Best Rewards Credit Cards

There’s a rewards credit card out there for everyone. Chances are you’ll find yours right here. Check out the best rewards cards available from our partners, then apply securely and start earning points, miles or cash back today.

Best rewards credit cards of 2019

Need more information?

Skip down to read our card profiles and expert advice.

Best for travel rewards

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture. Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Welcome Offer:
50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best cash back rewards for families

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Rewards Rate:
6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations 1% Cash Back on other purchases
Welcome Offer:
$250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months
Annual Fee:
$95
Purchase Intro APR:
0% on purchases for 12 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% on balance transfers for 12 months
Regular APR:
14.74%-25.74% Variable

Card Details

  • 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.

Best for flexible rewards points

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Annual Fee:
$95
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.99% - 24.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for personalized cash back rewards

U.S. Bank Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good Credit to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On U.S. Bank's secure website

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Rewards Rate:
5% cash back on your first $2,000 in eligible net purchases each quarter on the combined two categories you choose. 2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category, like gas stations or grocery stores. 1% cash back on all other eligible net purchases.
Welcome Offer:
$150 after you spend $500 in eligible net purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
Annual Fee:
$0*
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0%* intro on BTs for 12 billing cycles
Regular APR:
15.74% - 25.24%* (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn up to $550 cash back in the first year.
  • $150 bonus after spending $500 in eligible net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
  • 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases ($100 per quarter) on two categories you choose. That adds up to $400 cash back!
  • 2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category, like gas stations or grocery stores.
  • 1% cash back on all other eligible net purchases.
  • No limit on total cash back earned.
  • 0% Intro APR* on balance transfers for 12 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 15.74% - 25.24%
  • No annual fee*
  • Great Offer from U.S. Bank, a 2019 World's Most Ethical Company® - Ethisphere Institute, February 2019

Best travel card with no annual fee

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture. Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Welcome Offer:
20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% intro on purchases for 12 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 13.74% - 23.74% variable APR after that
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for dining and entertainment

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment Earn 2% at grocery stores Earn 1% on all other purchases
Welcome Offer:
$300 after you spend $3000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
16.24% - 25.24% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through May 2020.
  • Receive a monthly statement credit for a Postmates Unlimited monthly membership through Dec. 2019 with the Capital One Savor Card
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Capital One cardholders get access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for first year cash back bonus

Discover Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Discover's secure website

Discover it® Cash Back

Rewards Rate:
Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Welcome Offer:
Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 14 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 14 months
Regular APR:
13.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Intro Offer: Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • No annual fee.

Best for flat-rate cash back

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
Welcome Offer:
$150 after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% intro on purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Regular APR:
15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for your first rewards credit card

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Welcome Offer:
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Regular APR:
16.74% - 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for rotating cash back categories

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Freedom®

Rewards Rate:
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
Welcome Offer:
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Regular APR:
16.74% - 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.


Author: Barry Bridges | bbridges@bankrate.com


How to choose the right rewards card and maximize your returns

With a rewards credit card, you can unlock value from the spending you do every day. Whether you’re looking to earn rewards on travel, shopping, dining out, filling up at the pump or a more specific purchase, there’s a rewards credit card that can help you do it.

Bankrate’s picks for 2019 best rewards credit cards

Card Name Best for Bankrate Review Score
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Travel rewards 4.7/5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Family cash back rewards 4.6/5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Flexible rewards points 4.8/5
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card Personalized cash back rewards 4.6/5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Travel rewards with no annual fee 4.4/5
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining and entertainment 4.9/5
Discover it® Cash Back First-year cash back bonus 4.7/5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Flat-rate cash back 4.7/5
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Your first rewards credit card 4.6/5
Chase Freedom® Rotating cash back categories 4.5/5

A closer look at our top-rated rewards credit cards

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

What sets it apart

When you book and pay for a hotel using the Hotels.com/Venture portal through January 2020, the 2X miles per $1 rewards rate jumps to 10X. There may be no better reason to add the word “quintuple” to your vocabulary. You’ll also enjoy having the freedom to transfer miles to more than a dozen travel loyalty programs, which makes the Capital One Venture even more useful and valuable.

Why it might not be for you

Look elsewhere if you can’t bear to travel without airport lounge access, a major perk offered by competitors including Chase, American Express and Mastercard.

Our final thought

The Capital One Venture is an exceptional rewards card with plenty of perks for the frequent traveler.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

What sets it apart

The rewards rates in the U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations categories are particularly well-suited for busy families. The 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services can also benefit households that have cut the cable cord.

Why it might not be for you

If you don’t spend a lot of money in the high-rewards categories, you’ll probably have trouble getting maximum value and offsetting the $95 annual fee.

