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.

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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.

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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.

Updated October 16th, 2019
Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
1.25x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1.5% for cash back
Receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
$150 cash back after spending $500 in the first 3 months
1.5% cash back on all purchases
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
$150 after spending $500 in the first 90 days
5% on up to $2,000 each activated quarter on two categories combined (1% after), 2% on one everyday category and 1% on all other purchases
When you spend $500 on your card within the first 90 days, you’ll receive a $150 cash back bonus. Rates & Fees

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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.

Compare two cards: cashback vs. points

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • NEW 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • NEW 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations. 1% cash back on other purchases.
  • Over 3 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017 and 2018.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.74% to 25.74%
  • $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 when you dine at restaurants worldwide. 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
  • Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be 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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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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