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The best credit cards for rewards in 2021:
|Category||Best rewards credit card|
|Best cash-back card:||Citi® Double Cash Card|
|Great cash-back bonus categories:||Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express|
|Best travel card with an annual fee under $100:||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card|
|Best travel card for earning maximum points:||Chase Sapphire Reserve®|
|Best no-annual-fee Chase card:||Chase Freedom Unlimited®|
|Best card for travel perks like lounge access and elite status:||The Platinum Card® from American Express|
|Citi's best travel card:||Citi Premier® Card|
|Capital One's best travel card:||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card|
|Best for rewards on dining out and groceries:||American Express® Gold Card|
Disclaimer: This page includes information about the Discover it® Miles and Discover it® Cash Back products, which are currently not available on Business Insider and may be out of date.
Rewards credit cards give you something back for every dollar you spend — whether that's points or miles for travel, or cash back that lowers your monthly bill.
On top of that, many cards offer high sign-up bonuses to new cardholders who meet a spending requirement in the first few months after opening a card, and some include benefits like travel and purchase protection. If you're able to use credit cards responsibly — by not spending more than you can afford to pay off every month — using a credit card that offers rewards and other benefits is a great idea.
Here are the top rewards credit cards currently available, based on welcome bonuses, rewards earned on everyday spending, benefits, and overall value.
Best cash-back card: Citi® Double Cash Card
Balance Transfer Fee
If you prefer to earn cash back, you can't beat the Citi® Double Cash Card for value or simplicity. The card has no annual fee, and it earns 2% cash back on every purchase (1% back when you buy, and 1% back when you pay your bill).
While the Citi Double Cash is a cash-back card, if you also have another Citi card like the Citi Premier® Card or the Citi Prestige® Card , you can combine your rewards between cards and redeem for travel. But if you're interested in using rewards for travel, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is generally a better entry point. It's also a no-annual-fee cash-back card that you can pair with another card to redeem rewards for travel, and Chase Ultimate Rewards are our favorite travel points.
But again, if you're simply after the best cash-back card, the Citi Double Cash is an excellent choice.
What the experts love: Great cash-back rate on all purchases, no annual fee
What the experts don't love: Other cards with bonus categories can offer more cash back on select purchases (like on groceries and dining).
Read more about the Citi Double Cash card:
- Citi Double Cash card review
- The Citi Double Cash is one of the most flexible rewards cards out there — you can earn cash back now, and redeem for travel later
- I've always loved earning travel rewards, but the travel ban pushed me to apply for Citi's best cash-back card and I couldn't be happier
- I redeemed over $600 in cash back from the Citi Double Cash this year, and I think it's a great 'gateway' card if you're new to credit card rewards
Best travel card with an annual fee under $100: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Now that the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee, it's harder to recommend it as the best travel rewards card overall. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, on the other hand, has broader appeal with a number of similar features and a higher sign-up bonus, all for a lower annual fee.
The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points instead of the Reserve's 3x points on dining and travel, 5x points on Lyft, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece on travel booked through Chase or through Pay Yourself Back, and you can transfer them to airline and hotel partner loyalty programs. There's no annual travel credit, but there's still car rental primary coverage, as well as trip delay coverage and purchase protection.
If you don't think you'll be able to use the Sapphire Reserve's new benefits that accompanied the increased annual fee — like DoorDash statement credits and Lyft Pink membership — the Sapphire Preferred could be a better choice. If you eventually decide that the Sapphire Preferred is worth it, you can upgrade your card.
What the experts love: Good sign-up bonus, some of the benefits of the Sapphire Reserve at a lower price, travel perks like primary rental.
What the experts don't love: No annual travel credit, earns points more slowly than the Sapphire Reserve, no Global Entry or airport lounge access, which some other cards with a similar annual fee offer.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
- Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best rewards credit card for beginners
- Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card's bonus to earn a free trip
- The best Chase credit cards
Best for earning maximum travel points: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
With 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and any travel (after earning the travel credit) and 1 point per dollar on everything else, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® makes it easy to maximize your everyday spending, and it comes with a slew of perks. It used to be our top travel rewards card pick, but now that it has a $550 annual fee (up from $450), it's harder to recommend to everyone.
