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: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: September 10, 2018
Here at Bankrate, our credit card experts used a proprietary grading system to give each credit card a unique Bankrate score. In order to do this, they studied over 1,640 credit cards and measured each one against a scoring matrix to deliver a final number out of 100. The score is intended to help you identify the best of the bunch, and find a credit card that is right for you.
Our matrix was designed by experts to determine the best rewards credit cards. Each card is reviewed for its annual fee, foreign transaction fees, rewards value, sign-up bonus, APR, and extras or discounts. We have focused more closely on attributes that are most important for great rewards credit cards, such as rewards value, annual fee, sign-up bonuses, foreign transaction fees, and any extra perks or discounts.
|Card Name||Best for||Bankrate Review Score||Rewards Rate|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Travel||94/100||2X miles on every purchase, every day|
|Discover it® Cash Back||First year rewards||93/100||5% back on up to $1,500 each quarter, in rotating categories, enrollment required; 1% on everything else|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and entertainment||97/100||4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Your first rewards credit card||92/100||1.5% cash back on all purchases|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Low APR||80/100||1.25x miles on every purchase, every day|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Points flexibility||95/100||2X points on travel and dining at restaurants; 1X points per dollar on other purchases|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||Flat-rate cash back||93/100||1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Overall rewards||97/100||3X points on eating out, travel, and gas stations|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||Cash back sign-up bonus and mobile wallet purchases||90/100||1.5% cash back on all purchases|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Gas and groceries||89/100||2% back at US gas stations and dept stores (Terms Apply)|
Using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card will allow you to earn miles without paying an annual fee. The Venture card earns 2 miles for every $1 spent. The Venture card is a great starter travel card for simple earning and predictable rewards.
The Discover it® Cash Back credit card is a rotating category cash back card that allows you to enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year, enrollment required. Additionally, Discover will match your first year cash back rewards at the end of the year. This means that if you earned $300 in cash back throughout the year, Discover will give you another $300 after your one year anniversary of card ownership.
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a foodie’s dream. This card offers an unlimited 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else. This makes for a pretty compelling card choice for people who dine out frequently. The card has an introductory offer of $500 cash back when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening the card, which is easily achievable for most cardholders and makes for a sizeable bonus rewards perk. Despite the $95 annual fee (waived for the first year), heavy spenders on dining and entertainment will most definitely feel the value of this card.
The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card comes with a sign-up bonus of 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. This is the equivalent of around $200 in travel. What’s best about the VentureOne card is the uncomplicated rewards structure and redemption, and all with no annual fee. You earn 1.25x miles on every purchase which can be redeemed for any airline or hotel at any time – which means no annoying blackout dates. If you’re regularly booking hotel rooms, this card is for you with 10x miles on thousands of hotels rooms when purchasing through hotels.com/venture.
Among the best starter cards for collecting points and miles, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has some great perks. You’ll earn 2X points on dining and travel and 1X points on all other purchases. This card really shines when it comes to redeeming points through Chase’s Web portal, where their value jumps 25%. This means 50,000 points are worth $500 if you use them as a statement credit, but $625 if you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
The Capital One Quicksilver card is great for uncomplicated flat-rate cash back for no annual fee. Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase with no limit and no expiry on your rewards. The introductory offer of $150 cash bonus is easily attainable, you just have to spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening the card. For average spenders, this will be an easy limit to hit.
Wells Fargo just relaunched their revamped version of the Propel rewards card. With 3X points earned on dining, travel, gas stations and popular streaming services, this card has a ton of reward-earning potential. What really sets this card apart, though, is that it has no annual fee. While you won’t find some of the luxury perks that cards with high annual fees typically offer, the Propel Card goes toe-to-toe (and in many cases wins) against other cards that carry $95 annual fees.
Much like the Blue Cash Preferred Card, the Blue Cash Everyday Card offers cash back rewards on purchases made at U.S supermarkets, U.S gas stations, and select U.S department stores. The Blue Cash Everyday Card has lower rewards rates but also comes without an annual fee. With a simple earning structure and better cashback rates than a lot of other rewards cards, it’s a great option for families and everyday spending, while avoiding annual fees.
Simply put, a rewards card is a credit card that gives you something in exchange for making a purchase. The amount you’ll be rewarded varies greatly from card to card but it’s nearly always based on a percentage of what you just spent. For example, if you charge $100 on a rewards card that has a flat 2% rewards rate, you’ll get 2 points, 2 miles or 2 units of whatever the reward is that’s offered by your card.
For the most part, rewards cards fall into two categories: flat-rate rewards and category bonus rewards. Flat-rate rewards cards have a set rate at which you will earn rewards points on all of your spending. Category bonus rewards cards offer higher rewards rates, but only on certain purchases. For example, many category bonus cards give between 2-3X points on categories like dining or travel. Additionally, there are some credit cards that give bonuses when you make purchases from particular brands. The most common example of these, outside of store credit cards, are airline credit cards that offer bonus miles on airline-specific spending.
Another feature commonly found on rewards credit cards is a sign-up bonus or welcome offer, which can net you rewards points that are worth up to thousands of dollars. Typically, you have to spend a set amount of money within the first few months of opening your account to earn the bonus. If there is a rewards card with a sign-up bonus that stands out to you, make sure to read the terms and be ready to hit a spend goal. We recommend that you don’t spend more than you have in order to hit a sign-up bonus, so make sure you save up if it is going to be a close call!
The biggest thing to be aware of when using a rewards credit card is that the interest rates on these cards are typically higher than average. Make sure that the attractive rewards points don’t lead you to spending more than you normally would. The cost of interest from carrying a balance will oftentimes negate the value of your rewards, so it is in your best interest to pay your balance in full each month.
