Cash back vs. points vs. miles: Which rewards card is best for me? | finder.com
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Cash back vs. points vs. miles: What type of rewards card is best for me?

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

You’ve likely encountered the range of ways providers reward you for your spending. Some cards offer cash back, while others reward you with miles or points. Your ideal card will depend on where you spend and how you want to redeem your rewards.

What are cashback, points and miles credit cards?

All three credit cards fall under the family of rewards card, which allow cardholders to earn rewards on their overall spending or within specific categories, like travel, gas or business.

Your options often revolve around cash back, points or miles. While similar, these options differ in how much value you get from the categories you’re spending in and even how you redeem them.

Find your ideal rewards credit card

See our recommendation in two clicks.


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

Consider these questions when choosing which rewards credit card is best for you:

Compare two cards: cash back vs. points

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

  • $200 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) - that means spending $60 a week at U.S. supermarkets could earn over $180 back per year.
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations. 1% cash back on other purchases.
  • Over 1.5 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.
  • Read Rates & Fees
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American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4x Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4x Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1x).
  • Earn 3x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 airline fee credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Annual fee is $250.
  • Terms apply.
  • Read Rates & Fees
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Compare top rewards credit cards

Updated February 21st, 2019
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual Fee
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
2x points on travel and dining. 1x points on all other purchases
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit. 1x points on all other purchases
$450
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
$150 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months
5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories on up to $1,500 in combined purchases for each quarter you activate, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
$0
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers.
Earn $150 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back for each dollar spent
$0
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers.
$150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
Earn 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%. Earn 2% at US gas stations and US department stores. Earn 1% on all other purchases
$0
Earn a $150 bonus statement credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Rates & Fees

Compare up to 4 providers

Pros and cons of cashback, points and miles cards

Cashback cards

Pros

  • Simple rewards structure and redemption.
  • Easy to know rewards values beforehand.
  • Intro APR periods on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Annual fees that range from $0 to $95.

Cons

  • Limited redemption options.
  • Can take one or two billing cycles to get your rewards.
  • Foreign transaction fees.
  • Lower signup bonuses.

Points cards

Pros

  • Highest redemption flexibility.
  • Transfer points to another account.
  • Larger signup bonuses.
  • Often no foreign transaction fee.

Cons

  • Points values differ by redemption option.
  • Can come with annual fees of up to $450.
  • Rare to find intro APR periods on balance transfers and purchases.

Miles cards

Pros

  • Solid redemption flexibility.
  • Higher signup bonuses.
  • Typically no foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • Point values vary.
  • Annual fees as high as $450.
  • Rare to find intro APR periods on balance transfers and purchases.

Tips to maximize your rewards

  • 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, while on flights, use the card with the strongest miles or points 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 like free checked bags, priority boarding and more.
  • Keep an eye on the cap. If you opt for a cashback card or points 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.
Top 1.5% cashback credit cards

Frequently asked questions

Kliment Dukovski

Kliment Dukovski is a writer who specializes in global financial markets and personal finance, with a focus on credit cards. His main goal is to deliver honest and accurate information to help you make the right financial decision. When he's not writing about finance-related subjects, he writes sci-fi stories.

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