The Sapphire Reserve's annual fee is offset by a travel credit of up to $300 each year, good for things like taxis, subway fare, parking, tolls, and flights. This effectively decreases the annual fee to $250, so you'll have to decide whether the card's other benefits are worth it for you.
You now get up to $60 in credits with DoorDash in 2021, 10x points on Lyft rides, and a year of complimentary Lyft Pink membership (which gets you discounted rides and more). If you frequently travel with Lyft and use DoorDash to order food delivery, these benefits could easily justify the higher annual fee — but that's not the case for everyone.
What the experts love: Points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel through Chase and Pay Yourself Back, 3x points on two very broad bonus categories (travel and dining)
What the experts don't love: The high annual fee. "Unless you can fully use all the other perks this card offers, it will become expensive to carry this card for a long time," says NerdWallet's travel and credit cards expert, Sara Rathner. The Chase Sapphire Preferred could be a better option if you were already on the fence.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review
- Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is my top pick for eating out
- Chase Sapphire Preferred versus the Chase Sapphire Reserve
- How the Chase Sapphire Reserve can increase the value of all your Ultimate Rewards points
The most travel benefits: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express has the same $550 annual fee (See Rates) as the Sapphire Reserve, but also a longer list of benefits. The Platinum Card is also one of the best options for paying for flights, because you'll earn 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with airlines and with Amex Travel (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). (Note: New Platinum Card® cardmembers can earn 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months of card membership).
Like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can use American Express Membership Rewards points to purchase travel, gift cards, or products directly from the issuer, or transfer points to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs. The best value comes from that latter use. If you redeem points by using them to book travel through Amex, you'll get a value of 1 cent per point.
The The Platinum Card® from American Express includes access to the same airport lounges as the Sapphire Reserve, plus Delta Sky Clubs when you fly Delta, and the proprietary American Express Centurion Lounges. Platinum Card members also get exclusive access to major events and experiences, including once-in-a-lifetime "By Invitation Only" events.
Of course, $550 is a lot to pay out each year. Up to $200 in annual airline fee credits and up to $200 in annual Uber credits (including Uber Eats) certainly help, but the airline credit can be difficult to use if you aren't checking bags or buying drinks on flights.
What the experts love: Airport lounge access (especially to Amex Centurion Lounges — "They're pretty high end as far as airport lounges go!," says Rathner), access to high-end hotel benefits through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, 5x points on flights
What the experts don't love: High annual fee, some annual statement credits have significant limitations. "You have to choose one airline to apply the annual $200 statement to, which limits your flexibility," says Rathner.
Read more about the Amex Platinum:
- Amex Platinum credit card review
- 8 things to do when you get the Amex Platinum card
- Pros and cons of the Amex Platinum
- The Amex Platinum is available to active-duty servicemembers at no annual fee — but even with the fee, the credit card is a great value
Best Citi travel card: Citi Premier® Card
The Citi Premier® Card is our top pick for best Citi credit card, in part because of the card's generous welcome offer of 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. The Citi Premier® Card earns Citi ThankYou points, which you can redeem for gift cards, merchandise, travel, and more through the Citi portal. You can potentially get even more from your points by transferring them to Citi's airline partners.
This is also a good pick whether you're staying close to home right now or traveling again. It earns bonus points in pandemic-friendly categories: 3x points at supermarkets, restaurants, gas stations, and on air travel and hotels, and 1x on everything else. Plus, with so many ways to redeem your Citi ThankYou points, you've got options even if you're not ready to travel just yet.
What the experts love: Great bonus, useful bonus categories, flexibility of redemption
What the experts don't love: Citi ThankYou's list of airline partners isn't as robust as other programs', lower redemption value if you want cash back
Read more about the Citi Premier card:
- Citi Premier card review
- Citi Premier vs Citi Prestige comparison
- Chase Ultimate Rewards vs Citi ThankYou Rewards
Best no-annual-fee Chase card: Chase Freedom Unlimited®
If you already have the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred and are saving your points for a specific trip, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can give your balance a nice boost. While Chase markets the card as "cash back," it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1 cent).
