Best for automatic bonus category

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Apply Now On Citi's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.
  • Regular APR: 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for up to 2% cash back

Citi® Double Cash Card

Apply Now On Citi's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: N/A
  • Regular APR: 13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for 2% cash rewards

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

Apply Now On Wells Fargo's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
  • Welcome Offer: New! Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Regular APR: 14.99%-24.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best for 1.5% cash back

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
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

Best for everyday family purchases

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now On American Express's secure website
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)

Best for dining and entertainment with no annual fee

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023. Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®). 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

Best for rotating category rewards

Discover it® Cash Back

Apply Now On Discover's secure website
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)

Best for Bank of America loyalists

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every time.
  • 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

Best for your first rewards credit card

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Apply Now On Chase's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®. Earn 3% on dining 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

Best travel card with no annual fee

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
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

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 has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


In the news: How a credit card expert maximizes her rewards

When it comes to credit card rewards, Bankrate Credit Cards Reporter Ana Staples believes in making every purchase count. In her latest column, she shares seven tips for getting the most out of your credit card rewards. Pro-tip: Check your card for limited-time offers.


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.

The more you know…
Gift cards are an easy way to redeem credit card rewards, but according to Bankrate’s study, U.S. adults have $20 billion in unused gift cards or other credits.

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.

In this guide:


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

Card Name Rewards Highlights Bankrate Review Score
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi® Double Cash Card Unlimited 2% cash back (1% as you purchase, 1% as you pay) 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card Unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back 3.2 / 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
4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding Walmart® and Target®) 4.5 / 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) 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every time 3.3 / 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 VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.25X miles per dollar 3.6 / 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)
American Express® Gold Card 4X Membership Rewards® points per dollar at restaurants (Annual Fee: $250) 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Freedom Flex℠ 3% cash back at restaurants
3% cash back on drugstore purchases
4.0 / 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
3.9 / 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) 3.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 2X points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide 4.1 / 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
4.5 / 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 (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.) 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our top-rated rewards credit cards

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Best for automatic bonus category

  • This card is a good fit for: Someone with varied spending habits. Since the 5 percent cash back category (5 percent cash back on up to $500 spent per billing cycle, then 1 percent) retroactively shifts to match the eligible category in which you spend the most each billing cycle, you won’t have to worry about maximizing your spending in a particular category.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to earn cash back in multiple categories. While your 5 percent bonus category may change from month to month, you’ll only earn 5 percent cash back in one eligible category per billing cycle (up to $500 spent per billing cycle, then 1 percent). So if you’re looking for a card that rewards spending in several categories at once, this isn’t it.
  • What makes this card unique? Very few rewards cards offer a bonus category that automatically shifts to match your spending.
  • Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it? The cash back rate is fantastic, especially because it’s paired with so many useful categories. If you were to max out the $500 per billing cycle spending cap for the bonus category, you would earn $25 in cash back in just one billing cycle ($500 x .05 = $25). And that doesn’t include any additional rewards you would earn after the rate drops to 1 percent.

Read our full Citi Custom Cash Card review.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for up to 2% cash back

  • This card is a good fit for: Those looking for an everyday card with a simple rewards structure.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Sign-up bonus seekers.
  • What makes this card unique? This card effectively offers 2 percent cash back, but in a unique way. You earn 1 percent as you make purchases, and 1 percent as you pay those purchases off. This doesn’t require any extra work on your part, but it does encourage responsible habits.
  • Is the Citi® Double Cash Card worth it? It’s not tough to make a case for this card’s value: Those who pay their bill in full each month will earn a flat 2 percent back on every purchase (1 percent as you buy, one percent as you pay off your purchases). If your monthly credit card bill is $600, you would earn $12 in cash back per month, or $144 per year.

Read our full Citi® Double Cash Card review.

Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

Best for 2% cash rewards

  • This card is a good fit for: Cash rewards seekers who prefer a simple, valuable earning structure.
  • This card is not a great choice for: International travelers looking for a card to use abroad. Each purchase outside of the U.S. will come with a 3 percent foreign currency conversion fee.
  • What makes this card unique? The generous rewards rate isn’t the only noteworthy feature. Cardholders who pay their monthly cellphone bill with the Active Cash card will get up to $600 of protection against covered damage or theft (subject to $25 deductible).
  • Is the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card worth it? It’s hard to go wrong with unlimited 2 percent cash rewards, especially since there’s no annual fee. If you’re looking for a combination of simplicity and value, the Active Cash is worthwhile.

