Key takeaways

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

Each credit card rewards program has a different way of rewarding its members, along with different redemption options and program rules. With so many credit card loyalty programs available, along with so many program variations, it can be challenging to find the best credit card rewards program for your particular needs.

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 2023.

American Express Membership Rewards: Best for flexible redemption options

  • Why we picked it: The American Express Membership Rewards program has an impressive variety of redemption options. Some redemption options typically include booking travel through the Amex portal, statement credits, gift cards, select merchandise or transferring Amex points to hotel and airline partners.
  • Rewards program perks: Points are worth about 2.1 cents each when transferred to a high-value American Express travel partner.
  • How to earn and redeem: Earn Amex points by using an eligible American Express credit card for purchases. Look for an American Express card that offers more points per dollar for the categories you spend the most in.
  • Credit cards to consider: The American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express include impressive welcome offers. The Amex Gold offers 60,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership, while the Amex Platinum offers 80,000 points after spending $8,000 within the first six months of card membership.

Bank of America travel rewards: Best for simplicity

  • Why we picked it: The Bank of America travel rewards program offers a simplistic approach to credit card rewards. For instance, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card offers unlimited 1.5X points on all purchases and allows you to redeem points to cover eligible travel purchases.
  • Rewards program perks: With this program, you’ll get access to the Bank of America Travel Center. Some cards also feature Visa Signature benefits, which may include perks such as extended warranty protection, baggage delay reimbursement, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and concierge services, among others.
  • How to earn and redeem: You can 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.
  • Credit cards to consider: Both the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card (which comes with no annual fee) and the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card (which has a $95 annual fee) offer solid welcome bonuses and unlimited 1.5X points on all purchases. The former offers a welcome bonus of 25,000 points ($250 statement credit value toward travel purchases) if you spend $1,000 within 90 days of account opening, while the latter offers a bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 90 days of account opening.

The information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card and Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card was last updated on Aug. 31, 2023.

Capital One miles: Best for frequent travelers

  • Why we picked it: The Capital One miles program can offer serious earning potential for frequent travelers.
  • Rewards program perks: You can typically redeem miles for hotels, flights, car rentals, vacation packages and more through the Capital One travel portal. Depending on the card you have, you may also be able to transfer rewards to Capital One travel partners.
  • How to earn and redeem: You can earn miles for each dollar spent with eligible cards. Many cards feature boosted rewards rates for certain spending categories, such as travel and dining. Typically, you can redeem your miles for travel-related purchases, gift cards, eligible merchandise and cash back. Plus, as a new cardholder, you may also receive a generous sign-up bonus offer.
  • Credit cards to consider: The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card comes with no annual fee. Otherwise, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which has a $95 annual fee, includes an up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. It also has a substantial 75,000-mile sign-up bonus that you can earn if you spend $4,000 within the first three months, which is worth $750 in travel.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Best for multiple earning and redeeming options

  • Why we picked it: 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.
  • Rewards program perks: You can boost your earning potential early on (and throughout the year) by earning a welcome bonus and spending in high-value bonus categories.
  • How to earn and redeem: You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with eligible cards in this program. Some cards feature bonus categories with higher rewards rates on travel, dining or groceries. You can typically redeem rewards for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, gift cards, cash back or merchandise.
  • Credit cards to consider: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which comes with a $95 annual fee, includes a robust rewards structure great for both travel and everyday spending. However, if you’re interested in luxury travel perks, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® would be the better choice. In exchange for a $550 annual fee, you’ll get numerous travel credits and perks.

Citi ThankYou Rewards: Best for combining multiple rewards cards

  • Why we picked it: The Citi ThankYou Rewards program stands out because you can increase your earning potential substantially by using more than one Citi credit card and then pooling your Citi ThankYou points together.
  • Rewards program perks: You can increase the value of your Citi ThankYou points by choosing a Citi card that allows you to transfer points to Citi travel partners.
  • How to earn and redeem: You can earn points for every dollar spent with eligible Citi cards and by earning a welcome bonus. You can typically redeem Citi ThankYou points for cash back, travel through the Citi portal, gift cards, merchandise or charitable donations.
  • Credit cards to consider: If you’re looking for a Citi credit card that will allow you to transfer rewards to Citi travel partners, consider the Citi Premier® Card ($95 annual fee). If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee card for everyday spending, consider the Citi Rewards+® Card*, which offers 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, for a limited time, you can earn 5X points on rental car, hotel and attraction purchases booked through Citi Travel (through June 30, 2024).

Discover Miles: Best for Discover it® Miles cardholders

  • Why we picked it: The Discover Miles program is a user-friendly travel rewards program that is great for beginners.
  • Rewards program perks: You can book travel through a travel retailer of your choice — no need to go through a specific issuer portal — and then redeem miles to cover eligible travel purchases. Travel purchases include airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, travel agents, commuter transit, gas stations and more.
  • How to earn and redeem: You can only earn Discover Miles if you are a Discover it® Miles cardholder. With this card, you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases and Discover will match all the miles you earn at the end of your first 12 months of card membership. You can redeem miles in the form of statement credits to cover eligible travel purchases or else use miles for or PayPal purchases.
  • Credit cards to consider: The only eligible Discover card for this program is the Discover it® Miles, which comes with no annual fee.

Best credit card rewards programs: Honorable mentions

My GM Rewards: Best for GM vehicle owners

  • Why we picked it: The My GM Rewards program offers the chance to earn rewards on eligible GM products and services.
  • Rewards program perks: Rewards can be redeemed for credit toward GM purchases or select gift cards (terms and conditions apply).
  • How to earn and redeem: You can earn points on eligible purchases or through a welcome offer for new cardholders.
  • Credit cards to consider: The My GM Rewards® Mastercard® earns 7X points on eligible GM products and services (paid GM Certified Service, GM Genuine Parts, ACDelco Parts, eligible accessories and most OnStar and GM Connected Services plans), along with 4X points on all other purchases. Plus, there is no annual fee and you can earn a $100 statement credit each year you spend $1,500 on fuel at eligible gas stations (after activation; offer applies to Gold and Platinum cardmembers).

How to choose a credit card rewards program

With so many credit card rewards programs available, it may be overwhelming to choose the right one for your own financial needs. The first step to choosing the right rewards program is to understand how you spend your money each month. Then, see which rewards program best matches your spending habits so you’ll be 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 loyalty program that aligns with your spending habits, see if the program has the following:

  • 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 like access to dining rewards programs or exclusive experiences

How to maximize value through your credit card rewards program

There are a number of ways to maximize the value of your credit card rewards. Make sure to:

  • 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 are likely to make anyway. The key is to use a credit card responsibly, which includes only borrowing what you can 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.

*All information about the Citi Rewards+® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.