Our final thought

The Blue Cash Preferred Card offers exceptional cash back rewards for keeping your family fed and your vehicles fueled. It’s a terrific option for on-the-go families, as well as being one of the overall best rewards credit cards available from our partners.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

What sets it apart

The points you earn with your Chase Sapphire Preferred receive a 25% bump in value when you redeem for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, and you also get the benefit of a 1-1 point transfer with travel partners (nine airlines and four hotel brands). Some rewards portals can be on the restrictive side, but Chase Ultimate Rewards offers a refreshing contrast.

Why it might not be for you

The $95 annual fee, although reasonable, puts some pressure on the cardholder to maximize points value to offset the cost.

Our final thought

The combination of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal can bring lucrative travel rewards even for the casual traveler.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

What sets it apart

Would you like to choose from more than a handful of bonus categories? This card offers a selection of 12, and you get to choose two for 5% cash back (up to $2,000 in combined purchases per quarter).

Why it might not be for you

More bonus categories could mean more effort to keep tabs on your choices, especially if you mix things up from quarter to quarter. Don’t forget the 3% foreign transaction fee on international purchases, either.

Our final thought

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature expands your choices of where you earn your rewards. Few rewards cards offer this much versatility in bonus categories.

Read the full review and apply on U.S. Bank’s secure website.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

What sets it apart

An annual fee is sometimes the price you have to pay for generous travel rewards and benefits, but not in the case of the Capital One VentureOne. The rewards rate of 1.25x miles on every purchase might not be exciting, but the rate on eligible hotel purchases at Hotels.com/Venture — unlimited 10x miles through January 2020 — can help your earnings accelerate quickly. Perks including 24-Hour Travel Assistance Services give the card’s value a nice boost.

Why it might not be for you

The hotel rewards offer comes with some strings attached, spelled out in detail on the Hotels.com/Venture website. Bookings that don’t follow the approved process to the letter will probably be ineligible for the 10x rate. Travelers who want more flexibility in how they book hotel stays might want to consider other options.

Our final thought

You’d have to travel far and wide to find a rewards card that offers this kind of earning potential without charging an annual fee. The CapitalOne VentureOne is a solid choice among travel rewards cards.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

What sets it apart

The 4% rewards rate on dining and entertainment makes the Capital One Savor a compelling choice for people who enjoy food and fun. Don’t mistake it for a two-trick pony, though, as it also offers 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else.

Why it might not be for you

If you prefer your kitchen and den to the restaurant and multiplex, consider an alternative like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Its highlights include 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (1% thereafter) and 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services.

Our final thought

If you’re frequently out on the town, you’ll find a lot of reasons to put the Savor Cash Rewards card in your wallet. Few cards offer this level of rewards for dining and entertainment.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Discover it® Cash Back

What sets it apart

Discover Cashback Match™ automatically matches the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. If you target your spending effectively in the rotating bonus categories, your earnings can add up quickly.

Why it might not be for you

The bonus categories process does require some effort on your part. If you forget to enroll every quarter or adjust your spending patterns, the 5% bonus on spending (up to the $1,500 quarterly maximum) becomes a missed opportunity.

Our final thought

The Discover it Cash Back is a desirable no annual fee rewards card, due in large part to its first-year bonus offer. If you take full advantage of the 5% bonus categories, the following years won’t be too shabby either.

Read the full review and apply on Discover’s secure website.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

What sets it apart

Unlike some other flat-rate rewards cards, the Capital One Quicksilver doesn’t have an annual fee, a foreign transaction fee or complicated mechanisms that control how you earn your rewards.

Why it might not be for you

If the calendar influences your spending habits (big purchases during home improvement season, for example), you could earn more rewards with a bonus category card.

Our final thought

If you want a low-maintenance cash back card that makes earning rewards simple, the Capital One Quicksilver is well worth your consideration.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

What sets it apart

Very few rewards cards make cash back this easy. You can just sit back and earn 1.5% cash back with every eligible purchase — no rotating categories or minimum requirement for redeeming cash back.

Why it might not be for you

A number of cards offer higher rewards rates. If you want a rewards rate with a larger scale on certain purchases, consider a card with rotating bonus categories.

Our final thought

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is a great option for your first rewards card because it requires very little effort on your part to earn cash back and redemptions are easy. Overall, this card is a great no-hassle option with a lot of flexibility, all for no annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

Chase Freedom®

What sets it apart

Not many rewards cards offer rotating bonus categories, a fact that helps make the Chase Freedom a potentially lucrative source of cash back. If you activate each quarter and max out combined purchases in the bonus categories, that strategy could earn you $300 cash back per year. In addition, you can also earn 1% back on all other eligible purchases.

