Key takeaways

  • Discover offers a variety of flat-rate and bonus category credit cards that can earn you cash back or miles on your purchases.
  • All Discover cards receive its first-year Cashback Match™ bonus, which essentially doubles all your earnings at the end of the first year.
  • The value of your rewards depends on how you redeem them, with options including cash back, gift cards, paying for purchases on Amazon.com or via PayPal and donating to charity.
  • Whether or not a Discover credit card is right for you comes down to your credit card goals. Are you looking to build credit, or do you want to maximize your rewards value toward travel?

Discover offers a broad range of rewards credit cards that let you rack up cash back or miles for everyday purchases. None of the issuer’s cards charge an annual fee, nor do they charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. The issuer also offers an easy-to-use rewards program, and that’s true regardless of which card option you choose.

Looking to earn cash back, gift cards, travel rewards or more? Keep reading to learn how the Discover rewards program works, which Discover credit cards fall under this program and how to use the rewards you earn.

How does the Discover rewards program work?

The Discover rewards program is extremely flexible, especially when you consider all the different ways you can redeem your rewards. For the most part, Discover cash back credit cards let you redeem rewards for statement credits, cash back, gift cards, merchandise and charitable donations.

You can also sign up for Discover cards that let you earn “miles,” although these miles work differently than airline miles. With Discover it® Miles, you can redeem your rewards for travel purchases made on your statement within the last 180 days. Simply cash in your miles to cover the purchase.

What is the value of Discover rewards?

Discover cash back rewards are worth the exact cash back dollar value. For example, if you earn 1 percent cash back on all of your regular purchases, you would earn $1 in cash back for every $100 you spend on your card.

Miles that you earn with the Discover it® Miles, a Discover travel credit card, are worth 1 cent each. This means if you rack up 10,000 in Discover miles, you can redeem them for $100 in travel purchases.

How does the Discover Cashback Match™ bonus work?

The Discover welcome offer, known as Cashback Match™, is a program that lets you earn a delayed welcome bonus. With the Cashback Match program, Discover will match all the rewards you earn at the end of your first year as a new cardholder. For example, if you earn $300 in cash back during your first year, Discover will add another $300 to your rewards balance at the end of your first year. If you earn 35,000 Discover miles, on the other hand, Discover will match that amount to 70,000 miles at the end of the first year.

Who gets the Cashback Match bonus?

Generally speaking, anyone can earn the Cashback Match bonus on a participating Discover credit card (Discover it® Miles participates in Discover Match®). Just keep in mind this bonus applies to new accounts, and rewards are only doubled or “matched” on rewards you’ve earned at the end of the first year. This means if you already have a Discover credit card that’s more than a year old, you won’t be eligible for Cashback Match.

Best Discover credit cards for 2023

There are quite a few Discover rewards credit cards, all of which are geared toward different types of consumers. The following are some Discover cards worth considering if you want to earn rewards without paying an annual fee.

Discover it® Cash Back: Best for cash back rewards

  • Rewards rate: Earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in activated rotating bonus categories each quarter (then 1 percent); 1 percent cash back on everything else
  • Eligible for Cashback Match: Yes
  • Cardholder perks: Intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers, access to a free credit monitoring service and alerts and free FICO credit score access
  • Annual fee: $0

The Discover it® Cash Back lets you earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in activated rotating bonus categories each quarter (then 1 percent) as well as 1 percent cash back on everything else. Discover will match all the rewards you earn at the end of your first year, plus there’s no annual fee and no late payment fee for your first late payment (After that, up to $41).

Discover it® Miles: Best for travel

  • Rewards rate: Earn an unlimited 1.5X miles for each dollar you spend
  • Eligible for Discover Match®: Yes
  • Cardholder perks: Intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers, access to a free credit monitoring service and alerts and free FICO credit score access
  • Annual fee: $0

For no annual fee, the Discover it® Miles card lets you earn 1.5X miles for each dollar you spend, and Discover will match all of the miles you earn at the end of your first year through its Discover Match® program. Your miles will not expire as long as your account is active and in good standing, and you can redeem them for a wide range of travel purchases, statement credits or cash back.

Discover it® Student Cash Back: Best for students

  • Rewards rate: Earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in activated rotating bonus categories each quarter (then 1 percent); 1 percent cash back on everything else
  • Eligible for Cashback Match: Yes
  • Cardholder perks: Intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers, access to a free credit monitoring service and alerts and free FICO credit score access
  • Annual fee: $0

Students who want to build credit should look into the Discover it® Student Cash Back, a no-annual-fee starter card that lets you earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in rotating bonus categories each quarter when activated (then 1 percent) as well as 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. All the rewards you earn at the end of your first year will be matched.