When you have a premium card like the Sapphire Reserve, Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you can pool your points from the two cards. The Freedom Unlimited earns at least 1.5 points per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it's a great card to use for purchases that aren't made on travel expenses or dining (the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 5% back (5x points) on travel purchases made through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, 3% back (3x points) on drugstores and dining, and 1.5% back (1.5x points) on everything else with no cap. Best of all, the card has no annual fee.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it's time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1 cent each no matter how you use them and they can't be transferred to airline or hotel partners.
What the experts love: Flat cash-back rate makes it easy to earn rewards without tracking lots of bonus categories, you can transfer your points to another Chase card to redeem them for travel at a higher rate, no annual fee
What the experts don't love: One point only equals 1 cent for cash back, to get a better value you'll need to pair it with a Sapphire card. "The 1.5% cash-back rate is the standard at this point, but other cards like the Citi Double Cash earn 2% on every purchase. If you're looking for a flat-rate card, earn the highest rate you can," says Rathner.
Read more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited card review
- Why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the best credit card for college students
- Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited — which cash-back card is best for you?
- Comparison of all three versions of the Chase Freedom cards
Capital One's best travel card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One's travel rewards program isn't necessarily as lucrative as what other banks offer. However, Capital One has expanded the card's benefits, adding airline transfer partners, and launching transfer bonuses. While the transfer value isn't quite as good as with Chase or Amex, the flip side is that Capital One miles are easy to earn and easy to use.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. You can redeem miles at a fixed rate toward a statement credit to "erase" travel purchases. For example, if you buy a $500 plane ticket, you can apply 50,000 miles to cancel out that charge.
What the experts love: Low annual fee, redemption flexibility with the Purchase Eraser function
Cons: Points transfer at a lower ratio than 1:1, and transfer partners aren't quite as strong as Chase's — as Rathner notes, "the only US carrier available is JetBlue."
Read more about the Capital One Venture:
- Capital One Venture credit card review
- Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Capital One Venture — which card is better for you?
- Capital One Venture vs. Capital One Savor
Best for rewards on dining out and groceries: American Express® Gold Card
The American Express® Gold Card earns a massive 4x points at restaurants worldwide and on up to $25,000 per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (and 1x points after that), 3x points on flights booked directly through the airline, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1 cent of value each when you transfer them to airline and hotel partners, this is one of the highest-earning available cards for everything food-related.
The American Express® Gold Card offers up to $120 in dining credits per year (after enrollment), broken into chunks of $10 each month. Credits are good for purchases through food delivery services Seamless and GrubHub, and at Boxed, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations.
The credits can offset a fair bit of the card's $250 annual fee (See Rates) even before factoring in the value of the rewards you'll earn.
What the experts love: Fantastic rewards on dining and groceries at U.S. supermarkets, statement credits, and benefits to offset the annual fee
Cons: Smaller welcome bonus, only 1 cent per point of value unless you transfer points to an airline. Rathner adds, "The $120 dining credit sounds like a lot, but it's actually up to $10 a month at select restaurants and food delivery apps. If you don't live near any of these restaurants or live in a city not served by those apps, this benefit is useless to you."
Read more about the Amex Gold card:
- Amex Gold card review
- The American Express Gold Card has a $250 annual fee, but benefits alone can get you at least $120 in value each year
- Amex Platinum vs. Amex Gold card
Best cash-back bonus categories: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
If you're less excited about earning rewards points — which can be valuable, but also tricky to redeem — and want to stick with cash back, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the best option, despite its $95 (waived the first year) annual fee (See rates).
The card earns 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services and 3% back on all transit. That's in addition to 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year (and 1% after that), 3% back at U.S. gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express comes with a handful of travel and purchase protections as well. Cash back comes in the form of a statement credit, so effectively you can use it to "erase" purchases.
