Rewards Credit Card Reviews and Comparisons of 2014

Cliff Brody and the Reviews.com research team gathered a list of the top 80 rewards credit cards and reviewed the 31 best cards based on 42 different features.

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Cliff Brody

Cliff Brody

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What Rewards Credit Card Features Matter and Why?

Rewards

Very Important
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Rewards is, of course, the highlight category of any rewards card because it focuses on the earnings of the cardholder. This category is important mostly because it measures how well each credit card gives back to its cardholder. Beyond the amount of bonus points, bonus miles, cash back, and other rewards earned, features also touch on point expiration and blackout dates. The best rewards credit cards will allow cardholders to accumulate unlimited rewards with no expiration or blackout dates and will offer additional bonus points for making dining, travel, gas, and other common purchases with the card.

  • 2:1 Rewards or More - The credit card offers 2 Points, 2% Cash Back, or 2 Miles or more for every dollar spent.
  • Additional 2:1 Rewards Categories - The credit card offers 2:1 rewards or more for at least one additional purchase category - like dining, travel, gas, groceries, shopping, or other.
  • Bonus Points Offered - The credit card offers bonus points you can earn throughout the year.
  • No Blackout Dates - There are no blackout travel dates for your points, miles, or cash back rewards.
  • No Expiration - Your rewards points, miles, or cash back rewards will never expire.
  • Offers Companion Reward - The airline credit card offers a companion airfare reward.
  • Sign-Up Bonus - The credit card offers a sign-up bonus reward.
  • Unlimited Rewards - You can accumulate an unlimited amount of points, miles, or cash back rewards with your credit card.

Benefits

Fairly Important
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Benefits encompasses the additional advantageous features associated with ownership of the rewards card. Many rewards credit cards will offer benefits like roadside assistance, travel insurance, fraud liability, 24/7 live support, and access to exclusive events. The best rewards credit cards will also include purchase security and emergency support. Benefits is not the most important feature category, but it is valuable to know what additional perks come with card ownership.

  • 24/7 Live Service - You can speak with a live representative at any time of day about your credit card.
  • Early Boarding - You receive priority boarding benefits as an owner of the credit card.
  • Emergency Support - The credit card offers emergency support.
  • Exclusive Events - You have access to exclusive events with the credit card.
  • First Bag Free - Your first checked bag is free.
  • Fraud Liability - The credit card offers fraud liability protection.
  • In-Flight Spending Bonus - You receive a discount or additional bonus points on all in-flight expenditures.
  • Partner Point Transfer - You can exchange your points for equal value with participating partners of the credit card, like hotels or airlines.
  • Price Protection - You will be reimbursed the difference of any purchase made within a certain time period if you find a lower advertised price.
  • Purchase Security - You will receive a refund for any item that a retailer doesn't accept as a return within a certain time period.

Reward Redemption

Fairly Important
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Reward Redemption is made up of everything that involves redeeming credit card rewards. This category not only includes the various types of things a cardholder can redeem for, but also the method of redeeming as well as a few specialized features. Reward Redemption is important because earning rewards means nothing if they are difficult to redeem. Most of the time, people sign up for credit cards for the rewards program so being able to actually receive rewards is of very high importance. The best rewards credit cards will offer a variety of ways for points to be redeemed and will include additional redemption options like electronics or special events.

  • Book in Someone Else's Name - You can use your airline rewards to book a trip in someone else's name.
  • Redeem for Airline Travel - Rewards can be redeemed for airline travel.
  • Redeem for Car Rental - Rewards can be redeemed for car rental.
  • Redeem for Cash Back - Rewards can be redeemed as cash back or statement credit.
  • Redeem for Gift Cards - Rewards can be redeemed for gift cards.
  • Redeem for Hotel - Rewards can be redeemed for hotel stays.
  • Redeem for Merchandise - Rewards can be redeemed for merchandise.
  • Redeem for Other - Rewards can be redeemed for other categories, such as magazine subscriptions or charity donations.
  • Redeem Online - You can redeem your points, miles, or cash back rewards online.
  • Redeem on Other Airlines - Rewards can be redeemed for airline travel on other airlines.

Application

Less Important
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Application refers to the different ways a potential cardholder can apply for the rewards credit card and whether potential cardholders can receive instant approval. Applying for the credit card online and by phone are the most common application methods. Rewards cards associated with banks will also facilitate in-person applications.

  • Apply By Phone - You can complete the credit card application process via phone.
  • Apply In Person - You can apply for the credit card live in person.
  • Apply Online - You can complete the entire credit card application process online.
  • Instant Approval - You can get instant approval for the credit card.

Balance Transfers

Less Important
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Balance Transfers identifies features associated with a new cardholder's ability to transfer funds onto the new rewards card. The ability to transfer balances is not available with every rewards card, and for those that do offer the feature, the introductory and standard interest rates and associated fees can vary. Balance Transfers can be an important feature category for cardholders with existing credit balances interested in transferring these balances, but it's not a category that makes or breaks a top credit card.

