Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • Welcome Offer: One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more. 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations 1% Cash Back on other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
  • Regular APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Welcome Offer: Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Regular APR: 11.99% - 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase. Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Regular APR: 14.99 - 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment Earn 2% at grocery stores Earn 1% on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases). Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases). Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Regular APR: 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Up to 6% cash back by referring friends! Limited time only: Start with 1%, get to 3% cash back by successfully referring just two friends! Promotional cash back rate lasts for a full year.
  • Welcome Offer: $100 signup bonus! Apply by May 31, 2021 using promo code RVPROMO to receive a $100 statement credit upon first eligible purchase, if approved. Terms apply.
  • Regular APR: 15.49% - 24.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: No Credit History 
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Regular APR: 15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, plus, earn 4X points for Uber Eats purchases too. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Regular APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about the American Express Cash Magnet® Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card  credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


How to choose and use a rewards credit card

With a rewards credit card you can earn cash back, points or airline miles on the purchases you already make, usually at a set percentage of your spending. You can redeem your rewards for statement credits, cash back, airline tickets, hotel nights, gift cards and more.

When choosing the best rewards credit card for you, it pays to do some research and reflection. In general, you should ask yourself:

  • What types of purchases you spend the most on – grocery stores, travel, dining out, etc.
  • What kind of rewards you’re interested in – travel, cash back, etc.
  • How much effort you’re willing to put into maximizing your earnings.

Check out our guide to choosing and using the best rewards credit card for you, along with in-depth profiles of the top rewards cards available from our partners.

Bankrate’s picks for 2021’s best rewards credit cards

Card Name Rewards Highlights Bankrate Review Score
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back 4.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
3% cash back on transit.
3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Cash Back 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1%. Activation required) 4.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Unlimited® 5% on travel (purchased through Chase)
3% on dining and drugstores
1.5% on all other purchases.
4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment.
Unlimited 2% cash back at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target)
4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.25X miles per dollar 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card 3% cash back in one category of cardholder’s choice (travel, gas, online shopping, dining, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings) 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then 1% 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Jasper Cash Back Mastercard® Minimum 1% cash back
+1% per successful referral for 1 year (up to 3% during the promotional period)
4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Premier® Card 3X points per $1 on restaurant, supermarket, gas station, hotel, and air travel purchases
1X points per $1 on all other purchases
3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
American Express® Gold Card 4X Membership Rewards® points per dollar at restaurants worldwide (Annual Fee: $250) 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi® Double Cash Card Unlimited 2% cash back (1% as you purchase, 1% as you pay) 4.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Flex℠ 3% cash back at restaurants
3% cash back on drugstore purchases
4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores
4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Rewards+® Card 2x ThankYou Points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 in combined purchases per year) 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 2X points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Reserve® 3X points per dollar on dining and travel worldwide (after earning your $300 travel credit)
1X point per dollar on everything else
5.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
The Platinum Card® from American Express 5X Membership Rewards® points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (Annual Fee: $550) 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our top-rated rewards credit cards

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why we rate it best for flat-rate cash back rewards

Unlike some other flat-rate rewards cards, the Capital One Quicksilver doesn’t have an annual fee, a foreign transaction fee or complicated mechanisms that control how you earn your rewards. Since this is a flat-rate card with no limits or categories, there’s no real strategy involved. Just spend responsibly and continue earning 1.5 percent cash back.

Read the full Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Why we rate it best for rewards on everyday purchases

The Blue Cash Preferred Card offers exceptional cash back rewards for keeping your family fed and your vehicles fueled. With an annual fee of $95 ($0 introductory annual fee for one year), It’s one of the best options on the market for on-the-go families. The rewards rates in the U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations categories are particularly well-suited for busy families. The 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming services can also benefit households that have cut the cable cord. Don’t overlook the 3 percent earnings on transit, including rideshares, tolls and parking.

Read the full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.

Discover it® Cash Back

Why we rate it best for rotating category rewards

If you enroll in the rotating bonus categories every quarter and target your spending on those qualifying purchases, your cash back rewards can add up quickly. Discover’s cash back calendar typically includes categories such as restaurants, gas stations and popular retailers. You’ll need to activate the bonus categories every quarter and adjust your spending patterns to take full advantage, but if you do, you can really cash in.

