Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2017

Maximize your rewards with the right credit card.

Everyone wants more rewards. And the best way to pile them up quickly is to choose a rewards card that aligns with your spending habits. If you fly often, focus on cards with travel rewards. Eat out a lot? Then you might benefit from a card with 2X points for dining. You also need to consider how you’ll spend those points. Do you prefer cash back, or would you rather spend points on lodging for the family vacation to Disney? Keep reading for our rundown of the best rewards credit cards of 2017 to find your perfect match.

The Best Rewards Credit Card Combo for 2017

Apply Now on Chase's secure website
Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pairing the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Freedom® creates an exceptional credit card combo that increases your earning potential for both travel and cash back rewards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card covers travel with a 1:1 points transfer to participating frequent travel programs and 2X points on travel and dining worldwide. Then, the Chase Freedom® kicks in with 5% cash back in rotating categories, along with 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases. That’s an all-around win.

You can also maximize your benefits of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program because every single point you earn is transferrable between the two cards. When you combine your rewards to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, you can redeem your points for a wide range of rewards, including travel, cash back and gift cards. And you can do it all on the go via the Chase Mobile banking app.

The Simple Dollar’s Best Rewards Credit Cards for 2017

2017’s Best Rewards Credit Cards:
An In-Depth Look at Our Top Picks

Most Versatile Rewards Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a well-rounded rewards card that’s perfect if you don’t always focus your spending on one category. You earn 1 point for every dollar you spend, while travel purchases get you 2X the points — that includes airfare, hotels, and several types of ground transportation you don’t commonly find with other rewards cards (passenger trains, taxis, buses, limos and ferries). You also get double points in restaurants worldwide. And since the card has a $0 foreign transaction fee, it’s perfect for dining literally anywhere in the world.

If you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll get 50,000 bonus points. That translates into $625 toward travel — as long as you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. In fact, any points you redeem for travel through Chase are worth 25% more than when you transfer them to one of Chase’s 11 airline and hotel partners.

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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn 2X points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Enjoy your first year fee-free: The $95 annual fee is waived for your first year.
  • Pair with the Chase Freedom® to combine points and earn rewards faster.
  • Transfer points to 11 different frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a super versatile card with a few cool travel perks. But for those who don’t travel very often, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card has no annual fee and a slightly higher (unlimited) 1.5X points per dollar on all purchases.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a multi-purpose rewards card that’s great for folks who want to earn points toward a variety of rewards and who aren’t loyal to any one airline. And don’t forget: Thanks to the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program, any points you earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are transferrable between select other Chase cards and travel loyalty programs.

Best Cash Back Rewards

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

The Chase Freedom® offers a whopping 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent on rotating bonus categories, all with no annual fee. It’s a great fit for leisure users and rewards devotees alike. Because the bonus categories match up with everyday spending (like gas stations and department stores), it’s easy to consistently rack up points without adjusting your shopping habits. And the rewards are flexible too. In addition to cash back, which you can redeem for a statement credit to lower your monthly balance, you can spend your points on other Chase Rewards® like travel and gift cards. Here’s another perk: If you spend at least $500 with your Chase Freedom® in the first three months, you’ll cash in on a $150 bonus.

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Our Verdict
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter like gas stations, restaurants and drugstores
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 15.99-24.74%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee
  • Spend $500 on purchases in your first three months to get a $150 bonus.
  • Activate a new bonus category every quarter to get 5% cash back on up to $1,500.
  • Take advantage of cash back rewards even if you don’t have excellent credit.
The Chase Freedom® has some serious cash back chops, but using on your trip to the Cayman Islands will incur a foreign transaction fee. If that bums you out, take a look at the Discover it® Miles. It has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and earns 1.5X Miles per dollar on all spending. Plus, it offers equal-value points redemption for both cash back and travel.
With no annual fee, the Chase Freedom® is a simple, no-hassle cash back rewards card with one of the highest rates available. Its broad 5% cash back bonus categories make it easy to earn substantial cash back and other Chase Rewards® without having to tweak your spending habits. Just remember: You have to activate your bonus categories at the start of every quarter, or you’ll you’ll earn the standard 1% cash back in that category.

