- Best rewards credit cards compared
- Beginner’s guide to rewards cards
- About the author
- User questions & answers
- Expert opinions
|Initial Bonus Offer
|Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
|2% Cash Rewards
|$200 Cash Rewards
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
|Rewards with No Annual Fee
|1.5 - 5% Cash Back
|Extra 1.5% cash back, up to $20k spent the first year
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
|Bonus Cash Back Rewards
|1 - 6% Cash Back
|$250 statement credit for spending $3,000 in the first 6 months
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|1 - 5 points / $1
|60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (see Rates & Fees)
|2 - 5 miles / $1
|75,000 miles for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
|Citi Premier® Card
|1 - 3 points / $1
|60,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
|Citi Double Cash® Card
|Rewards with Fair Credit
|2% Cash Back
|$200 for spending $1,500 in the first 6 months
|Chase Freedom Rise℠ Credit Card
|Rewards with No Credit
|1.5% Cash Back
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card
|Rewards with Bad Credit
|1 - 2% Cash Back
|Earned rewards doubled at the end of year one
|Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card (see Rates & Fees)
|1 - 8% Cash Back
|$50 for spending $100 in the first 3 months
The best credit card rewards come in all shapes and sizes. The offers on this page are the best overall. But you can find more great options by checking out WalletHub’s picks for thebest cash back credit cardsand thebest travel rewards cards.
To identify the best rewards credit cards, WalletHub’s editors compare all the credit cards with cash back, points or miles in our database of 1,500+ credit card offers. We consider the key components of the WalletHub Rating, focusing on the amount each card is likely to save or cost the average consumer over 24 months of use, after subtracting annual fees from expected rewards earnings. We use a two-year timeframe because it helps level the playing field between cards with big initial bonuses and cards with better ongoing rewards.
How Two-Year Cost Is Calculated
Two-year cost is used to approximate the monetary value of cards for better comparison and is calculated by combining annual and monthly membership fees over two years, adding any one-time fees or other fees (like balance transfer fees), adding any interest costs, and subtracting rewards. Negative amounts indicate savings. When fees or other terms are presented as a range, we use the midpoint for scoring purposes.
Rewards bonuses and credits have been taken into account for two-year cost calculations. However, bonuses applicable to only a very small portion of cardholders are not considered. For example, credits and bonuses awarded for spending or redeeming rewards through a company portal with non-co-branded cards have not been taken into account. Similarly, bonuses and credits related to spending with specific merchants using a non-co-branded card have not been taken into account (for example, if Card A offers credits with DoorDash, this feature would not be factored into calculations because it is hard to assess how many cardholders would use the benefit or exactly how much value they'd get from it).
Cardholder Spending Profiles
Given that different users have different goals and are likely to use their credit cards differently, we identified spending profiles that are representative of different users’ financial priorities and behaviors. For each cardholder type, we have assumed a specific amount of monthly spending by purchase type (e.g., groceries, gas, etc.), as well as an average balance, balance transfer amount, amount spent on large purchases and average monthly payment. Spending assumptions are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
WalletHub actively maintains a database of 1,500+ credit card offers, from which we select the best rewards credit cards for different applicants as well as derive market-wide takeaways and trends. The underlying data is compiled from credit card company websites or provided directly by the credit card issuers. We also leverage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to develop cardholder profiles, used to estimate cards’ potential savings.
What Is a Rewards Credit Card?
A rewards credit card is a card that gives you points, miles or cash back in return for making purchases. Some cards also give you bonus rewards for spending a certain amount during the first few months your account is open or over the course of a year.
Credit cards with rewards are available to people of all credit levels, including newcomers with no credit and people with bad credit who are working their way back from past mistakes. That said, you will need good or excellent credit to qualify for the best rewards credit cards, which could save you more than $1,000 per year.
Learn more about what a rewards card is and how it works.
What Is a Credit Card Rewards Program?
A credit card rewards program is a system that incentivizes card use by returning a portion of the amount you spend on purchases back to you in the form of cash rewards, points or miles that can be redeemed for something of tangible value. The rewards program establishes rules for earning and redeeming, including how much points or miles are worth and whether the rewards expire.
