Below are our picks for 2021's best rewards credit cards offering points, perks, gifts, and other rewards for your purchases. Compare the top reward offers below and apply online for your card of choice.
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
$300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Earn 50,000 online bonus points (a $500 value) after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases. Plus, earn 2 points for every $1 spent on grocery store purchases – now through 12/31/21.
1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases
Flexibility to choose how you redeem your points – redeem for cash back as a deposit into Bank of America® checking or savings accounts, for credit to eligible Merrill® accounts including 529 accounts, as a statement credit to your credit card, or for gift cards and purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
Get up to a $100 Airline Incidental Statement Credit annually for qualifying purchases such as seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services, and airline lounge fees - automatically applied to your card statement. Also get up to $100 in Airport Security Statement Credits towards TSA Pre✓ ® or Global Entry Application fees, every four years.
Earn 3 Points per $1 spent on airline, hotel, taxi (including Uber and Lyft), limousine, rental car, train, bus, restaurant, fast food, and takeout food dining purchases, and 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Receive a statement credit of up to $350 per account, per calendar year for Qualifying Airline Purchases.
Receive a statement credit of up to $550 per account per calendar year with $50,000 yearly spend – for any airline lounge club worldwide.
Apply for Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program, using your Crystal Visa Infinite Card to pay your application fee and receive a $100 statement credit.
Crystal Visa Inﬁnite Cardholders Priority Pass Select program members and their accompanying guests can experience a more relaxing way to travel, with access to a global network of more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide
A 24/7 concierge at your fingertips. Receive customized assistance with airline, hotel and restaurant reservations and virtually any personal or business requests.
The Citi Rewards+® Card - the only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months from date of first transfer and on purchases from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfer fee — either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.
The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first 6 months of card membership
Earn 4X Points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases. Also earn 4X Points on restaurants, 3X points on flights when booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, and 1X points on all other eligible purchases.
Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed and other participating partners. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees, like checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Gold Card account
Earn 150,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $20,000 on purchases and make one additional purchase each account anniversary year.
Earn up to 25X points total per dollar at IHG® -- That's 10X points at IHG® Hotels and Resorts as an IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Cardmember, plus up to 10X points from IHG® for being an IHG® Rewards Club member, plus up to 5X points from IHG® with Platinum Elite Status, a benefit of this card.
Earn 2X points per dollar on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants -- all other purchases earn 1 point per $1
Enjoy a reward night after each account anniversary year at IHG hotels worldwide
Enjoy a reward night when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year; $89 annual fee thereafter
Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of card membership
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 categories where your business spends the most each billing cycle, including airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio), U.S. purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions, and U.S. purchases at gas stations, restaurants, or for shipping. Applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year.
Earn 1X Membership Rewards® points on other purchases
Book your flight with American Express Travel using Membership Rewards® Pay with Points and get 25% of those points back
Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of card membership
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, 1.5X points on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more (that's an extra half point per dollar) up to 1 million additional points per calendar year, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases
Select one qualifying airline and get up to $200 in statement credits each calendar year for baggage fees and other incidentals charged by the airline to your Business Platinum Card®
Access to more than 1,300 lounges across 140 countries and counting with the American Express Global Lounge Collection®
Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of an eligible fare and get 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year
Earn 30,000 bonus points when you make at least $3,000 in net purchases within 90 days of your account opening which can be redeemed for a $300 statement credit towards travel purchases
Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases, everywhere, every time – no matter how much you spend
Earn 3 points per every dollar spent when you book your travel (car, hotel, airline) through the Bank of America® Travel Center
You can earn up to 75% more points on every purchase, if you have a business checking account with Bank of America and qualify for Preferred Rewards for Business. That means you could earn up to an unlimited 2.62 points per $1 spent on all purchases and 5.25 points per $1 spent at the Bank of America Travel Center.
0% introductory APR on purchases for 9 billing cycles from account opening, then a variable APR applies
Get up to $100 in credit applied to your wireless bill over the first 24 months—just use your card to pay your bill every month. Plus, new enrollees to Verizon's Auto Pay can get up to $10/month off each eligible account or line, up to 10 lines max on select plans
Earn 4% Verizon Dollars on grocery store and gas purchases, 3% on dining and takeout purchases, 2% on Verizon purchases, and 1% on everything else
There are no limits to how much you can earn and no expiration dates
Use your Verizon Dollars for pretty much anything in the Verizon store, even toward your Verizon Wireless bill
This card is exclusively offered to Verizon Wireless customers
Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases made on your new card at U.S. restaurants within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
You will receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status with your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card - only available to the Basic Card Member
Earn 6X Points on hotels for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X Points at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X Points for each dollar on everything else
Enjoy up to $300 in statement credits each year of card membership for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel.
