The Best Rewards Credit Cards
Best for Cash Back
Best for Gas and Groceries
Best for Travel
Best for Airline Rewards
Best for Low Credit
How We Found the Best Rewards Credit Cards
136 Cards Considered
20 Hours of Research
5 Top Picks
The Best Rewards Credit Card
Choosing the best rewards credit card comes down to your spending habits and reward preferences. After all, not all cards offer the same type of rewards. However, we narrowed it down to five types that will offer the best potential value for most people. We’re confident we’ve found the best credit card offers, but only you can decide what your needs and spending habits are.
How We Chose the Best Rewards Credit Cards
The best credit card offers for your lifestyle
The best cards will earn you cash, miles, or points for the purchases you make. You can then put your rewards toward future expenses from groceries to plane tickets. But choosing the best rewards card comes down to finding the rewards that most align with your particular spending habits. John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO, explained, “I think the most important attribute of a good rewards card is applicability. Do the card’s rewards appeal to you? If not, then it’s not the best option.”
With Ulzheimer’s advice in mind, we pulled top recommendations from our other credit card reviews and consulted experts, financial websites as well as guides from sites like U.S. News and World Report to find the top performers in five categories that provide the best potential value for most spenders. Then we closely compared options in our categories to see which cards offered what others couldn’t.
Rewards card by category
Rather than list out every detail of the category-specific features we compared, we’ll keep it simple: We prioritized cards with high reward rates, balanced sign-up bonuses, low fees, and strong redemption values. Whether you need a card for gas and groceries or your next dream vacation, our criteria ensure you will earn more rewards for your purchases. In the end, we were left with a few strong picks.
If you want to learn more about the type of rewards card that suits your needs, we recommend checking our FAQ. But if you know your spending habits already, you can jump straight to our picks by category.
The 5 best Rewards Credit Cards
Why we chose it
The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is a rotating cash-back card — each quarter, certain spending categories you choose can earn you boosted rewards change. But while most rotating cards pick bonus categories for you, the U.S. Bank card lets you choose. That means you can target the categories that best match your spending habits for maximum value.
Customizing your bonus categories has two parts: You choose one everyday category (e.g. gas or groceries) for 2% cash back as well as two other 5% cash back categories for other expenses. The 5% categories can include anything from cell phone bills to gym memberships. You can even switch categories at any time to match your spending needs, just as long as the new quarter is more than five days away. More importantly, the ability to mix and match categories means there is a much lower risk of being locked into a predetermined category that doesn’t match your expenses.
Rewards and perks
This card meets the standards of an excellent cash-back card. You can receive a $150 bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days of approval, and a $25 cash bonus for the first time you redeem $100 or more in a single redemption. There’s no annual fee, which means more money and rewards in your pocket. For those who want a customizable cash-back card for long-term value, the U.S. Cash+™ Visa Signature Card is a solid choice.
Points to consider
Categories require activation
The categories can change every quarter, and you need to remember to activate your bonus categories each quarter to receive the higher reward rate — just like any other rotating cash-back card. And the 5% categories only offer the bonus rate for the first $2,000 in purchases— after that, you’ll only get 1% cash back. However, competitors like the Discover it® Cash Back card and Chase Freedom® card, only provide a 5% boost for $1,500 in expenses each quarter you activate. Plus, the ability to customize your spending categories might encourage you to stay on top of activation, and U.S. Bank will send you a reminder each quarter. You can designate your categories for the 2% and 5% cash back rates 45 days prior to the beginning of the new quarter, but you won’t be able to make any last-minute changes within the five days before the new quarter.
Why we chose it
The card earns you a solid 3% cash back rate at U.S. gas stations throughout the year. As for groceries, you can earn an impressive 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in purchases per year at U.S. supermarkets before dropping to 1% — the rate for all other purchases. A rotating cash-back card can earn you up to 5% back on both categories but only up to $1,500 during specific quarters of the year. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household only spent around $4,000 on groceries in 2016. In other words, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card is tough to beat if gas and groceries are a large part of your expenses.
While its gas and grocery cash back rates make this card unbeatable for those types of spenders, this Amex rewards card also offers travel benefits, like car rental loss and and damage insurance, Global Assist® and Roadside Assistance Hotlines, as well as travel accident insurance. And if you find an unexpected charge on your card that you think is fraudulent, American Express doesn’t hold you accountable, and there’s no deductible — all you have to do is call the number on the back of the card to work it out.
Points to consider
Restrictions and acceptance rate
The gas and grocery bonus doesn’t apply to purchases made at popular warehouses or superstores (Costco, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart or Target). You’ll need to visit a dedicated U.S. supermarket or U.S. gas station in order to receive the rewards. In addition, the card is issued by American Express, which has the lowest merchant acceptance rate across the United States, so you might want to keep a backup card on hand. That said, the customer base is growing, and acceptance rates are rising — most major gas and grocery brands accept the card.
