Best rewards credit cards

With a rewards credit card, you'll earn cash back, points or airline miles for your spending. Some cards offer boosted rewards for specific types of purchases, like travel or groceries, while others offer a flat rewards rate on all eligible transactions. Check out the best rewards card offers from our partners, then apply securely and start earning points, miles or cash back today.

Bankrate Picks - Best Rewards Credit Cards for October 2020:

Best for travel rewards on dining

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

American Express® Gold Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
Annual Fee:
$250
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
See Pay Over Time APR

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for cash back with payment flexibility

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Rewards Rate:
Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% on purchases for 15 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
13.99%-23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, currently 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee and no interest.
  • Amex Offers rewards you at places you like to shop, dine, travel, and more. You can add as many Offers as you’d like to your Card, then just use that Card to pay, and enjoy rewards directly on your statement.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

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

This page includes information about Discover products that are not currently available on bankrate.com and may be out of date.


How to choose and use a rewards credit card

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

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

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

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

Bankrate’s picks for 2020’s best rewards credit cards

Card Name Rewards Highlights Bankrate Review Score
Citi Rewards+℠ Card 2x ThankYou Points at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 in combined purchases per year 4.6/5
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases. 4.6/5
Citi® Double Cash Card Unlimited 2% cash back (1% as you purchase, 1% as you pay) 4.7/5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back 4.7/5
Chase Freedom Flex® by Mastercard 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year; 3% cash back at restaurants; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases 4.5/5
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 2X miles 4.7/5
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment. Unlimited 2% cash back at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) 4.6/5
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 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. 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations 4.6/5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores 4.5/5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.25X miles 4.4/5
American Express® Gold Card 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide (Annual Fee: $250) 4.4/5
American Express Cash Magnet® Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases 4.4/5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide 4.8/5
Chase Sapphire Reserve® 3X points on dining and travel worldwide and 1X points on everything else 5.0/5
The Platinum Card® from American Express 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (Annual Fee: $550) 4.8/5

A closer look at our top-rated rewards credit cards

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Why we rate it best for rewards on small purchases

This card has something that competitors currently don’t offer: the Round Up feature, which automatically rounds up rewards to the nearest 10 points on every purchase. A short trip to the supermarket, for example, is likely to result in more ThankYou Points than you’d expect.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

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. However, the points you earn with the Citi Rewards card are considered “basic” ThankYou Points. If you really want to redeem for maximum travel points, you’ll need to pair it with a Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card.

Our final thought

The Round Up feature boosts your earning potential even with small purchases, making the Citi Rewards Card an intriguing option for people whose spending habits tend more toward “forage” than “splurge.”

Read the full review and apply on Citi’s secure website.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Why we rate it best as a first rewards credit card

Very few rewards cards make cash back this easy. You can just sit back and earn at least 1.5% cash back with every eligible purchase — no rotating categories or minimum requirement for redeeming cash back.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Pairing a flat-rate card with one or more tiered rewards cards is truly the best strategy — you’ll earn boosted rewards in your favorite categories while having a catch-all rewards card for purchases that don’t fit into any bonus categories. Just be sure the tiered cards don’t have annual fees that cut into your rewards. If you’re not interested in using multiple cards, you’ll still earn a fair amount of cash back by making the Chase Freedom your primary method of payment.

Our final thought

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is a great option for your first rewards card because it requires very little effort on your part to earn cash back and redemptions are easy. Overall, this card is a great no-hassle option with a lot of flexibility, all for no annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why we rate is best for cash rewards

The Citi Double Cash offers one of the richest card rewards offers out there: Earn 2 percent cash back (1 percent back when you make a purchase, then another 1 percent back when you paid for that purchase).

How to maximize this card’s rewards

This card is as straightforward as they come. If your goal is to keep your rewards strategy simple, this card makes it easy – no speding categoires to worry about. Simply use this card for all of your spending and earn generous, flat-rate rewards.

Our final thought

In addition to a superior cash rewards offer, this card also offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (it’s 13.99%-23.99% variable after that). Also, this card offers no annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on Citi’s secure website.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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

Unlike some other flat-rate rewards cards, the Capital One Quicksilver doesn’t have an annual fee, a foreign transaction fee or complicated mechanisms that control how you earn your rewards.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Since this is a flat-rate card with no limits or categories, there’s no real strategy involved. Just spend responsibly and continue earning 1.5 percent cash back.

