Key takeaways

  • The best credit card rewards programs offer multiple ways to earn and redeem rewards, plus higher-value redemption options.
  • Many credit card rewards programs also feature exclusive perks like limited-time offers, dining programs or access to concerts, Broadway shows and other experiences.
  • Before applying for a rewards credit card, take a look at your spending habits so you can choose a card with a rewards program that matches the spending you already do.

Choosing the right credit card for your lifestyle and goals means considering the card’s full picture. What are its rates and fees? Does it offer additional perks you can use? Can I use it everyday? Can you qualify for it with the credit score you have? And, if you’re considering a rewards credit card, what does its rewards program offer and can it enhance your life?

Each credit card rewards program works differently beyond the basic “earn rewards, redeem rewards” steps. Differing redemption options and program rules will make one program a better fit for you while another program could work better for someone else.

To build our list of top credit card rewards programs, Bankrate considered the ease of earning and redeeming rewards and the potential value of those rewards, as well as how a program fits into a particular lifestyle.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the top rewards programs and some of the best cards to consider from each program in 2024.

Capital One miles: Best for beginners

Bankrate’s view

The Capital One miles program offers serious earning potential for frequent travelers, but it’s the straightforward redemption options that make this our top pick for those just starting to explore how travel rewards cards work.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: Earn Capital One miles with one of several credit cards, ranging from no-annual-fee options to a premium card with luxury perks for the frequent traveler. If you hold multiple Capital One miles–earning cards, you can pool rewards in a single bucket to stretch your rewards even further.
  • How to redeem miles: The simplest way to redeem your miles is for statement credit to cover travel purchases made on your card. Or transfer rewards to a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs or redeem them for cash back, merchandise, gift cards and more.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: The value you get from your miles depends on how you redeem them.
Redemption category Value
Statement credit for travel purchases 1 cent each
Purchase travel through the Capital One travel portal 1 cent each
Cash back 0.5 cents each
Gift cards 0.8 cents to 1 cent each
Capital One Entertainment Varies, but 0.8 cents each is common
Pay with points via Amazon or Paypal 0.8 cents each
Transfer to high-value travel partner 0.0 cents each, according to Bankrate’s latest valuation.

Credit cards to consider

  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card comes with no annual fee, and cardholders earn 1.25 miles on everyday purchases and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars purchased through the Capital One travel portal.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card comes with a $95 annual fee and includes up to $100 statement credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on everyday purchases and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars purchased through the Capital One travel portal.
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card charges a $395 annual fee, but offers up to $300 in annual travel portal credit and a 10,000-mile bonus each year after your account anniversary. It also features the Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit and comes with a Priority Pass Select membership for access to airport lounges worldwide. Earn 2 miles per dollar on everyday purchases, 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars purchased through the Capital One travel portal and 5 miles per dollar on flights purchased through the portal.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Best for combining multiple rewards cards

Bankrate’s view

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program offers a long list of ways to earn and redeem rewards, and some redemption options even come with a higher value base rate.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: Chase Ultimate Rewards are easy to earn through regular spending on a number of different credit cards, including several options with no annual fee. Combine your rewards across multiple cards and with up to one person sharing your household to see your rewards bank grow more quickly.
  • How to redeem points: Redeem Chase points through the Chase Travel℠ portal for travel, gift cards, merchandise, cash back and more. If you hold a premium card, you can also transfer rewards to travel loyalty partners.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: The value of your points depends on how you redeem them.
Redemption category Value
Travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • 1 cent each base rate
  • 1.25 cents each with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred® Card
  • 1.5 cents each with Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Cash back 1 cent each
Gift cards Usually 1 cent each, but promotions can up the value
Pay with points via Amazon.com or Paypal 0.8 cents each
Pay with points a the Apple Store Varies
Chase Pay Yourself Back Varies, but 1 cent each to 1.25 cents each is common
Transfer to high-value travel partner 0.0 cents each, according to Bankrate’s valuation. Note that you need a Sapphire card or the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card to transfer points to partners.