With Card Membership, you can enroll in Priority Pass™ Select, which offers unlimited access to over 1,200 lounges in over 130 countries, regardless of which carrier or class you are flying
Earn 125,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership
Earn 10X Membership Rewards® points on eligible purchases on your new Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Also earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels on AmexTravel.com. Earn 1X points on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
$200 annual hotel credit, $200 annual airline fee credit, $25 monthly Equinox credit, $15 monthly Uber cash credit, $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, and more.
Platinum Card Members have unlimited complimentary access to all locations of The Centurion Lounge
Earn 1 Membership Rewards® point for every eligible dollar you spend
You can get double Membership Rewards® points on every dollar of eligible travel purchases—such as prepaid hotel stays, vacation packages, and cruises—when you use your card to book your trip through AmexTravel.com
Amex Offers rewards you at places you like to shop, dine, travel, and more. Simply log in to your account or use the American Express® App to add offers to your card. Then use that same card to pay and enjoy rewards directly on your statement.
Plan It® is a payment option that lets you split up purchases of $100 or more into clear and simple monthly payments with a fixed fee and no interest
H.O.G.® members earn 1 point for every mile ridden
Whether you're a first-time cardmember needing to build credit or a card-carrying veteran looking to rebuild your credit, use the card that helps while also earning you points for Harley™ gear. Every 2,500 points earns you $25 at H‑D.
You can apply directly for the H-D™ Visa® Secured Card card if you're looking to build or re-establish your credit. Your account will be considered for an upgrade to an unsecured card after 12 months of responsible use.
Minimum security deposit of $300 required to open an account, up to $5,000.
Zero fraud liability, a free VantageScore, and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
Get 40,000 bonus miles after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening
Get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Miles don't expire on active accounts.
Enjoy 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases and 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge when you pay with your new card
Save with a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation
The Navy Federal nRewards Secured credit card lets you earn rewards while building your credit
No annual fees, no balance transfer fees, no foreign transaction fees, and no cash advance fees
Deposit at least $200 into your membership savings account (before submitting your application) to back your spending. Once approved, we’ll hold your deposit in your account as your card’s credit limit.
After just 3 months, you could be eligible for an upgrade. If you qualify, we’ll provide you with additional credit to allow for spending beyond your deposit. Then, at 6 months, we’ll review your account monthly to see if you’re eligible to have your hold removed and be upgraded to a cashRewards unsecured card.
Must be a member of Navy Federal Credit Union to qualify
The credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which CardRates.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers.
Review Breakdown: Points Rewards Cards
Credit cards come in all shapes and sizes, from those offering air miles to those that rebuild bad credit. The cards in our Points category boast popular reward programs that enable users to redeem points for everything from gift cards to cash back. Below is a summary of the best points-based cards. Click any card name to visit the issuer's official site.
As things like online shopping, digital payments, and identity theft become more prevalent, the best rewards credit cards are becoming increasingly necessary for consumer life. In response, more and more credit cards are hitting the market hoping to get their share of the burgeoning consumer base.
As a result, credit card companies are forced to compete for your business. As issuers work to make their products stand out from the crowd, they’re offering better rewards and more diverse bonus categories.
This is a great thing for consumers — the competition means better rewards, more competitive interest rates, and extra perks that make it more valuable than ever to have a good rewards credit card in your wallet.
You’re in luck if you’re currently shopping for a rewards credit card. The market is as robust as ever — and we’ve put together a comprehensive FAQ of everything you should know before submitting your credit card application.
1. What is a Rewards Credit Card?
A rewards credit card is a standard credit card that rewards you for every eligible purchase you make. You’ll receive bonus point earnings, miles, or cash back for every qualifying purchase you make, depending on the rewards card you choose.
Points: These accrue at a certain rate for every dollar in purchases you charge to your card. The number of points you earn for each dollar spent will depend on the card you qualify for. Your card’s issuer allows you to redeem your points for a host of rewards, including merchandise, statement credits, gift cards, travel rewards, or the ever-popular cash back.
Cash Back: This acts just like it sounds: Your card’s issuer will refund a portion of every qualifying purchase, based on the percentage of cash back your card pays out. For example, a card with 2% cash back rate on all purchases will refund 2% of every qualifying purchase you charge to the card.
Miles: These are typically associated with travel rewards credit cards. You earn miles as you would points. The difference is that you redeem your miles for travel-related purchases. Some credit cards that reward miles only allow you to redeem points for refunds on travel purchases that you’ve already charged to your card, essentially erasing the debt.