Best Everyday Travel Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure website

To get the most out of your rewards program, you’ll want look to for a card that offers high-rate rewards on the types of purchases you make most often. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a good choice for nearly anyone who’s interested in earning rewards toward a free or low-cost vacation. Its rewards structure is both lucrative and straightforward, with unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. And the rewards you’ll earn are very flexible — as long as you’re interested in redeeming for travel. Miles are redeemable for travel booked through CapitalOne.com, as for travel statement credits that are good for airfare, hotels, and more, no matter how you book. Between unlimited 2X miles and the 40,000 mile signup bonus, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers strong rewards potential now and in the long-term.

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Our Verdict
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $400 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $59 after that
  • Get a metal Venture Card when you apply today
  • Spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months to earn 40,000 bonus miles.
  • Make the most of your miles by redeeming for travel statement credit or for travel booked through CapitalOne.com. Eligible purchases include airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more.
  • Traveling abroad? Use this card while you’re traveling to avoid foreign transaction fees.
  • Take advantage of complimentary, 24-hour concierge service through Visa Signature Concierge.
Unlimited 2X miles is on par with or better than the rewards many flat-rate rewards cards offer. But if you spend a significant amount in specific categories, you could earn more with a more specialized card. Frequent travelers will earn 3X points on flights with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express — plus 2X points at U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1X points on other purchases. (Terms apply.)
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers low-maintenance, ongoing rewards potential and flexibility when it’s time to redeem your miles. If you want to earn high-rate rewards toward travel on every purchase, every day, this card is tough to beat.

Best Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Apply Now on FindMyBarclayCard.com's secure website

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is our favorite fixed-value travel card for two reasons. First, you get 2X miles per dollar spent on all purchases, which is double the industry standard. You also get a 5% miles redemption bonus (good toward your next redemption) every time you cash in for a reward. Second, it’s a bit more flexible than the competition: You can use the miles to cover travel expenses that aren’t normally covered, like the cost of award ticket fees and paying for Airbnb stays. What’s more, new Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® cardmembers can earn 50,000 miles (which can be redeemed for a $500 travel statement credit) by spending over $3,000 within the first 90 days.

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Our Verdict
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days - that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers
  • Earn 2X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Avoid interest payments from high-APR cards by capitalizing on the 0% Introductory APR on balance transfers.
  • Access the MasterCard World Elite concierge and luxury travel benefits, a 24/7 service that helps you plan your trips.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card only earns 2X points for dining and travel worldwide, but unlike the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, its points are transferrable to frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. Plus, Chase cardholders can pair it with select Chase cards to stack up on Ultimate Rewards® (which can be redeemed for a lot more than travel) more quickly.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is the best fixed-rate travel rewards card on the market. Its 2X miles rate is double that of most flat-rate cards, and you don’t have to adjust your spending habits to take advantage of it. Your miles never expire, and you get 5% of them back every time you redeem.

Great First-Year Bonus

Discover it® Miles

Apply Now on Discover.com's secure website

If you cringe when you hear the words “annual fee,” the Discover it® Miles card was built for you. Not only is there no annual fee; it also earns you unlimited 1.5X Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases — that’s anything from airfare to groceries to online shopping. There’s no late fee, over-limit fee, or foreign transaction fee, and paying late won’t raise your APR. And if there are any issues, it’s one of the few cards that offers 100% U.S.-based, 24/7 customer service for quick, simple resolutions.

Here’s another great feature: You can choose to redeem rewards earned with the Discover it® Miles as statement credits towards travel purchases.

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Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • Match Mile For Mile: We’ll match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as statement credits towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match® details & other information.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5X Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Get 0% intro APR for the first 14 months.
  • Redeem your Miles as statement credits towards travel purchases.
  • Book all types of travel with Discover it® Miles without worrying about blackout dates.
  • Enjoy an automatic match of all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
If you’re a big travel spender, you have more to gain from the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. It lets you earn twice the amount of points (3X) per dollar on direct-booked flights and 2X spent at US restaurants and US gas stations – two types of purchases you’ll probably make while on the go. The American Express Membership Rewards® also lets you cash in on unique perks like room upgrades you won’t get with the Discover it® Miles.
The Discover it® Miles has no annual fee and makes it simple to earn and redeem travel rewards. Booking travel is a cinch because there aren’t any blackout dates or restrictions on where you spend your Miles.

