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Best rewards credit cards
Ultimately, the “best” credit card comes down to your specific needs. However, there are many options that are well above the rest.
Here are a few excellent cards to help you start your search.
Best for premium travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Rewards. Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. And earn 5x points when you book prepaid hotels through American Express travel. These are top-notch rates for travel purchases. Earn 1x points on other eligible purchases.
Every calendar year, you can receive up to $200 in airline fee credits and up to $200 in Uber credits. You’ll also receive statement credit every four to four and a half years for your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee.
- Premium travel perks. Receive complimentary benefits like daily breakfast, room upgrades when available and property amenities when you book stays at properties in the Fine Hotels & Resorts Program.
Best for everyday purchases: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
If you spend a lot on everyday purchases, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express could be the right pick. You’ll pay an annual fee, but you’ll find stellar rewards on groceries and select US streaming subscriptions, as well as a strong rewards rate on gas and transit.
- Rewards. Earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to 6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%. Earn 6% cash back on select US streaming subscriptions, as well as 3% cash back at US gas stations and 3% cash back on transit such as rideshare and parking. Earn 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
- Welcome offer. Earn $250 back after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership.
- Intro APR. Get 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months following your account opening. After that, your APR reverts to 14.49% to 25.49% variable (see rates & fees).
Best for flat-rate cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card
If you consistently pay your balance in full, you’ll find solid rewards with the Citi® Double Cash Card. When you pay off your purchases, you’ll earn a better cashback rate than you’ll find with other no-annual-fee, flat-rate cashback cards.
- Rewards. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases and another 1% as you pay them off.
- No annual fee. You’ll get a strong cashback rate without having to pay an annual fee.
- Intro APR. Enjoy 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months following your account opening and 15.49% to 25.49% variable after that. This is an excellent intro APR for balance transfers — one of the best on the market.
Best for travel rewards with no annual fee: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
This card offers tremendous value for no annual fee: a strong signup bonus, top-notch rewards, an intro APR and travel credits.
- Rewards. Earn 3x points on all eligible travel purchases — an already strong rate. If you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member, you’ll bump that rate up to 4x points on all travel purchases. On all other purchases, you’ll earn 1.5x points.
- Travel credits. Each calendar year, you’ll receive $100 in statement credit toward incidental air travel fees. And every five years you’ll receive a $100 statement credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
- Welcome offer. Earn 25,000 bonus points after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first 90 days of card membership.
Best hotel credit card: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Few hotel cards charge as high an annual fee as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (see rates & fees). Then again, few offer as many high-value perks. Not only will you earn excellent points on Marriott Bonvoy purchases, you’ll also enjoy benefits that can offset a large portion of the card’s annual fee.
- Welcome offer. Earn 75,000 bonus points after you make $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership.
- Rewards. When you make eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties, you’ll earn 6x points. Earn 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. And you’ll earn 2x points on other eligible purchases.
- Statement credits. Every year, you’ll receive $300 in statement credits for purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and $100 in statement credits every four years for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
Best for dining: Citi Prestige® Credit Card
- Rewards. Earn 5x points on air travel and restaurants. Earn 3x points on hotels and cruise lines, and 1x points on all other purchases.
- Luxury perks. Get complimentary Priority Pass Select membership and up to $250 in travel credits every calendar year. Get your fourth night free when you stay at least four consecutive nights through a ThankYou.com booking — a benefit that’s capped at two times each calendar year.
- Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make $4,000 in purchases on your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
Quick look: Top rewards credit cards
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium travel
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for everyday purchases
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card: Best for travel rewards with no annual fee
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best hotel credit card
- Citi Prestige® Credit Card: Best for dining
How we selected our top cards
We compared several features among available rewards cards, including rewards categories, points earned per dollar spent, the average value of points upon redemption, welcome offer value, annual fees, introductory APRs and other perks or benefits a consumer might weigh when looking for a rewards card. The cards that stood out above the rest in one or more of these categories earned a spot on our list.
What’s changed in 2019
The revamped Uber Visa Card now offers 5% back on Uber, Uber Eats and JUMP purchases, but only 3% back on dining. When it was known as the Uber Visa Card, it offered 4% back on dining — a killer combination with a $0 annual fee. We now give the crown to the Citi Prestige® Credit Card. Though it has a $495 annual fee, it offers the highest reward rate on dining and a suite of luxury travel perks.
Our pick for a rewards credit card
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit CardRead more
Compare rewards credit cards
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.
How to choose a rewards card
Given the variety of rewards cards on the market, picking the right credit card could seem daunting. Here’s how to simplify the process:
- Figure out if you need an interest-free period. Most rewards credit cards that offer a 0% intro APR period are cashback credit cards. This can help you save money on interest if you want to make a large purchase and pay it off in 12 months or more. This can also work if you want to transfer some of your other credit card balances and use the 0% interest to pay off your debt.
- Consider how often you travel. If you’re often on the road, a gas credit card could be an option. But if you frequently fly, consider a general travel rewards card or an airline cobranded credit card. In addition to earning accelerated points on your travel-related purchases, you can get perks like free checked bags, elite status, airport lounge access, travel insurance and more.
- Decide if you want to pay an annual fee. Many cards offer decent rewards for no annual fee. But if you’re looking to get the highest rewards rate, the most generous welcome offer or a host of premium perks, expect to pay a hefty annual fee.
- Look for welcome offers. Many rewards cards provide big signup bonuses that can easily pay for flights, hotel stays or vacations after you reach the requirements. Just make sure the card will bring value even after you clear the signup bonus.
- Consider whether you intend on carrying a balance. Carrying a balance can eat into your rewards earnings. That’s because this type of card often comes with higher interest rates. But even if you’re willing to go past slightly higher APR, some cards won’t allow you to carry your balance at all. These are credit card/charge card hybrids that prevent you from carrying your balance for most purchases.
Read more about rewards credit cards
Credit Cards Writer
Ask the experts
- Mark D. Groza
- Associate Professor of Marketing
- Northern Illinois University
What is the best way to use credit card rewards?
There are two schools of thought here. First, from a purely economic perspective, the ‘best way’ to use credit card rewards is to use them for something you need in a way that maximizes the value of the points. Let’s say your credit card company offers a 20% bonus if you redeem them for a gift card to a retailer that you frequent – ‘the best’ way to use the rewards then, is to use them on products/ services that you need, which have the highest bonus (i.e., points that have the highest dollar value).
A second perspective is, rewards are a bonus and should be used for something that you really want but may not necessarily need. For example, perhaps you always wanted to take an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean but could never justify the expense. Amassing enough points to cover the trip is a great way to justify it. This may not maximize the economic value of the points but it does provide tremendous value to the credit card holder and for some people is likely the ‘best-way’ to use credit card rewards.
- Lee Huffman
- Budget Travel Blog
What’s one question everyone should ask before getting a rewards card?
Paying an annual fee on a travel card is worth it only if you can reasonably make back the fee through its benefits and rewards or if it provides desirable optionality for redemption. Statement credits, discounts at retailers, and other card benefits can get you back to par. But the most important consideration is whether the card affords you the option to redeem for rewards that you can use.
Before applying, count how many ways you can redeem your miles or points with the airline or the credit card issuer itself. And pay attention to the quantity and quality of travel partners that are a part of the redemption network.
- Eliot Buchanan
- Co-Founder and CEO
What are the most important features of a rewards card?
The feature itself is not as important as understanding how to earn and redeem those rewards to its fullest potential. Not only should the rewards match what you want to redeem for, but you should also be intimately familiar with the value and options provided within the rewards program. And if you understand how to arbitrage your rewards for maximum value, even better!
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
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