Read our Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card review.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for 1.5% cash back

  • This card is a good fit for: Credit card beginners and those who value simplicity.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to cash in on recurring expenses in particular categories, such as groceries or dining out. If you’re okay with remembering a bonus category or two, consider a card with a higher rate on your most frequent purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? No annual fee cards sometimes come with the tradeoff of barebones card perks. The Quicksilver, despite its no-fuss rewards system, offers quite a few benefits, including access to exclusive travel and entertainment events through Capital One Access, extended warranty protection, travel accident insurance and auto rental collision damage insurance.
  • Is the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card worth it? If you’re looking for a low-maintenance card with useful benefits, this card is worth having. New cardholders will find the $200 cash bonus after spending $500 in the first three months especially valuable.

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

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Best for rewards on everyday purchases

  • This card is a good fit for: Families and others with large grocery and gasoline bills.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who shop for groceries at superstores (like Target and Walmart) or wholesale clubs (like Costco or Sam’s Club), which don’t count toward the U.S. supermarkets rewards category.
  • What makes this card unique? Those looking to cash in on their weekly trips to the grocery store will have a hard time finding a more rewarding card. Sure, you can find other cards that reward you for grocery purchases, but a rate of 6 percent (on up to $6,000 at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1 percent) at U.S. supermarkets puts this card on a level of its own.
  • Is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express worth it? With a $95 annual fee, you do have to wonder whether the stellar rewards rate justifies the cost of holding the card. If you spend more than $1,584 per year at U.S. supermarkets, the card pays for itself on those rewards alone (1,584 x .06 = 95.04). That works out to just $33 per week. So, yes, if you spend $33 or more at a U.S. supermarket each week, the Blue Cash Preferred is worth it.

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

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Best for dining and entertainment with no annual fee

  • This card is a good fit for: On-the-go foodies and thrill-seekers.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those seeking a go-to card for the everyday essentials. The SavorOne does offer 3 percent cash back at grocery stores (excluding large retailers like Target and Walmart), but you can do better if you’re looking for a practical card for everyday use.
  • What makes this card unique? If you’re looking for another card that rewards entertainment purchases at a boosted rate, you’ll have to look pretty hard. Tickets to sporting events, aquariums and zoos, movies, concerts and dance clubs are all on Capital One’s list of eligible entertainment purchases.
  • Is the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card worth it? It’s pretty clear that this card isn’t for ultra-frugal folks who prefer free entertainment and cooking at home. That said, the unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining and entertainment is a great deal for people who spend a fair amount in those categories. Plus, there’s no annual fee and new cardholders will earn a quick $200 after spending just $500 within the first three months of opening an account.

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

Discover it® Cash Back

Best for rotating category rewards

  • This card is a good fit for: Those who like the excitement of changing bonus categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone with fixed spending habits or a preference for a simple rewards structure.
  • What makes this card unique? Most rewards cards feature static rewards categories. The Discover it Cash Back keeps it exciting with rotating bonus categories. Each quarter you activate, you earn 5 percent cash back in a different set of bonus categories (on up to $1,500, then 1 percent).
  • Is the Discover it® Cash Back worth it? Because Discover’s cash back categories are always changing, the card’s value can, too. That said, the categories are usually pretty useful, including previous categories like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and Amazon.com. Discover has already announced bonus categories for the remainder of 2021, so you can look ahead to be sure you like them. If you were to spend $1,500 to max out the 5 percent category each quarter, you would earn $300 in cash back. Discover’s first-year cash back match would bring your earnings to $600 in your first year, an impressive haul for a card with no annual fee.

Read our full Discover it® Cash Back card review.

Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card

Best for Bank of America loyalists

  • This card is best for: Simplicity lovers looking for a flat-rate cash back card. It’s even better for Bank of America Preferred Rewards members, who will earn 25 percent – 75 percent more cash back (based on your enrolled tier).
  • This card is not a great choice for: Cash back maximizers who don’t mind remembering a few bonus categories in exchange for a higher rewards rate.
  • What makes this card unique? Aside from the boosted rewards rate for Preferred Rewards members, there are a few perks that make this card special. One of the most useful is the ability to access your FICO® Score within your online account or mobile app.
  • Is the Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card worth it? If you’re a Preferred Rewards member, the boosted rewards rate makes this card one of the most lucrative cash back cards available, with a maximum of up to 2.62 percent cash back for Preferred Rewards members (based on your enrolled tier). Even without that boost, 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase provides steady value.

Read our full Bank of America® Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Best first rewards credit card

  • This card is a good fit for: A credit card beginner looking for an all-purpose rewards card.
  • This card is not a great choice for: International travelers looking for a card to use abroad. Instead, look for a rewards card with no foreign transaction fees.
  • What makes this card unique? You can redeem your rewards for cash back or travel, both at a value of 1 cent apiece. It’s a great way to dip your toe into both forms of credit card rewards if you aren’t ready to commit to just one.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited® worth it? The Chase Freedom Unlimited requires very little effort on your part to earn cash back. The ability to earn at least 1.5 percent cash back with every eligible purchase is a solid feature on its own, but boosted rates on dining, drugstores and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards make this card even more worth it. Plus, it’s easy to earn the $200 welcome bonus: Just make $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Best for travel rewards with no annual fee

  • This card is a good fit for: Beginner travelers.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Frequent travelers who want to capitalize on their travel purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? Instead of having to book your rewards travel through the issuer’s site, you can redeem your miles as a statement credit to cover travel purchases made on your card within the last 90 days. This allows you to truly hunt around for the best deal, whether that’s through Capital One or another merchant.
  • Is the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card worth it? With no annual fee, it’s hard to go wrong with the VentureOne. The ease of earning and redeeming miles is a huge plus, especially for those just getting started with travel rewards. That said, 1.25 miles per dollar isn’t the greatest rate, and you might have to wait a while to accumulate enough miles to cover a flight. For example, $6,000 in annual spending ($500 per month) would earn you 7,500 miles over the course of a year (6000 x 1.25 = 7,500). Miles are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for travel or a statement credit, so that gives you an annual rewards value of just $75.

Read our full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

Best for choice of rewards categories

  • This card is a good fit for: Someone who wants control over their bonus categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Big spenders. The 3 percent and 2 percent cash back rates only apply to the first $2,500 in combined purchases within those categories per quarter. After that, you earn just 1 percent in those categories until the next quarter.
  • What makes this card unique? While this card is similar to cash back cards with rotating cash back categories, the ability to choose your top cash back category is uniquely valuable. Even better, you can change your selection up to once per calendar month.
  • Is the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card worth it? Say you max out your bonus categories each quarter, spending $1,500 in your 3 percent choice category and $1,000 in the 2 percent grocery store and wholesale club category. You would earn $65 in cash rewards. If you did this every quarter, you’d end the year with $260 in cash back earnings, which is a great haul for a no annual fee card. If you’re a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% – 75% more cash back on every purchase. That means you could earn up to 5.25% cash back on purchases in your choice category.

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

American Express® Gold Card

Best for travel rewards on dining purchases

  • This card is a good fit for: Foodies who want to stockpile travel rewards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who want luxury benefits like airport lounge access.
  • What makes this card unique? When deciding on a rewards card, you sometimes have to pick a favorite: dining at restaurants or cooking at home. The ability to earn the same great rate on dining and at U.S. supermarkets is rare.
  • Is the American Express® Gold Card worth it? 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. Plus, the annual credits can be worth up to $340, easily paying for the annual fee and then some.

