Best cash back credit cards

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Rewards cards range from basic, flat-rate cash back credit cards to luxurious travel rewards cards that come packed with exclusive membership perks. With so many options on the market, the editors at Bankrate have compiled advice and reviewed our favorite rewards cards for 2018. Keep reading to compare rewards cards and find the right one for you.

In this Article

The best rewards cards of 2018
Reviews of Bankrate’s top 10 rewards cards
What is a rewards credit card?
Types of rewards cards
Things to consider before you apply for a credit card
How to redeem credit card rewards

The best rewards cards of 2018

Expert analysis: Bankrate’s best rewards cards of 2018

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

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Using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card will allow you to earn miles without paying an annual fee. The Venture card earns 2 miles for every $1 spent. The Venture card is a great starter’s travel card for simple earning and predictable rewards.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Capital One
  • Best for: Travel
  • Bankrate scrore:94/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: 2 miles per dollar spent
  • Welcome offer: 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months of card ownership
  • Annual fee: $95, waived in the first year
  • APR: 14.49% to 24.49% (variable)

Editor’s take: If you are looking for a travel rewards card, we recommend the Venture card. You’ll earn flat-rate miles on every purchase you make and have the ability to score big on bookings through hotels.com. You won’t get all the perks found in other rewards cards, but you’ll earn no-frills miles without having to worry about categories, spending limits, or fees.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

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Consumers with large grocery bills can benefit from the huge cash back rewards on U.S. supermarket spending offered by the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. No other card offers as high a cash back rate in this category, making it worth the $95 annual fee.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: American Express
  • Best for: Everyday spending
  • Bankrate scrore:92/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: 6% cash back at grocery stores, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores
  • Welcome offer: $200 after spending $1,000 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $95
  • APR: 0% for the first 12 months, then 14.49%-24.49 (variable)

Editor’s take: The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express will take you to a new level of cash rewards on everyday expenses. If you are spending significantly at the grocery store and gas pump, you’ll find the annual fee well worth it. Meeting the annual $6,000 spend on groceries will net you $360 cash back.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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Among the best starter cards for collecting points and miles, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has some great perks. You’ll earn 2X points on dining and travel and 1X points on all other purchases. This card really shines when it comes to redeeming points through Chase’s Web portal, where their value jumps 25%. This means 50,000 points are worth $500 if you use them as a statement credit, but $625 if you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Chase
  • Best for: Dining
  • Bankrate scrore:95/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: 2X on dining and travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95
  • APR: 17.49%-24.49% (Variable)

Editor’s take: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a favorite among travel enthusiasts because of its valuable sign-up bonus and points flexibility. Transferring points to partner airlines can actually boost their value even more, making your rewards even better than you bargained for.

Discover it® Cashback Match

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The Discover it® Cashback Match credit card is a rotating category cash back card that allows you to enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year. Additionally, Discover will match your first year cash back rewards at the end of the year. This means that if you earned $300 in cash back throughout the year, Discover will give you another $300 at your one year anniversary of card ownership.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Discover
  • Best for: First year rewards
  • Bankrate scrore:93/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories, 1% back on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Discover will match all the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 0% for 14 months, then 13.49%-24.49% (Variable)

Editor’s take: The Discover it® Cashback Match credit card is one of Bankrate’s favorites due to it’s generous welcome offer. While the rewards structure is a bit more complicated than some of its flat-rate cash back counterparts, but with no annual fee and a generous, 14-month interest-free introductory period, this card stands up with the best of them.

Citi Double Cash Card

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If tracking categories and spending caps seem like too much work for you, the Citi Double Cash Card keeps it simple. It gives 1% cash back on every purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your bill. The net total of 2% cash back is one of the highest unlimited rewards rates available on a rewards card.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Citi
  • Best for: Flat-rate cash back
  • Bankrate scrore:94/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your bill
  • Welcome offer: None
  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 14.99%-24.99% (Variable)

Editor’s take: The Double Cash Card is essentially an unlimited 2% cash back card. You’ll get that rate for every purchase you make, which puts this card in its own rewards category for flat-rate rewards. If you’re an experienced points and rewards cardholder, the Double Cash Card is a great complement to other rewards cards. If you’re a newbie to rewards cards, it’s still a safe bet for getting a solid return on your spending.