If you have good credit and spend responsibly, a rewards credit card is an excellent choice. Rewards points are oftentimes extremely flexible, allowing you to redeem them for flights, hotels, gift cards, or statement credits. Different issuers have different rewards programs, so be sure to check on the specific redemption offers for the cards that you are considering before you apply. Using cash or a debit card means that you are missing out on rewards that you can earn on purchases that you already make.
Additionally, many rewards cards come with extras and perks, such as travel credits, cell phone protection, free checked bags, shopping discounts, and warranty extensions on items purchased with your credit card. The rewards that you will earn and the perks associated with card ownership make having a rewards credit card make sense.
Rewards cards come in many flavors. Here are some of the most common types:
A stash of rewards is only meaningful if you redeem them. Redemption options run the gamut from a simple statement credit, to using rewards to book travel, to transferring rewards from your card to an airline or hotel’s loyalty program often for an increased value. Consider all the ways rewards can be used, but keep in mind that your particular card may only allow you to redeem your rewards in one type of way. Some of the most common methods or redemption are:
If you are looking for your first rewards credit card, the best way to maximize the rewards that you earn is by selecting a rewards card that matches your spending. If you spend heavily in one category or another, make sure you choose a card that offers higher rewards rates on that spending. If you don’t spend heavily in any particular category, there are multiple flat-rate rewards credit card offers that will net you serious rewards points on the purchases that you are already making.
If you already have a rewards credit card, adding a second card to your wallet can help round out your bonus category profile and maximize how many rewards you earn each month. For example, if you have a card that gives bonus rewards for spending on dining and entertainment, looking for cards that offer bonus rates on gas and groceries would be a good next step.
No matter which phase of credit card ownership you are in, one of the most lucrative ways to maximize your rewards is to hit your sign-up bonus threshold. Make sure you are aware of how much you need to spend and how long you have to spend it, and analyze your budget to make sure that you don’t need to overspend in order to hit the minimum spend amount. If you are concerned that you will not be able to spend enough in purchases within the allotted time, don’t rush. Take the time to set aside some money so that you don’t start your credit card ownership journey out on the wrong foot.
“To maximize your rewards, it is important to calibrate your level of spending and the categories in which you spend with the rewards available. The baseline is 2% cash back on a no-annual fee card so at a minimum you should earn 2% on every purchase, but there are cards with higher payouts in other categories such as supermarkets, dining, or gas stations. Cardholders spending a lot in those categories may prefer to use a card with a higher reward payout in those categories.”
– Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst
Luxury cards with exclusive perks and bonuses may be restricted to consumers with excellent credit scores, but there are multiple credit cards on the market today that will reward you for spending on, and managing, your credit card responsibly regardless of your credit score. Our experts have identified our top and runner-up rewards cards for each credit band.
If you have excellent credit, you will likely get approved for the best credit cards on the market, including credit cards with massive sign-up bonuses, impressive rewards rates, and exclusive member bonuses. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is perfect for consumers with excellent credit who dine out regularly and travel frequently. This card is also known for its massive sign-up bonus – 50,000 points, worth $625 in travel rewards, if you spend $4,000 within the first three months of card ownership. There is a $95 annual fee for owning this card, but it is waived in the first year and can pay for itself as you collect and redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
American Express is known for its extravagant perks for premium cardholders. The Platinum Card from American Express is the standard in luxury rewards credit cards, especially in the travel category. One of the most enticing perks that this card offers is its access to premium airport lounges across the country. While the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a great choice for both restaurants and travel, consumers who spend lots of money and travel very frequently may want to give the Platinum Card a second look.
Consumers looking for a straightforward rewards card with a solid sign-up bonus and rewards rate should consider applying for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. While you will miss out on the premium perks that luxury and branded travel credit cards offer, you won’t have to worry about rotating categories, spending limits, or high annual fees.
Consumers with good credit that are looking for a cash back credit card that will reward them for basic everyday spending, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is hard to beat. You won’t earn bonus points for travel, but the impressive 6% cash back at U.S supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) and 3% back at U.S gas stations and select U.S department stores, makes this card the leader in cash back rewards. Spending $3,000 a year on groceries (about $250 a month) will net almost double the $95 annual fee in cash back. Add the 3% rewards rate at the pump and this card is well worth the cost of ownership.
The Capital One QuicksilverOne credit card offers consumers the opportunity to earn cash-back rewards while building credit. You won’t get the same enticing sign-up bonuses, rewards rates, and perks that reward cards for good and excellent credit offer, but you will earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase that you make. Responsible credit card use is one of the best ways to build or rebuild credit, and this card will give you the opportunity to be rewarded along the way.
Healthy credit-building behavior is a skill that you should start developing as early as possible. The Discover it® Student Cash Back card has no annual fee, offers up to 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. This card also offers bonus rewards for good grades, and matches all of the cash back that you have earned at the end of your first year. If you are a student in a position where you feel comfortable with your ability to spend responsibly and pay your bill off on time each month, you should consider this rewards credit card.
There are still a handful of options that, with good payment behavior, can help you repair your credit and earn rewards. Bankrate’s favorite rewards credit card for bad credit is the Discover it® Secured, which offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% back on all other purchases. If you have a credit score lower than 600, you will be hard-pressed to find another card that offers cash back rewards with no annual fee.
If your heart is set on a cash back credit card, and your credit score is too low to get approved for the Discover it Secured, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit is another option. With this card, you will earn 1% cash back on “eligible” gas and grocery purchases. However, this card comes with an annual fee anywhere between $0 and $99 depending on your credit score. In sum, the Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit is a rewards card for bad credit, but not one that we would strongly recommend.
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