Best for 2% cash rewards

Apply now
On Wells Fargo's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Intro bonus
$200 cash rewards 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99%-24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for everyday family purchases

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 6% 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more.
  • 3% 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% 1% Cash Back on other purchases
Intro bonus
$300 
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Regular APR
13.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for points flexibility

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3X Earn 3X points on dining.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for rotating category rewards

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% 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.
  • 1% Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Intro bonus
Cashback Match™ 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for automatic bonus category

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5% 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.
  • 1% Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST FOR FLAT-RATE TRAVEL REWARDS

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
Intro bonus
100,000 miles 
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
16.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)

Best for dining and entertainment with no annual fee

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 8% Earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
  • 3% Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).
  • 1% Earn 1% on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for travel rewards on dining

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • 3X Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5% Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every time.
Intro bonus
$200 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for up to 2% cash back

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2% Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best travel card with no annual fee

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 1.25X Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
20,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for pairing with another rewards card

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 5X Earn 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3X Earn 3X points on other travel and dining.
  • 1X Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Intro bonus
50,000 points 
Annual fee
$550
Regular APR
16.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)

Guide to the best rewards credit cards

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 options.

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.


Compare Bankrate’s top rewards credit cards

Card name Rewards highlights Bankrate review score
Wells Fargo Active Cash Card Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases 3.8 / 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)
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more 4.3 / 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)
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)
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases 4.5 / 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)
American Express Gold Card 4X Membership Rewards® points per dollar at restaurants 4.5 / 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)
Citi Double Cash Card Unlimited 2% cash back (1% as you purchase, 1% as you pay) 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.25X miles per dollar 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Reserve 5X points on air travel and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our top-rated rewards credit cards

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.
Jump back to offer details.

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 ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year), 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.
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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.
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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.

Learn more: Discover it Cash Back vs. Discover it Balance Transfer
Read our full Discover it Cash Back card review.
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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.
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Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Best for flat-rate rewards

  • This card is a good fit for: Non-brand loyalists; this general purpose travel card offers unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, plus unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: The annual-fee-averse; this card charges a $395 annual fee, though that charge is relatively reasonable, given its benefits and the higher annual fees associated with other premium credit cards.
  • What makes this card unique? The anniversary bonus (10,000 bonus miles, equal to $100 towards travel, every year, starting on your first anniversary) is a nice boon — and a rarity among general purpose premium travel credit cards. (They’re more common among airline- or hotel-specific cards.)
  • Is the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card worth it? The $395 annual fee is steep on the surface, but savvy spenders could recoup it by cashing in all their annual statement credits (up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®, and, separately, up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel), racking up rewards and leveraging the ancillary benefits.

Read our full Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card review.
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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.
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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. (Annual Fee: $250, Rates and Fees)

Read our full American Express Gold Card review.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Learn more: Full guide to credit card rewards.

How to earn credit card rewards

The key to getting the most out of your rewards credit card is using it strategically. There are standard strategies like using your card for everyday purchases and more specialized ways to earn credit card rewards. Here are some of the more unique ways to earn credit card rewards:

  • Finance a large purchase: If you are making a significant purchase anyway, consider making that purchase using your rewards credit card. One of the easiest ways to reach a rewards card spending requirement is to finance that purchase on a rewards card.
  • Refer a friend: Some credit card issuers like Capital One will provide current cardholders with rewards when friends they’ve referred are approved for a card.

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. These cards then reward other purchase categories at varying rates until it reaches the base rate for all other purchases. 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. This card also earns 3 percent back on transit and at U.S. gas stations, and 1 percent back on other purchases. The different rewards rates for different categories are what define a tiered cash back card.
  • 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 Q4 2021 cash back categories are Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com.

Learn more: Full guide on 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 award 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.

Learn more: 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. For example, with the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, you can earn 5 percent cash back at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services and 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurant purchases (on up to the first $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year, then 1 percent).

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.

Learn more: Full guide to business credit card rewards.

When should you get a rewards credit card?

If you’ve been diligent in building your credit and you’re ready to reap the benefits, it may be time to get a rewards card. Here are some criteria you should consider to determine if you’re ready for a rewards credit card:

You have good-to-excellent credit: Although there are exceptions, most rewards credit cards require a good-to-excellent credit score (670+) for approval. If you’re still looking for a credit card to help you boost your credit score, there are many solid options for people with fair credit.

You pay your balance in full and on time each month: Rewards cards can be lucrative if used responsibly, but they tend to have higher APRs. If you consistently carry a balance on your credit card, the benefits rewards will start to diminish. Carrying a balance on your credit card introduces interest payments, and significant interest payments can quickly overshadow the benefits of any rewards credit card.

You travel frequently: If you’ve started to travel more regularly, a card that helps you earn free or discounted travel can go a long way. Frequent travelers can earn from rewards credit cards by making everyday purchases that can be redeemed for travel. They can also earn travel points and miles by making purchases with specific travel companies or through their credit card issuer’s travel portal.

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 (extra points or miles for spending a certain amount of money in a set time period, usually your first three months), 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, hotel upgrades, and certain travel or shopping protections.