Chase Freedom

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For those who are up to the task, the Chase Freedom card has plenty of rewards potential. The card pays 5% back on up to $1,500 quarterly spending in rotating categories like supermarkets, gas stations, and movie theaters. All other spending earns 1% back. If you have the discipline to keep track of your spending, you can score some solid rewards with this card.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Chase
  • Best for: Rotating category cash back
  • Bankrate scrore:90/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in quarterly rotating categories. 1% cash back on other purchases
  • Welcome offer: $150 after spending $500 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 16.49%-25.24% (Variable)

Editor’s take: The Chase Freedom gives you the opportunity to earn $75 each quarter before the rewards rate drops from 5% to 1%. Maximizing the 5% cash back categories will net you at least $300 per year, which makes it a worthwhile no-annual-fee card. The Freedom does its best work though if you’re also a Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve cardholder. Having one of those premium Chase cards allows you to convert your Freedom cash into much more valuable rewards points.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

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If you value elite status and you’re a loyal Delta flier, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express should be on your radar. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card comes with a rate of 7 miles per $1 spent on Delta for SkyMiles Loyalty members. For frequent Delta fliers, this card is one of the most lucrative in the travel rewards category.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: American Express
  • Best for: Frequent fliers
  • Bankrate scrore:85/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on everything else.
  • Welcome offer: 30,000 bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months, and a one-time $50 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase within the first 3 months.
  • Annual fee: $95
  • APR: 17.24%-26.24% (Variable)

Editor’s take: If you’re considering applying for a Delta co-branded credit card, you’re most likely already a SkyMiles member, which gets you 5 extra miles per dollar when you book a Delta flight. Using the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card to purchase those flights will get you an extra 2 miles, boosting your total rewards to 7 miles per dollar. If you are a frequent Delta flier, this card should be in your wallet. However, if you fly multiple airlines and are looking for a better rewards rate on general purchases, keep looking.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

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Great for business owners whose biggest expenses are in just a few areas, the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN offers 3X points on purchases in the category of your choice. You’ll earn 2X points on remaining categories, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Categories to choose from include airfare, media/advertising, gas, shipping and computer hardware and software.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: American Express
  • Best for: Business
  • Bankrate scrore:88/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/good
  • Rewards rate: 3X points in one of five categories of your choosing, 2X points on remaining four categories, 1X points on all else.
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $175
  • APR: No APR, as this is a charge card and must be paid in full every month. Cardholders may be eligible for Pay Over Time with a 19.79% APR.

Editor’s take: If you are a business owner with sizable yearly expenses, note that this card’s bonus categories are capped at $100,000 spending. Amex points are flexible, though, and the perks of the card, which includes a 5% discount at FedEx, Hertz, etc., are seriously valuable. If most of your expenses are in one or two key categories, this card will help you reap bigger rewards than you’ll find elsewhere.

Discover it® Secured Card

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The Discover it® Secured Card is Bankrate’s top pick among secured credit cards. We love that Discover will review your account after eight months to see if you qualify to “graduate” to an unsecured account. We also appreciate that there aren’t any of the predatory set-up or application fees that are common among cards designed for those with little to no credit.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: Discover
  • Best for: Bad credit
  • Bankrate scrore:95/100
  • Credit score needed: Bad credit/No credit
  • Rewards rate: 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in quarterly spending at gas stations and restaurants, 1% cash back on every other purchase.
  • Welcome offer: N/A
  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 24.49% (Variable)

Editor’s take: When it comes to secured cards, the Discover it Secured Card is tough to beat. Most secured cards have annual fees, application fees, and low credit limits with no rewards offered. The it Secured Card requires a $200 deposit and carries a $2,500 maximum credit limit, but the benefits it provides are undeniable. You’ll not only build credit, you’ll earn cash back at a respectable rate.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

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Much like the Blue Cash Preferred Card, the Blue Cash Everyday Card offers cash back rewards on purchases made at grocery stores, gas stations, and department stores. The Everyday Card has lower rewards rates but also comes without an annual fee. With a simple earning structure and better cash back rates than a lot of rewards cards, it’s a great option for families and everyday spending, while avoiding annual fees.

