Since the launch of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, rewards credit cards have exploded into a mainstream obsession.
It’s not hard to see why more people than ever are jumping into the once-obscure world of credit card rewards and bonuses. There’s the lure of high sign-up bonuses and special perks, not to mention the opportunity to use points for free flights, hotel stays, and even first-class tickets.
So what’s the best move for someone seeking to boost their stock of credit card points and frequent flyer miles? Here are some of the top credit cards currently available, based on sign-up bonuses, rewards earned on everyday spending, benefits, and overall value.
Our expert panel for this guide
We consulted top credit card, finance, and travel experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best rewards card for your needs. You’ll find the full text of our interviews with them at the bottom of this post.
Best Rewards Cards_Our Panel of Experts
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase sapphire reserve card
David Slotnick / Business Insider
Why you’ll love it: Easy to earn rewards for travel and more, with a great sign-up bonus and 3x points on travel and dining
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $450
With 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and any travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else, the Sapphire Reserve makes it easy to maximize your everyday spending, and it comes with a slew of perks.
While there are a few different ways to use Chase points, there are usually two options to get the best value. First, your points are worth 50% more toward travel booked through Chase. Second, you can transfer points to a number of frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs — typically, this gets you the most value for your points. Booking flights by transferring points to frequent flyer partners is generally more lucrative — that’s usually how people use points to fly in first and business class — but it can be complicated because you have to decipher award charts, find availability, and work around complicated airline rules.
Travel benefits include access to airport lounges through the Priority Pass network, trip delay coverage, purchase protection, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, and primary car rental insurance. However, while the airport lounge access can be great, most Priority Pass lounges are in international terminals, which isn’t helpful when you’re flying domestically. If you find lounge access crucial, you should consider the Amex Platinum, which offers superior lounge access within the US.
The Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee is a hefty $450, but that’s offset by a $300 travel credit each year, good for things like taxis, subway fare, parking, tolls, and flights.
There aren’t many downsides to this card besides the upfront annual fee. Check out our guide to the best travel rewards credit cards for more options like the Sapphire Reserve.
What the experts love: Points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel through Chase, 3x points on two very broad bonus categories (travel and dining)
What the experts don’t love: The high annual fee. “It’s hard to wrap your head around a $450 annual fee. Unless you can fully use all the other perks this card offers, it will become expensive to carry this card for a long time,” says NerdWallet’s travel and credit cards expert, Sara Rathner.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve:
Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review
Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is my top pick for eating out
The Platinum Card from American Express
AmEx American Express Platinum
Why you’ll love it: Big welcome offer and lots of perks for travelers
Welcome offer: 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $550
The Amex Platinum has a higher annual fee than the Sapphire Reserve, but also a longer list of benefits. The Platinum card is also one of the best options for paying for flights, because you’ll earn 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with airlines.
Like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points can be used to purchase travel, gift cards, or products directly through from the issuer, or they can be transferred to certain airline and hotel loyalty programs. The best value comes from that latter use. If you redeem points by using them to book travel through Amex, you’ll get around 1 cent per point.
The Platinum Card includes access to the same lounges as the Sapphire Reserve, plus Delta Sky Clubs and the proprietary American Express Centurion Lounges. Amex Platinum cardholders also get exclusive access to major events and experiences, including once-in-a-lifetime “By Invitation Only” events.
Of course, $550 is a lot to pay out each year. Up to $200 in annual airline fee credits and up to $200 in annual Uber credits certainly help, but the airline credit can be difficult to use if you aren’t checking bags or buying drinks on flights.
The bonus spending categories on this card are less generous than on the Sapphire Reserve, meaning it can take longer to earn points unless you book a lot of flights. Even so, the card remains extremely valuable if you can make good use of the benefits. For example, in your first year with the card, you can get more than $2,000 in value.
What the experts love: Airport lounge access (especially to Amex Centurion Lounges — “They’re pretty high end as far as airport lounges go!,” says Rathner), access to high-end hotel benefits through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, 5x points on flights
What the experts don’t love: High annual fee, some annual statement credits have significant limitations. “You have to choose one airline to apply the annual $200 statement to, which limits your flexibility,” says Rathner.