Credit cards to consider

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which comes with a $95 annual fee, includes a robust rewards structure great for both travel and everyday spending. Take advantage of an annual $50 hotel credit for hotels booked through the Chase portal.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges a $550 annual fee, but you can earn up to $300 in credit annually for travel purchases as well as credits for your Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee. Cardholders also enjoy airport lounge access.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a no-annual-fee card that’s marketed as a cash back card but earns Ultimate Rewards points. Combine your points with those earned with a Sapphire card to make your points worth more. With this card, you earn at least 1.5 points on every purchase, with substantially more earning potential in specific spending categories.
  • Chase Freedom FlexSM is another “cash back” card that earns Ultimate Rewards points. Cardholders earn 5 percent back (that’s 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on up to $1,500 spent in categories that rotate quarterly, with activation required. That high earning rate makes it an excellent addition to an Ultimate Rewards–earning strategy.

American Express Membership Rewards: Best for a wide variety of redemption options

Bankrate’s view

The American Express Membership Rewards program has an impressive variety of redemption options. Options include booking travel through the Amex portal, statement credits, gift cards, select merchandise or transferring Amex points to hotel and airline partners.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: American Express features a number of high-value transfer partner options that make Membership Rewards points popular with travel rewards credit card aficionados. American Express is also transparent around the value of points for various redemption options, which simplifies how you spend your points.
  • How to redeem points: Membership Rewards points open the door to a wide range of redemption options, including travel, transfers to partners, gift cards, paying with points and more.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: Your points value depends on how you redeem your points, but travel redemptions and transfers to travel partners generally net the most value.
Redemption category Value
Travel through the Membership Rewards travel portal
  • Flights: 1 cent each
  • Other travel: Usually 0.7 cents each
Statement credit 0.5 to 0.6 cents each depending on the card
Gift cards Varies, but up to 1 cent each
Pay with points via Amazon.com, Paypal and several other merchants 0.7 cents each
Pay for a New York City taxi 1 cent each
Shop with American Express partner merchants 0.5 cents each
Transfer to high-value travel partner 0.0 cents each, according to Bankrate’s valuation.

Credit cards to consider

  • American Express® Gold Card is a top credit card for groceries thanks to its 4X points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 spent annually, then 1X point). It also features impressive earning potential at restaurants and on flights. All those rewards make it possible to offset the $250 annual fee.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express includes an impressive welcome offer of 80,000 points after spending $8,000 within the first six months of card membership. Beyond that, this luxury card offers airport lounge access and a slew of potential credits that can help offset its high $695 annual fee.
  • Amex EveryDay® Credit Card* is a no-annual-fee option for earning Membership Rewards points. The rewards potential isn’t spectacular, but this is a nice card to keep around to house your Membership Rewards points without paying an annual fee.

Citi ThankYou Rewards: Best for base rate earning

Bankrate’s view

The Citi ThankYou Rewards program is a standout because you can increase your earning potential substantially by using more than one Citi credit card and then pooling your Citi ThankYou points together. Several of the cards offer stellar intro 0 percent APR options as well as top base-rate earnings.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: Citi ThankYou points can accumulate quickly thanks to high earnings on everyday purchases across several card options. With a premium Citi card, you can transfer points to travel partners for top value.
  • How to redeem: You can typically redeem Citi ThankYou points for cash back, travel through the Citi portal, gift cards, merchandise or charitable donations.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: Once again, the value of your rewards depends on how you redeem them as well as which Citi cards you have.
Redemption category Value
Travel through the Citi ThankYou portal 1 cent each
Cash back 1 cent each
Gift cards Usually 1 cent each, but promotions can up the value
Shop with points at various online and in-store merchants 0.8 cents each
Pay with points to cover recent purchases in qualifying categories 0.8 cents each
Transfer to high-value travel partner 0.0 cents each, according to Bankrate’s valuation. Note that you need a Citi Premier® Card (No longer available) or Citi Prestige® Card*(no longer available for new applicants) to transfer points to partners.

Credit cards to consider

  • Citi Premier® Card (No longer available) opens the door to transferring points to Citi travel loyalty partners for a $95 annual fee. The card also offers excellent earning in everyday categories: 3 points per dollar at gas stations, hotels, supermarkets and restaurants as well as on air travel, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Citi Rewards+® Card is a no-annual-fee card for everyday spending that earns you 2X points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1X points) and 1X points on all other purchases. Plus, this card rounds your earning up to the nearest 10 points for every purchase. That means your $4.15 cup of coffee will earn you 10 points instead of four.
  • Citi Double Cash® Card is another no-annual-fee card that earns cash back to the tune of 2 percent back on every purchase — 1 percent when you buy, and another 1 percent when you pay for your purchases. As long as you also carry a Citi premium card, you can convert your rewards earned into full-fledged ThankYou points, rather than the “basic” points you earn with this card on its own.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for loyalty bonus

