Best rewards credit cards of 2021

Posted: 6 February 2021 10:40 pm
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Take advantage of miles, points and perks with a card that best fits your lifestyle.

Finder’s expert credit card team analyzed over 200 rewards to find the best performing rewards cards for 2021 across 11 categories. We weighed reward categories, the average value of points upon redemption, welcome offer value, annual fees, and introductory APRs. Unlike our competitors, Finder’s experts provide unbiased, trustworthy evaluations of all rewards credit cards and providers, not just those we partner with on the site.

Credit cardsBest for…Learn more
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Best for flat-rate cash back
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Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressBest for groceries and streaming services
Apply now
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressBest for welcome offer
Apply now
Chase Freedom Flex℠Best for rotating categories
See offer
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Best for travel
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Sam's Club® Mastercard®Best for gas
See offer
Citi Rewards+® CardBest for small purchases
Apply now
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit CardBest hotel credit card
See offer
Savor Rewards from Capital OneBest for dining and entertainment
Read review

Quick look at our top picks for rewards cards

Best for flat-rate cash back

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Finder rating 4.7 / 5 ★★★★★

See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
While the Chase Freedom Unlimited®'s 1.5% back on all purchases is slightly lower than the 2% back that some cards offer, there are other categories that earn more cash back and make up for this difference. For example, you earn 3% back on dining, takeout and delivery, 3% back on drugstore purchases and 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. No other similar card offers a rewards program as robust as this one. Plus, you can get a way higher value if you combine multiple Chase credit cards.

Best for groceries and streaming services

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Finder rating 4.3 / 5 ★★★★★

Apply now
on American Express's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
No other card offers what the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express does — the highest rewards rate at US supermarkets and on select US streaming services. What's more, these two are not the only categories where you earn accelerated cash back as statement credit. Gas purchases at US gas stations as well as taxis, rideshares, parking, tolls, trains and bus rides are also highly rewarding. These rewards are topped off with a handy intro APR on purchases, making it a great all around rewards card for families. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the card by which other everyday rewards cards are measured.
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.
Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.

Best for welcome offer

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Finder rating 4.4 / 5 ★★★★★

Apply now
on American Express's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
With The Platinum Card® from American Express, you earn 100,000 points after meeting spend requirements. Given that these points can potentially double in value when redeemed on travel, you're looking at a welcome offer worth up to $2,000 according to our valuation. Combine that with the rewards boost on select categories and you're looking at up to $7,000 welcome offer value — a market-leading offer. Aside from the generous welcome offer, The Platinum Card® from American Express is a mainstay in the rewards space thanks to its great rewards rate on airfare, travel credits and perks.
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

Best for rotating categories

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Finder rating 4.7 / 5 ★★★★★

See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is the best card for categories that change each quarter because aside from those categories, you get to earn 5% back on travel made through Chase Ultimate Rewards and Lyft purchases until March 2022. On top of this, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers 3% back on dining and drugstores, plus you get to earn a solid $200 welcome offer, creating a top of the line rewards card, unmatched by any similar card.

Best for travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Finder rating 4.6 / 5 ★★★★★

See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
The Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s new earning rates are a welcome boost to this luxury travel card. And redeem your points on travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards and your points value jumps by 50%. On top of that, there's a host of travel perks like Priority Pass lounge access and $300 annual travel credit, both useful for frequent travelers. The travel credit alone halves the cost of the $550 annual fee.

Best for gas

PROMOTED

Sam's Club® Mastercard®

Finder rating 4 / 5 ★★★★★

See offer
on Synchrony Bank's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
Other gas cards typically offer a lower rewards rate than the Sam's Club® Mastercard®, but some may have a higher annual cap. For pure gas rewards, though, this card is unmatched. Aside from earning one of the highest cashback rates on gas, you earn cash back at Sam's Club and on dining. What's more, you get to enjoy these benefits without paying an annual fee. Although, you need a Sam's Club membership to apply for the card.

Best for small purchases

Citi Rewards+® Card

Finder rating 4.1 / 5 ★★★★★

Apply now
on Citi's secure website
The Citi Rewards+® Card leading perk is the round-up feature where every purchase is rounded up to the nearest 10. This makes purchases of $1 and $2 earn 10% and 5% respectively back in points. No other card comes even close to rewarding small purchases like this one does.