Major credit card companies have at least one rewards program each. Sometimes, a single bank will even have separate programs for its cash back cards and its points or miles cards. WalletHub ranks these programs each year, and you can see the latest results below.
Best Credit Card Rewards Programs
- Capital One (92% WalletHub score)
- Wells Fargo (90% WalletHub score)
- Synchrony Bank (89% WalletHub score)
- Chase (87% WalletHub score)
- Discover (86% WalletHub score)
See the full list.
In addition, major hotel chains and airlines have their own rewards programs, which their co-branded credit cards are part of.
Best Hotel Rewards Programs
- Wyndham Rewards
- World of Hyatt
- Radisson Rewards Americas
- Choice Privileges
- Hilton Honors
See the full list.
Best Airline Rewards Programs
- United Airlines – MileagePlus
- Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan
- Delta Air Lines – SkyMiles
- Hawaiian Airlines – HawaiianMiles
- American Airlines – AAdvantage
See the full list.
Types of Credit Card Rewards
There are three main types of credit card rewards:
- Cash back
A single credit card will only offer one of these rewards currencies, but they work pretty much the same way. Whether your card gives you points, miles or cash back, you’ll earn a certain amount for each $1 in purchases that you charge to your account. You’ll then be able to redeem what you earn for things like a credit on your bill, gift cards, travel, or purchases from popular retailers, depending on the card.
The various rewards currencies may differ in terms of how much they’re worth and what you can use them for. Points and miles are usually worth around 1 cent each, and they’re sometimes affiliated with specific airlines and hotel chains, but it depends on the rewards program. On the other hand, the value of true cash back rewards doesn’t vary, since you’re earning in terms of dollars and cents.
You might also see credit cards characterized by the rate at which they reward you. For example, you might see the term “flat-rate rewards” used to describe a card that gives you the same amount of points or miles, or the same percentage cash back, on every purchase. Other cards may reward you more for purchases in certain spending categories – travel or gas, for instance. Some people refer to these as tiered-rewards cards. Another type of tiered rewards allows you to earn more or less per $1 spent after reaching a certain spending threshold.
Learn more about the different types of credit card rewards.
How Do Cash Back Credit Cards Work?
Cash back credit cards reward you for making purchases by returning a percentage of the money that you spend. You can then redeem the cash back rewards that you earn for a statement credit to help pay your credit card bill or other options.
Here’s an overview of how cash rewards cards work:
- You earn rewards equal to a percentage of each purchase made with yourcash back credit card.
- The cash back rewards are credited to your account within 1-2 billing cycles.
- You redeem your earnings for a statement credit, check, direct deposit, or other options, depending on the card.
Note that some “cash back” credit cards actually reward you in the form of points, which can be redeemed for 1 cent each. This is not an issue unless the issuer changes how many points equal $1.
Learn more about how cash back credit cards work, including details on earning and redeeming this type of rewards.
How Do Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work?
Travel rewards credit cardstypically provide points or miles and reward you more for making travel-related purchases than anything else. The points or miles that you earn with travel rewards cards also tend to be worth the most when redeemed for travel.
- Some travel rewards credit cards are affiliated with a particular travel provider, such as an airline or hotel chain. The rewards and benefits available from these cards are very brand-centric, meaning frequent customers of the affiliated airline or hotel chain will save the most money.
- Other cards will reward you more for travel purchases booked through the issuing bank’s travel portal but aren’t tied to a particular travel brand.
- Still other cards will give you extra rewards on pretty much any type of travel purchase. This may even include daily transit costs, such as public transportation, parking and tolls.
In addition to rewards for making purchases, many travel credit cards offer perks such as travel insurance, airport lounge access, $0 foreign transaction fees, and reimbursement for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fees.
Learn more about how travel credit cards work.
How to Earn Credit Card Rewards
You earn credit card rewards by making purchases with a rewards credit card. In most cases, you will get at least 1 point or mile per $1 spent or 1% cash back.
You can also earn credit card rewards by:
- Spending a certain amount within the first few months your account is open, to earn an initial bonus.