Bankrate’s view

The Bank of America travel rewards program offers a simplistic approach to credit card rewards. But for people with an established Bank of America relationship and balances that qualify for the Preferred Rewards program, earnings can be impressive.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: The program offers access to the Bank of America Travel Center. Some cards also feature Visa Signature benefits, which may include such perks as extended warranty protection, baggage delay reimbursement, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and concierge services, among others.
  • How to redeem: Earn rewards points for every dollar spent with eligible cards in this program. Many cards in this program offer a higher, flat rewards rate on all purchases, but some also offer higher rewards rates on dining and travel-related purchases. Plus, if you’re a member of the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, you can earn 25 percent to 75 percent more rewards in each spending category, depending on your membership tier.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: Your points value depends on how you redeem your points, but travel redemptions and transfers to travel partners generally net the most value.
Redemption category Value
Statement credit to cover eligible travel or dining purchases 1 cent each
Deposit into eligible BofA or Merrill Lynch account 0.6 cents each
Check 0.6 cents each
Gift cards Varies, but less than 1 cent each

Credit cards to consider

  • Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card — which comes with no annual fee — awards cardholders 1.5X points per dollar spent on all purchases. It’s a simple, inexpensive card to carry.
  • Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card charges a $95 annual fee and offers 2X points on travel and dining purchases and 1X points on other purchases. It also offers a $100 incidental airline credit and up to $100 in credits toward your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee, making the annual fee easy to offset.

Information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card and Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card was last updated on Feb. 7, 2024.

Amazon Rewards points: Best for frequent Amazon shoppers

Bankrate’s view

If you’re on a first-name basis with your Amazon delivery driver, the rewards program available through Amazon’s credit cards is hard to beat. There are no caps on what you can earn, and redemption options extend beyond Amazon credit.

Rewards program details

  • Rewards program basics: Earn top rewards on your Amazon purchases and on purchases with Amazon partners. Those rewards maintain their value whether you redeem directly for purchases with Amazon or for cash back.
  • How to redeem: Redeem points for cash back, travel or to pay for qualifying purchases on Amazon.
  • Redemption options and value of rewards: Your points value is a consistent 1 cent, making this a simple program to understand.
Redemption category Value
Cash back 1 cent each
Pay with points for qualifying Amazon purchases 1 cent each
Chase.com for travel, gift cards and more 1 cent each

Credit cards to consider

  • Prime Visa offers a no-annual-fee way to earn 5 percent back on Amazon, Whole Foods and Chase Travel purchases as well as 2 percent back at gas stations and restaurants and on local transit. You must have an Amazon Prime membership to maximize this card’s value.

How to choose a credit card rewards program

With so many credit card rewards programs available, choosing the right one for your own financial needs may feel overwhelming. The first step to choosing the right rewards program is to understand how you spend your money each month. Then, narrow down the rewards programs that best match your spending habits so you’re rewarded for the type of spending you’re already planning, and find a rewards credit card that matches those needs.

Once you find a credit card rewards program that aligns with your spending habits, confirm the program offers:

  • The type of rewards you’re interested in earning
  • Program partners you’re interested in, such as airline and hotel partners
  • High-value redemption options or flexible redemption options
  • Additional perks that fit your lifestyle, like access to dining rewards programs or exclusive experiences

How to maximize value through your credit card rewards program

To maximize the value of your credit card rewards, start with our four tips:

  • Get a credit card that rewards your existing spending habits. If you spend a lot on gas, groceries or business expenses, get a card that rewards you for these types of purchases.
  • Activate program offers and rotating categories (if applicable). Some offers or categories need to be activated before you can earn rewards. This typically applies to cash back cards that offer rotating categories that change each quarter.
  • Take advantage of any welcome offers. You can earn additional rewards as a new cardholder by earning a welcome bonus, which usually involves meeting a specific spending threshold within a specific time period — typically three to six months.
  • Redeem rewards with transfer partners, when possible. You’ll often get the most value for your points or miles when you transfer them to eligible airline partners.

The bottom line

Credit cards can be a fantastic tool for earning rewards on purchases you’re likely to make anyway. The key is to use a credit card responsibly, which includes only borrowing what you can comfortably afford to pay back and paying the balance in full each month to avoid interest charges. With responsible behavior and a great credit card rewards program, you can get a lot of value from your credit card.

*Issuer-required disclosure statement
Information about the Chase Freedom FlexSM, Citi Prestige® Card and Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.