Best BofA Card

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Apply Now Learn more about this card

The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is a solid travel rewards card for travelers who want flexible booking options without an annual fee — we’re talking unlimited 1.5X points per dollar spent on all purchases. But it’s an even better option for cardholders that have a Bank of America checking or savings account. Current Bank of America account holders get 10% additional bonus points on every purchase. If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, that bonus reward jumps to 25% – 75%. For example, if you have a 25% bonus and redeem $200 into a BoA account, your total cash back would increase to $250.

Points can easily be redeemed for travel statement credit that you can use on a variety of rewards (like vacation packages, rental cars, hotels, cruises, and more) because they aren’t restricted to any particular company or website. There aren’t any blackout dates either, and your points don’t expire. And no matter where you travel with your BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card, you won’t be hit with foreign transaction fees.

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Our Verdict
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%
  • Earn unlimited, unexpiring 1.5X points per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Redeem your points for all types of travel expenditures, including rental cars, cruises, baggage fees, and more.
  • Get 3X points per dollar spent on eligible travel booked through the Bank of America® Travel Center.
Unlimited 1.5X points per dollar on all purchases is pretty generous, but folks who fly a lot should consider the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. It offers 3X points per dollar spent on direct-booked airfare. Plus, you get a ton of perks, including a personalized travel service to help you plan your trip, a $100 statement credit, and complimentary baggage insurance when you purchase the entire fare for a Common Carrier ticket.
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is a flexible travel rewards card that offers exceptional bonuses (anywhere from 10% to 75%) for cardholders who also have a Bank of America checking or savings account. Plus, its 1.5X rate stands a little taller than most of the competition, which makes it easier to rack up points and redeem them on all types of travel expenses.

Best Cash Back Bonus

Discover it® Cashback Match™

Apply Now On Discover.com's secure website

The Discover it® Cashback Match™ is our top pick for the best cash back bonus because it packs a dollar-for-dollar cash back match at the end of the first year. And since you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories, you can earn as much as $400 cash back. (Just remember: You have to activate your category every quarter in order to get 5% cash back.) There’s no annual fee, and cardholders can take advantage of 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 14 months. What’s more, the Discover it® Cashback Match™ gets you a free FICO® Credit Score on your monthly statement for easy credit score monitoring.

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Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, Amazon.com, restaurants, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
  • Redeem your cash back at any time, for any amount — your rewards don’t expire.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases.
  • Take advantage of flexible rotating quarterly bonus categories, including gas stations, wholesale clubs, restaurants, and home improvement stores, and Amazon.com.
If rotating categories sounds like a hassle, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You get 2X points on all travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar for everything else. The rewards never change. And when you book travel through Chase, your points are worth 25% more.
The Discover it® Cashback Match™ is a solid cash back choice for those who don’t mind keeping up with rotating bonus categories . There’s no annual fee, and you can earn up to $400 cash back in year thanks to its dollar-for-dollar match program.

Best Perks

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Apply Now on AmericanExpress.com's secure website

If you’re a frequent flier who often books directly with airlines, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is a full-service rewards card that’s hard to beat. Its perks are some of the best around: 3X points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines; 2X points per dollar spent on US supermarkets, US restaurants and US gas stations; and 1X points per dollar on all other purchases. You won’t be charged a fee for your first year, and there’s a 0% introductory APR that makes it easy to maximize your points, interest-free.

Cardholders also get to earn and spend points for rewards in the American Express Membership Rewards® program, which includes more than 500 brands. And if you stay at least two consecutive nights in a hotel in the collection, your Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express gets you a credit of up to $75 on certain dining and resort expenses, plus the possibility of complimentary upgrades at check-in.

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Our Verdict
  • Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • Get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at americanexpress.com/hc. Terms apply.
  • $0 Intro Annual Fee for the 1st year, then $195.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
  • Earn 3X points per dollar on direct-booked flights; 2X points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas station and U.S. supermarkets; and 1X points on everything else.
  • Book the best trip possible with help from the American Express Personalized Travel Service.
  • Select a qualifying airline for an annual $100 in statement credits.
  • Get up to $10,000 in baggage insurance when you purchase the entire fare for a Common Carrier ticket.
It’s hard to beat the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express when it comes to hotel and airline perks, but it has a low statement credit redemption for alternative methods of travel. If you want something more flexible, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card offers an unlimited 1.5X points per dollar on all purchases that can be redeemed for a variety of rewards, like vacation packages, cruises, and rental cars.
The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is one of the best options for frequent flyers because you can earn points at basically every step of your travel — and 3X points for directly booked flights. Plus, you can take advantage of American Express Membership Rewards®, which makes it easy to earn points quickly with over 500 travel brands.