If you want to earn cash back instead of points and miles, make sure to check out our guide to the best cash-back credit cards for more options.
What the experts love: Bonus cash back on useful categories, easy to earn enough cash back to offset the annual fee
What the experts don't love: The card has an annual fee, which Personal Finance Insider's credit cards editor Sarah Silbert notes is relatively rare for cash-back cards, and there's a cap on earning 6% back at U.S. supermarkets each year. Rathner recommends switching to a different card for groceries once you hit the $6,000 mark. Summer Hull of The Points Guy sums it up this way: "Cash is good, points are better."
Read more about the Blue Cash Preferred card:
- Amex Blue Cash Preferred card review
- The best credit cards for buying groceries
- The best American Express cards
Other top credit cards that just missed the cut
Our list of the top rewards credit cards includes seven cards, but there are dozens more great options out there. We limited our recommendations in this guide to our most recommended cards, but there were several others on our shortlist that didn't make the final cut. Here's a look at those cards and why we elected to leave them out:
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card — This card offers solid rewards (2x points on travel, 1.5x points on everything else) plus up to a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck in exchange for a $95 annual fee. It's an especially valuable option if you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, since you'll be able to earn a 25% to 75% rewards bonus, which boosts your earnings with the card as high as 3.5 points per dollar. However, qualifying for Bank of America's Preferred Rewards program requires a minimum of $20,000 in Bank of America banking or Merrill investment accounts, so it's not for everybody.
- American Express® Green Card — If you want to earn Amex points but you don't want to pay the $550 annual fee of the Amex Platinum or the $250 annual fee of the Amex Gold Card, the Amex Green card is a more affordable option with a $150 annual fee. It earns 3x points at restaurants and on transit and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. This could be lucrative if you spend a lot in these categories, but the card's annual statement credits (up to $100 toward CLEAR membership and up to $100 toward LoungeBuddy airport lounge access) are too niche to be valuable to most people.
- Discover it® Cash Back — This card earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter of the year (then 1%) in rotating bonus categories after activation, and 1% back on everything else. These categories often include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, PayPal, and other popular purchase types and merchants. There's no annual fee, and Discover will match your cash back at the end of the first year. That's a potentially great deal, but not everyone wants to keep track of rotating bonus categories, and the quarterly cap is relatively low, especially for larger families.
- Chase Freedom Flex℠— This card works similarly to the Discover it® Cash Back, offering 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories each quarter when you activate (then 1% back). You'll also earn 5% back on travel purchases made through the Chase portal, 3% back on dining and drugstores, and 1% on everything else. It also has no annual fee. Not everyone wants to keep track of rotating bonus categories, so this card didn't make the cut, but it's worth noting that you can combine rewards from the Chase Freedom Flex℠ with points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve and redeem for travel.
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card — The Propel card is another great cash-back option, with no annual fee and 3x points on several spending categories (eating out and ordering in, gas stations, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals, and popular streaming services). The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express could be a better pick depending on where you spend the most on a day-to-day basis, but the Propel card is also worth a look.
Comparing the top rewards credit cards
|Annual fee||Welcome bonus||Rewards|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||$0||N/A||2% cash back on every purchase *|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||$0||$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening|
5% back on travel purchases made through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
3% back on drugstores and dining
1.5% back on everything else
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||$95||80,000 points after $4K spent in the first 3 months of account opening|
2x points on travel and dining
1 point per dollar on everything else
|Sapphire Reserve||$550||60,000 points after $4K spent in the first 3 months of account opening|
3x points on travel (after earning the travel credit) and dining
1 point per dollar on everything else
|Platinum Card||$550||75,000 points after you spend at least $5,000 in your first 6 months of card membership|
5x points on flights booked directly with airlines and on flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year
1 point per dollar on everything else
|Citi Premier® Card||$95||60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening|
3x points on air travel, gas stations, restaurants, supermarkets, and hotels
1 point per dollar on everything else
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||$95||Earn 100,000 bonus miles once you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months from account opening (or 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months)||2x miles on every purchase|
|Amex Gold Card||$250(See Rates)||60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening|
4x points at U.S. supermarkets** and at restaurants worldwide
3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel
1 point per dollar on everything else
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||$95 (waived the first year)||$300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months|
6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets*** and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit
1% cash back on everything else
* 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and another 1% cash back when you pay your bill
**4x points on the first $25,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year, then 1 point per dollar
*** 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year, then 1% cash back
Our expert panel for this guide
We consulted top credit card, finance, and travel experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best rewards card for your needs. You'll find the full text of our interviews with them at the bottom of this post.
