis: How much can you earn in rewards?

In some cases, there is no cap on how many points or cash back you can earn with a rewards credit card. In other cases, you are limited to how much you can earn with specific categories.

When we looked at our 20 most popular rewards credit cards, we found that there were no caps on spending for specific categories on 9 cards, with the highest at 5X points – The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5X points on amextravel.com and airfare purchased directly from airlines, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 5X points with Lyft through March 2022. However, beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Platinum Card’s offer will be capped at $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

When looking at unlimited categories and unlimited spending, that number went down to only 7 – 3 are travel cards and 4 are cash back cards. Of the cash back cards, Citi® Double Cash pays out 2% on all qualifying purchases – 1% cash back when you purchase and 1% cash back when you pay for the purchase.

In terms of your welcome offer, we found that rewards cards with points or miles ranged from 15,000 points (Citi Rewards+® Card, after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months) to 60,000 points (Chase Sapphire Preferred, after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months).

When looking at cash back cards, we discovered that Savor was the highest, with $300 cash back after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months.

Comparing the top rewards cards by category

Rewards CategoryTop OfferHighestAverageLowest
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

The best credit card rewards 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

How to redeem your credit card rewards

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

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