- Referring friends or family to apply for your card, which could get you a referral bonus if the people you refer get approved.
- Making a purchase in a particular spending category or with a specific retailer, triggering a statement credit or bonus rewards.
- Adding an authorized user, as you will earn rewards on their spending.
Learn more about how to earn credit card rewards.
How to Redeem Credit Card Rewards
You can redeem your credit card rewards on the issuer’s website or mobile app, or by calling customer service. Redeeming online or via an app is most common, and you can find the general steps laid out below.
- Log in to your online account.
- Click on your rewards balance.
- Select how you’d like to redeem your rewards (travel, statement credit, gift card, etc.).
- Complete the transaction and wait to receive the payoff.
After you redeem, your rewards balance should update immediately. It might take a few days to a few weeks for you to receive whatever you redeem for, however. Redeeming for a statement credit or digital gift card tends to be fastest.
In most cases, you will have several different redemption options, but they may not be equally beneficial to you. In most cases, one or two of your choices will get you more value for your points or miles than the others. For instance, travel rewards cards typically give you the greatest return when you trade in your points or miles for airfare, hotel reservations, etc.
Learn more about how to redeem credit card rewards.
Pros & Cons of Rewards Credit Cards
|Save 1% to 5%+ on purchases
|High regular interest rates
|Options for all credit levels
|High fees possible
|Initial bonuses worth $200+
|Points and miles can be devalued
|Enjoy other card perks (e.g. lounge access, 0% intro APR)
Learn more about the pros and cons of rewards credit cards.
Are Credit Card Rewards Worth It?
The best rewards credit cards are worthmore than $2,000 in savingsover just two years, according to WalletHub’s calculations, which factor in annual fees. In general, credit cardrewards are worth it as long as you avoid interest charges by paying your bill in full every month and you don’t overspend just to earn the rewards.
Learn more about when credit cards with rewards are worthwhile.
Who Should Get a Rewards Credit Card?
Most people should have at least one rewards credit card. In particular, you should get arewards credit cardfor purchases that you can afford to pay off fully by the due date every month. Interest charges won’t apply if you pay in full monthly, so you’re free to focus on maximizing your savings from rewards. On the other hand, you can use a low interest credit card for purchases that will take longer to pay down.
You should be able to find a worthwhile rewards card regardless of your credit score. There are options for people with bad credit or no credit history. Of course, you need good or excellent credit to be eligible for the best offers.
To see if a rewards card is a good fit for your situation, try WalletHub’s CardAdvisor tool. You can also learn more about who should get a credit card with rewards.
How to Choose the Best Rewards Credit Card
To choose the bestrewards credit card, start bychecking your credit score to avoid wasting time on offers you’re not qualified for, then compare the remaining options’ rewards and fees. Next, choose the card with the highest expected rewards earnings, based on your recent spending habits, after subtracting any annual fees.
You can find a rundown of the key steps below, and you can try them out on our editors’ picks above.
- Reduce your options to cards you can qualify for based on your credit score.
- Decide whether you want cash back, points, or miles. Cash back, or points redeemable for cash at a competitive rate, will be best for most people.
- Consider where you’re going to use the card, as some cards give extra rewards for purchases in certain spending categories or at specific merchants, while others give a flat earning rate on everything.
- Think about how long you want to keep the card. Initial bonuses are more important if you have a short timeline, for example.
- Compare offers to find the card that will maximize your expected savings after fees. To do so, try to calculate how much each card’s rewards will get you, based on the earning rates and your spending habits.
- Compare other perks that might influence your decision, such as 0% introductory APRs.
Learn more about how to choose a rewards credit card.
How to Make the Most of Your Rewards Credit Card
- Pick the right credit card. The best rewards cards can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars more per year than the worst cards.
- Spend enough to qualify for the initial bonus. You can save hundreds extra without spending more than normal if you play things right.
- Use the card for purchases that will produce ongoing bonus rewards.The average rewards rate is about 1% back, but you can get 5%+ back in bonus categories.