How our list compares to other publications
While we draw on the advice of experts with years of experience covering credit cards, Personal Finance Insider isn't the only authority in this space. We know that research is an important part of the hunt for your next credit card, and with that in mind, we've compared our top rewards credit card recommendations with the lists from other publications.
Keep in mind that websites categorize their credit card recommendations in various ways; while Personal Finance Insider, NerdWallet, and several other publications have multiple "best of" lists for categories like cash back and travel, other sites have one main list. We included a checkmark under each publication name if it recommended a given card in any of its top credit card lists.
|Personal Finance Insider||NerdWallet||The Points Guy|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||✓||✓||✓|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||✓||✓||✓|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||✓||✓||✓|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||✓||✓||✓|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||✓||✓|
|Citi Premier® Card||✓||✓||✓|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||✓||✓||✓|
|American Express® Gold Card||✓||✓|
How did we choose the best rewards credit cards?
You'll notice that this page doesn't include every rewards credit card currently available to new applicants. That's on purpose — we evaluated the options on the market, utilizing the expertise of our Personal Finance Insider staff and the input of credit card, points and miles, and financial experts to narrow down the list to the very best options.
We define "very best options" as those that offer concrete value through benefits like annual statement credits and airport lounge access and through rewards such as bonus points on your everyday spending.
This list doesn't include our top picks for airline and hotel cards. You can learn more about those cards here:
And see our guide to the best travel rewards credit cards if you're specifically interested in earning travel rewards rather than cash back.
What credit card offers the best rewards?
If you don't want to overthink it, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you want a lower annual fee) is a safe bet. However, there is no easy answer if you want to optimize all of your spending, because all the types of points and miles have different values.
What are the different types of rewards credit cards?
There are a few main types of rewards cards:
- "Flexible" travel rewards cards —Most of the picks in this article fall under this category. These cards earn bank points, also called "flexible points," that you can redeem for travel, either directly through the issuing bank's travel portal (like Amex Travel) or with travel partners. This type of rewards card is usually the most valuable because you have the most options for using your rewards. For example, Amex has more than 20 travel partners you can transfer points to, and Chase has 13. Examples of this type of card include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the American Express® Gold Card, and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
- Cash-back credit cards — Examples include the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. These cards don't earn points or miles; they earn you cash back on all your purchases. If you don't travel or your priority is to get money back, these are the cards for you.
- Hotel or airline travel rewards credit cards — Examples include the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® . These are travel-focused credit cards that earn rewards with a specific hotel or airline loyalty program and offer benefits like credit toward elite status. For that reason, they make the most sense for travelers who are loyal to the given travel brand.
Should I earn cash back or points?
It depends on what you want to do with your rewards. If you want to put money back in your bank account, a cash-back credit card will help you accomplish just that — and you usually won't have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all.
On the other hand, if you're hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all three of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for rewards like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency "miles," they aren't miles with a given airline program.)
If you're willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there's value in having both cash-back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you're willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation.
What is a credit card point or mile worth?
Unlike cash back, which has a value that will never change, points and miles have different monetary values depending on which loyalty program they belong to and how you use them.
For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1 to 1.5 cents apiece, depending on what card you have, when you use them to book travel through Chase's site. If you transfer Chase points to its travel partners such as Hyatt and Southwest, on the other hand, your points' value will depend on what you book. If you used 5,000 points to book a $200 hotel stay, for example, your points would be worth 4 cents apiece — which would be considered a very solid value.