Discover it® Secured Credit Card: Best for building credit

  • Rewards rate: Earn 2 percent cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1 percent); 1 percent cash back on everything else
  • Eligible for Cashback Match: Yes
  • Cardholder perks: Intro APR offer on balance transfers, access to a free credit monitoring service and alerts and free FICO credit score access
  • Annual fee: $0

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is one of the top secured credit cards on the market today since it lets consumers build credit and earn rewards without paying an annual fee or hidden fees. For rewards, this card lets you rack up 2 percent cash back on up to $1,000 spent in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations each quarter (then 1 percent) as well as 1 percent cash back on everything else. Like other Discover cards, this card also qualifies for the Cashback Match program.

Remember, however, that secured cards require you to put down a deposit as collateral, which is typically equal to the line of credit you qualify for. For this card, the minimum deposit you can make is $200 and the maximum limit is $2,500. So if you put down a $200 security deposit, you’ll only start off with $200 in open credit you can use. Your security deposit is fully refundable if you close your account without a balance and in good standing. Also, remember Discover will automatically review your account starting at seven months to see if you’re eligible to upgrade to an unsecured credit line.

How to redeem Discover rewards

When it comes time to redeem your Discover card rewards, you’ll find a wide range of options available to you. This kind of flexibility is helpful if you want to earn rewards but aren’t sure how you’ll use them, or if you want to travel but don’t want to commit to a specific airline or hotel loyalty program.

When you’re ready to redeem Discover card rewards, here are the redemption options you can typically choose from (but check a card’s terms for details):

Cash back

You can get cash back in the form of a direct deposit to your bank account or as a statement credit on your account. This option lets you redeem your rewards however you want. You can use your rewards to cover regular spending, bills, travel or some type of splurge.

Gift cards

You can redeem your rewards for a number of gift card options, which range from $5 to $200 and come in increments of $5. Many Discover gift card options also let you get more than 1 cent in value. Cardmembers can redeem their Cashback Match bonus for a partner gift card with 5 percent to 20 percent added value (depending on the merchant). You can see which partner gift cards qualify for more rewards by logging in to your Discover account.

Pay with rewards

You can use your rewards to pay for purchases on Amazon.com or via PayPal. This opens the door to a broad range of possibilities, whether you prefer to use your rewards to cover household essentials, like toiletries or home grocery delivery, or if you want to save your rewards for a splurge.

Charity

Can’t decide how to use your rewards? Donate your rewards to a worthy cause or a charitable foundation that partners with Discover.

The Discover rewards program is a good option if you want to earn rewards without having to pay an annual fee for a credit card. In particular, Discover cash back cards tend to be popular among students and consumers who need to build credit.

However, there are other top rewards credit cards from different card issuers to consider. If you’re looking to squeeze even more value out of your rewards, you should consider credit card rewards programs that let you transfer points to airlines and hotels or book travel through an issuer portal. Or, for more rewards redemption options, check out other rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

Discover rewards program FAQs

  • Discover has a refer-a-friend program that rewards current cardholders for inviting friends to join. Discover cardholders get a statement credit for each friend that becomes a cardholder, and the friend also gets a statement credit when they make a purchase with their card within three months of account opening. However, keep in mind that terms apply. Certain cards are not eligible for this program, and the friend must apply for the specific offer sent via the link and be approved within a certain time frame.
  • Here’s a look at the Discover cash back bonus categories for 2023:

    • Q1, January through March 2023: Grocery stores, drug stores and select streaming services
    • Q2, April through June 2023: Restaurants and wholesale clubs
    • Q3, July through September 2023: Gas stations and digital wallets
    • Q4, October through December 2023: Amazon.com and Target
  • Since rewards earned with Discover credit cards are generally worth 1 cent each, there aren’t any truly “outsized” redemptions to go after. You may get slightly more than 1 cent for select gift card redemptions, but you should only pursue this option if you can use eligible gift cards to your advantage.

The bottom line

If you want a credit card that will reward you for every dollar you spend, and you don’t want to pay an annual fee or follow complicated loyalty program rules, Discover’s offerings are hard to beat.

Before you dive in, make sure to compare all of your Discover credit card options — and explore other top credit cards available today — to find the best option for your needs and spending habits.