Honorable Mention

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure website

The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card makes sense if you want to earn flexible travel rewards but aren’t willing to pay an annual fee for the privilege. Like its big brother the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, this card offers unlimited, flat-rate rewards: in this case, 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase. That’s comparable to the Discover it® Miles’ unlimited 1.5X miles — but because the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is backed by Visa, it’s accepted virtually everywhere credit cards are accepted. (Discover’s acceptance, while growing, is more limited, and can be a concern in other countries and among some small businesses.) Among other options, rewards are redeemable for a travel statement credit, which means eligible purchases like airfare, hotels, and more are covered no matter how you book.

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Our Verdict
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Enjoy a low intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 12.99%-22.99% variable APR after that
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Spend $1,000 within your first three months to earn the 20,000 mile spend bonus.
  • Make the most of your miles by redeeming for travel statement credit or for travel booked through CapitalOne.com. Eligible purchases include airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more.
  • Traveling abroad? Use this card while you’re traveling to avoid foreign transaction fees.
  • Take advantage of complimentary, 24-hour concierge service through Visa Signature Concierge.
If you’re willing to pay a small annual fee, you could earn higher-rate rewards with another card. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is very similar to this card, with the exception of a higher rewards rate (unlimited 2X miles per dollar) and a signup bonus that’s worth twice as much. Its annual fee is just $59 after your first year. If you take its larger signup bonus into account ($400 vs. $200), the extra bonus miles will cover your annual fee for three years.
For no-fuss rewards on everything you buy, the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is a sensible, affordable choice. Unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar offer decent rewards potential, with plenty of flexibility at redemption. Since you can redeem miles for a travel statement credit, you can fly any airline and stay at any hotel, anytime, without taking blackout dates into account.

Best Rewards Credit Cards: Summed Up

Rewards Credit Cards Best For…
1 Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Travel
2 Chase Freedom® Cash Back Rewards
3 Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Best Everyday Travel Card
4 Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card
5 Discover it® Miles Great First-Year Bonus
6 BankAmericard Travel Rewards® No Annual Fee
7 Discover it® Cashback Match™ Cash Back for New Members
8 Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express Perks
9 Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Honorable Mention

Research the 92 Best Rewards Credit Cards for 2017

The rewards credit cards directory shown below is a comprehensive listing of every rewards credit card worth considering. It started as a list of nearly 1,630 cards. I created this directory and used it as a starting point for all of my research so that I could review all cards on the same criteria and reduce the list to a more manageable number. It’s updated weekly and reflects any new changes to the credit cards as well as new card additions and removals.

Using both the information shown in the directory and other features, I took a data-driven approach to select the top rewards credit cards. Multiple factors were taken into account, as I wasn’t looking for just the highest rewards alone. I wanted to find the card that has the best combination of the elements that are most important to the majority of people seeking a rewards card.

Rewards Credit Cards Directory

The directory also includes all the various types of rewards credit cards. You can use the rewards credit card directory to sort and filter by the components that are most important to you. To rank the cards, I rated each rewards credit card feature in order of importance based on my research.

When evaluating rewards credit cards in general, you’ll see that so many categories have an impact on rating each card. I took nearly 14 different components into account. Based on all of the features and data collected, I developed a Rewards Credit Card Rating, which is essentially a summary of how a card performs as a rewards card. The Overall Rating is a measure of the card compared to every single type of card.

Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best rewards credit card for you.

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Rating Methodology

To better describe the data and overall rating, I’ll explain each valuable component below. These aren’t the only factors that went into rating each card, but these are some of the most valuable and the features that you’ll want to understand before getting any rewards card.

Rewards Rate

Rewards Rate refers to the actual rate at which you can earn rewards using the rewards credit card. Most of the consistent rewards credit cards will offer 2x points, miles, or cash back on common purchases without any limits. These cards are very versatile and are the best credit cards to own as your primary card.