Read our full American Express® Gold Card review.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Best for family rewards with no annual fee

    • This card is a good fit for: Those looking to earn rewards on everyday purchases while avoiding an annual fee.
    • This card is not a great choice for: Superstore or wholesale club shoppers. Grocery shopping at places like Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club will only earn you 1 percent cash back, since these don’t qualify as U.S. supermarkets.
    • What makes this card unique? U.S. Gas stations and U.S. supermarkets are pretty common rewards categories, but earning boosted cash back at select U.S. department stores is rare. For families with growing children, 2 percent back can take the sting out of yearly wardrobe overhauls.
    • Is the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express worth it? 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. If you maxed out $6,000 annual limit on 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, you would earn $180 in cash back before dropping down to 1 percent. That could translate to a free trip or two to the grocery store every year. Rates and Fees

 

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

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Best for cash back in multiple categories

  • This card is a good fit for: Those who want to earn cash back in an array of categories.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those looking for an intro APR offer on balance transfers. No introductory 0% APR offer on balance transfers
  • What makes this card unique? Cardholders can earn 5 percent cash back in Chase’s rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter you activate). It’s not the only card with rotating categories, but the additional bonus categories including dining and drugstore purchases make it stand out.
  • Is the Chase Freedom Flex℠ worth it? The potential cash back earnings with this card are huge, even though the 5 percent bonus category is limited to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. If you hit this spending cap every quarter, you would earn $300 in cash back over the course of a year ((1,500 x 4 = 6,000. 6000 x .05 = 300) The rest of the bonus categories have no spending caps, giving you tons of room to rake in rewards on dining and drugstore purchases, too.

Read our full Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.

Citi Rewards+® Card

Best for rewards on small purchases

  • This card is a good fit for: Practical cardholders looking to earn travel rewards on everyday purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who want to redeem rewards for cash back or statement credits. Redeeming for travel or gift cards offers the best value, 1 cent per point, while redeeming for cash back or statement credits cuts that value in half.
  • What makes this card unique? This card’s roundup feature is truly one of a kind. Citi will round up the points you earn from every purchase to the nearest 10. So a two-dollar cup of coffee earns you ten ThankYou points.
  • Is the Citi Rewards+® Card worth it? 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. On top of lucrative bonus categories, Citi rewards 10 percent back on the first 100,000 points redeemed every year. Maxing out this benefit would earn you 10,000 points, worth $100 toward travel or gift cards.

Read our full Citi Rewards+® Card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for flexible rewards points

  • This card is a good fit for: Occasional to frequent travelers who want great value without the annual fee of a luxury travel card.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who value luxury perks like airport lounge access.
  • What makes this card unique? Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partner list is top-notch, so the fact that you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio makes this card even more valuable.
  • Is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card worth it? The rewards portal is what really makes this card worth it — 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 Chase Ultimate Rewards. Some rewards portals make it difficult to get your money’s worth, but Chase offers a refreshing contrast.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best for pairing with another rewards card

  • This card is a good fit for: Frequent travelers who want to earn rewards on travel and dining.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Occasional travelers or fee-averse consumers. If you’re not sure you can make up the value of the $550 annual fee between rewards and perks, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a better choice.
  • What makes this card unique? Among other credits, this card comes with a $300 annual travel credit, which is automatically applied to your account when you make a travel purchase. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a similar credit, but it’s much harder to use since it only covers incidental purchases with one airline each year.
  • Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® worth it? Travel rewards beginners and occasional travelers might find it tough to get more than $550 of value out of this card each year. But if you make use of the credits and additional perks, the Sapphire Reserve is easily worth it. For example, the Priority Pass™ Select membership that comes with the card can’t be purchased on its own, but the comparable “Prestige” membership costs $429 per year. Then there’s the $300 annual travel credit. Between those two perks alone, the card could pay for itself.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® card review.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for luxury rewards

  • This card is a good fit for: Frequent travelers who value luxury perks.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Someone who wants to use the card for everyday purchases. All of the Platinum’s ongoing rewards categories are geared toward travel — Everything else earns just 1 point per dollar. If you’re looking for luxe travel perks and rewards in a non-travel category, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is probably a better pick since it rewards dining purchases worldwide.
  • What makes this card unique? Few cards can compete with the Amex Platinum when it comes to luxury perks and travel benefits. 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 and Delta Sky Club airport lounges, as well as Amex’s ultra-posh Centurion Lounges.
  • Is The Platinum Card® from American Express worth it? It depends on whether you’ll make use of the annual credits. If you use them, the credits easily make up the cost of the eye-popping annual fee of $695. Otherwise, you would have to spend a hefty sum on travel each year to break even. Rates and Fees

Read our 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 rewards rate for every purchase — or offer a higher rewards rate for particular types of purchases, such as groceries or travel.