The rewards structure that works best for you will greatly depend on how you use your credit card. Banks aren’t big fans of giving away cash, so the cash back option tends to be the least-generous rewards option on the market. And yet, it remains the most popular with consumers.
Points, on the other hand, give you more flexible redemption options, but they can vary in value depending on how you use them. If you’re an avid traveler, miles credit cards can reduce your travel expenses and help you upgrade to better accommodations.
2. How Do I Earn Credit Card Rewards?
You earn rewards for every qualifying purchase, which for most credit card issuers is a new purchase. You will not earn rewards for a cash advance or balance transfer.
And rewards credit cards only pay for net purchases. That means if you make a purchase and later return it to the store for a refund, you won’t receive rewards for the charge.
The rate of rewards you earn for your qualifying purchase will depend on the rewards credit card you have. Some cards offer a flat rewards rate for every purchase. This can mean you will earn an unlimited 2% cash back or 2X points or miles on every purchase.
Other cards offer bonus category rewards that pay out a greater rewards rate for specific purchases. An example of this would be a cash back credit card that pays 5% on grocery store, restaurant, and gas station purchases, and a flat 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Some credit card issuers, including Discover, have promotional offers that allow you to maximize your rewards even further. Through Discover’s Cashback Match program, all cardholders receive a match of the total amount of cash back they earn during their first full year with the card. This essentially doubles for cash back reward rate for the first 12 months you have your card.
3. What Are the Different Types of Rewards Cards?
You can earn three main types of rewards with a credit card: points, cash back, and miles. The type of reward earned will depend on the credit card you choose, and no card offers more than one type of reward structure, i.e., you can’t earn points and miles on the same card.
Research every option before you choose which one works best for you. After a superficial review, most people would say they want a card that offers cash. But while cash rewards still rank as one of the most popular credit card reward types, it often has the least generous payouts.
After all, banks like cash just as much as you do. They don’t want to part with their profits, either.
You earn cash back rewards based on your card’s rewards rate. The cash rewards you receive will vary by card and may even vary by the type of purchase you make or the time of year in which you make the purchase.
Some cash back rewards credit cards offer a flat reward rate for all qualifying purchases (which is typically any new purchase you charge to the card). So, for example, you may earn an unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase you make.
Other cards more heavily reward purchases in certain categories, including restaurant and grocery purchases, gas purchases, or recurring subscription payments.
Typically, a bonus category rewards card will offer a smaller-than-average reward rate on all other purchases. You may earn as much as 5% or 6% on the category purchases but as little as 1% on all other purchases. One such example of this is the new Chase Freedom Flex card.
Some category-specific cards may also cap how much cash back you can earn for purchases made in the bonus categories. For example, you may earn 5% cash back on all grocery store purchases, but only up to $1,500 in total purchases each quarter. Other cards change their categories every quarter to provide a little variety to your shopping — and charging — experience.
Even if your rewards are capped, these cards can provide big savings. A grocery store card that gives you 6% cash back (such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card) would pay out $90 in rewards for $1,500 in grocery store charges every three months. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Just as you earn a set amount of cash back for every dollar you spend, you’ll earn a specific number of points with these cards for every dollar you charge to your card.
What separates a points card from a cash back card is the flexibility that bonus point earnings provide when it’s time to redeem your rewards. With cash back, you can only earn cash. With points, you choose your reward.
Popular points programs, such as the Chase Ultimate Reward site, provide dozens of reward options on which you can use your ultimate rewards points, including to make travel purchases, earn gift cards, buy merchandise, pay for subscriptions, or even get cash back.
The trick to maximizing points rewards is to understand how much the various rewards will cost you. Your points will have a different value based on how you shop. For example, your points won’t go as far if you redeem them for cash back, compared to paying for a rental car.
Various credit card issuers have deals with different merchandise manufacturers and service providers. This allows them to offer those products at a lower rate. They pass those savings along to you, in part, to incentivize you to not get cash back.
And similar to cash back category purchases, some points credit cards may reward more points for purchases made in specific categories. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, offers the most points for travel-related purchases. You’ll also get 50% more value for your points if you redeem them for travel.
Even though you can get more potential value out of a points rewards credit card, you could easily forfeit the value if you redeem your points in less valuable categories, or carry a balance on your card and rack up interest charges. Before you are ready to cash in, research your options, and see which will stretch your points the furthest.
Air miles cards work a lot like points cards. Instead of earning points for your purchases, a miles credit card will earn — you guessed it — miles. You can redeem these miles for travel-related purchases or to refund previous travel charges.