- Cut down on overspending and pay the bill in full to avoid interest.Credit card interest rates are a lot higher than credit card rewards rates, so carrying a balance from month to month is a losing proposition.
- Avoid common mistakes people make with credit card rewards. Things like not letting your rewards expire are key to maximizing your savings.
Learn more about how to maximize your credit card rewards.
About the Author
John S Kiernan
John Kiernan has covered the credit card industry for more than 10 years as a writer and editor for WalletHub. His work has been featured by major media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times and has been cited by industry regulators such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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I'm John S Kiernan, a seasoned expert in the credit card industry with over 10 years of experience as a writer and editor for WalletHub. My work has been recognized by major media outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times, and I've been cited by regulatory bodies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now, let's delve into the information related to the concepts used in the provided article about the best rewards credit cards.
1. Best Rewards Credit Cards:
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card:
- Best For: Overall
- Rewards Rate: 2% Cash Rewards
- Initial Bonus Offer: $200 Cash Rewards
Chase Freedom Unlimited®:
- Best For: Rewards with No Annual Fee
- Rewards Rate: 1.5 - 5% Cash Back
- Extra: 1.5% cash back, up to $20k spent in the first year
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express:
- Best For: Bonus Cash Back Rewards
- Rewards Rate: 1 - 6% Cash Back
- Initial Bonus Offer: $250 statement credit for spending $3,000 in the first 6 months
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:
- Best For: Travel Rewards
- Rewards Rate: 1 - 5 points / $
- Initial Bonus Offer: 160,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card:
- Best For: Travel Bonus
- Rewards Rate: 2 - 5 miles / $
- Initial Bonus Offer: 175,000 miles for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Citi Premier® Card:
- Initial Bonus: 1 - 3 points / $
- Initial Bonus Offer: 160,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Citi Double Cash® Card:
- Best For: Rewards with Fair Credit
- Rewards Rate: 2% Cash Back
- Initial Bonus Offer: $200 for spending $1,500 in the first 6 months
Chase Freedom Rise℠ Credit Card:
- Best For: Rewards with No Credit
- Rewards Rate: 1.5% Cash Back
Discover it® Secured Credit Card:
- Best For: Rewards with Bad Credit
- Rewards Rate: 1 - 2% Cash Back
- Extra: Earned rewards doubled at the end of year one
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- Best For: Students
- Rewards Rate: 1 - 8% Cash Back
- Initial Bonus Offer: $50 for spending $100 in the first 3 months
2. Methodology for Selecting Best Rewards Credit Cards:
- Two-Year Cost Calculation
- Cardholder Spending Profiles
- Sources used in the analysis
3. Beginner’s Guide to Rewards Credit Cards:
- What is a Rewards Credit Card?
- What is a Credit Card Rewards Program?
- Types of Credit Card Rewards
- How Cash Back Credit Cards Work
- How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work
- How to Earn Credit Card Rewards
- How to Redeem Credit Card Rewards
4. Pros & Cons of Rewards Credit Cards:
- Save on purchases
- Options for all credit levels
- Initial bonuses worth $200+
- Enjoy other card perks (e.g., lounge access, 0% intro APR)
- High regular interest rates
- Fees possible
- Points and miles can be devalued
5. Are Credit Card Rewards Worth It?
- Worth more than $2,000 in savings over two years
- Considerations to make rewards worthwhile
6. Who Should Get a Rewards Credit Card?
- Most people should have at least one rewards credit card
- Eligibility based on credit score
7. How to Choose the Best Rewards Credit Card:
- Steps to choose the best card based on credit score, preferences, and expected rewards
8. How to Make the Most of Your Rewards Credit Card:
- Pick the right credit card
- Qualify for the initial bonus
- Use the card strategically for ongoing bonus rewards
- Avoid common mistakes
9. About the Author:
- John S Kiernan's background and expertise in the credit card industry.
This comprehensive overview covers the key aspects of the best rewards credit cards, the methodology used in selecting them, a beginner's guide to rewards credit cards, pros and cons, considerations for worthiness, and guidance on choosing and maximizing the benefits of these cards. If you have any specific questions or need more in-depth information on any of these concepts, feel free to ask.