The experts' advice on choosing the best rewards card for you
We interviewed a certified financial planner along with top experts on credit cards and travel rewards about what makes a good rewards card and how to choose the best options for you.
Here's what they had to say when we interviewed them about finding the best card for you. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity. Special thanks to Business Insider's Tanza Loudenback for interviewing the experts.)
Generally, what features make a rewards credit card good?
I look for three things when I consider a rewards card:
- Does it earn more points or miles where I spend the most?
- Can those points or miles be applied to rewards I'd actually want? (Like airlines I typically fly, hotels I want to stay at, etc.)
- Is it easy to redeem points, or will I get lost in a maze of draconian rules, restrictions, and blackout dates?
I also weigh the annual fee, but a sign-up bonus and other perks tend to offset the fee for me.
Generally, cards that offer a variety of reward options are best because they offer the cardholder flexibility. Whether it's points, miles, or discounted offers with a particular airline or hotel brand, the more options available the better in order to help the cardholder take full advantage of the rewards offered.
Solid earning structure, built-in benefits that are useful and not duplicated on many other cards, annual fee that is easy to justify relative to the perks, and some unique offerings that would be hard to get elsewhere.
A good rewards credit card earns points that are flexible, meaning you have lots of options for using them, as you do with Amex and Chase points. It also has bonus categories that give you the opportunity to earn rewards quickly, as well as (hopefully) a generous sign-up offer for new cardholders.
Beyond that, a good rewards card should offer you benefits that make it worth the annual fee (if there is one), such as statement credits that cover travel purchases and travel coverages like trip delay insurance.
How can someone identify whether a rewards credit card is good for them?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Look for a card that rewards you where you spend the most, with terms you can live with. A card that's trendy won't necessarily be the right card for you. It's a highly personal decision, and it's worth it to not overlook a less flashy card that may suit your needs really well.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
To best identify if a rewards credit card is good for you, consider your lifestyle and spending habits. For example, do you have a preferred hotel brand or airline? Do you often travel abroad? Knowing the answer to these types of questions will help you narrow down your choices in order to best help you identify if a rewards credit card is good for you.
Summer Hull, The Points Guy:
It's really 99% math. If you can place value on the rewards you earn and the perks included, it gets easy to see if a particular card is a good match for your spending habits and rewards desires.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
Look at the card's bonus categories and see if they align with where you spend your money. Also, remember to check if a card has a foreign transaction fee before you take it abroad — many cash-back cards do charge this fee, so don't assume.
What should someone consider when selecting a rewards credit card?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Travel rewards cards are popular, but they're a better bet for consumers who travel often, especially if they travel internationally. If you stay close to home, a cash-back card may actually be more rewarding.
Also, consumers who currently have credit card debt should make paying that debt down their number-one priority, before looking for a rewards card. The interest you'd pay on your debt would wipe out the value of any rewards you'd earn. Consider a balance transfer card, which gives you a year or more to pay down your debt at 0% interest.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
Consider annual fees and foreign transaction fees. Some annual fees can be in the hundreds of dollars, so you want to make sure that the rewards you'll accumulate will offset the cost of having the card. Another thing to consider is whether or not you carry a balance. If you do carry a balance, you should also consider the interest that you'll be paying on that balance in order to ensure that it's not eating away at your rewards.
Summer Hull, The Points Guy:
Is the sign-up bonus juicy? Let's be real, big bonuses are better than small ones, so pounce when the bonus is big. But then look beyond at the earning rate, the annual perks, and benefits such as statement credits and elite status.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
Make sure you're doing your homework so you don't miss out on a higher sign-up bonus (do some searching online to see if higher offers are available). Many cards offer limited-time welcome offers that can score you thousands of extra bonus rewards compared to the standard offers.
Always make sure that you'll be able to use the rewards card responsibly, by paying off your statement each month and avoiding spending beyond your means.