While this may not sound as flexible as a points card, an avid traveler can find a tremendous amount of utility in a travel rewards card.
Think of this as the traditional airline miles that you can earn through a branded airline credit card. You can certainly use these miles to purchase your next airfare — but you can also purchase carry-on baggage, onboard meals and drinks, access to airport lounges, and other perks in the clouds and on the ground.
The same goes for a travel rewards card. While you can use them to purchase airline tickets, you can also redeem your rewards for car rental, hotel and resort stays, ride-sharing service fees, flight upgrades, and other valuable perks.
Some miles cards, however, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, have a different redemption method. Instead of redeeming your miles to purchase upcoming travel accommodations, you will use your miles to credit all or part of previously charged travel expenses. So you can take the airline ticket you purchased last month and redeem your miles (including those you earned when you purchased the ticket) to refund your account for the purchase.
Each travel credit card in this category may also offer other travel perks, including rental car insurance, airport lounge access, travel insurance, and refunds for fees paid to acquire TSA PreCheck or Global Entry accounts.
Regardless of which rewards system works best for you, the only way you can maximize your rewards is to know the ins and outs of your card. Many cards will add a higher interest rate or annual fee to offset the cost of the perks they pay out.
If your travel card has a high annual percentage rate (APR) or an annual fee, make sure your spending will earn you enough rewards to cover those expenses, and do your best to avoid interest charges by paying your card off monthly. With the average credit card charging a 17% APR, you’ll never be able to earn more than you spend when you pay interest.
4. How Do I Get a Rewards Credit Card?
The first step to getting any credit card is to apply. But before you do that, you have to consider your options.
We’ve provided our list above of the best rewards credit cards on the market. Determining which card is best for you will depend on your credit score, financial situation, and credit goals.
Many credit card issuers today will provide a pre-qualifying form that utilizes a soft credit check to give the bank access to your credit history. This differs from a traditional hard credit check that results in an inquiry. Too many inquiries can lower your credit score.
If you prequalify for a credit card, there is a very good chance that the bank will approve your application when you formally apply. Just remember that prequalifying does not guarantee approval.
There are times when an item may not show on your soft credit pull but pops up on a hard credit pull. This may affect your ability to qualify for the credit card you want.
Once you’re prequalified and ready to officially apply, you can do so on the credit card issuer’s website. This process typically takes less than 10 minutes and results in a near-immediate application decision thanks to the bank’s automated underwriting systems.
If you qualify, your new card will arrive in the mail sometime between seven to 10 business days. You can begin using your new credit line as soon as you activate your credit card account over the phone or online.
Some card issuers will provide immediate access to your credit as soon as you’re approved. This happens via a temporary credit card number generated through your account portal on the credit card company website or mobile application.
Typically, you can input this number to make purchases online or over the phone. Not every brick-and-mortar retailer or service provider will accept a temporary credit card number because it must process as a card-not-present transaction, which costs the merchant more and reduces protection against a declined or disputed charge.
But if you’re more of the traditional type, you can still find many lucrative rewards options on mainstream credit cards, including:
Statement Credit: This is a credit against any balance you may have on your credit card. Say you have a current balance of $100 on your card and you’ve saved up $80 in rewards. You can cash those in and lower your debt to $20. Many credit card issuers won’t count a rewards statement credit as your monthly payment.
Cash: You can never go wrong with cash. By using this option, your credit card company will transfer however much you redeem directly into a linked checking account. In many cases, you can instead have a check mailed to you — though this may incur a processing fee. Some issuers offer 1 cent per rewards point, but others lessen the cashback value per rewards point redeemed to as low as .006 cents per point.
Purchase Credits:Discover, American Express, and Chase all have partnerships with Amazon that allow cardholders to make a purchase through the online giant and use accrued rewards points during checkout. This is about the closest thing to instant cash you can get with credit card rewards.
Merchandise: Many points-based rewards credit cards will allow cardholders to redeem their accrued points for merchandise, including name-brand electronics and home goods. Some issuers make it easy to purchase directly through the bank’s website portal or mobile app. Others may transfer you to a partner merchant’s website, where you can shop directly through that online retailer using your points and have your items shipped directly to your home.
Gift Cards: You can’t go wrong with a gift card as a gift, especially now that so many retailers make it easy to purchase a gift card online and have an email immediately sent to the recipient with the redemption code to use the funds. You can use your points to purchase a variety of gift cards for yourself or a loved one and use the codes immediately. This is a great workaround if your favorite retailer doesn’t partner with your credit card company to provide direct shopping using points.