Our final thought

If you want a low-maintenance cash back card that makes earning rewards simple, the Capital One Quicksilver is well worth your consideration.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Chase Freedom Flex® by Mastercard

Why we rate it best for cash back in multiple categories

This card’s cash back categories include travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (5 percent), restaurants (3 percent) and drugstore purchases (3 percent), as well as 5 percent cash back in Chase’s rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter you activate). During your first year, the card also earns 5 percent cash back on up to $12,000 in grocery store purchases not including Target or Walmart.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

First, you’ll need to take advantage of the grocery store category (up to $12,000 in purchases, not including Target or Walmart) during your first year as a cardholder. The ongoing travel, restaurant and drugstore categories will also require some targeted spending on your part, as will the rotating bonus categories — don’t forget to activate each quarter.

Our final thought

The potential cash back earnings with this card are huge, especially with the first-year grocery store category. The Chase Freedom Flex is definitely worth a look if your spending patterns align with all the various categories, including those in the rotating bonus categories that Chase updates every quarter.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why we rate it best for travel rewards

You’ll earn 2X miles per $1 on all purchases along with 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

You’ll get the most value redeeming miles through the Capital One portal. However, you do have the freedom to transfer Capital One Miles to many travel loyalty programs, usually getting 1.5 airline miles for every two Capital One Miles.

Our final thought

Though it doesn’t come with airport lounge access, a major perk offered by competitors including Chase, American Express and Mastercard, the Capital One Venture is an exceptional rewards card with plenty of perks for the frequent traveler.
Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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

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

How to maximize this card’s rewards

If your interests also include travel, consider pairing this card with the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card. The combination of the SavorOne and the VentureOne will help you earn cash back and travel miles without having to pay an annual fee on either card.

Our final thought

The Capital One SavorOne is well-suited for people who enjoy food and fun but don’t quite spend enough on either to justify paying an annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Why we rate it best for rewards on everyday purchases

The rewards rates in the U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations categories are particularly well-suited for busy families. The 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming services can also benefit households that have cut the cable cord. Don’t overlook the 3 percent earnings on transit, including rideshares, tolls and parking.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Remember that most wholesale clubs won’t qualify in the U.S. supermarket category, so be sure to do your grocery shopping at more traditional supermarkets to maximize the 6 percent cash back (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent). You can sometimes get around this with grocery delivery apps. You also need to ensure that your spending habits can offset the $95 annual fee. (Limited Time Offer: $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95. Offer Expires 12/10/2020)

Our final thought

The Blue Cash Preferred Card offers exceptional cash back rewards for keeping your family fed and your vehicles fueled. It’s one of the best options on the market for on-the-go families.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

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

You won’t find many cards that can earn this much cash back in family-friendly spending categories year-round, especially with no annual fee.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

For families, it’s easy — make sure you’re always charging your U.S. supermarket and U.S. gas station purchases to your Blue Cash Everyday. That way, you can take full advantage of the 3 percent cash back (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).

Our final thought

With the Blue Cash Everyday Card, American Express offers the opportunity to earn exceptional cash back rewards without having to pay an annual fee. Budget-conscious families, take note.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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

An annual fee is sometimes the price you have to pay for generous travel rewards and benefits, but not in the case of the Capital One VentureOne. The rewards rate of 1.25x miles on every purchase might not be that exciting but the broad travel category definition and flexible redemption options sweeten the deal. Perks including 24-Hour Travel Assistance Services give the card’s value a nice boost.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

The redemption option with the highest value will usually be booking travel through the Capital One travel portal.

Our final thought

You’d have to travel far and wide to find a rewards card that offers this kind of earning potential without charging an annual fee. The Capital One VentureOne is a solid choice among travel rewards cards.

Read the full review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.

American Express® Gold Card

Why we rate it best for travel rewards for dining purchases

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

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Your points are most valuable when you transfer to one of the American Express travel partners or book airfare through the American Express travel portal, rather than redeeming for statement credits or shopping online.

Our final thought

If you want to earn travel rewards but don’t already spend a ton of money on travel, the Amex Gold could be a great fit. Home cooks and restaurant-goers alike will appreciate this card’s outsized rewards rate at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Why we rate it best for cash back with payment flexibility

The Plan It® and Pay It® features from American Express can help you devise an efficient, economical strategy for paying off purchases large and small. Meanwhile, you’ll enjoy reliable rewards with 1.5 percent cash back on eligible purchases, no categories or activation involved.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Your best option for using your Rewards Dollars is to redeem them for statement credits instead of merchandise or gift cards.