High annual fee
Unlike other cash-back cards, the Blue Cash Preferred® also has an annual fee of $95. As with rewards cards, make sure your fees aren’t greater than your rewards. The card does have other benefits, like an additional 3% cash back on purchases made through U.S. department stores and a $200 statement credit for spending $1,000 in the first three months, which might offset those other weaknesses and the high annual fee.
Why we chose it
2x miles on every purchase
The competition was close between the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, but Capital One edged out a victory with better reward rates, offering 2x miles on every purchase, not just travel-related expenses. In other words, the earning potential of the Capital One card is more flexible, which means you can earn more rewards on all of your expenses throughout the year — not just when you’re traveling.
Notable sign-up bonus and rewards
Spending $3,000 within the first three months of approval will net you 50,000 bonus miles ( a $500 value). Higher spending cutoffs increase the chance of carrying a balance and paying interest, which can then devalue the rewards you earn.
The Capital One card also offers benefits and perks that boost it above other travel card competition. Although the card has a $95 annual fee (which is pretty competitive for travel cards, specifically), Capital One waives it for the first year, and you can earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels if you pay through the Venture card hotel portal. And there’s no need to worry about caps on your earning potential for miles: There are no limits, and your miles won’t expire for the life of the card.
Points to consider
Lacking travel insurance
We were disappointed to see that the card’s insurance benefits lacked a few key players. While the card does fall under the Visa Signature® benefits guide, which includes standard travel and secondary auto rental coverage, it doesn’t offer coverage for trip cancellation. And although Capital One will reimburse you for lost luggage, there’s a cap on the amount and several restrictions on what will be covered.
Why we chose it
We’ll be upfront: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a bit of an oddball pick because it isn’t tied to any one specific airline. That means it won’t give you access to airline-specific perks, like waived baggage fees or priority boarding. But we actually consider the lack of a partner airline a strength. Co-branded or airline-specific cards only offer boosted reward and redemption rates for purchases made through a particular airline or its partners. With the Chase card, you earn 2x points for any travel-related expense and can redeem your rewards with any airline, hotel or rental car company you choose.
Solid travel rewards
Aside from earning 2x points on any travel-related expense, if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can boost your points by 25 percent. In other words, 60,000 points (a $600 value) would become 75,000 points (a $750 value).
The Chase card also lets you transfer points to a co-branded airline account at a 1:1 rate. Translation? You can combine your Chase points with the rewards you earn from a loyalty program or airline card. That gives you the freedom to choose the redemption method that gives you the best value, regardless whether it’s through an airline program or Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card can save frequent flyers a lot of money, and any airline-specific card or account you pair with it is icing on the cake — for recommendations of airline-specific cards, check out our review of the Best Airline Credit Cards.
Points to consider
Steep sign-up bonus requirement
You need to spend $4,000 within the first three months to earn 60,000 bonus points, which is a high requirement, especially if you don’t travel frequently (the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card will be a better bet for smaller spenders). However, if you spend a substantial amount on flights or travel, the potential rewards and bonus pose a great value. Add that to the competitive annual fee of $95, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the card to own for frequent flyers and travelers.
Why we chose it
Impressive rewards rate and first-year bonus
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card earns you 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in purchases in each quarter as well as an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee, and Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of the year — one of the best bonuses available for new cardholders.
Good for building credit
When it comes time to redeem your rewards, you can receive them in cash or Amazon credit. With the card’s strong rewards rates and straightforward redemption process, you can focus on building your credit rather than worrying about whether you’re getting the maximum value out of your card.
The best way to use the card is on common expenses that you’re confident you can pay off in full and on time every month. This will prevent you from paying the high interest rate of 25.24% variable. At first glance, the interest seems counterintuitive for building credit, but it actually encourages spenders to pay their bills. Discover also waives the first late fee and won’t raise the rate if you pay late.
Points to consider
The card requires a security deposit of at least $200 as collateral to open an account, and your spending limit or credit line will equal your deposit. Your maximum deposit or credit line is also determined by income and ability to pay— this maxes out at $2,500, which is relatively low compared to standard cards. Low spending limits put a cap on your rewards, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it protects you from running up a large balance that could hurt your credit score. Plus, after eight months, Discover will even start evaluating your account every month to see if you have been using your card responsibly and are eligible for an upgrade.
Guide to the best credit cards
How to find the right rewards credit card for you
Track your spending habits
The best rewards card will help you earn as you spend — so you’ll want rewards that match up with your existing spending habits. Before you apply for a rewards card, we recommend looking at where you spend the most money and choosing a card with rewards that benefit from that kind of spending. Someone who travels frequently might not need 6% cash back on groceries, for example.