Travel: Most points- and miles-accruing credit cards allow you to redeem your rewards for travel-related purchases or refund you for past travel costs. You can use your points for just about any travel cost — including bus fare, rental cars, airline tickets, hotel and resort reservations, ride-sharing services, checked-bag fees, and accommodation upgrades.
Experiences: Several credit card issuers partner with select venues and entertainers to provide exclusive access and experiences to cardholders. This can include virtual cooking lessons with famous chefs, soundcheck access at concerts, VIP theater seating, or early entry to the arena or stadium for professional sporting events. Some of these perks don’t even require rewards points to access — you can simply show your card at the door.
Charitable Donations: Some credit cards provide a bonus offer or matching offer when you make charitable donations using your credit card. Others may allow you to transfer your points, miles, or cash back to the charitable organization of your choice. When you do this, you not only support a cause that is close to your heart, but you can also earn a tax write-off.
So even if you aren’t a fan of Mickey Mouse or a professional magician, you can find a card that gives you access to what you love, what you support, or what you hope to accomplish.
6. What Credit Score is Needed to Qualify for a Rewards Card?
Your FICO credit score can range between 300 and 850. Between those numbers are multiple tiers that will impact your qualification for any credit card.
A score at or below 580 is considered poor. Between 580 and 669 is fair. The range from 670 to 739 is good. A score between 740 and 799 is very good and anything at or above 800 is exceptional — or excellent.
Rewards cards are so popular that just about every credit card issuer offers them. That means you can find a rewards card for just about every credit score. There are even cash back rewards cards for bad credit.
Your credit qualifications will determine your pecking order in the rewards industry. The rewards offered on a card for someone who has excellent credit will be far more lucrative than the rewards for someone who has fair credit, limited credit, or bad credit.
For example, a bad credit cash back rewards credit card may offer a flat 1% cash back option, but those rewards won’t come cheap. These cards typically include an annual fee and very low credit limits — which makes it difficult to earn enough rewards to break even. You may also have a cap on the amount of rewards you can earn or a limit on when — and how much — you can redeem.
As you move up to fair credit rewards cards, you’ll likely find a similarly low rewards rate and an annual fee. There may be fewer restrictions on how and when you redeem your rewards and you may also find larger credit limits.
Rewards cards for good, very good, and excellent credit will still vary in terms of perks and fees, but they’ll also have far fewer restrictions. If you’re at the top of the financial food chain, you can access wildly lucrative rewards programs that come at a hefty cost.
Some, including the Luxury Card™ Mastercard® Gold Card™, will charge a massive $1,000 annual fee for a 24k-gold-plated credit card that offers benefits and rewards that can provide thousands in savings every year (minus the annual fee).
But if you aren’t that showy, you can find a rewards credit card that fits into your credit score range and provides room for growth. Since many card issuers have several rewards cards in their portfolio, you can start small and work your way up over time without having to apply for a new card at every step of the journey. That’s because these issuers tend to provide free upgrades once you qualify for another card in the portfolio.
7. Which Credit Cards Give the Best Rewards?
This depends on your definition of “best.” If you’re looking for the card that provides the most rewards from a money-earning aspect, you can check out just about every rewards card that is designed for consumers who have excellent credit.
If you’re looking instead for a card that will provide utility and give you some rebates for purchases that you make regularly, you should consider a good points credit card.
That’s because points cards give you a choice and flexibility in how you redeem your rewards. If you have a big trip coming up, you can cash them in for accommodations. If you decide instead to save up for a new television, you can redeem your points for gift cards or merchandise credit.
These cards also include the cash back option, which kind of negates the usefulness of a rewards card that only provides cash back as a perk.
Just remember that every option for redeeming your points will have varying point costs. Your credit card issuer calculates these costs based on how much the option costs them. For example, you may not pay as much to redeem your points for a ride-sharing service bill as you would to stay in a five-star hotel.
You may also get far less in cash back than you would if you redeemed your points for airfare.
If you’d rather not deal with changing values and redemption rates, and you’d rather keep your credit card rewards experience simple, you should consider one of the best cash back credit cards.
These cards will provide a flat — and often unlimited — cash back rate on every eligible purchase you make. This allows you to essentially earn a rebate on your purchases. You can redeem your cash back as a statement credit to wipe away all, or part, of your balance, or you can receive your cash through a direct deposit to a linked checking account or via a paper check in the mail.
In all, the best rewards credit card for you will provide you with the freedom to earn as you choose — be it simple cash back or more strategy-oriented points. Once you are comfortable with the redemption method and options available, you can take the leap and prequalify online or outright apply for the card of your dreams.