Read the full Discover it® Cash Back card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Why we rate it best as a first rewards credit card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great option for your first rewards card because it requires very little effort on your part to earn cash back and redemptions are easy. Overall, this card is a great no-hassle option with a lot of flexibility, all for no annual fee. You can just sit back and earn at least 1.5% cash back with every eligible purchase — no rotating categories or minimum requirement for redeeming cash back. You can also maximize this card’s rewards by pairing it with one or more tiered rewards cards that don’t have annual fees, or using Chase Freedom as your primary method of payment.

Read the full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why we rate it best for dining and entertainment with no annual fee

For those who frequent places like movie theaters, tourist attractions and restaurants, this card is a solid option. The SavorOne offers 3 percent cash back on dining and entertainment, 2 percent at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and 1 percent on everything else. Its sister card, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, earns a higher rewards rate on dining and entertainment (4 percent), but the SavorOne still offers ample opportunities to rack up cash back minus the Savor’s $95 annual fee.

Read the full Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card review.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Why we rate it best for travel rewards with no annual fee

An annual fee is sometimes the price you have to pay for generous travel rewards and benefits, but not in the case of the Capital One VentureOne. The rewards rate of 1.25x miles per dollar on every purchase might not be that exciting but the broad travel category definition and flexible redemption options sweeten the deal. Perks including Travel & Emergency Assistance give the card’s value a nice boost (Benefits only available to accounts approved for the Visa Signature card. Terms apply).

Read the full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

Why we rate it best for choice of rewards categories

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card lets you select a choice category from one of six options, including dining, travel, gas and online shopping, that earns 3 percent cash back. You also earn 2 percent cash back at wholesale clubs and grocery stores (on up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases per quarter). With the ability to change the choice category every calendar month, you can use the calendar to your advantage and earn generous cash back returns on purchases that match your interests and lifestyle.

Read the full Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card review.

Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®

Why we rate it best for cash back referral bonus

Your minimum cash back rate is 1 percent with the Jasper Cash Back Mastercard, but for a limited time successfully referring two friends can increase the rate to 3 percent for a full year. Each of the first two referrals is worth an additional 1 percent. (Promotional cash back rate lasts for a full year and cash back maximum will vary based on your credit limit). After making three on-time payments, you’ll receive cash back automatically as a statement credit every month. You don’t need a credit history to apply, making the Jasper card a rarity among rewards credit cards.

Read the full Jasper Cash Back Mastercard® review.

Citi Premier® Card

Why we rate it best for travel rewards on everyday purchases

You might not travel every day, but the Citi Premier Card can help you earn travel rewards on everyday purchases. Air travel and hotel purchases earn 3X ThankYou Points per dollar, but so do purchases at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations. Spend $4,000 in your first three months as a cardholder to qualify for the sign-up bonus of 60,000 ThankYou Points. You can also look forward to an annual $100 hotel savings credit on a single hotel stay of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, when booked through thankyou.com

Read the full Citi Premier® Card review.

American Express® Gold Card

Why we rate it best for travel rewards on dining purchases

Foodies who want to stockpile travel rewards can’t go wrong with the Amex Gold: For an annual fee of $250, you’ll earn 4X points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1X). Even if you don’t spend much on travel, you can quickly rack up Membership Rewards points on everyday purchases and transfer them to one of Amex’s airline partners to potentially boost their value.

Read the full American Express® Gold Card review.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Why we rate it best for family rewards with no annual fee

You won’t find many cards that can earn this much cash back in family-friendly spending categories year-round, especially with no annual fee. Budget-conscious families, take note: It’s easy — make sure you’re always charging your U.S. supermarket and U.S. gas station purchases to your Blue Cash Everyday. That way, you can take full advantage of the 3 percent cash back (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).

Read the full Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express review.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why we rate is best for cash rewards

The Citi Double Cash offers one of the richest card rewards offers out there: Earn 2 percent cash back (1 percent back when you make a purchase, then another 1 percent back when you paid for that purchase). In addition to a superior cash rewards offer, this card also offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (it’s 13.99%-23.99% variable after that). Also, this card offers no annual fee.

Read the full Citi® Double Cash Card review.

Chase Freedom Flex® by Mastercard

Why we rate it best for cash back in multiple categories

The potential cash back earnings with this card are huge. The cash back categories include travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (5 percent), restaurants (3 percent) and drugstore purchases (3 percent), as well as 5 percent cash back in Chase’s rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter you activate).

Read the full Chase Freedom Flex® by Mastercard card review.