Our final thought

For some consumers, flexibility in how they manage their balances can be its own reward. The American Express Cash Magnet offers that opportunity, along with steady cash back rewards.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why we rate it best for flexible rewards points

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll enjoy 1-1 point transfer with travel partners (nine airlines and four hotel brands). Some rewards portals make it difficult to get your money’s worth, but Chase Ultimate Rewards offers a refreshing contrast.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

The rewards portal is what really makes this card special — the points you earn with your Chase Sapphire Preferred receive a 25-percent bump in value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Our final thought

Unlike some travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred does not require massive spending to be rewarding. The combination of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal can make this card valuable even for the casual traveler.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why we rate it best for pairing with another rewards card

Pairing the Chase Sapphire Reserve with another card that earns Ultimate Rewards points will allow you to maximize your rewards on everything you buy, not just travel and dining.

How to maximize this card’s rewards

If you have another card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards, moving points to the Chase Sapphire Reserve can boost their value by as much as 50 percent when redeemed for travel through the Chase portal.

Our final thought

Though the annual fee is a head-turner for most, the Chase Sapphire Reserve makes it easy to earn outsized rewards on travel and dining and to transfer or pool points to make the most of your rewards.

Read the full review and apply on Chase’s secure website.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why we rate it best for luxury rewards

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

How to maximize this card’s rewards

Book your flights and hotels with American Express Travel to earn 5X Membership Rewards® points. You’ll also earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines.

Our final thought

The Amex Platinum has long been a top choice for rewards-savvy travelers, and assuming you’ll take advantage of them, the card’s unparalleled credits and luxury perks should eclipse its $550 annual fee.

Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.

Rewards cards: What they are and how they work

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

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

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

If you redeem 80,000 points (earned when you spend 4,000 in the first 3 months) for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, those points will be worth $1000 instead of $800.

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, along with more detailed recommendations from our team on the best cards in each category.

Cash back

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, yet some cards can directly deposit the cash back into your checking or savings account. There are a few common cash back structures to decide between.

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

Travel

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 an 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.

Business

With a business rewards card, you can earn rewards for any business-related spending. The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business, for example, will earn you an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase for your business.

These cards may offer perks like free employee cards, travel and auto 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 card.

 

How much are rewards points worth?

It’s difficult to pin down exactly how much a travel rewards point is worth because it depends on how you choose to redeem them. That said, points are usually worth between 1 and 2 cents. You’ll get the most value of your rewards points by redeeming them for travel, rather than gift cards or statement credits. See The Points Guy’s monthly point valuations for estimated values of airline and hotel loyalty program points.

Learn more with Bankrate: Check out our guide to your first travel rewards card for tips on how to choose the right travel card option for you.

What is the highest-earning rewards card?

Of course, the card you can earn the most rewards with depends on your spending habits. Ideally, you should pick a credit card with a high rewards rate in a category that you spend a lot in. Here are some of the highest-earning rewards cards for various spending categories.

Comparison of top rewards cards

Card Rewards rates Potential drawbacks
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
  • 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, then 1 percent)
  • 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming services
  • 3 percent cash back on transit (including rideshares, tolls, taxis and buses)
  • 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1 percent on everything else
  • Terms apply.
  • 2.7 percent foreign transaction fee
  • $95 annual fee
  • 6 percent cash back applies to only the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1 percent
  • 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets does not include superstores (like Target), warehouse clubs (like Costco), specialty stores or convenience stores.
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment purchases
  • 2 percent cash back at grocery stores
  • 1 percent on everything else
  • 2 percent cash back at grocery stores does not include purchases made at superstores like Walmart or Target.
Citi® Double Cash Card
  • Unlimited 2 percent cash back on all purchases: 1 percent as you buy, 1 percent as you make a payment
  • 3 percent foreign transaction fee
  • 3 percent or $5 balance transfer fee, whichever is greater
  • No sign-up bonus

Redeeming your credit card rewards

A stash of rewards is only meaningful if you redeem them. Thankfully, many cards offer unlimited redemption and rewards that don’t expire, but it’s still important to consider all the ways rewards can be used prior to applying for a card.