8. Are Credit Card Rewards Worth It?
If you follow a few simple guidelines, credit card rewards are not only worth it, but they can actually be quite profitable. Aside from the ability to earn cash back or points you can redeem for money-saving items, services, or experiences, most rewards credit cards come with extra perks that you may not see in an advertisement.
If you take advantage of all of these perks, you can save substantial sums of money and increase your peace of mind when you’re home or away. Some of the most common rewards card benefits include:
Refund for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry: Many travel credit cards will refund your membership fee for either of these time-saving services that get you through airport security lines faster.
Coverage for Damaged or Stolen Products: Many credit cards provide delivery warranties for items you purchase online through your credit card. If your item arrives damaged — or doesn’t arrive at all — your card will cover you.
Price Matching: If your card includes this perk, you could receive a partial refund if you find an item you charged to your card at a cheaper price within a specific time frame (typically 30 to 60 days after purchase).
Return Protection: If a retailer won’t accept a return of an item you purchased, your credit card may still cover you and refund the charge to your account.
Cellphone Insurance or Replacement: If you pay your cellphone bill each month using your credit card, the card may provide a bonus insurance policy that will replace your phone if it is lost or damaged.
Identity Theft Services: With identity theft on the rise — and many credit card issuers losing money due to fraudulent activity — you may have access to credit monitoring and other services at no extra charge.
Rental Car Insurance: If you pay for your rental car with your credit card, the issuer could provide an insurance policy that protects your borrowed vehicle against theft or damage. This coverage is typically more inclusive than the packages offered to you at the rental counter by the agency you’re renting from.
Baggage Fees, Flight Upgrades, and Travel Insurance: When you book your airfare with your card, you could gain access to these money-saving benefits that make your flight more comfortable and convenient.
Free Currency Conversion: A foreign transaction fee can charge you for every purchase you make in a country other than your own. This can add up quickly if you’re traveling abroad and prefer not to carry cash. Without this fee, you can charge and pay the converted amount in your native currency without paying for the service.
Access to Your Credit Score: Most credit card issuers now provide cardholders with monthly access to one, or all, of their credit scores. You may receive a score through one of the three major credit reporting bureaus or through FICO.
Keep in mind that these perks may promote themselves as free, but very little in the financial world is truly free. Credit card issuers may tack on higher interest rates or annual fees to offset the costs of these services.
Weigh the cost of credit against the savings potential of any perks you may have your eye on when deciding which rewards credit card is the best for you.
9. Is it Better to Get Cash Back or Points?
You should always base your choice of rewards credit cards on what is best for your financial situation and goals, as well as how much work you are willing to put into your rewards journey.
Points will always provide more flexibility. You can redeem your points for a wide range of items, experiences, and upgrades. This allows you to save your rewards points for different things over the course of each year.
And since you will often get better deals with points than with cash back, you can stretch your spending out and make each point just a little more valuable.
Doing so will mean you have to follow different categories and decide which purchases will maximize your point-earning strategy. You will also have to judge the different redemption values for each reward category to make sure you’re getting the most value possible out of your points.
This can take some time to master. If you are into studying and learning new things, the challenge may be right up your alley. If you’re already strapped for time, or you’d rather things remain as simple as possible, you should consider a cash back credit card.
With cash back, you will earn a flat percentage of each purchase back as a cash reward. You still may have categories with this rewards program — such as an elevated reward rate when you make certain purchases — but you can rest assured that every purchase will earn you some amount of cash back.
But if you really want to get adventurous, why not consider adding one of each to your credit card portfolio? You can maximize your cash back categories to earn the most possible cash back on certain purchases (typically at grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants). The added cash back on category purchases usually outpaces the points potential on the same charges.
When you aren’t making a category-based purchase, you can use your points card and rack up those rewards.
By keeping one of each card in your wallet, you can be certain that you’re getting the most bang for your buck — although it will take a slight learning curve to determine which card is best for each purchase.
10. How Do I Choose the Best Rewards Credit Card?
Choosing the best credit card for you comes down to doing some research. But instead of memorizing multiple choice answers, you need to compare what you want to what’s available on the market.
Your first step is to decide which type of reward works best for you. If you travel a lot — or plan to in the future — you should consider one of the best travel rewards credit cards. These can earn you air miles or basic miles that you can redeem for just about any travel expense you can think of.
If you’re the stay-at-home type, but want more options when it is time to redeem your rewards, you can check out the best points credit cards, like many of the options listed above.
These cards offer you the opportunity to save up points that you earn with every qualifying purchase and redeem them for anything that you may want — from travel to merchandise to gift cards and dozens of other options.
