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Cashback vs. points vs. miles: What type of rewards card is best for me?

Learn how rewards cards differ — and how to choose the right one.


Fact checked

You’ve likely encountered a range of ways providers reward you for spending, whether it be with cash back, rewards or miles. While these are all similar rewards options, they differ in how much value you get from the categories you’re spending in and even how you redeem them.

How do I choose between a cashback, miles or points credit card?

When choosing whether to go with cashback, points or miles, consider the following:

Spending categories
  • Good for hotels, travel, dining or entertainment purchases
Spend limitations
  • Some cashback cards limit how much you can earn, especially cards with rotating categories
  • It’s rare to find a points card that comes with similar restrictions
  • Miles cards generally don’t put a cap on the miles you can earn
Rewards value
  • Simple rewards structure — generally, you know how much you get
  • Typically worth from less than a penny to up to two cents each, depending on how you redeem them
  • Worth from less than a cent to a few cents.
Welcome offer
  • Generally offer low signup bonuses of up to $200
  • Offer signup bonuses of up to $500, but the spending criteria to earn the bonus might also be higher
  • Offer high signup bonuses of up to $500 on average, and they also typically require a higher spending ceiling to clear the bonus
Intro APR on balance transfers
  • Many cashback cards offer an intro APR period on balance transfers
  • Usually don’t offer intro APR periods on balance transfers
  • Usually don’t offer intro APR periods on balance transfers
Intro APR on purchases
  • Often come with an intro APR period on purchases
  • In general, don’t offer intro APR periods on purchases
  • Generally don’t offer intro APR periods on purchases
Additional perks
  • Purchase protection, zero fraud liability and extended warranties
  • Same perks plus complimentary Wi-Fi for hotel brands or complimentary airport lounge access for travel cards, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credits and more
  • Strongest travel perks, such as free checked bags on your flights, priority boarding, airline fee credits, lounge access and a companion pass
Annual fee
  • Most cards have no annual fee, but if they do it’s typically no more than $95
  • Range from $0 to $450 or more
  • Range from $0 to $450 or more
Foreign transaction fee
  • Often charge foreign transaction fees equal to 3% of each transaction
  • In general, cards focused on travelers forgo these fees
  • Typically offer no foreign transaction fees
APRReward cards tend to have higher interest rates of up to 26% variable, depending on your creditworthiness.

Why choose a rewards card?

If you have a good credit score or higher, getting a rewards card is definitely worth considering. You get access to premium credit cards that reward your spending in a variety of categories, including groceries, gas, dining or travel.

Compared to non-reward credit cards, you also get:

  • Bigger signup bonuses. Depending on what kind of card you get, you can earn a signup bonus worth $150 for most cashback cards to more than $1,000 for airline and travel cards.
  • Intro APR period. Intro APR period on purchases and balance transfers is a common perk for cashback cards. But you can also find some points cards with an intro APR period. Travel cards with an intro APR period are rare.
  • Brand-specific perks. Get free checked bags on an airline, lounge access, priority boarding, or get free reward nights at a hotel brand or reach an elite status tier by being a cardmember.

Compare top rewards credit cards

If you have narrowed your options to cash back or points, consider these cards and earn accelerated rewards on your purchases.

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
$300 after spending $3,000 in the first 6 months (Offer expires 12/10/2020)
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
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Perfect for families: Get up to 6% on everyday purchases and a welcome offer worth $300. This heavy-hitter rewards card has uncontested value. Rates & fees
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
$200 after spending $1,000 in the first 3 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
Get 3% cash back on groceries on up to $6,000 annually (then 1%) with no annual fee. This is a simple and effective rewards card. Rates & fees
Chase Freedom Flex℠
$200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus 5% cash back at grocery stores on up to $12,000 in the first year
5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter (then 1%), 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases
Get up to 5% cashback in rotating and newly added everyday categories. The refreshed Freedom Flex card has lots of earning potential.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
Citi® Double Cash Card
Up to 2% cash back on purchases (1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay)
Earn up to 2% on every purchase with no annual fee. This is the highest flat-rate cashback card on the market.

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Tips to maximize your rewards

Getting a rewards credit card can boost your card’s value just by using it. Here are some tips to get even higher value from your card:

  • Use multiple cards. More than one card can help you optimize your reward earnings. For example, when dining, use the card that earns the highest cash back or points at restaurants. When flying, use the card with the strongest miles rewards.
  • Combine points. Some credit card programs, like the Delta suite of cards or Chase cards with Ultimate Rewards, offer the highest value if you combine cards within the program. For example, only one Delta card offers 2x miles on dining. Use this card at restaurants, and use another Delta card on flights for perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and more.
  • Keep an eye on the cap. If you opt for a cashback card, make sure you know any limits on your earnings. If you reach the cap, use another card for higher rewards, if you have one.
  • Pay your balance on time. If you don’t, you could end up paying late fees, taking on penalty interest rates and potentially losing your rewards altogether.

Bottom line

Rewards credit cards can help you earn cash, miles or points on your everyday spending or within specific categories that match your lifestyle.

Cashback cards can be a better choice for rewards on everyday spending at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants or department stores. Points cards often focus on dining, travel or entertainment purchases. And miles cards typically revolve around travel — airlines, hotels and more.

Before you settle on a rewards card, look into other credit cards to find the best that meets your habits and budget.

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