So you know you want a rewards credit card, but not sure which one?
Our list of the best rewards credit cards can help narrow down your choices if you already know what you want. But what if you're not sure which type of credit card is best suited to your spending habits.
If you're looking to maximize rewards on your everyday spending, look no further than the following credit cards. We'll break it down by spending category — from dining to gas to groceries.
Dining (valuations based on Insider's point-value estimates)
With the average American spending $3,424 on dining between 2017 and 2018, this is a category most people will want to maximize. Luckily, lots of cards offer generous rewards for dining.
The Citi Prestige® Card offers the highest return on dining spending, with 5x points on these purchases. You may notice that some cards, like the Hilton cards below, offer more than 5x points — but keep in mind that the points multiplier is only half of the equation.
You also need to know how much each point is worth. We recommend using Insider's points and miles valuations to get a sense of how many cents you'll get in value with different loyalty currencies. These valuations are based on all the different ways you can use a given type of points or miles, from redeeming them as statement credits to transferring them to a travel partner to book a flight.
Below, we'll rank the best credit cards for dining in order of highest to lowest return based on how many rewards you earn per dollar spent, and the value of those rewards based on Insider's estimations.
- Citi Prestige: 5 points per dollar spent (points worth 1.6 cents apiece; 8% return on spending)
- American Express® Gold Card: 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide (points worth 1.8 cents apiece; 7.2% return on spending)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on dining (points worth 1.8 cents apiece; 5.4% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card : 7 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants (points worth 0.5 cents apiece; 3.5% return on spending)
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% cash back on dining (4% return on spending)
- Uber Visa Credit Card: 4% back on restaurants, takeout, and bars, including Uber Eats (4% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 6 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants (3% return on spending)
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 3% back on restaurants (3% return on spending)
Based on the numbers, the Citi Prestige is the most rewarding card for dining purchases. But the American Express® Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® could be a better option for you if you prefer to earn Amex or Chase points. You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to over a dozen airline transfer partners including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, and Virgin Atlantic, but Amex and Chase's loyalty programs partner with airlines and hotels that are arguably more useful for many US-based travelers, such as British Airways, Delta, and Marriott with Amex and Hyatt, United, and Southwest with Chase. In fact, Insider values Citi points (1.6 cents per point) a bit lower than Amex and Chase points (1.8 cents each)
Gas (valuations based on Insider's point-value estimates)
If you have a car, gas is a big spending category — and it's one that many cash-back cards pay out big rewards on.
- American Express® Business Gold Card : 4 points per dollar spent at the two categories where you spend the most each month, including U.S. gas stations, on up to $150,000 per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar (7.2% return on spending)
- Citi Premier® Card: 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, supermarkets, air travel, hotels, and gas stations (4.8% return on spending)
- Costco Anywhere Visa card: 4% back on eligible gas purchases on the first $7,000 spent per year, then 1% (4% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 6 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations (3% return on spending)
Again, not all points are created equal, and whether 6 Hilton points are equivalent (or higher than) 4% cash back or 4 Membership Rewards points depends on how you redeem your rewards. Most people will be best off going with the American Express® Business Gold Card for gas rewards.
Thanks to a vast list of hotel and airline transfer partners, you can redeem Membership Rewards points for some incredible travel experiences. If you have a business-class trip to Europe in mind, Membership Rewards transfer partner All Nippon Airways (ANA) offers one of the best deals out there at 88,000 miles round-trip.
Groceries (valuations based on Insider's point-value estimates)
- American Express® Gold Card: 4x points at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year (then 1x point; 1.8%-7.2% return on spending)
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1%; 1%-6% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 6 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at U.S. supermarkets (3% return on spending)
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per calendar year (then 1%; 1%-3% return on spending)
With 4x points on the first $25,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets, the American Express® Gold Card offers the most generous payout on grocery spending. Considering the average U.S. household spends $4,445 on groceries per year, these limits shouldn't be problematic for most consumers.