Citi Rewards+® Card

Why we rate it best for rewards on small purchases

This card has something that competitors currently don’t offer: the Round Up feature, which automatically rounds up rewards to the nearest 10 points on every purchase. A short trip to the supermarket, for example, is likely to result in more ThankYou Points than you’d expect. The 2X ThankYou Points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 in combined purchases per year, then 1X) will serve the practical consumer well.

Read the full Citi Rewards+® Card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why we rate it best for flexible rewards points

Unlike some travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred does not require massive spending to be rewarding. With this card you’ll enjoy 1-1 point transfer with travel partners (nine airlines and four hotel brands). Some rewards portals make it difficult to get your money’s worth, but Chase Ultimate Rewards offers a refreshing contrast. The rewards portal is what really makes this card special — the points you earn with your Chase Sapphire Preferred receive a 25-percent bump in value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Read the full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why we rate it best for pairing with another rewards card

Pairing the Chase Sapphire Reserve with another card that earns Ultimate Rewards points will allow you to maximize your rewards on everything you buy, not just travel and dining. Plus, if you have another card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards, moving points to the Chase Sapphire Reserve can boost their value by as much as 50 percent when redeemed for travel through the Chase portal.

Read the full Chase Sapphire Reserve® card review.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why we rate it best for luxury rewards

Few cards can compete with the Amex Platinum when it comes to luxury perks and travel benefits. With an annual fee of $550, the card gets you hundreds of dollars worth of credits for airline fees, expedited security screening, rideshares, high-end shopping and more. It’s also your ticket to all Priority Pass, Delta Sky Club and Airspace airport lounges, as well as Amex’s ultra-posh Centurion Lounges.

Read the full The Platinum Card® from American Express review.

What is a rewards credit card?

A rewards card can earn you points, miles or cash back for purchases made with the card. The card can be flat-rate — meaning it offers the same percentage back for every purchase — or offer rotating bonus categories — meaning you’ll earn different percentages depending on the category in which your purchase falls.

Depending on the issuer, rewards cards offer distinct rewards programs and have specific rules concerning how you can redeem your rewards. Some issuers require you to redeem your rewards through their portal. There can also be restrictions on what you can redeem your rewards for, such as cash back, statement credit, gift cards, shopping, travel and more.

In some cases, redeeming through the portal adds value to your rewards. A prime example is using the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. When you use the portal to redeem points earned with this card for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises, the value increases 25%.

If you redeem 80,000 points (earned when you spend 4,000 in the first 3 months) for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, those points will be worth $1,000 instead of $800. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases (one-time statement credit: available for 12 months from account opening).

Want to know more? Read our full guide to credit card rewards.

Types of rewards credit cards

Navigating all the rewards card options available to you can be difficult. That’s why we broke out some of the most common types of rewards credit cards, along with more detailed recommendations from our team on the best cards in each category.

Cash back cards

With a cash back card, you’ll be rewarded with a percentage of your purchases paid back to you. Your cash back will typically be applied as a statement credit toward your account, but some cards can directly deposit the cash back into your checking or savings account. Here are the three main types of cash back.

  • Flat-rate cash back cards offer a fixed percent back — usually between 1 and 3 percent — on all purchases. For those who prefer to set and forget, a flat-rate credit card is an excellent, no-fuss option. The American Express Cash Magnet® Card, for example, earns 1.5 percent cash back on all eligible purchases.
  • Tiered cash back cards reward specific types of purchases at a higher rate. For instance, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and 1 percent on all other purchases. If you’re willing to spend strategically, you’ll likely find the most value in a tiered cash back card. Families, for example, may use the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express to earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1 percent, while using a different card for dining out.
  • Rotating category cash back cards like the Discover it® Cash Back are similar to tiered cash back cards in that they reward certain purchases at a higher rate. The difference is that the spending categories change, usually each quarter. The categories will often align with seasonal trends. For example, you might earn 5 percent cash back on gas station purchases after activation (up to the quarterly spending limit of $1,500 and 1 percent after) in the summer months when people often take road trips.

Read our full guide to cash back for a comprehensive look at how cash back works.

Travel rewards cards

With a travel rewards card, you can expect perks like discounted trips, seat upgrades, travel insurance benefits, statement credits and more. There are two main types of travel rewards credit cards: co-branded and general-purpose. The way you earn and redeem rewards depends on which type you have:

  • A co-branded travel card will offer boosted rewards on purchases with a particular airline or hotel. Airline cards will offer airline miles as rewards, while hotel credit cards usually offer reward points that can be redeemed for free nights and other perks. Co-branded credit cards are less flexible than general-purpose travel cards because you can only redeem your rewards through the specific airline or hotel associated with your card.
  • General-purpose travel cards will only be tied to a card issuer, like Chase, rather than a single airline or hotel brand. You’ll earn points on every purchase, which can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays and more through a variety of brands. When redeeming reward points for travel, you can use the card issuer’s travel portal. Some cards offer the flexibility of transferring your points to a favorite airline or hotel loyalty program. If you’re a brand loyalist, this can often yield the highest point value.