  • Redemption options — Before redeeming, you should know what your particular card allows you to redeem for. Options generally include statement credit, cash back, gift cards, shopping, travel and charitable donations like coronavirus relief and social justice efforts. If you plan on redeeming for travel, familiarize yourself with your particular card’s rules beforehand.
  • Rewards portals — Some rewards credit cards allow you to transfer your rewards to partner hotels and airlines, but more commonly, cards will require that travel be redeemed through their portal. Make sure to research which cards require this prior to applying, especially if you value flexibility.
  • Transferring rewards — If you’re interested in transferring your rewards from your card to an airline or hotel’s loyalty program, some cards allow you to do so and often for increased value. For example, many Chase cards allow you to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to other travel loyalty programs at a 1:1 value.

How 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 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.

Max out your spending categories

To get the most bang for your buck, you’re going to want to max out your card’s spending categories each quarter, should they have them. Cards with unlimited earning potential are an exception.

For example, if you owned the Discover it® Cash Back and spent $1,500 every three months on the 5% cash back rotating category, you’d have successfully maxed out the category at the 5% rewards rate (1% thereafter, activation required).

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.

Best credit card rewards programs

There’s a rewards program for everyone, from the brand loyalist to the thrifty traveler. When comparing rewards programs, it’s important to note that not all cards from an issuer are eligible. For example, not every American Express credit card will earn you American Express Membership Rewards points. If you like the sound of a rewards program, always check which credit cards are included before applying.

Overview of the best credit card rewards programs

Rewards Program Highlights
American Express Membership Rewards
  • Transfer your points to 19 airlines and three hotel partners
  • Use points to pay at checkout on Amazon.com, Paypal, Grubhub and more
Bank of America Preferred Rewards Earn boosted rewards based on the amount in your eligible Bank of America or Merrill account balances:

  • 25% rewards bonus for those with $20,000
  • 50% rewards bonus for those with $50,000
  • 75% rewards bonus for those with $100,000
Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Transfer points to 10 airline programs and three hotel programs at a 1:1 ratio
  • Book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
  • Pay for Apple purchases through the Apple® Ultimate Rewards Store
Citi ThankYou
  • Transfer your points to 16 partner airlines
  • Use your points to make a payment on your student loan or mortgage
Hilton Honors
  • Tiered membership status allows you to earn up to 100% bonus points on purchases
  • Perks like digital check-in, free wifi and breakfast, executive lounge access and more
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards
  • Earn 2X-10X points shopping on the online shopping portal
  • No option to transfer points

Survey points to millions of dollars in expired rewards

An estimated 29 percent of people who collect credit card rewards have let their rewards expire, according to a Bankrate.com survey. Those expired rewards translate to unknown amounts of money left on the table for thousands of consumers.

The survey also found that nearly half of travel loyalty program members have unintentionally forfeited valuable rewards by letting airline and hotel rewards expire.

In addition, the survey revealed a disconnect between the perceived value and the actual value of loyalty and credit card rewards, as well as a lack of awareness about the amount of rewards earned.

More than half of the people surveyed (53 percent) admitted that they didn’t know how much 10,000 rewards points/miles are worth. Generally, 10,000 points/miles are worth $100 to $199.

Rewards credit cards: what you should consider

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

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

Bonus spending categories

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

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

Non-automatic perks

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

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

Special redemption options

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

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

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

Avoid costly assumptions

There’s a learning curve when it comes to getting the most out of your credit card rewards programs, especially when you make assumptions.

Foreign transaction fees

If you’re more of a domestic traveler, you might not be too concerned if your chosen rewards cards tack on fees of 3% or more for overseas purchases. However, what most people don’t realize is that online purchases from overseas merchants can incur foreign transaction fees.

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.

Frequently asked questions about rewards credit cards

Are rewards credit cards worth it?

Credit card issuers offer rewards as an incentive for attracting new customers and retaining current ones, but their self-interest doesn’t mean rewards cards aren’t worthy of consideration. With some planning and spending discipline, you could make it a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Rewards credit cards earn points, miles or cash back for eligible purchases, and determining whether these rewards are worth it is as simple as weighing the monetary value of the rewards versus the cost of the card. It can be difficult to tell exactly how much points or miles are worth, but Bankrate’s card reviews provide a clear look at how rewards translate into dollar figures.

If your financial situation allows you to pay off your bill in full each month and there aren’t any upfront or extraordinary fees, a rewards card can be worthwhile. Although some of the top-rated rewards cards charge an annual fee, the fees are often accompanied by generous rewards rates and sign-up bonuses.