If you want to keep it simple, then you can never go wrong with a great cash back card. Instead of juggling point values and redemption options, these cards will give you a rebate on every purchase you charge to your card.
No matter which option you choose, you should find it quite easy to redeem your accrued rewards. Just about every rewards credit card issuer provides a portal on its website or mobile application that allows you to cash out and redeem your points, miles, or cash back, in just a few clicks or taps.
11. How Do I Maximize My Credit Card Points?
Rewards cards aren’t just about earning rewards. What’s the fun in having a potentially lucrative credit card in your wallet if you don’t maximize your rewards potential? If you’re ready to step up your rewards game, you should follow a few simple rules:
Use the Right Rewards Card: The most important step to maximizing your credit card rewards is to make sure you have — and use — the best card for each purchase, starting with the purchases you make most frequently.
Use Issuer Shopping Portals: Rewards credit cards often offer another way to boost your rewards: issuer shopping portals. These portals are typically available through your online banking account and can provide big discounts or bonus rewards for purchases made with partner brands and retailers.
Leverage the Value of Your Points: The most popular feature of rewards points is that they tend to offer multiple redemption options, allowing you to customize your rewards. At the same time, not every redemption option will provide the same per-point value, so you may want to consider the best way to get full value before redeeming. Chase Ultimate Reward points, for example, can be redeemed for cash back at a rate of 1¢ per point, or be redeemed through the Chase travel portal for up to 1.5¢ per point. And transferring your points to a partner airline or hotel loyalty program could give you a value of 3¢ per point or more with a smart redemption.
Pay off Your Balance Every Month: One of the reasons issuers encourage you to use your cards with purchase rewards is in the hopes that you’ll carry a balance, thus providing them revenue through interest fees. You can turn the tables on them, however, by paying off your balance every month before your due date. So long as your card has a grace period, you won’t be charged interest if you pay your balance in full.
Use Your Cards for Every Purchase: In today’s world, nearly any purchase can be made with a credit card. So, if you’re going to be spending the money anyway — you may as well get rewarded for it. Just make sure to budget the cash by sticking it aside for when the bill comes due. Remember rule number four!
Review Your Rewards Cards Periodically: Over time, your spending habits may change or the issuer may alter the card rewards program, making it necessary to re-evaluate your current credit card collection at least once a year. Make sure each card in your wallet is maximizing your rewards; if not, consider replacing it with a better card.
Don’t Let Your Rewards Expire: Accumulating points is, well, pointless if you don’t use them. While many modern rewards programs don’t have expiration dates so long as your account stays open and in good standing, not all rewards points live forever.
In many cases, your card company will notify you before the points are due to expire, but don’t count on your issuer to do the work. Proper planning will ensure you use them long before they expire and disappear for good.
Remember — a credit card company isn’t in the business of giving things away. Rewards are a way for banks to lure new customers in with the hopes of earning interest charges from the new account.
When you avoid these fees, you can leverage your buying power and, in many cases, make money off your rewards credit card. But if you carry a balance and pay interest every month, you’re going to lose money over the long haul — which makes the rewards far less valuable.
Rewards credit cards are like any other credit card — the more responsible you are, the more benefits you will receive. Keep that in mind if you are considering over-spending to reach a sign up bonus or accruing credit card debt after getting enamored with growing your cash back or points balance.
12. What is the Best Credit Card for Everyday Purchases?
Fewer people carry cash these days, which makes a good everyday credit card so important to your financial plan. An everyday card should provide rewards, but also allow you to use your card in as many places as possible without hassle or hurdle.
We prefer a steady flat-rate rewards card for our everyday purchases. This makes redemption easy and won’t force you to think and rethink which card you should swipe when you’re at the register.
Your everyday card should also be one that you pay off every month and don’t carry a balance on. After all, the purchases you make are ones you can afford. You only use the card to avoid carrying around cash.
With that said, the Citi Double Cash Card is a great everyday card because it offers a competitive, flat-rate cash back option. With this card, you will earn 1% cash back when you make the purchase and another 1% when you pay the balance off.
The Citi Double Cash card does not charge an annual fee and typically provides a generous sign up bonus or introductory bonus offer for new cardholders. Double Cash also provides you with access to Citi Entertainment®, which grants cardholders access to special events, presale tickets, and other exclusive experiences that Citi curates throughout the year.
You also receive 24-hour fraud protection, Citi® Identity Theft Solutions, and $0 liability for unauthorized charges made with your credit card account.
While these offers change frequently, it is not uncommon to sign up for this card and receive a long interest-free period for new purchases and balance transfers. That’s great for an everyday card or as a tool to pay off an existing balance on a high-interest credit card or to make a large purchase that you can pay off over time without incurring a finance charge.
