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Best credit card rewards program – 2021

From travel rewards to cash back, you can find a program that works for you.

Our pick for Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

80,000-point

Signup bonus after spending $4,000 in first 3 months

  • Signup bonus worth $1,000 with Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 1:1 point transfer to partner hotels and airlines
  • Up to $50 statement credit towards groceries
Apply now
Nearly every credit card provider offers some form of rewards program. To help you decide which one is worth your time and energy, we’ve reviewed the top credit card rewards programs and ranked them into categories to help you choose a program that best suits individual needs. When ranking these programs, we assessed several functions and features on offer, including how simple it is to earn and redeem rewards, the number of travel partners available, additional perks, and credit cards available.

Whether you’re looking to earn travel rewards, points, cash back or something else, there’s likely something out there for you.

What’s the most valuable rewards program?

You might be surprised at the value a rewards program can deliver — especially if you transfer your points or miles and do your research to get the best redemptions. However, here’s a general ranking of the major programs, from most valuable to least.

Rewards programWhy it shines
1. Amex Membership RewardsMore transfer partners than Chase Ultimate Rewards. Lets you transfer points to airline and hotel programs. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers stellar rewards on eligible flights.
2. Chase Ultimate RewardsExcellent redemption value on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards with a Chase Sapphire® card. Lets you transfer points to airline and hotel programs.
3. Citi ThankYou RewardsSolid roster of transfer partners. Points from the Citi Premier® Card are worth 1.25x when redeemed for airfare through the ThankYou Travel Center.
4. Capital One RewardsSolid roster of transfer partners. Offers an excellent flat-rate travel card.

Best credit card program for travel partners: American Express Membership Rewards

The Amex Membership Rewards program earned its reputation as a heavy-hitter rewards program by providing great point value and strong credit card options.

Amex possesses the highest number of transfer partners available in a credit card rewards program, clocking in at 21 partners. By comparison, Chase offers only 12 partners.

How to earn Amex Membership Rewards points

Here are a few of the primary ways you can earn Membership Rewards points. Check out our full Amex points-earning guide for more information.

  • Spend in eligible earning categories
  • Refer a friend
  • Book hotels through rocket miles

What you can redeem Membership Rewards points for

Here are a few of your primary redemption options for Membership Rewards points. Check out our full Amex points redemption guide for more information.

  • Cash back or gift cards
  • Booking travel
  • Purchase merchandise
  • Transfer points to travel partners

Use The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn more miles

Frequent travelers will find lots of value out of this card. You’ll earn 5x points on flights booked directly through the airline or Amex travel portal. This point value extends to hotels as well, provided you book through Amex’s portal. Starting January 1, 2021, however, your 5x points on flights will be capped at $500,000 annually, reverting to 1x points after that.

Best credit card rewards program for booking travel: Chase Ultimate Rewards

Where the Chase Ultimate Rewards program lacks in sheer transfer opportunities, it makes up for with a terrific travel redemption perk: Your points will be worth 25% or 50% more when redeemed on the Chase travel portal using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, respectively.

This is a great offer if you can take advantage of it. Plus, you won’t have to worry about having to make a points transfer or wading through blackout dates when booking through the Chase portal.

How to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Here are just a few ways you can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Check out our full Chase Ultimate Rewards earning guide for more information.

  • Spend in eligible categories
  • Refer a friend
  • Complete welcome offers
  • Shop through Chase’s online portal

What you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards for

Here are a few of your primary redemption options for Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Check out our full Chase points redemption guide for more information.

  • Redeem for cash back or gift cards
  • Merchandise through the Chase portal
  • Book travel
  • Transfer your points to a travel partner

Use the Chase Freedom Flex℠ to earn more points

This is an incredibly versatile card for earning Chase Ultimate Reward points. You can earn 5% back in rotating categories each quarter, up to $1,500. After that, you’ll earn a fixed 1% back on all other purchases. You can also earn 5% on travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, 5% on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3% at restaurants, which includes takeout and delivery, and 3% for drugstore purchases.

Best credit card program to supplement your rewards: Citi ThankYou rewards program

The Citi ThankYou rewards program doesn’t quite offer the sheer number of transfer partners or a bevy of card options as its competitors. That said, this card can be a great supplement to an existing reward program.

For one, the Citi ThankYou rewards program shares several transfer partners with both Chase and Amex. This means you can double up on points earnings from both cards to transfer to your favorite airline — provided they’re shared by both rewards programs.

At the time of this writing, the Citi Premier® Card also provides a sizable welcome offer. If you find yourself bumping up against the Chase 24/7 rule or Amex’s similar limitations on welcome offers, Citi makes a great alternative when you’re on the hunt for points to transfer.

Finally, the Citi Prestige® Credit Card offers a perk unmatched by any of the other big hitters: You’ll get a complimentary fourth night stay at eligible hotels. While you’re limited to two uses of this perk per year effective September 1st, 2019, this is still a great way to pick up some additional value during travel.