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.

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 Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, earns 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases.
  • Tiered cash back cards reward specific types of purchases at a higher rate. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express earns 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.
  • Dynamic bonus category cards are similar to tiered cash back cards in that they reward certain purchases at a higher rate. The difference is that the bonus categories change. Depending on the card, the issuer may assign new categories quarterly to align with seasonal trends, or you may be able to change the category at your discretion.  For example, one of the most popular dynamic bonus category cards is the Discover it® Cash Back, which offers 5 percent cash back on purchases in a different category each quarter you enroll (on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1 percent). Discover’s Q3 2021 cash back categories are restaurants and PayPal.

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 percent 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-up 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.

Who should get a rewards credit card?

The aspiring traveler

If free flights and hotel nights sound like the ultimate rewards to you, consider getting a travel rewards credit card. Whether you already travel often or want to earn points and miles on everyday purchases, there’s a travel card that will put you one step closer to your destination with every eligible transaction. Plus, the best travel credit cards usually offer sign-up bonuses worth several hundred dollars toward travel.

The everyday shopper

Frugal folks have plenty of options when it comes to high-earning rewards cards. Groceries and gas are two common reward categories that can benefit nearly anyone. And if you want to keep it even more simple, a flat-rate card can ensure you’re earning rewards every time you make a purchase.

The foodie

Those who dine out more often than cooking at home can tap into a wealth of cash back or travel points with a rewards credit card. Whether you prefer an in-person experience, takeout or delivery, there’s a credit card to reward your dining purchases.

The student

Using a credit card responsibly — even just for small purchases — over the course of a few years will establish a credit history and ideally land you a good credit score by the time you graduate. Then, when it’s time to apply for a mortgage or an auto loan, you have access to the best interest rates. And with a rewards card, you can earn points, miles or cash back along the way.

The small-business owner

Whether you’re a freelance photographer or you operate a brick-and-mortar store, you can use a business credit card to earn valuable rewards and boost your bottom line. Business credit cards often feature bonus categories tailored to small businesses, such as internet services, office supplies, travel and dining.

Bankrate insight
If you’re trying to maximize your rewards earnings, it makes sense to use a combination of credit cards. Ideally, you would have a card that rewards each of your most frequent purchase categories at a high rate, as well as a good flat-rate card as a catch-all for everything else. Just be sure you’re ready to manage several accounts, especially if any of them come with annual fees.

How to choose a rewards credit card

When choosing a rewards card, 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.
  • Your credit score — Most rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit. Want to know which cards you may prequalify for? Use our CardMatch™ tool to get special offers from our credit card partners in less than 60 seconds with no impact on your credit score.

Once you’ve decided on the best option for you, 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 percent of rewards card holders 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 percent who buy groceries prefer to pay with credit
  • 56 percent who spend money at restaurants typically use credit
  • 59 percent who buy gas usually pay with credit
  • 83 percent who buy plane tickets pay with credit
  • 79 percent 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.

Redeem through the issuer’s portal

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

If you redeem the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s 100,000-point sign-up bonus (earned when you spend 4,000 in the first 3 months) for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, those points will be worth $1,250 instead of $1,000.

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 Flex℠ 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.

Bankrate insight
Citi recently unveiled a new rewards structure for the Citi Premier® Card, rebranding it as more of a cash back card than a travel card. The Citi Premier no longer offers a 25-percent bonus for booking travel through Citi. However, you can now redeem your points for statement credits worth 1 cent apiece, up from 0.5 cents previously. While this is great news for cash back lovers, it might reduce the card’s appeal for existing cardholders who use the card to book travel.

Our methodology

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:


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

about the author
Mariah Ackary is a personal finance writer who specializes in credit card rewards and small business credit. Mariah is a lifelong writer, but she began writing about finance in 2018. She joined the Bankrate team in 2019, excited by the opportunity to directly help people make good financial decisions. Send your questions to mackary@bankrate.com ...
about the editor
Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com. ...

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