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Best rewards credit cards
Ultimately, the “best” rewards credit card comes down to your specific needs and spending preferences. However, there are many cards that are well above the rest. Compare your options alongside expert opinions and answers to top questions about rewards cards.
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
Best for premium travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express
|Balance transfer APR||N/A|
|Welcome offer||60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months|
|Rewards||5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases|
|Rates & fees||rates & fees|
- 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.
- Fee credits.
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.
- Annual fee. You’ll pay $550 annually to use this card.
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.
|Purchase APR||0% intro for the first 12 months (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable)|
|Balance transfer APR||0% intro for the first 12 months (then 14.49% to 25.49% variable)|
|Welcome offer||$250 after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months|
|Rewards||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|
|Rates & fees||rates & fees|
- 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).
- Overseas limitations. As an American Express card, you might have trouble finding merchants that accept this card overseas.
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.
|Purchase APR||15.49% to 25.49% variable|
|Balance transfer APR||0% intro for the first 18 months (then 15.49% to 25.49% variable)|
|Rewards||1% cash back when you make purchases and 1% cash back when you pay off your card|
- 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.
- High late payment fees.You’ll pay up to $39 in fees for late payments.
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.
|Purchase APR||12.74% to 17.99% variable|
|Balance transfer APR||0% intro for the first 12 months (then 12.74% to 17.99% variable)|
|Welcome offer||25,000 points after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days|
|Rewards||3x points on travel or 4x points if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member and 1.5x points on all other purchases|
- 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.
- No intro purchase APR. While this card offers a balance transfer intro APR, this offer isn’t extended to purchases.
Best hotel credit card: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® CardPlease note: All information about Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has been collected independently by Finder and this card is no longer available through this site.
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.
|Purchase APR||17.24% to 26.24% variable|
|Balance transfer APR||17.24% to 26.24% variable|
|Welcome offer||75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months|
|Rewards||6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases|
|Rates & fees||rates & fees|
- 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.
- Annual fee. You’ll pay $450 annually to use this card.
Best for dining: Citi Prestige® Credit Card
With the card’s market-leading 5x points on dining, you can earn a 10% effective reward rate after point transfers to select airlines. The card is also a stellar choice for travel, with strong rewards in this category, as well as travel credits and a fourth-night-free benefit.
|Purchase APR||17.24% to 25.24% variable|
|Balance transfer APR||17.24% to 25.24% variable|
|Welcome offer||50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months|
|Rewards||5x points on flights and dining, 3x points on hotels and cruises and 1x points on all other purchases|
- 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.
- Annual fee. You’ll pay $495 annually to use this card.
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 2020
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.
What's in this guide?
- Why trust us? Finder’s credit card experts close to 400 hours each week steeped in the heart of credit card news and practices. With so much experience on deck, we know when a rewards card is a must have, or when a card is a better fit for just a few types of consumers. We share this knowledge to help consumers find a card that not only offers value, but best fits their financial needs. To help us accomplish this, we follow editorial guidelines that keep our content up-to-date, accurate and without bias.
Our pick for a rewards credit card
Citi Rewards+℠ CardRead more
Compare rewards credit cards
Let’s break down how 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.
2. Earn rewards
Purchases made using your rewards card will automatically post points or cashback to your account. Depending on the type of rewards card, you might earn more rewards for spending in a certain category.
How to compare rewards cards
In addition to the card’s APR, here are a few big items to review when comparing rewards cards:
Many rewards cards offer bonus points to new customers to help you kick start your rewards cache.
Does the card earn points on all purchases or just some purchases? And do some categories offer more points than others?
Big name reward cards allow you to transfer your points to travel reward programs. This flexibility is highly valuable when used correctly.
Reward cards can come with a terrific selection of additional benefits. These can prove valuable provided they suit your needs.
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.
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 help if you want to transfer some of your other credit card balances and use the 0% interest to pay off your debt.
When is a rewards credit card worth it?
Even the simplest of rewards credit cards can offer value if you use it properly, so it’s no surprise that rewards cards are one of the most popular types of credit cards out there.
A reward 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 out there can come with steep fees, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. To make using this card worth it, you’ll need to use enough perks and earn enough rewards to overcome the $550 annual fee. Thankfully, this card and others like it make it easy to create that value thanks to generous benefits.
|Two Priority Pass stays||None ($160 value)|
Pros and cons of using a rewards credit card
- Rewards. You can 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 may be able to earn cash back, travel benefits, merchandise, gift cards and more.
- Global acceptance. Most rewards cards are affiliated with Visa or Mastercard, and you can use these cards in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. While American Express and Discover credit cards aren’t as widely accepted internationally, they can be used 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.
- 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.
Types of rewards credit cards
Here are a few types of rewards credit cards that you might encounter. Remember that while a card may offer stronger accelerated rewards for one category, it can also offer lesser accelerated rewards for other categories.
What are accelerated rewards?