Cash back credit cards offer higher rewards rates in specific categories, but have limits on the amount you can earn. The rotating category cash back credit cards enable you to earn 5% cash back every quarter on something different, but once you hit the $1,500 limit each quarter your rewards rate drops down to 1%. This is why owning a consistent 2x rewards card is important — to pick up the slack and continue earning double the points.

Then, there are rewards credit cards that are tied to one brand. Again, Rewards Rate as a whole measures the rewards you can earn, plus the places where you can earn those extra rewards. An airline credit card, hotel credit card, or brand loyalty (affinity) credit card will enable you to earn high rewards with that specific brand.

However, if you make purchases away from the brand, it’s likely that you’ll only earn at a 1% or 1x points rate, which means you’re missing out. This is generally why I only recommend these cards in special circumstances or if you’re looking to add a third, fourth, or fifth credit card and you spend a lot of money.

Perks

There are many benefits to owning a rewards card beyond what’s advertised. First off, many of the top cards have travel insurance benefits, car rental insurance, and purchase protection insurance. Beyond that, premium cards offer you special VIP services, access to exclusive events, and use of airport lounges.

Airline credit cards are probably near the top when it comes perks for a rewards credit card. Since the cards only offer rewards for purchases made on the airline (in most cases), they compensate by offering priority boarding, free checked bags, companion fares, and other travel benefits on the airline. These can be great perks for people that travel often, especially the companion fare.

Sign-Up Bonus

The consistent all-around rewards credit cards tend to offer some of the largest sign-up bonuses in the industry. Often, you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money to get these bonuses dropped into your account. Usually, it’s anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 spent in the 90 days. The top cards offer sign-up bonuses of up to $400, while others go up to $200. The key here is to make sure you capitalize on your sign-up bonus!

Airline credit cards also have large bonuses in the form of air miles. Essentially, it’s the same monetary value as, say, a $400 statement credit bonus. However, in my experience, it’s much less straightforward booking a flight with air miles than it is to get $400 to show up on your statement as a credit.

Cash back credit cards have some of the smallest bonuses in the industry, likely because the rewards rate on purchases is so high (even though there’s a limit to the amount you can earn). Still, the bonuses on these cards are nice and tend to be around $50 to $100, although I’ve seen special offers as high as $200.

Intro APR

Introductory APR isn’t too important as it relates to earning rewards, but it gives you the flexibility and freedom to make purchases without having to worry about carrying a balance as a new cardholder. For example, some of the best introductory offers in the industry can go as high as 0% APR for 18 months. That means you don’t have to make a payment for 18 months. Of course, you still need to pay attention and keep up with your payments so you aren’t left with a massive balance a year and a half after signing up for the card!

An Intro APR can be a dangerous tool or a wise tool depending on how you look at it. If you know you need to make a major purchase in the next few months and you can pay it off without hesitation in the next year, it’s fine to take advantage of these offers. However, if you’re signing up for a card and spending way more than you should because you don’t have to pay interest, you might get into trouble.

I advise you to tread cautiously and carry the least amount of balance possible if you plan on taking advantage of a 0% intro APR deal.

Ongoing APR

I included ongoing APR because it’s important to think about. You shouldn’t sign up for a rewards credit card if you plan on carrying a balance. Any way you look at it, the amount you’ll earn in rewards won’t be able to offset the high costs of paying off a balance that’s accumulating interest each month.

Sometimes, things happen and you might get into a situation where you have to carry a balance. In that case, cash back cards generally have the lowest ongoing APRs. Again, you really want to avoid this at all costs. A credit card is a great financial tool if used the right way. You can be paid back for making purchases in the form of rewards and build your credit.

If used the wrong way, your credit can be destroyed. You’ll be stuck making high interest payments and you’ll trigger a financial downward spiral. Make sure you pay off your balance each month or cut back on your spending. (Side note: I’ll probably hammer this point home at least one more time as you continue reading.)

Choosing the Right Rewards Card

Credit cards aren’t one size fits all. Here’s how to find one that fits just right.

Step 1: Analyze your spending.