Earning 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a good option if you prefer cash back to rewards points. When maxed out, the 6% back equates to $360 cash back, which is enough for most people to book at least a couple of hotel nights or a round-trip transcontinental flight.
Flights and other travel (valuations based on Insider's point-value estimates)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5x points in these categories on up to $500,000 in spending per year), 5 Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on Amex Travel (9% return on spending)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on travel (5.4% return on spending)
- American Express® Gold Card: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (5.4% return on spending)
- Citi Prestige: 5 points on air travel, 3 points on hotels and cruise lines (4.8%-8% return on spending)
- Citi Premier® Card: 3 points on air travel and gas stations (4.8% return on spending)
- Uber Visa card: 3% cash back back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
- Costco Anywhere Visa: 3% cash back on eligible travel purchases
If you're looking for lots of rewards for flights, The Platinum Card® from American Express is a great choice. The card earns 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel. Prepaid hotel bookings made with American Express also earn 5 points (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). One reason I'd recommend this card over the Citi Prestige is that the Amex Platinum now offers trip delay insurance, while Citi has mostly done away with these on its cards.
While the American Express Platinum is a great option, not everyone will get enough value out of the 5x bonus categories to justify the $550 annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great alternative. While it earns a lower 3 points per dollar spent, this bonus applies to all travel purchases, not just flights. Plus, the card's annual fee is partially offset by the $300 travel credit. Unlike American Express, Chase doesn't restrict its travel credit to a specific airline. The credit automatically applies to any purchases coded as travel. That's why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is such a popular card for earning and redeeming travel rewards.
All other spending (valuations based on Insider's point-value estimates)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: 1.5% cash back on most things, bonus cash back on eligible travel, grocery, and drugstore purchases, can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value
- Chase Freedom Flex℠: 1% cash back, bonus cash back on eligible travel, grocery, and drugstore purchases, 5% rotating quarterly category bonuses for up to $1,500 in combined spending (requires activation), can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value (1.5%-3%) (1%-9% return on spending)
- Discover it® Miles : 1.5 miles per dollar spent, and Discover will match all your cash back at the end of the first year (3% return on spending)
- Discover it® Cash Back: 1% cash back, with 5% in rotating quarterly categories on the first $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate; then 1% cash back (1-5% return on spending)
- Citi® Double Cash Card: 1% when you make purchases, 1% as you pay (2% return on spending)
- Uber Visa card: 2% back on online purchases (1-2% return on spending)
Lots of cash-back credit cards offer at least 1.5% cash back on everything, which is a great benchmark to keep in mind on purchases that aren't eligible for bonus points. The Discover it® Miles is a great option for those looking for a no-annual-fee card with accelerated earning power. Cardholders earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent, which is equivalent to 1.5% cash back. Discover will match all the rewards you earn after the first year and can be redeemed for statement credits toward travel purchases or transferred to your bank account.
For those looking to maximize long-term earnings, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is another great option. It earns 1.5% cash back on most things, with bonus cash back on eligible travel, grocery, and drugstore purchases. If you have an Chase travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Cardor the Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your Freedom Unlimited rewards to fully-transferable Ultimate Rewards points. Essentially, you could earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on everything outside of the bonus travel, grocery, and drugstore categories, which equals a very solid return on every dollar you spend.
If you want the flexibility of earning occasional category bonuses, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back are worth considering. Both cards earn 1% cash back along with 5% on select category bonuses. Bonus categories rotate every quarter and cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 worth of spending when they activate the bonus each quarter. Be sure to check the cash-back bonus calendar for both Discover and Chase for a better idea of where you can expect to earn more points.
For a more straightforward option, the Citi® Double Cash Card is solid. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on purchases and another 1% when they pay them off. Citi has introduced cash back-to-ThankYou points conversions, making the Citi® Double Cash Card a great way to earn 2 ThankYou points on every dollar spent.
This post was reviewed and updated on April 1, 2021.
Sarah Silbert is the senior reviews editor at Personal Finance Insider. She's covered personal finance and credit card rewards for six years, and she's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.
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For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
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For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, please click here.