Want to know more? Read our full guide to credit card travel rewards.

Business rewards cards

Most small-business credit cards are also rewards cards, falling under the umbrella of cash back or travel rewards. But unlike rewards cards meant for consumers, you’ll need to show proof that you operate a business in order to be approved. Also, the card should only be used for business expenses.

With a business rewards card, you can earn rewards for your most common business expenses — from copier ink to advertising services to flights. The Capital One Spark Cash for Business, for example, will earn you an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase.

These cards may offer perks like free employee cards, travel and car rental insurance, travel statement credits and more. If you’re interested in applying for a business credit card, read our tips on how to choose the right business credit card.

Pros and cons of rewards credit cards

A rewards card can be a great way to earn lucrative points, miles or cash back for the purchases you’re already making. However, there are some downsides to be aware of before applying.

If you’re wondering whether rewards credit cards are worth it, here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind when shopping for your next rewards card:

Pros

  • Little to no annual fee: Many rewards cards don’t require an annual fee.
  • Sign-on bonuses: Rewards cards can come with generous sign-on bonuses, especially when compared to other types of credit cards.
  • Additional benefits: Depending on the card and issuer, you could gain access to additional bonuses and benefits, like airport lounge access and generous sign-up bonuses.

Cons

  • Rewards caps: Some travel cards carry earning caps, which can reduce the value of the card, especially if the APR is on the higher side or there’s a large annual fee.
  • Higher annual fees: The more generous the rewards system, the higher the annual fee. Unless you maximize your rewards earnings, it can be hard to outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
  • Good credit scores often required: The cards that offer the best rewards programs typically require good to excellent credit scores.

How to choose a rewards credit card

When it comes to choosing a rewards card, there are a few factors to consider. Here’s what you need to know before you choose a rewards credit card:

  • Credit score: In order to qualify for most rewards credit cards, issuers will typically require an established credit history coupled with a score within the good to excellent range.
  • Spending habits: Think about the types of rewards that best align with your spending. The differences between cash back, points, and miles could leave you scratching your head, so it’s important to do your research to understand each rewards system and which one is best for you.
  • Comparison shopping: Once you’ve decided on the best option for you and your lifestyle, shop around and compare issuers. No two rewards cards are the same, and some offer higher sign-up bonuses, lower annual fees and higher rewards structures than others.

Survey: 31% of rewards cardholders didn’t redeem them

According to a new Bankrate survey, nearly 1 in 3 rewards credit cardholders didn’t redeem any rewards last year. While 69 percent of cardholders did redeem cash back, points or miles last year, 55 percent of those did so for less than $300 in value.

Findings from the survey also suggest that rewards cardholders aren’t using credit cards to pay for smaller, everyday purchases as often as they could but are more likely to use credit for travel-related purchases.

Among rewards cardholders who typically pay their balances in full each month:

  • 51% who buy groceries prefer to pay with credit
  • 56% who spend money at restaurants typically use credit
  • 59% who buy gas usually pay with credit
  • 83% who buy plane tickets pay with credit
  • 79% who stay at hotels put the charges on a credit card

Using rewards cards, while keeping your monthly payments up to date to avoid interest, offers an opportunity to earn rewards on large and small purchases, said Bankrate.com credit card analyst Ted Rossman. “Many credit card issuers leaned hard into groceries, food delivery, streaming services and other everyday categories in 2020, so it is easier than ever to earn and burn routine rewards for routine expenses.”

Get the full story with Bankrate: Read more on the credit card rewards survey.

How to maximize your rewards in 2021

Developing a thorough credit card strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Here are a few ways you can maximize your rewards at every stage of your ownership.

Determine what your goals are

Before you apply for a card, decide what your goals are for using it. Would you like to do more traveling? Are you interested in saving money on everyday expenses like groceries and gas? Do you want to upgrade your airline or hotel status?

When you establish your long-term goals for your card use, you can then go on to develop a well-coordinated credit card strategy.