If your spending often falls within popular categories like groceries, gas, or online shopping, look for a card that offers bonus rewards on those types of purchases. If it doesn’t, consider a flat-rate rewards card.

Step 2: Choose your rewards type.

Cash back rewards are redeemable for statement credits or gift cards, while travel rewards are good for airfare, hotel stays, and more. Some cards even offer both, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Questions to Ask Yourself

    • Do you want to earn travel rewards?

If you travel often or plan to travel more, a travel rewards card could be just what you’re looking for. Would you rather earn hotel loyalty points or frequent flyer miles – or both?

    • Would you rather earn cash back?

Our favorite cash back cards allow you to earn rewards on everyday purchases, then redeem them for cash, gift cards, or statement credits. Popular rewards categories include groceries, gas, online shopping, and more. If travel rewards aren’t a priority for you, check out our favorite cash back cards.

    • Is flexibility most important?

For maximum flexibility, consider a card like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. This card allows you to redeem points for gift cards, travel, merchandise, or entertainment.

The Truth About Rewards Credit Cards

There’s so much data to consider when choosing a rewards credit card. With all the data points, it’s often hard to distinguish what’s most important because much of this information is geared toward people who aren’t using credit cards the right way. When you use a credit card responsibly, finding the right rewards credit card is relatively simple: nothing else matters except rewards, bonuses, and benefits.

Most credit card review sites look at the following data points:

  • Introductory APR
  • Standard APR
  • Sign-up bonus
  • Rewards rate
  • Additional bonus rewards
  • Introductory balance transfer rate
  • Standard balance transfer rate

These data points are all worth knowing. I also looked at each of these. The problem is when you don’t carry a balance, APR doesn’t matter, balance transfer rates don’t matter, and fees don’t matter. All that’s left is to analyze are the rewards, bonuses, and perks as well as how they can be used.

The key factor of rating a rewards credit card lies below the surface-level details. How can you redeem your rewards? Are there extra advantages and amenities not included in the data points above? The answer is yes.

To get a better feel for each card, I put myself in the position of the cardholder. I dove into the nuances of the best rewards credit card programs to find the truth about rewards credit cards.

The Golden Rule: Don’t Carry a Monthly Balance on Your Credit Card

I mentioned this already, but I’m making a point of highlighting it here because of how important it is. If you want a rewards credit card, avoid carrying a balance at all costs. Your interest payments will completely wipe out your point accumulation and cost you too much money, time, and headaches. It’s simply not worth it.

If you currently have a balance and you want to pay it down, consider a balance transfer card to get back on track.

If you adhere to this rule, you will never need to worry about what ongoing APR your card offers. A lower APR is clearly better, but you shouldn’t be concerned about the APR unless you carry a balance.

Annual Fees Are an Investment to Earn More Rewards

Most people cringe at the thought of coughing up dough for the privilege of using a rewards card, but the truth is that paying the annual fee is usually worth it. Many of the best rewards cards have annual fees that are normally waived in the first year. Given the extra rewards you can earn for using the card and the massive sign-up bonuses, annual fees won’t turn out to be an additional cost. It really depends on how much you plan on spending on the card, though.

Think of it this way: If you spend $20,000 per year and get 1x point per dollar spent with a no annual fee card, you’ll receive $200 worth of points. If you spend the same amount with a rewards card that earns 2x per dollar but has a $95 annual fee, you’ll get $305 worth of points ($400 minus $95). That’s a 52.5% increase!

Your annual fee investment is $95 and your increase is $105. This amounts to a “return on investment” (ROI) of $105/$95, or 110.5%. No investor on Wall Street can match that return year in and year out.

There are plenty of great rewards credit cards out there with no annual fee. I’m just advising that you shouldn’t make your choice solely based on the fee because the bonus and additional rewards you earn will usually offset the fee.

Capitalize on Sign-Up Bonuses

Almost every top rewards credit card has a great sign-up point bonus. This is serious free money you don’t want to miss out on when signing up. You’re defeating the purpose of signing up for a top rewards credit card if you don’t meet the spending requirements to collect your sign-up bonus.