Best hotel credit card

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Finder rating 4.6 / 5 ★★★★★

See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card beats competitor cards with its high rewards rate, signup bonus and rewards nights. With $18,000 annual spending and maxing out rewards nights, you can get more than 20 rewards nights each year. And if you clear the signup bonus, you can get roughly 30 rewards nights or more within your first year. This makes the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card the most rewarding hotel credit card out there.

Best for dining and entertainment

Savor Rewards from Capital One

Finder rating 4.4 / 5 ★★★★★

It's rare to find a card like the Savor Rewards from Capital One where you earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases. What's more, it's the only such card with an 8% cash back on Vivid Seats ticket purchases. If you want a card that rewards you for enjoying yourself, the Savor Rewards from Capital One is definitely one of the best out there.

Best for poor credit

Discover it® Secured

Finder rating 4.4 / 5 ★★★★★

The Discover it® Secured card is an excellent choice because not only do you get to build credit, but you also get to earn cash back without paying an annual fee. What's more, Discover will match the entire cash back you earn during your first year without limits. No other secured card does that. The card has no annual fee, which can help you keep costs down as you rebuild your credit.

What’s changed in 2021

There was a surge of new reward opportunities this year, many spurred on by changing consumer spending habits due to the pandemic. Big winners here include both Chase Freedom cards, which earned additional flat-rate categories, greatly increasing their value.

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Compare all rewards credit cards

While we’ve curated our top-choice rewards credit cards here, there are even more options to choose from. See more credit cards that can help you earn rewards on a variety of categories and compare your options to find a product that best suits your needs.

How to choose the best rewards card

In addition to the card’s rewards program, here are a few big items to review when comparing rewards cards:

  • Signup bonus. Many rewards cards offer bonus points to new customers to help you kick start your rewards cache. Depending on the card, you can earn a signup bonus worth anywhere between $100 and $4,000.
  • Transfer opportunities. Big name rewards cards allow you to transfer your points to partner airline and hotel rewards programs. This flexibility is highly valuable when used correctly.
  • Perks. Rewards cards can come with a terrific selection of additional benefits such as lounge access, statement credits, purchase protection and more. These can prove valuable provided they suit your needs.
  • Annual fee. Many cards offer decent rewards for no annual fee. Expect to pay a bit more, however, if you’re looking to get the highest rewards rate, the most generous welcome offer or a host of premium perks.
  • Intro APR. Save money on interest when you use this card for large purchases, but make sure you can pay it off within the 0% intro period. Or, choose to transfer debt to a 0% transfer card to save on interest while paying off your debt.

When choosing a credit card, Alex Claro, VPN analyst at CreditDonkey, suggests considering the specific perks a card offers and determine which perks you’ll likely use most.

“Some credit cards provide a variety of incentives, including cash back, redeemable miles or points, and discounts on future purchases,” Claro tells Finder. “You can earn rewards on some or all of your purchases, and depending on the rewards program, you can redeem them once you’ve earned a specific amount. Travel and trip cancellation insurance, rental car insurance, extended warranty, and purchase and price protection are examples of credit card benefits that differ per credit card.”

How do rewards credit cards work?

With a rewards credit card, you get a percentage back of what you spend, typically in the form of cash back, points or miles. You can redeem this earned currency through your card provider’s rewards portal. These points and miles represent a certain value in cash which can range depending on the rewards program.

For cashback cards, rewards are usually expressed as a percentage. If a card offers 2% cash back on all purchases, for example, you’ll receive $2 back for every $100 you spend.

For other cards, rewards are usually expressed as a point or mile multiple. A card might offer 2x points on all purchases, for example, which means you’ll receive 2 points for every dollar you spend. To learn more about how rewards credit cards work, you can read our guides on how to compare rewards cards and how to earn and redeem rewards.