Cons

  • Rewards caps: Some travel cards carry earning caps, which limit the amount of points or miles you can earn. This factor can reduce the value of the card, especially if the APR is on the higher side or there’s a large annual fee.
  • Higher APRs: Rewards credit cards tend to carry higher interest rates than cards in other categories, like low interest. As such, they’re not a great fit for people who tend to carry a balance from time to time.
  • 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 world of rewards credit cards can be confusing to newcomers. If you’re deciding when to take the plunge and acquire a rewards card, aligning your new card with some of your goals is a great way to determine if the card is right for you. Here are a few people who can benefit the most from rewards credit cards:

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 your most frequent purchase categories at a high rate, as well as a good flat-rate card. Just be sure you’re ready to manage several accounts, especially if they 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 do you spend the most on?

Whether it’s groceries, travel, dining out or something else, it’s important to select a card that fits with your highest spending categories. If your spending isn’t focused on one specific purchase category, consider applying for a flat-rate card that earns rewards on all eligible purchases. If you spend primarily on specific categories, a tiered card or one with rotating categories will offer higher rates on that category, thus maximizing your rewards earning potential.

What kind of rewards are you interested in?

Deciding between cash back or points and miles ultimately comes down to your personal preference on the type of rewards you want to earn the most. If you’re a frequent traveler and want to enhance your air travel experience by earning rewards towards flights, hotel room upgrades and an array of other helpful benefits, a travel credit card that earns points would be a good fit. However, if you prefer to passively earn rewards on everyday purchases or don’t spend a lot on your credit card, a cash back credit card would be a stronger fit that allows you to earn rewards good for cash back or statement credits to your account.

How much effort are you willing to put into maximizing your earnings?

To get the most out of your rewards card, you need to strategize and identify the things you spend money on most. Many rewards cards are relatively low-effort as they provide rewards on all everyday eligible purchases or may encompass a broad category, such as dining or travel. However, it’s important to read the issuer’s fine print as there may be some exceptions. If you are willing to use a more complex strategy to extract the most value, you may need to take advantage of rotating bonus categories or transferring points and miles to partners.

Flat-rate rewards credit cards vs. bonus category rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards typically come in two categories, flat-rate or bonus categories. Flat-rate cards earn the same rewards rate on all purchases. Bonus category cards earn cardholders higher rates on purchases in specific categories and lower rates in others. To determine which would be best for you, there are a few things to consider.

You should get a bonus category rewards credit card if:

You want to earn bonus rewards on travel, hotel or airline purchases — Reaping the benefits of travel and hotel stays are great reasons to sign up for a bonus category credit card. You can find bonus category cards that offer elevated rewards on travel like the Citi Premier® Card that earns cardholders 3X points on air travel purchases.

Your spending is concentrated in a specific category — A card that rewards you at a higher rate for spending in categories you typically spend in already is a good choice for many consumers. If you love to dine out or spend a lot on groceries, a bonus category card might be the best fit for you.

You should get a flat-rate rewards credit card if:

You’re new to rewards credit cards — Keeping track of bonus categories, rotating or otherwise, for a credit card can be a complicated process, especially if you’re new to rewards cards. Flat-rate rewards cards keep things simple by allowing you to earn rewards without having to keep track of anything except your own budget.

You don’t spend a lot in any particular category — If your spending isn’t concentrated in any single category, say travel or dining out, you’re likely better off with a flat-rate rewards card. You’ll be able to earn rewards without stretching your budget to spend more than you normally would in certain areas.

Cash back cards are a solid option for cardholders looking to earn rewards. Learn more on deciding between flat-rate cash back card or a bonus category cash back card.

5 ways to maximize your rewards

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

  1. Target your spending categories: If your card has special categories that earn higher rewards rates, try to concentrate your spending in those areas. If you pursue this strategy, do it responsibly. Overspending with a credit card to chase rewards is a losing game.
  2. Earn your sign-up bonus: Understand how long you have to meet the spending requirement associated with the offer. Avoid overspending, however, to secure the points.
  3. Leverage your extra benefits: Be sure you know how and when to cash in credits. Also take note of what ancillary benefits a card entitles you to. Ancillary benefits include travel and shopping protections.
  4. Double up on cards to earn more: To earn even more rewards, you can pair cards that earn rewards for different types of spending. Be aware: Applying for multiple cards at once will only hurt your credit score. If you’re interested in learning more about pairing cards, read our guide to the best credit card combinations.
  5. Redeem through the issuer’s portal: In some cases, redeeming through the issuer’s portal adds value to your rewards.

Learn more: Full guide on maximizing your rewards.

Bankrate insight
Nearly 1 in 3 rewards credit cardholders didn’t redeem any rewards last year, a Bankrate survey found. 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.

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 seems. 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, like spending caps or strict category definitions.
  • Non-automatic perks: Some card benefits are automatically available when you sign up and use the card. In other cases, you must be proactive and sign up or enroll.
  • Special redemption options: Some cards have additional or special options for redemption that you may be interested in as a cardholder. For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will see points values increase from 1 cent per point to 1.5 cents per point when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Changes to rewards programs: Terms are subject to change at virtually any time. 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.

Learn more: How to dissect credit card agreement fine print.

How we chose the 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:


Have more questions for our credit card 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
Former 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.

* 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.