Card Details:

  • Issuer: American Express
  • Best for: Retail store spending
  • Bankrate scrore:89/100
  • Credit score needed: Excellent/Good
  • Rewards rate: 3% cash back at grocery stores, 2% cash back at gas stations and select department stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome offer: N/A
  • Annual fee: $0
  • APR: 14.49%-24.59% (Variable)

What is a rewards credit card?

Simply put,a rewards card is a credit card that gives you something in exchange for making a purchase. The amount you’ll be rewarded varies greatly from card to card but it’s nearly always based on a percentage of what you just spent. For example, if you charge $100 on a rewards card that has a flat 2% rewards rate, you’ll get 2 points, 2 miles or 2 units of whatever the reward is that’s offered by your card.

Types of Rewards Credit Cards

Rewards cards come in many flavors. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Cash back rewards cards. This type of card earns you cash back on every purchase. You typically redeem your earnings as a statement credit towards your bill, or in some cases deposited into your checking or savings account.
  • Travel rewards cards. Whether it’s a co-branded card with an airline or a general-purpose travel rewards card that gives you multiple choices for redemption, travel cards are aimed at those who want to earn free or discounted trips, upgrade their airline experience or save up for a once-in-a lifetime adventure.
  • Hotel rewards cards. Great for road warriors and other frequent travelers, hotel cards give users an opportunity to work towards elite status and enjoy the perks that go along with it, as well as earn free nights for future stays.
  • Store rewards cards. These cards are best for loyalists to a particular brand or store. You can earn perks like discounts, free shipping and members-only access events. Retail store cards often have less-stringent approval requirements, but in turn charge typically higher-than-average interest rates.

Applying for a rewards card

Before you take advantage of the benefits of a rewards card, you need to apply. Not every card is a slam dunk to get approved and the ones with the best rewards require the best credit.

Check your credit score for free to see where you stand.

If you have excellent credit:

You’ll likely get approved for most credit cards and be eligible for those that come with premium rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige Card and The Platinum Card from American Express.

If you have good credit:

You can still qualify for a great rewards card. We especially like the Discover it® Chrome, the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card and the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi.

If you have fair credit:

It’s still possible to find a decent rewards card if you have a less-than-stellar or very little credit history. Just know that you may not get the best rates until your credit score improves. We recommend the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, and Discover it® chrome for Students.

If you have poor credit:

There are still a handful of options that help you repair your credit with good payment behavior and let you earn some rewards. Keep in mind that a secured card usually means that you’ll have to put down a deposit that’s equal to the amount of credit you’re given on the card. Two of our top picks are the Discover it® Secured Card and the nRewards Secured card.

How to redeem credit card rewards

A stash of rewards is only meaningful if you redeem them. Redemption options run the gamut from a simple statement credit, to using rewards to book travel, to transferring rewards from your card to an airline or hotel’s loyalty program often for an increased value. Consider all the way rewards can be used, but keep in mind that your particular card may only allow you to redeem your rewards in one type of way. Some of the most common methods or redemption are:

  • Take your rewards as a cash-back statement credit or have them deposited into your bank account.
  • Redeem your rewards for travel through your card’s travel portal.
  • Book travel and get a statement credit back for all or a partial credit for the cost of the trip.
  • Trade in your rewards for a gift card to select retailers.
  • Use your rewards to upgrade your flight or hotel room.
  • Transfer your rewards to an authorized user for them to redeem.
  • Use your rewards as a credit for purchase at your favorite store.
  • Donate your rewards to a partner charity.

Recap:The best rewards cards of 2018

Card Name Best for Bankrate Review Score Rewards Rate
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Travel 94/100 2 points per dollar spent
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express Everyday Spending 92/100 6% at US supermarkets($6,000/yr, then1%)(Terms Apply)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Dining 95/100 2X points
Discover it® Cashback MatchTM First year rewards 93/100 5% on bonus categories, 1% on everything else
Citi Double Cash Card Cash-Back 94/100 1% cash back when you buy, plus 1% cash back when you pay
Chase Freedom Rotating Cash Back 90/100 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express Frequent fliers 85/100 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta
Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN Business 88/100 3X points in one of 5 categories (Terms Apply)
Discover it® Secured Card Bad or limited credit 95/100 2% back on dining and gas up to $1,000 in spending per quarter
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express Retail Stores 89/100 2% back at US gas stations and dept stores (Terms Apply)

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