  1. Compare and apply for a card
    Compare various rewards cards on the market to find a card that best suits your credit score, finances, spending and rewards preferences.
  2. Earn rewards
    Purchases you make with your rewards card are automatically posted as points or cashback to your account. Depending on the type of rewards card, you might earn more rewards for spending in a certain category.
  3. Redeem rewards
    Earn enough points and you can redeem them on products, gift cards and more. Depending on your card, you might be able to simply redeem your points as a statement credit. Learn more about various ways to redeem your credit card rewards.

Pros and cons of using a rewards credit card

Pros

  • Rewards. Choose a card that fits your lifestyle and earn rewards on purchases you would have made anyway.
  • Redeeming rewards. Redemption options vary from card to card. You could earn cash back, travel benefits, merchandise, gift cards and more.
  • Global acceptance. Most rewards cards are affiliated with Visa or Mastercard, accepted in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. While American Express and Discover credit cards aren’t as widely accepted internationally, they’re accepted in many locations around the world.
  • Extra perks. Many rewards cards offer extra perks, such as complimentary travel and rental car insurance. Compare your options to see which features work best with your lifestyle and spending habits.

Cons

  • Cost. You may have to pay an ongoing annual fee, or your card may have a higher APR than your basic, no-frills product.
  • Limitations. Your card provider might not let you earn more than a certain number of points in a calendar year, and your points may expire after a set time.
  • Temptation to spend. Rewards are always enticing. But if you aren’t careful, you could find yourself in snowballing debt. If you consistently carry a balance on your card, the interest could offset any rewards you earn.

When is a rewards credit card worth it?

A rewards credit card is worth it when you earn an appreciable amount of points or cash back through your spending such that it exceeds the annual fee of the card (if it has one). Even the simplest of rewards credit cards can offer value if you use it properly. To make a rewards card worthwhile, consider where you spend the most and get a card that offers more points in those areas.

A rewards card’s annual fee is the primary concern when you’re evaluating whether the card is worth it. Some of the more luxurious rewards cards come with steep annual fees, so you’ll need to use enough perks and earn enough rewards to overcome that.

Case study: Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® worth it?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® sports an annual fee of $550. To make this card worth it, you’d have to take advantage of enough of the card’s perks and features to outweigh this $550 fee in value. Here are a few ways to create that value.

PerksValue
Annual travel statement credit$300
Two Priority Pass stays$160
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry credit (every 4 years)$100
One year of Lyft Pink membership (one time)$240
Total$800

Here you can see you can get $800 of value out of the card perks in one year before you even factor in the rewards you can earn with the card on your everyday spending. This outweighs the cost of the annual fee, so the rewards card is worth it if you take advantage of the perks.

You asked, we listened: Top five common questions

With so many airline credit cards to choose from, it’s only natural to have some questions. Here are the 5 most common questions we receive on the subject.

  1. How much are credit card rewards points worth? The most common value of a rewards point is 1 cent per 1 point. However, this can vary greatly depending on the specific loyalty program and how you redeem your points.
  2. Can I redeem my rewards points for cash back? In many cases, yes. Many rewards cards offer cash back statements as a redemption option for points.
  3. What types of rewards cards are there? There are three kinds of rewards cards: cards that earn cashback, miles or points. Cashback cards are typically the easiest type of card to use, but cards that earn miles or points give you the opportunity to redeem for higher value.
  4. Which type of rewards card should I get? This depends on how you use your card, and we have a full guide on how to pick a rewards card type. In general, pick a card that rewards you for your regular everyday spending.
  5. How many rewards cards should I have? Many consumers find it useful to have a few rewards cards, usually one with strong earnings for each type of major purchase category. By pairing up rewards cards, you can create a strong earning strategy that boosts your rewards even further.

Bottom line

The best rewards card depends on your finances and the rewards you’re looking for. If none of our top picks are the right fit for you, compare more rewards cards to find one that is.

Credit card ratings

★★★★★ — Excellent

★★★★★ — Good

★★★★★ — Average

★★★★★ — Subpar

★★★★★ — Poor

Our team evaluates credit cards to determine their value against similar cards on the market.

We rank card types — travel, cash back, business — on a set of factors that are most relevant to that type of card. We create these rankings to help you narrow down a credit card that best suits your spending and budget.

Learn the details of our methodology and scoring.

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