Key takeaways

  • Both flat-rate cash back cards and rotating bonus category cash back cards can make sense in different scenarios, depending on the type of spender you are.
  • Generally, you’ll earn more with the Discover it® Cash Back card’s boosted cash back categories — but only if you make sure your spending matches up with the rotating bonus categories.
  • And although the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a lower cash back rate, there are plenty of features that make the card worth having.

Choosing the best rewards card can sound like a difficult task, but knowing the type of spender you are can make it easier for you to choose between a flat-rate cash back card or bonus category cash back card.

Let’s look at the flat-rate Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card and rotating bonus Discover it® Cash Back to see how these different types of rewards cards stack up against each other.

Main details

Capital One Quicksilver Discover it Cash Back
Welcome bonus $200 one-time cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
Rewards rate
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly rotating categories (activation required; 1% back after meeting cap)
  • 1% back on all other purchases
Intro APR offer 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (19.99% to 29.99% variable APR after) 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months (17.24% to 28.24% variable APR after)
Annual fee $0 $0

Capital One Quicksilver vs. Discover it Cash Back highlights

Welcome bonus winner: Discover it Cash Back (with a caveat)

As a welcome bonus, the Discover it Cash Back card matches all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year through a program called Cashback Match™. So if you end up earning $150 in cash back rewards, for example, Discover automatically awards you an additional $150 in cash back, for a total of $300 in rewards at the end of your first year. Since there’s no cap on the amount of rewards you can earn and match, the Discover card is the clear winner.

However, if you want a straightforward, predictable welcome bonus — or if you don’t think you’ll earn at least $100 in cash back by the end of your first year — the Quicksilver is your card with its flat $200 welcome bonus after spending $500.

Rewards rate winner: Discover it Cash Back (also with a caveat)

Discover it Cash Back has rotating bonus categories that change each quarter, meaning you can get 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in rotating category purchases each quarter on activation, then 1 percent (as well 1 percent cash back) on all other purchases.

Bonus categories in the Discover cash back calendar tend to cover things like groceries, gas stations, restaurants and online stores like Amazon, Target and Walmart. The catch is that you have to spend in the right bonus categories at the right time to get the highest rate of cash back. If your normal spending habits mean you won’t spend $1,500 in a quarter in a given category, you won’t be able to take advantage of the full 5 percent cash back bonus. Further, you must remember to activate your bonus categories each quarter or you’ll miss out on the 5 percent earning.

Quicksilver is a better choice for no-fuss cash back. Although you earn only 1.5 percent back on your purchases (and 5 percent on hotels and rental cards through Capital One Travel), your earnings are unlimited with no categories to activate or keep track of. And if you can easily spend a good chunk of money on hotels and rental cars in the Capital One Travel portal, you might end up earning more with the Quicksilver.

Which card earns the most?

In terms of which cash back card earns the most, it comes down to whether you’re diligent about maximizing bonus category spending with the Discover it Cash Back. Here’s how your cash back comes out if you spend about $7,300 a year on each card and in one or more of the bonus categories.

Capital One Quicksilver vs. Discover it Cash Back spending example

Spending category Spending Capital One Quicksilver Discover it Cash Back
Groceries, fitness clubs and gym memberships* $1,500 $22.50 $75
Gas stations and Target* $1,500 $22.50 $75
Restaurants* $1,500 $22.50 $75
Amazon.com and digital wallets* $1,500 $22.50 $75
Miscellaneous $300 $4.50 $3
Hotels and rental cars (via Capital One Travel) $1,000 $50 $10
Total $7,300 $144.5 $313

*We assume these are the bonus categories each quarter for Discover it Cash Back

From this example, you can see that the Discover it Cash Back far surpasses the Quicksilver in terms of rewards earnings, thanks to its bonus category rate. If we consider this example to come from your first year as a cardholder, you’d also get an additional $313 from Discover’s welcome bonus program at the end of your first year, bringing your total cash back earnings to $626 for the first year.

If you meet the welcome bonus spending requirements for the Quicksilver, your total cash back for the first year would be just under $345.

Why should you get the Capital One Quicksilver?

Additional benefits

Although this card doesn’t offer as high of a cash back rate as the Discover card (other than its 5 percent rate on select travel through the Capital One portal), it’s still a respectable option for cardholders who don’t want to go through the trouble of activating categories and tracking spending.

With no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, plus a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (19.99 percent to 29.99 percent variable APR after), there are plenty of reasons to get the Quicksilver.

Finally, as a Mastercard, the Quicksilver card is more widely accepted than Discover it Cash Back, especially if you travel abroad. Discover is always expanding its network, but it’s still not as wide-ranging as that of Mastercard and Visa.

It means the Quicksilver could bring a lot of value to the right cardholder. Learn more about what this card offers in our Capital One Quicksilver Card benefits guide.

Redemption options

You can redeem your cash back rewards in several ways, including:

  • Check
  • Statement credit
  • Gift cards
  • Past credit card purchases
  • Online purchases at checkout on Amazon

You can also receive your cash back automatically at a set time each year or at a specific cash value.

Recommended credit score

You need good to excellent credit — or a score between 670 and 850 — to qualify for this card.

Why should you get the Discover it Cash Back?

Additional benefits

Like the Quicksilver card, Discover it Cash Back is light on fees. There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fees — but even better, there’s no penalty APR or late fee the first time you make a late payment (after which you’ll owe up to $41).

Of course, there’s a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (17.24 percent to 28.24 percent variable APR after). But you also get $0 fraud liability, access to the Identity Alerts program and more.

It also doesn’t hurt that Discover is known for its customer service, with high ratings in the renowned J.D. Power credit card satisfaction survey from year to year. Learn more about what this card offers in our Discover it Cash Back card benefits guide.

Redemption options

Redeem cash back earned with this Discover card as:

  • Cash (as a direct deposit into your account of choice)
  • Statement credit
  • Gift card
  • Amazon purchase
  • Charitable donation

Recommended credit score

Similar to the Quicksilver, you need good to excellent credit to qualify for this card.

The bottom line

Both of these cash back credit cards offer plenty of perks and benefits aside from their rewards. The best option for you depends on your spending habits, as well as how much effort you’re willing to put forth into optimizing your cash back.

For the set-it-and-forget crowd, the Capital One Quicksilver will yield a respectable amount of cash back with its flat-rate structure. Though, those who are dead set on tracking bonus categories stand to earn more rewards with the Discover it Cash Back, both in the first year of card ownership and after.