These bonuses can reach values of $400 or more, so make sure you collect on it. In most cases, when you meet the required spending,

Ways to Redeem Points Are As Valuable As Ways to Earn Points

One of the key benefits of a great rewards card is being able to redeem points the way you want to. Your points don’t do you any good if you can’t use them. This applies across the board for different types of rewards cards. We talk a lot about general rewards, but some of the airline cards and hotel credit cards are able to offer you a higher rewards earning potential for purchases with their brand.

The two premier rewards platforms that give you the most flexibility when redeeming points are Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Points. You can’t go wrong with either of these platforms when redeeming points for travel, entertainment, gift cards, or cash back.

If you carry more than one rewards credit card like I do, it can really pay off to have them on the same rewards platform. That way, you can combine points and take advantage of special point dividends, bonuses, or deals. Always think about how you’ll redeem points before signing up for a rewards card.

How To Save More Money By Maximizing Rewards

I’ve talked at length about the benefits of using a rewards credit card. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all card that delivers superior rewards on every conceivable spending category AND has the most flexible point redemption options.

Given the limitations, many people will want to employ some strategies to get the most out of their rewards. My recommendation is to use at least two rewards credit cards. Using more can help, but the added annual fees may eat away at the benefits of carrying an additional card if you don’t spend enough.

Let’s assume you want to completely max out your rewards earning potential without owning an excessive amount of cards. Owning two or three cards is the right number to get the most rewards and still keep the cards active (assuming you’re paying off the balances). You’ll be able to take advantage of the bonuses and ongoing rewards without major limitations.

There are many strategies to maximizing your rewards cards while keeping the number of credit cards you own down to a minimum. Here are a few examples:

  • Overlap categories on the same rewards platform (like Chase Ultimate Rewards).
  • Combine business and personal rewards credit cards.
  • Use a consistent rewards card and a cash back card.
  • Overlap two types of travel rewards cards

Case Study #1: Overlap Categories on the Same Rewards Platform

The goal of this strategy is to take two or more rewards cards that earn bonus points in different categories and combine them to earn more than you would by just earning 1% on all other purchases. The ideal situation is to keep both cards on the same rewards platform so you can easily combine the points from each card when you want to redeem them.

My favorite way to do this right now is to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. If you used the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn 2x points on travel and dining, you could add the Chase Freedom® to take care of rotating bonus categories like groceries, gas, and department stores.

There are a couple added benefits to using these two cards. First, the Chase Freedom® card does not have an annual fee, so you can employ this strategy for just $95 per year (the annual fee on Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card). Second, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points are worth 20% more when redeemed for travel on the Ultimate Rewards platform. The Chase Freedom® points are not eligible for this benefit as a standalone card.

Here’s the good news: Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you combine card points, so you can transfer your Chase Freedom® points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and those additional points will be worth 20% more when redeemed for travel!

The Power of the Platform

Let’s say you accumulate 50,000 points on your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and 20,000 points on a second card on a different rewards platform. You then decide to take that Caribbean vacation you’ve always wanted and use Chase Ultimate Rewards to book your trip. You see that two flights cost a combined $750. Your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points when redeemed for travel will cover $625 of the cost, but you have to pay out of pocket for the remaining $125 because you can’t combine your points.

Now, let’s say you’re in the same scenario except your “other card” is the Chase Freedom®. You decide to combine your points with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points, so you now have 70,000 points to use. On most other rewards platforms, 70,000 points equal $700. However, with the 20% bump you get with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your combined 70,000 points now are worth $875 — enough to cover your airfare for your vacation!

Case Study #2: Combine Business and Personal Rewards Cards

If you run a small business or are self-employed in some way, you can use one of the best business credit cards as your secondary card. Business cards often have better rewards in different categories that can be overlapped. My colleague uses the Chase Ink® business cards for his business and combines points with his personal credit cards on the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform to get maximum value.

For example, he puts all of his gas and hotel stays on his Chase Ink Bold® for 2x points. He also charges his cell phone bill, Internet service, and landline to that card to earn 5x points. Then, he books any travel or dining on his Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to earn 2x points.

Redeeming is easy because both cards will get you 20% more when redeemed for travel through Chase. All he has to do is combine the points and book his tickets.

Case Study #3: Consistent Rewards + Cash Back

When you want a simple strategy for rewards and you’re not as concerned with your cards being on the same platform, you can split up your cards. Your goal here is to earn a straight 2% back on all purchases while giving yourself a boost of 2% in certain spending categories.