Why it might not be for you

Not everyone will be willing to track quarterly bonus categories and adjust their spending habits accordingly. If you’d rather earn cash back on autopilot, consider a flat-rate card that doesn’t require you to activate every quarter.

Our final thought

Getting maximum value out of the Chase Freedom does involve some effort on your part. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, the Chase Freedom can pay considerable cash back rewards with a low cost of ownership. You might have to remember to activate each quarter, but you don’t have to worry about an annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

Rewards cards: What they are and how they work

A rewards card can earn you points, miles or cash back for purchases made with the card. The card can be flat-rate — meaning it offers the same percentage back for every purchase — or offer rotating bonus categories —  meaning you’ll earn different percentages depending on the category in which your purchase falls.

Depending on the issuer, rewards cards offer distinct rewards programs and have specific rules concerning how you can redeem your rewards. Some issuers require you to redeem your rewards through the portal. There can also be restrictions on what you can redeem your rewards for, such as cash back, statement credit, gift cards, shopping, travel and more.

In some cases, redeeming through the portal adds value to your rewards. A prime example is using the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. When you use the portal to redeem points earned with this card for travel purchases, the value increases 25%.

If you redeem 60,000 points for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, those points will be worth $750 instead of $600.

Survey points to millions of dollars in expired rewards

Nearly half of travel loyalty program members have unintentionally forfeited valuable rewards by letting airline and hotel rewards expire, according to a new survey.

The same survey also found that more than one-quarter of people who collect credit card rewards have let those rewards expire, as well.

In other words, thousands of Americans are leaving a lot of money on the table by failing to use the rewards they earn from travel loyalty programs and credit card rewards programs.

“A lot of people are sitting on airline, hotel and credit card rewards that are worth a significant amount of money,” said Bankrate.com credit card analyst Ted Rossman. “That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of them before they expire. If you need more time to save up for your desired redemption and your rewards are about to expire, reset the clock by demonstrating new account activity. This can involve a small purchase or redeeming a minimal number of points or miles.”

The Bankrate survey found that 46 percent of U.S. adults who participate in airline and hotel rewards programs have let their points or miles expire at some point. Additionally, 29 percent of credit card users who collect card rewards have let them expire.

Divides and disconnects

The Bankrate survey offers a statistical breakdown of how many consumers have let their rewards expire, by demographic:

Hotel points Airline miles  Credit card rewards
AGE GROUP
Millennials (23-38) 57% 50% 44%
Generation X (39-54) 40% 46% 26%
Baby boomers (55-73) 42% 46% 19%
GENDER
Male 47% 45% 29%
Female 44% 48% 29%
REGION
Northeast 45% 53% 36%
Midwest 42% 41% 23%
South 50% 49% 29%
West 44% 42% 29%
ANNUAL INCOME
Under $40K 57% 48% 31%
$40K-$80K 43% 43% 33%
Over $80K 43% 48% 26%

Conclusions from analyzing the survey results include the following:

  • Age group: People from younger generations are generally more likely to lose their rewards to expiration than their older counterparts.
  • Gender: Men and women seem equally likely to let their points, miles or rewards expire.
  • Region: The region where consumers are most likely to let their points, miles or rewards expire is the Northeast. Consumers in the Midwest are the least likely to let them expire, followed in order by the West and the South.
  • Annual income: Among income groups, consumers making under $40K a year are the most likely to let their points, miles or rewards expire. Consumers in the other two groups, $40K-$80K a year and over $80K a year, seem equally likely to let them expire.

In addition, the survey revealed a disconnect between the perceived value and the actual value of loyalty and credit card rewards, as well as a lack of awareness about the amount of rewards earned.

Among loyalty program participants, only 25 percent were able to list how many hotel points they have and 29 percent knew their frequent flyer mile total. Just 33 percent knew their credit card rewards balance.

More than half of the people surveyed (53 percent) admitted that they didn’t know how much 10,000 rewards points/miles are worth. Generally, 10,000 points/miles are worth $100 to $199.

More education and diligence are needed

The survey results point to a few more conclusions about the issue of expired rewards and how to address it:

  • Untold millions of dollars in rewards are going to waste because they’re allowed to expire.
  • Consumers need to do a better job of monitoring their rewards by regularly checking the “dashboards” on their account portals or their written statements. (You can learn more from Bankrate about how to put your rewards to use before they expire.)
  • Consumers need more education about the potential value of their rewards and how to redeem them for maximum value.

Survey methodology

Bankrate commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,558 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between September 25-27, 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+). It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.