Take a look at your spending habits

The rewards card you choose should have a rewards structure centered around what you spend the most on. For example, if you manage a busy family of five, a rewards card that offers a high percentage of cash back on gas and groceries may be a good fit.

Should you already have one or more rewards cards, look for another that accomplishes a new goal or covers a segment of your budget not already accounted for.

Target your spending categories

If your card has special categories that earn higher rewards rates, try to concentrate your spending in those areas. For example, if you owned the Discover it® Cash Back and spent $1,500 every quarter on the 5 percent cash back rotating category, you’d have successfully maximized the category at the 5 percent rewards rate (1 percent thereafter, activation required).

If you pursue this strategy, do it responsibly. Overspending with a credit card to chase rewards is a losing game.

Double up on cards to earn more

To earn even more rewards, you can pair rewards cards that earn rewards for different types of spending.

Our most important piece of advice when it comes to pairing cards is to start slowly. Applying for multiple cards at once will only hurt your credit score — instead, start with the one that has the widest rewards net and slowly move onto others with more limited rewards categories.

If you’re interested in learning more about pairing cards, read our guide to the best credit card combinations.

Things to look for in the fine print

If you’re new to rewards cards, it’s easy to assume that accumulating points is always as simple as just using your card.

However, racking up enough rewards for free travel or substantial cash back can be more complicated than it might seem. Checking out the fine print can help you avoid disappointing detours on your way to earning substantial rewards.

Bonus spending categories

The advantage of a rewards card’s rotating category bonuses is that they are usually the highest bonuses you can get, but there may be limits and loopholes. Here are a few to consider:

  • Spending definitions — Let’s say you have a rewards card that offers a bonus rate on grocery purchases. Some cards don’t include merchants such as Walmart or Target in their definition of grocery stores. Another example is gasoline purchases. If you buy gas at Costco, for example, remember that some bonus categories specify purchases at gas stations, not wholesale clubs.
  • Earning caps — Many cards put a limit on how much you can earn in a specific period of time. With the Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back, for instance, bonus earnings apply to just the first $1,500 spent each quarter.
  • Alternate payment methods — Third-party food apps, online gift cards and mobile wallet payment methods such as Apple Pay or Google Pay might not always count toward bonus spending.

Non-automatic perks

Some card benefits are automatically available when you sign up and use the card, such as earning cash back or getting consumer purchase protections, such as extended warranties. In other cases, you must be proactive. You’ll need to sign up or enroll.

Whether it’s elite status with a hotel or rental car chain, baggage fee credits for when you fly or concierge services, read your card’s fine print carefully to find out what you need to do to enroll. Usually it’s as easy as a one-time or yearly online registration.

Special redemption options

Once you’re comfortable with your credit card’s rewards program, you may be able to find some advanced strategies. One way to do that is to analyze your redemption options.

For example, points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for statement credits. But Chase offers cardholders 25 percent more value when they redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, boosting the point value to 1.25 cents.

Also, consider how your brand loyalty and affiliations could ramp up your points. Some banks reward card users for also having a checking account or retirement account with them.

Changes to rewards programs

Terms are subject to change at virtually any time. Make it a habit to skim your entire credit card statement (either online in PDF form, or the physical copy that arrives via mail) and any communication directly from the issuer to spot any upcoming program changes. You might come to realize that you’re not getting as much value from a card as you once did if it decides to drop or reduce a certain offer, for example.

How we chose the list of best rewards credit cards

Bankrate uses a 5-star system to assign scores to credit cards available from our partners. With rewards credit cards, we focus on factors including:

Rewards value

The cards on our list feature some of the industry’s finest rewards programs, with generous earning rates and consistently high value of points or miles.

Low cost of ownership

Is the card a good deal, money-wise? Do the benefits and rewards outweigh annual fees and other costs? With the best rewards credit cards, the answer to both questions needs to be yes.

Redemption options

The best rewards cards make it easy for you to redeem your cash back, travel miles or rewards points. Top cards that earn travel miles offer flexible options for using them, including transfers to travel partners.

Benefits and perks

Benefits such as discounts, purchase protection and travel insurance add value to your credit card even when you’re not using it to earn rewards.

More information on rewards credit cards

For more information on all-things rewards cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts:


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

Bankrate.com writer Mariah Ackary is passionate about financial literacy for all, especially women and young consumers. An expert in rewards and small businesses, she does the research to make complicated financial topics more approachable for her readers. Send your questions to editors@bankrate.com.

Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

Frequently asked questions about rewards credit cards

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.