How to earn Citi ThankYou points

Here are a few of the ways you can earn Citi ThankYou points. Check out our full Citi ThankYou earning guide for more information.

  • Complete welcome offers
  • Spend in eligible categories
  • Book travel through the Citi travel center
  • Purchase Citi points

What you can redeem Citi ThankYou points for

Here are a few of your redemption options when it comes to spending your ThankYou points. Check out our Citi ThankYou redemption guide to find out which options offer the best value.

  • Transfer to travel partners
  • Book travel through the Citi travel portal
  • Purchase gift cards
  • Redeem statements toward school loans or mortgage

Use the Citi Prestige® Credit Card credit card to earn more points

As the name suggests, the Citi Prestige® Credit Card is one of Citi’s big luxury cards, costing a cool $495 in annual fees. However, the price of that annual fee nets you a sizable 5x points on air travel and restaurants, 3x points on hotels and cruises and 1x points on all other purchases.

Best credit card program for simplicity: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One has a relatively simple rewards program, with only the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card allowing you to earn rewards miles.

A unique draw of this program is the “purchase eraser.” Rather than redeeming your miles ahead of time on travel, you can make purchases on a travel-related purchase and then redeem your miles to “erase” the purchase after the fact.

This feature applies to a number of travel expenses, including rideshare purchases, You can even choose to redeem just a portion of your miles on a purchase.

These are some great features if you’re looking for a straightforward rewards program — and even then, you still have the option to transfer your points to travel partners, albeit at a 2:1.5 ratio.

How to earn Capital One Venture miles

Here are a few ways to start earning Capital One Venture miles.

  • Fulfill welcome offer requirements
  • Spend in eligible categories

What you can redeem Capital One Venture miles for

Here are just a few of the ways you can redeem your Capital One Venture miles.

  • “Erase” travel purchases
  • Transfer miles to transfer partners
  • Book travel through Capital One’s travel portal
  • Purchase gift cards
  • Redeem for cash back

Use the Capital One Capital One® Venture® card to earn more miles

Capital One’s Capital One® Venture® card has the biggest earning potential. It offers a competitive flat earning rate of 2%.

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How to choose the best credit cards rewards program for you

You can get value out of most any rewards program if you make use of it. Consider these factors to help you determine the program you’ll benefit from most.

  • Do you have a preferred credit card issuer? If you’re already satisfied with one of your existing credit cards, check out that brand’s reward card options first.
  • What are your preferred rewards? Your preferred reward of choice might be worth more or less per point depending on the program, so make sure to do your research. For example, certain cards under the Chase Ultimate Rewards program offer additional value on travel when you book through the Chase travel portal.
  • Do you plan on transferring your points? Point transfers are one of the best ways to make the most of your points. Though not all point transfer opportunities are the same across credit card rewards programs. Review each program’s transfer partners to make sure you have a viable option or two when it comes to traveling.
  • Do you value flexibility? Credit card loyalty programs typically offer varying levels of flexibility in how you redeem your points. Some may carry unusual or rare options, such as the ability to donate or receive miles with another account.
  • Do you have a favored airline or hotel? If you travel often and prefer the services of a particular airline or hotel, you might get the most value out of the benefits and perks of their specific loyalty program.
  • Do the credit cards fit your spending needs? Above all else, look for a credit card that fits your financial habits and needs. If the terms aren’t great or you can’t swallow the annual fee, it’s best to consider other options.

Compare rewards credit cards

Want a better look at all of your rewards card options? Select up to 4 credit cards and click “Compare” to see how they stack up side-by-side.

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
20% back on Amazon.com purchases in the first 6 months for up to $200 back, plus $150 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in the first 6 months
6% on select US streaming services, 3% on transit and US gas stations, 6% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 annually, then 1% after that and on all other purchases (redeem as statement credit)
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Perfect for families: Earn up to 6% cashback as statement credit on everyday purchases and a big welcome offer for a cashback card. This heavy-hitter rewards card has uncontested value. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
20% back on Amazon.com purchases in the first 6 months for up to $150 back, plus $100 statement credit after spending $2,000 within the first 6 months
2% at US gas stations and select US department stores, 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% after that and on all other purchases (redeem as statement credit)
$0
This everyday cashback card offers a higher than average welcome offer for no annual fee, letting you earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases in the first 6 months for up to $150 back, plus $100 after you spend $2,000 in the first 6 months. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
$200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months
5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on Lyft, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases
$0
This solid 1.5% cashback card gets even better with the addition of up to 5% back in categories like travel, drug stores and dining.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

So long as you pick a credit card that fits your financial habits and redeem on purchases that you value, you’ll find that most credit card rewards programs have something valuable to offer. And if you’re looking for a program that is more specialized, you can check out the best hotel loyalty programs and best airline loyalty programs to see if one better suits your needs — or would make for a great addition to your existing loyalty membership.

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