Think about your credit score
Credit card companies will always take into consideration your “creditworthiness” before granting you access to one of their cards. Before applying, you should tailor your credit card search to your credit score so you won’t get carried away by perks and rates that might be out of your range. To get a better idea of credit score ranges, the Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO) breaks it down like this:
Exceptional: Above 800
Very Good: 740-799
Fair: 580 - 669
Poor: Below 580
The best way to boost your credit score is to make on-time payments, pay off your balances, and keep your credit utilization ratio low. To read more, visit FICO’s website to see how credit scores are calculated.
Look at the APR
If you make payments on time and don’t carry a balance, you won’t have to worry about paying an interest fee. This fee comes in the form of an annual percentage rate (APR) and is based on your credit score. The higher your credit score, the lower your APR. Rewards cards generally have high rates of around 16-25%, which is the price you pay for their benefits.
It is important to consider what the lender will charge in the event you aren’t able to pay on time. For example, if your APR is 24.74%, a $2,000 payment could earn another $500 in interest after a year. Granted, it’s not that simple every time, but the idea is the same — if you borrow money and don’t pay it back in a timely manner, you’ll pay (more) for it. We recommend avoiding interest altogether by paying off your balance in full and on time each month. This also isn’t always possible, but just make sure the interest you potentially pay won’t counteract your rewards.
Keep an eye on fees
No matter what card or combination of cards you’re considering, you will want to make sure that you’ll be able to pay any fees or balances without cutting into your rewards. In some cases, a high annual fee isn’t worth it. Three of our top picks have annual fees, but as John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO, explained, “Most higher-end rewards cards are going to have annual fees, and that’s just a nature of their business. Annual fees shouldn’t be deal breakers, especially if you’re getting benefits that outweigh the fees.” We stuck to cards with $95, which is pretty standard among the industry.
Rewards Credit Cards FAQ
What is the best credit card to have?
The answer: it depends. There really is no “best” credit card for everybody, because most people spend have different spending habits. The credit cards for which you’re eligible will depend heavily on your credit score. From there, go with what interests you or what you need.
What are cash-back credit cards?
Cash-back rewards cards give you money back for your purchases. The rewards usually come in the form of statement credits, direct deposits, or even checks — no need to convert miles or points. These are usually split into two sub-categories: rotating and flat-rate cards. Rotating cards usually offer boosted reward rates of around 5% on predetermined spending categories (e.g. restaurants or gas) that change each quarter of the year — but only 1% on all other purchases. Flat rate cards offer around 1.5% - 2% cash back on all spending categories for the entire year.
What are gas and grocery cards?
We know— this one is pretty self-explanatory. But these cards are a good match if you spend a substantial amount of money on gas and groceries. Typically, the best are cash-back cards that provide high reward rates for money spent on these two purchases. A general cash-back card is better for most, but gas and grocery cards can be a smart investment if you feed a large family or have a long commute.
What are travel credit cards?
These can earn you miles or points that you can put toward future travel expenses. Some offer cash back rewards as well, but you get the best value when redeeming for flights, hotels, or rental cars. For frequent travelers or those who take big annual trips, a travel card can be a smart choice. We have a few favorites, and you can see how we chose them in our review of the best travel credit cards. But if you don’t travel frequently, a cash-back card will provide rewards that are easier to use.
What are airline credit cards?
These are are usually co-branded. That means you can only earn and redeem points with the airline that is tied to your card (or its partners such as affiliate hotels or restaurants). If you spend a substantial amount of time on a particular carrier, an airline card is worth a look. That said, redeeming points or miles for flights is a bit complicated — ticket prices, the time of year, and the airline you choose can all affect your redemption value. But if you’re loyal to an airline, you can check out our top picks for major airlines in our review of the Best Airline Credit Cards.
What are secured rewards cards?
These are designed to help you rebuild credit while still offering strong rewards. They also require you to put down a security deposit to cover your purchases if you fail to make a payment, protecting your credit score. However, your spending limit will match your deposit, which means the potential value of rewards is lower. But a secured card is a good way to enjoy a few rewards while working toward a better option.
Can you combine cards to boost rewards?
Yes. Although you can really combine any two (or more) rewards cards (cash-back + travel, cash-back + airline, travel + airline) you want to ensure that the combination works in your favor. That said, not all cards will pair well with others, and finding the right combination takes experience and patience. It also requires a lot of math that takes into account your spending habits and total annual fees. We encourage mixing and matching, but we focused on finding the best cards in each category that provide great value on their own.
The Best Rewards Credit Cards: Summed Up
Our Other Credit Card Reviews
Still looking for other credit cards that might be a better fit? Check out our other credit reviews:
- The Best Credit Cards
- The Best Student Credit Cards
- The Best Airline Credit Cards
- The Best Credit Report Service
Editorial disclosure: The views and opinions expressed within this page belong solely to Reviews.com and have not been reviewed or approved by any affiliate or bank. The information provided is accurate as of the date of the review.