Just remember that balance transfers don’t earn cash back rewards, so don’t expect a big bonus — other than a lack of interest charges — for those transactions.
13. Is there a Limit to the Rewards I Can Earn?
Most rewards credit cards provide unlimited earnings on their cards. That means you can earn as much cash back or as many points or miles as you can afford, but some cards do impose limits on the rewards you can earn.
This is important to note if you’re making large purchases or using the card as an everyday purchase tool. You don’t want to hit an earnings ceiling and lose your purchasing power in terms of rewards.
Some credit cards that offer bonus categories limit the amount of bonus cash you can earn in combined purchases. For example, you may get an elevated 5% cash back on grocery store purchases for your first $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter.
Some cards impose a spending cap to limit the amount of rewards you can earn with the card.
You won’t stop earning rewards once you hit that cap. Instead, you will revert to the lower base cash back rate that your card provides, usually 1%.
If you are considering a rewards card that offers a welcome bonus, you should remember that some credit card issuers will limit the number of welcome bonus offers you can qualify for in a set period of time. Some rewards credit cards also limit the amount of cash back you can earn in a quarter or a year.
The best way to determine your earnings potential with a card is to read the credit card disclosure document that each issuer must provide — via a hard copy or on its website — before you apply for any credit card.
This document will not only show you your interest rate, charges, and other pertinent information in bold type, but it will also let you know all of the rules pertaining to the rewards program that the card offers.
14. How Many Rewards Credit Cards Should I Have?
There’s no hard cap on how many credit cards you can have (although some issuers, such as Capital One, limit the number of cards they will give to a consumer). But there probably is a thing as too many rewards credit cards.
Many of the high-end rewards credit cards charge an annual fee. If you have several cards that all charge a membership fee each year, you’re going to have to earn a lot of rewards to cover the cost of the plastic in your wallet.
Plus, if you have multiple points, cash back, or miles cards, you’re going to experience some redundancy after a while. After all, most cards offer similar reward rates on everyday purchases. If you spread out your net purchases on too many cards, you won’t be able to accrue a large number of points or cash back since you will have rewards from multiple card issuers that you cannot combine.
If you are all about rewards and want to earn as much as you can, consider adding one of the three major rewards types to your wallet — a good points, cash back, and miles credit card.
You can build up the rewards you need for your current plans by diversifying your credit card portfolio. That means you can use your miles card when you’re saving up for a big trip, access your cash back when you want to save money on a big purchase, or tap into your points when you have a specific redemption item in mind.
Options are not only powerful, but they can also be fun. When you have a host of rewards at your disposal, you can maximize your earnings and make bigger and better plans for the future than you would be able to without the rewards.
15. Are there Rewards Cards for Bad Credit?
Rewards credit cards are available for every credit score. Just keep in mind that the best rewards credit cards tend to target consumers who have good or excellent credit.
That said, most of the rewards credit cards for bad credit will offer cash back. You won’t likely find travel or points rewards cards for bad credit.
You will also likely find an annual fee and low credit limit on any credit card designed for someone who has bad credit. This can throttle your cash back earnings and make it difficult to earn more than you spend on the annual fee.
Credit card issuers add these charges to offset the cost of providing credit — and rewards — to a consumer who they deem as “high risk.” Banks know that rewards are a popular feature, so they add a small, typically 1%, cash back option to entice someone to apply for their card over another.
Sometimes, however, the rewards on these cards aren’t worth the cost. Instead of building up cash back, you often find yourself racking up more debt.
For example, a card that offers a $300 initial credit limit and 1% cash back will only pay out $3 in rewards if you max out your card. If you add the typical $99 annual fee, you will have to charge nearly $10,000 to your card each year — or approximately $834 each month — just to break even.
While rewards are a fun — and profitable — way to use your credit cards, they aren’t always your best option. If you have bad credit, you can consider a secured credit card or an unsecured credit card with fewer fees to help get your credit score back on track at a lower cost.
Once you have recovered from your previous financial mistakes, you can leverage your newly improved credit score to jump on one of the best rewards credit cards listed above. And once you are on track, you can continue to build momentum by maintaining on-time payments and keeping your balances low. Do that, and you will soon be researching the best rewards credit cards for excellent credit.
Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
The information on this page was reviewed for accuracy on .
About the Author
Brittney is a Credit Strategist and Finance Expert who has spent years honing her knowledge of the credit industry both personally and professionally. Brittney applies her more than a decade of research experience to crafting in-depth consumer guides designed to help CardRates readers make better, more informed financial decisions.
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