Types of rewards cards

Navigating all the rewards card options available to you can be difficult. That’s why we broke out some of the most common types, along with more detailed recommendations from our team on the best cards in each category.

Cash back

With a cash back rewards card, you’ll earn a percentage of cash back on purchases. Your cash back will typically be applied as a statement credit toward your account, yet some cards — such as the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card — can directly deposit the cash back into your U.S Bank checking or savings account.

Travel

Whether it’s a co-branded card with an airline or hotel or a general-purpose travel rewards card, these cards can help frequent travelers earn rewards for their travel-related spending.

With a travel rewards card, you can expect perks like discounted trips, seat upgrades, travel insurance benefits, statement credits and more. For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® credit. Read our guide to your first travel rewards card for tips on how to choose the right travel card option for you.

Co-branded retail cards

Certain co-branded cards are issued through a partnership between a credit card company and a retailer. With co-branded retail cards, you can earn discounts, free shipping and members-only access events.

The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, for example, will earn you 4% cash back on eligible gas (up to $7,000 per year, then 1%), 3% on restaurant and eligible travel purchases and 2% on all other purchases from Costco and Costo.com. You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases.

Business

With a business rewards card, you can earn rewards for any business-related spending. The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business, for example, will earn you an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase for your business.

These cards may offer perks like free employee cards, travel and auto insurance, travel statement credits and more. If you’re interested in applying for a business credit card, read our tips on how to choose the right card.

“I have [a lot of] credit cards and use each of them for specific reasons: free nights, free flights, upgraded hotel rooms, cash back, etc. Overall, though, the goal is to strategically earn rewards, perks, and cash back to allow my family of four to travel as much as we want for as little money as possible.”
— Lee Huffman, Travel & Lifestyle Writer at Bald Thoughts

Top rewards sign-up bonuses

A generous signup bonus, sometimes called a welcome offer, is one of the marks of a premier rewards credit card. Here’s a look at some of the most lucrative signup bonuses and welcome offers from our top rewards credit cards:

 

Offer/bonus

Spending requirement

Value

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

60,000 bonus points

Spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

$750 (toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards)

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

50,000 miles

Spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

$700*

 

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

$300

Spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

$300

*Estimate based on July 2019 valuations by The Points Guy (50,000 miles x .014)

 

How to judge the value of a sign-up bonus

Not all bonuses are created equal, and sometimes you need to dig deeper into the numbers to figure out how much they’re worth. Follow these tips to get a clearer picture:

  • Calculate the value of points/miles — When the value of a bonus isn’t spelled out, resources like The Points Guy’s monthly valuations can come in handy. As The Points Guy explains: “These valuations are based on a combination of what I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity and the overall value I could get from redeeming them, factoring in variables like award availability, fees and change/cancellation policies.”
  • Look at the proportions — An overly large spending requirement could reduce the value of a bonus. For example, a $300 bonus after spending $2,000 in 3 months could make more sense economically than a $500 bonus that requires spending twice as much in the same amount of time.
  • Avoid getting overextended — Spending more than you normally would just to meet the bonus requirement could come back to haunt you. If your bonus quest results in carrying a big balance, APR charges could negate the benefits of the welcome offer.

Redeeming your rewards

A stash of rewards is only meaningful if you redeem them. Thankfully, many cards offer unlimited redemption and rewards that don’t expire, but it’s still important to consider all the ways rewards can be used prior to applying for a card.

  • Redemption options — Before redeeming, you should know what your particular card allows you to redeem for. Options generally include statement credit, cash back, gift cards, shopping, travel and charitable donations. If you plan on redeeming for travel, familiarize yourself with your particular card’s rules beforehand.
  • Rewards portals — Some rewards credit cards allow you to transfer your rewards to partner hotels and airlines, but more commonly, cards will require that travel be redeemed through their portal. Make sure to research which cards require this prior to applying, especially if you value flexibility.
  • Transferring rewards — If you’re interested in transferring your rewards from your card to an airline or hotel’s loyalty program, some cards allow you to do so and often for increased value. For example, many Chase cards allow you to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to other travel loyalty programs at a 1:1 value.

How to maximize your rewards

Developing a thorough credit card strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Here are a few ways you can maximize your rewards at every stage of your ownership.

Determine what your goals are

Before you apply for a card, decide what your goals are for using it. Would you like to do more traveling? Are you interested in saving money on everyday expenses like groceries and gas? Do you want to upgrade your airline or hotel status?

When you establish your long-term goals for your card use, you can then go on to develop a well-coordinated credit card strategy.

Take a look at your spending habits

The rewards card you choose should have a rewards structure centered around what you spend the most on. For example, if you manage a busy family of five, a rewards card that offers a high percentage of cash back on gas and groceries may be a good fit.