If you’re in a situation where you’re making partial payments or an annual fee is overwhelming, a rewards card isn’t the best choice for you. Many rewards cards will suspend earning when cardholders aren’t paying off bills in full, and experts like Bankrate.com’s Ted Rossman advise against chasing rewards when you have credit card debt. If you see yourself carrying an occasional balance, a low interest card is probably in your best interest.

What is the best airline rewards credit card?

Those in search of top airline cards tailored to brand-loyal flyers might be interested in the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. This card comes with a $99 annual fee (waived first year) and a rewards structure that’s worth the price for frequent travelers. On top of a free checked bag and priority boarding on all flights with Delta and their partners, cardholders are rewarded with 2X miles on purchases through the airline or at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worldwide. You can also achieve Diamond status and earn as much as 11 miles per dollar when booking flights through SkyMiles.

If you’re not necessarily tied to a particular airline, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers an alternative heavy on flexibility and rewards-earning. When redeeming through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, cardholders get a 25 percent boost in point value for airfare and other travel purchases. Thanks to 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022 and 2X points on travel and dining, cardholders have plenty of opportunities to earn rewards. Plus, Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partners give you flexibility when booking your travel.

What is the best no annual fee rewards credit card?

The versatility and cash back rate of the Citi Double Cash Card make it an excellent rewards card with no annual fee. Its 2 percent cash back rate is not only unlimited — it’s one of the best flat rates in the market. The card also has an 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers (13.99% – 23.99% variable APR after) in case you’re looking for an opportunity to transfer a balance and temporarily avoid paying interest.

A strong case can be made for the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card as the top travel card with no annual fee. Every purchase earns 1.25x miles, and the Capital One Miles program is notable for its flexibility and growing number of transfer partners.

Those more interested earning points may look to another rewarding no annual fee option, such as the Citi Rewards+ Card. Cardholders can earn 2X ThankYou Points at U.S gas stations and supermarkets on up to $6,000 in combined purchases per year, plus 1x ThankYou Points on all other purchases. The rewards rate in the U.S. gas stations and supermarkets category and Citi’s Round Up feature make the Citi Rewards+ card an elite choice for getting the most out of your card without paying an annual fee.

Is 2% cash back good?

In terms of flat-rate cash back, especially with a no annual fee card, 2 percent on all purchases is a solid offer. Many cards earning more than 2 percent cash back involve tiered categories for special types of purchases or quarterly rotating categories, usually with a spending limit before the bonus rate goes down to 1 percent. Rewards cards that earn 2 percent unlimited on all eligible purchases are great options for everyday, all-purpose spending.

However, if you’re looking for a card that earns bonus rates and you don’t mind adjusting your spending habits, you should see if you’d benefit from a card with a higher cash back rate:

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a generous 5 percent cash back on your first $12,000 spent on grocery store purchases (excluding Walmart and Target) in your first year and 1.5 percent after. The card’s normal cash back rate on general purchases is at least 1.5 percent.
  • The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express earns 6 percent cash back on up to $6,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets, 6 percent on select U.S. streaming services and 3 percent at U.S. gas stations and on transit purchases. Despite the $95 annual fee (Limited Time Offer: Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months. Offer Expires 12/10/2020), it’s still a well-rounded cash back card with particular appeal for big, busy families.
  • A great cash back option for credit building, the Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 5 percent cash back on their first $5,000 on gas, groceries, internet, cable and cellphone purchases per year. Afterward, the rate falls to 1 percent across all categories.
  • The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express earns 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets for the first $6,000 per year, dropping to 1 percent after, and also earns 2 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. Also, this card doesn’t charge an annual fee.

How we chose the list of top rewards credit cards

The selection is based on research by a team of Bankrate writers and editors with years of personal finance experience. Only the cards you see on this page made the cut.

Rewards value

The cards on our list feature some of the industry’s finest rewards programs, with generous earning rates and versatile redemption choices.

Low cost of ownership

Is the card a good deal? Do the benefits and rewards outweigh the fees or restrictions? The answer to both questions had to be an emphatic “yes” for the card to make our list.

A high review score from Bankrate

Cards that make our “best of” pages have some of the highest ratings from Bankrate’s scoring system, which rates each card on a 5-star scale.

Additional reading on rewards cards

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


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

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

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

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