One way to do this is to sign up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® to earn 2x miles on all purchases. From here, you have several options to add a cash back card that earns high rewards in rotating categories.

This selection will largely be situational depending on what you spend your money on. My favorite cash back card is the Chase Freedom®, just for the variety alone. You have more choices here because you can open your options to cards on different rewards platforms.

You most likely will not use your cash back card as much as your Barclaycard, so I would use those cash back points either as statement credits, spending money, or to redeem for gift cards. Then, use all of your Barclaycard points for travel-related or larger purchases.

You can’t maximize your rewards by only owning a cash back card. Even the best cash back card must be used in combination with another rewards credit card to ensure you earn greater than 1% back on every purchase you make.

Remember, you won’t be able to combine points in this scenario, so make sure you have options for redeeming each set of points. Since you’ll be using your cash back card in limited situations, it might not make sense to pay an additional annual fee, which is why I recommend the Chase Freedom®.

Case Study #4: Overlap Two Travel Rewards Cards

If you travel often, you may want a little extra juice in your rewards program. Here, you need to take into consideration frequent flyer programs, preferred airlines or hotels, and point transfer partners so you can use your points in the most efficient way possible.

What I recommend is pairing a solid, general rewards card with an airline or hotel card.

What’s important to remember:

  • Most airline and hotel cards don’t earn higher than 1x points away from their own brands.
  • The best general rewards cards have frequent flyer transfer partners.
  • Your rewards are attached to the airline or hotel rewards program and changes do happen.
  • Most rewards cards and airline cards carry annual fees, so don’t sign up for all of them!

Keeping those points in mind, there are many ways to execute this strategy. Below is an example to illustrate how you could maximize your rewards points.

Travel Card + Airline or Hotel Card = Max Travel Rewards

Sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to get a great sign-up bonus and solid rewards on travel and dining, plus capitalize on the 20% bonus point redemption. This is your starting point for earning travel rewards.

Next, choose your preferred airline or hotel. This is much more difficult since it depends on your preferences and geography. One way to choose is to look at your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card point transfer partners. With this program, you can transfer your points to partners such as United, British Airways, Southwest, Hyatt, and Marriott. Points transfer on a 1:1 basis, so you should first consider any of these specialty cards.

If you fly one airline a lot you can double dip on points and miles, then transfer credit card points to airline miles. Adding the United MileagePlus® Explorer card won’t net you any immediate points difference since both cards earn 2x on United purchases. However, you might travel United enough to take advantage of mileage deals by transferring Ultimate Rewards points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Finally, with these two cards, you’ll be paying two annual fees. Consider adding a no annual fee cash back card to boost your points on rotating categories that aren’t covered by Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You might need gas or groceries while traveling, and cash back cards can cover you in these categories.

Research Recap

The marketplace for rewards credit cards is enormous. I collected data on 1,630 credit cards for this project. It’s been an ongoing effort that I’ve been a part of for nearly two years.

One priority for me is to make sure this page is continuously updated. I get emails daily about changes and updates directly from the credit card issuers so we’re able to make the changes fast, keeping everything current. This page can be updated as often as daily or weekly, so you’ll see some details change from time to time.

Beyond simply presenting the research and the numbers, I looked for strategies to help you make the best decision and use your credit cards wisely.

Many of the tips and practices outlined here are things I actually put into practice on a daily basis. I made an effort to put myself in your position — the position of the cardholder — in order to create something useful. Luckily, I own several of these cards myself and I’m able to speak from personal experiences.

While this article mainly focuses on overall rewards credit cards, I also completed several other pieces that discuss each rewards type more specifically. If you’re interested in credit card rewards, I encourage you to check out some of the other articles, as each piece offers more depth on the individual card types.

You can take a look at my article on cash back credit cards. I also wrote another detailed article on airline credit cards, which you’ll find useful if you fly on one airline or travel often. My colleague wrote a great piece on travel credit cards that sums up any credit card you should consider for travel, including general travel cards and various types of brand credit cards.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. I do my best to respond to everyone!

About this resource:

Created on: May 26, 2017

Updated on: July 12, 2017

Edited by: Sarah Ban, Michael Gardon

Research by: Mike Jelinek, Montana Thomas, Michael Gardon

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