Should you already have one or more rewards cards, look for another that accomplishes a new goal or covers a segment of your budget not already accounted for.

Max out your spending categories

To get the most bang for your buck, you’re going to want to max out your card’s spending categories each quarter, should they have them. Cards with unlimited earning potential are an exception.

For example, if you owned the Discover it® Cash Back and spent $1,500 every three months on the 5% cash back rotating category, you’d have successfully maxed out the category at the 5% rewards rate (1% thereafter, activation required).

Double up on cards to earn more

To earn even more rewards, you can pair rewards cards that earn rewards for different types of spending.

Our most important piece of advice when it comes to pairing cards is to start slowly. Applying for multiple cards at once will only hurt your credit score — instead, start with the one that has the widest rewards net and slowly move onto others with more limited rewards categories.

If you’re interested in learning more about pairing cards, read our guide to the best credit card combinations.

Finding important information in the fine print

If you’re new to rewards cards, it’s easy to assume that accumulating points is always as simple as just using your card.

However, racking up enough rewards for free travel or substantial cash back can be more complicated than it might seem. Checking out the fine print can help you avoid disappointing detours on your way to earning substantial rewards.

Bonus spending categories

The advantage of a rewards card’s rotating category bonuses is that they are usually the highest bonuses you can get, but there may be limits and loopholes. Here are a few to consider:

  • Spending definitions — Let’s say you have a rewards card that offers a bonus rate on grocery purchases. Some cards don’t include merchants such as Walmart or Target in their definition of grocery stores. Another example is gasoline purchases. If you buy gas at Costco, for example, remember that some bonus categories specify purchases at gas stations, not wholesale clubs.
  • Earning caps — Many cards put a limit on how much you can earn in a specific period of time. With the Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back, for instance, bonus earnings apply to just the first $1,500 spent each quarter.
  • Alternate payment methods — Third-party food apps, online gift cards and mobile wallet payment methods such as Apple Pay or Google Pay might not always count toward bonus spending.

Non-automatic perks

Some card benefits are automatically available when you sign up and use the card, such as earning cash back or getting consumer purchase protections, such as extended warranties. In other cases, you must be proactive. You’ll need to sign up or enroll.

Whether it’s elite status with a hotel or rental car chain, baggage fee credits for when you fly or concierge services, read your card’s fine print carefully to find out what you need to do to enroll. Usually it’s as easy as a one-time or yearly online registration.

Special redemption options

Once you’re comfortable with your credit card’s rewards program, you may be able to find some advanced strategies. One way to do that is to analyze your redemption options.

For example, points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for statement credits. But Chase offers cardholders 25 percent more value when they redeem points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, boosting the point value to 1.25 cents.

Also, consider how your brand loyalty and affiliations could ramp up your points. Some banks reward card users for also having a checking account or retirement account with them.

Avoid costly assumptions

There’s a learning curve when it comes to getting the most out of your credit card rewards programs, especially when you make assumptions.

Foreign transaction fees

If you’re more of a domestic traveler, you might not be too concerned if your chosen rewards cards tack on fees of 3% or more for overseas purchases. However, what most people don’t realize is that online purchases from overseas merchants can incur foreign transaction fees.

Changes to rewards programs

Terms are subject to change at virtually any time. Make it a habit to skim your entire credit card statement (either online in PDF form, or the physical copy that arrives via mail) and any communication directly from the issuer to spot any upcoming program changes. You might come to realize that you’re not getting as much value from a card as you once did if it decides to drop or reduce a certain offer, for example.

“The main thing we look for [in a rewards credit card] is the rate at which the miles are accumulated and which spending habits the card will work best for. Since we rarely eat out having a card pay 2x points on restaurants is not beneficial to us compared to a card with 1.5x points on everyday purchases.” — Brittany and Kelan Kline, Co-Founders at The Savvy Couple

How we chose the list of top rewards credit cards

The selection is based on research by a team of Bankrate writers and editors with years of personal finance experience. Only the ones you see on this page made the cut, based on factors including:

  • Rewards value — After all, the whole point of this type of credit card is to earn rewards. The cards on our list represent some of the U.S. market’s finest credit card rewards programs.
  • Overall value — Apart from cash back, points or miles, does the card offer a good deal? Do the benefits outweigh any fees or restrictions? The answer to both questions had to be an emphatic “yes” for the card to make our list.
  • Service — The cards we’ve chosen represent several credit card issuers rated among the highest for customer satisfaction, including Discover, Chase and Capital One.

Additional reading on rewards cards

For more information on all-things rewards cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts:


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.