- Accelerated rewards are cash back, points or miles that you earn at a higher rate than the base rate.
For example, a card might offer 1% cash back on all purchases as its base rewards rate. But it might offer 3% cash back for gas. This means the card offers accelerated rewards for gas.
Retail cards offer benefits and rewards tied to a particular retailer. You might only be able to use your card with the affiliated company.
Here’s an example: With the Forever 21 Credit Card, you’ll earn points for your spending, which you can redeem for rewards certificates at Forever 21. You’ll also receive perks like discounts and exclusive promotions. The card is valid only at Forever 21.
You’ll receive your rewards in the form of cash back, which you can usually redeem for statement credit or a deposit into your bank account. Some providers let you redeem for travel, gift cards and merchandise.
Here’s an example: The Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase. You can redeem points for statement credit and bank deposits. Gift cards, travel and experiences are also available through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Category-specific — Gas, grocery, dining, etc.
You’ll receive accelerated rewards when you use your card for a certain category, such as restaurants or streaming services. For example, you might receive 3% cash back for one category instead of 1%, which is the normal rewards rate for purchases. Some cards have spending caps for the highest rewards rates.
Here are examples of credit cards for certain categories:
- Gas: Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi. You’ll earn 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases worldwide for the first $7,000 per year, then 1%.
- Groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000in purchases per year, then 1%.
- Dining: Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card. Earn 4% cash back on dining.
You’ll typically earn bonus miles when you spend on flights with a cobranded airline. Later, you can redeem miles for rewards like flights and car rentals through the airline’s rewards portal.
This card type often includes airline-specific perks like priority boarding and free checked baggage.
Here’s an example: United℠ Explorer Card
A hotel credit card offers bonus points when you spend with a certain hotel chain. You can often redeem points through the chain’s rewards portal for hotel stays, travel packages, point transfers and more. Here are a few of our favorite hotel loyalty programs on the market.
Usually, this card type also includes hotel-specific perks like loyalty-program upgrades and resort credits.
Here’s an example: Hilton Honors American Express Card. Earn 7x points at the Hilton Portfolio of hotels and resorts. Earn 5x points at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations and 3x points on all other eligible purchases.
You asked, we listened: Top 5 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.
- How much are credit card reward points worth? The most common value of a reward point is 1 cent per 1 point. However, this can vary greatly depending on the specific loyalty program and how you redeem your points.
- Can I redeem my reward points for cash back? In many cases, yes. Many reward cards offer cash back statements as a redemption option for points.
- What kinds of reward cards are there? Reward cards exist for all manner of earning categories, from everyday spending on gas and groceries to travel.
- Which stores have rewards cards? You can compare store credit cards here.
- 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.
Read more about rewards credit cards
Credit Cards Writer
Hi, Steve here! Before I decided on the Chase Freedom, I had a ton of questions about how Chase Ultimate Rewards worked, whether this card could transfer points and just how this card differed from other issuers’ rewards cards. Here are some of the articles that answered my questions and helped me make my decision.
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!
- Audrey Guskey
- Associate Professor of Marketing
- Duquesne University
What is the best way to use credit card rewards?
My advice is to match the rewards to your interests. If you like to travel, take advantage of that. If you like going out to eat, then use your rewards for restaurants. The biggest tip is to align rewards with your interest! If you like to shop pick one that’s accepted where you want to shop. Trading points for gift cards is always a smart move.
The more you use your credit card, the more points you will get, but be careful you don’t spend too much and over budget. Always pay your balance in full each month, otherwise, even the rewards you earn may be eaten up by the interest payments. And don’t sit on those rewards. You may forget about them or the program may change and you could lose those points.
- Yuliya Strizhakova
- Associate Professor of Marketing
- Rutgers University School of Business-Camden
For the average consumer, is it better to get cash back or points on a rewards card?
It depends on what this average consumer wants. Earning cash is frequently an immediate next statement
reward. It is an instant deduction in payments that gives a feeling of actually getting something back from the credit card. Earning points may be beneficial if someone is aiming at a higher-priced award (e.g., airline tickets) or is looking for a discount for an expensive item. However, the reward is frequently delayed and may require a longer commitment to spending to earn this reward.
- Paolina C. Medina
- Assistant Professor of Finance
- Texas A&M University
Why might credit rewards make you spend more?
Rewards are a great benefit of credit cards when used properly. However, there are several ways in which our brain can trick us into overspending.
For example, whenever a reward is framed as part of a challenge (like many introductory credit card offers), our brain triggers a gaming mentality, by which we don´t want to miss out on a prize: we pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the prize, compared to the cost incurred to earn it…
But the main risk is that this overspending may trigger the habit of revolving instead of paying the bill in full every month, in which case interest cost can break the bank.
There’s no shortage of rewards credit cards to choose from. Think about what rewards you want and how you typically spend, then compare a few cards before settling on the winner.
If you’re not sure you want a rewards card yet, consider other options like 0% APR cards.Back to top
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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