  • Introductory Balance Transfer Rate (APR) - The credit card offers an introductory balance transfer rate (APR).
  • No Introductory Balance Transfer Fee - The credit card doesn't charge a percentage fee on the new balance transferred to the card.
  • Transfer from Credit Cards - You can transfer a balance from another credit card.
  • Transfer from Loans - You can transfer a balance from a loan to the credit card.

Insurance Coverage

Less Important
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Insurance Coverage is a category that includes the additional protection benefits associated with owning the credit card. Some of the features that are common among credit cards are lost luggage insurance, car rental insurance, and travel insurance. Insurance Coverage is not one of the more important categories when looking at the best credit cards because it's more of an added bonus for the cardholder's peace of mind.

  • Car Rental Insurance - The credit card offers car rental insurance.
  • Extended Warranty - The credit card offers an extended warranty on purchases.
  • Flight Insurance - The credit card offers flight insurance.
  • Lost Luggage Insurance - The credit card offers lost luggage insurance.
  • Roadside Assistance - The credit card offers roadside assistance.
  • Travel Insurance - The credit card offers travel insurance.

What Are the Different Types of Rewards Credit Cards?


Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards are offered by specific airlines so that cardmembers can earn rewards from the airline, generally in the form of air miles. It can be difficult to choose between the best airline credit cards since it ultimately depends on which airline the traveler prefers. Putting aside the choice of airline, there are certainly some cards that offer more rewards than others. People who plan to stick with one airline for most of their travel will be able to accumulate the greatest amount of rewards, but travel flexibility will likely be sacrificed. Since many of the airlines understand this, they offer very high upfront bonus miles to new cardmembers, and one even offers this bonus without making a purchase. Airline credit cards are not to be confused with other travel credit cards that offer rewards in the form of air miles or airfare. This group of cards is focused solely on credit cards offered by airlines. View Top List

Cash Back Credit Cards

Cash back credit cards are focused primarily on getting cash back in the form of statement credit or checks from the credit card company. Earning cash back rewards is similar to earning points, but many of the best cash back cards offer higher cash back percentages on categories that rotate throughout the year. For example, a cash back credit card might offer 5% cash back per dollar spent on entertainment for a three-month period and then the category may rotate to 5% cash back on gas over the next period. While the best cash back credit cards generally offer the highest cash rewards, it's still important to analyze the rates and fees of each card in addition to any caps on earning cash back. The other thing to keep in mind is that some cash back cards are more versatile than others. Most cards strictly offer cash back, but some cards offer the ability to convert cash into points and redeem other types of rewards, like travel and airfare. Most cash back cards offer little to no upfront rewards bonus that many new cardmembers can find by signing up for an airline credit card or travel credit card. View Top List

Travel Credit Cards

Travel credit cards can offer rewards in a variety of ways, including airfare, points, and hotel membership points. The best travel credit card is tough to pinpoint because of the sheer variety of rewards offered by the different cards in this category. However, a top travel credit card will always offer a bonus for signing up and at least two points per dollar spent in rewards. Some of the best travel credit cards are offered by banks, which are more versatile and allow rewards to be accumulated in a variety of ways. Other travel credit cards, like those offered by hotel chains, have more targeted rewards systems. A cardholder can earn a higher amount of rewards points, but that is only possible when using the card at a specific hotel chain, like Marriott, Hilton, or Starwood hotels. Travel credit cards are even offered by online travel companies, such as Orbitz and Priceline. Ultimately, it comes down to the purchasing habits and lifestyle of the cardholder, but it's clear that there are no shortage of options when it comes to travel credit cards. View Top List

Gas Credit Cards

Many of the best gas credit cards offer cash back as the primary means to redeem rewards. However, there are also gas credit cards that operate under a points-based rewards system that include attractive rewards for gas purchases. Points earned through these programs can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, merchandise, and multiple other options. One factor to be aware of when determining which gas credit card to select is the cap placed on bonus rewards associated with gas purchases. Some gas credit cards cap the bonus limit on a quarterly basis, while others cap on an annual basis. The best gas credit cards will place no cap on rewards associated with gasoline purchases. Potential cardholders interested in balance transfers should be attentive to the fact that not all gas credit cards permit new cardholders to transfer existing credit balances onto the new card. For the gas credit cards that do allow balance transfers, the introductory and standard interest rates can vary substantially. The top gas credit cards will include relatively low introductory and standard interest rates, will not require an annual fee, and will offer bonus rewards for buying groceries or for purchases made at popular department stores. View Top List

Choosing the Best Rewards Credit Card

The lists below identify the best cash back, gas, airline, and travel rewards credit cards, and will help cardholders select a card that rewards them for the purchases they make the most.

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