Click here to learn more about the Amex Platinum Card.
Read more about the Amex Platinum:
Amex Platinum credit card review
8 things to do when you get the Amex Platinum card
Pros and cons of the Amex Platinum
The Amex Platinum is available to active duty servicemembers at no annual fee — but even with the fee, the credit card is a great value
Chase Sapphire Preferred
CREDIT CARD SYDNEY AUSTRALIA Chase Sapphire Preferred 21
Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy
Why you’ll love it: Higher sign-up bonus and lower annual fee than the Sapphire Reserve, easy to rack up points
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $95
The Reserve’s older sibling, the Sapphire Preferred, offers a number of similar features and a higher sign-up bonus for a lower annual fee. The card earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points instead of the Reserve’s 3x points on dining and travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Points are worth a lower 1.25 cents apiece on travel booked through Chase, but can still be transferred to frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. There’s no annual travel credit, but there’s still car rental primary coverage, as well as slightly less-generous trip delay coverage and purchase protection.
While the Sapphire Preferred was the all-around best card for a long time, the Sapphire Reserve has made it a harder choice. Although the Preferred has a lower annual fee and higher initial bonus, it earns fewer points on bonus spending categories than the Reserve, and the value of the points on travel booked through Chase is less.
Read more: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Reserve — which credit card is best for you?
The no-hassle travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve makes the annual fee on that card effectively $150 (accounting for the $300 you get back through the credit), so — depending on your spending habits — it can be worth paying more up front for the Sapphire Reserve.
What the experts love: Good sign-up bonus, some of the benefits of the Sapphire Reserve at a lower price, travel perks like primary rental car insurance.
What the experts don’t love: No annual travel credit, earns points more slowly than the Sapphire Reserve, no Global Entry or lounge access, which Rathner notes are “increasingly typical” credit card benefits. Summer Hull, director of travel at The Points Guy, also notes that the Preferred has been the same forever.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best rewards credit card for beginners
Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card’s 60k bonus to earn a free trip
The best Chase credit cards
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture 021
The Points Guy
Why you’ll love it: Low annual fee, easy to earn miles for travel
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $0 the first year; then $95
Capital One’s travel rewards program isn’t necessarily as lucrative as what other banks offer. However, Capital One recently expanded the card’s benefits, adding airline transfer partners, and launching transfer bonuses — such as a 20% bonus to Air France/KLM. While the transfer value isn’t quite as good as with Chase or Amex, the flip side is that Capital One miles are easy to earn and easy to use — and thanks to a new partnership, you can earn them quickly.
The Venture Rewards card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. The card also earns a stunning 10x miles when you book prepaid hotel stays with Hotels.com (you just need to go through a special landing page: hotels.com/venture). Plus, you can earn through Hotels.com’s own rewards program at the same time.
Miles can be redeemed as a statement credit to “erase” travel purchases. For example, if you buy a $500 plane ticket, you can apply 50,000 miles to cancel out that charge. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.
Capital One added airline transfer partners in late 2018 — most are at a 2:1.5 ratio, and a few are 2:1 — meaning it’s now possible to get outsized value from the card. This is especially the case when you consider that you can earn 10x Capital One miles on hotels, which translates to 5–7.5 airline miles per dollar, based on the transfer ratios.
What the experts love: Low annual fee, 10x miles at Hotels.com/venture, redemption flexibility with the Purchase Eraser function
Cons: Points transfer at a lower ratio than 1:1, and transfer partners aren’t quite as strong as Chase’s — as Rathner notes, “the only US carrier available is JetBlue and there are no hotel partners.”
Click here to learn more about the Capital One Venture card.
Read more about the Capital One Venture:
Capital One Venture credit card review
Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Capital One Venture — which card is better for you?
Capital One Venture vs. Capital One Savor
American Express Gold Card
Why you’ll love it: Generous rewards on dining and groceries
Welcome offer: 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $250
The Gold Card earns a massive 4x points at restaurants worldwide and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets (and 1x point after that), 3x points on flights booked directly through the airline, 2x points on hotels booked and prepaid through Amex Travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1 cent of value each when you transfer them to frequent flyer partners, this is one of the highest-earning available cards for everything food-related.
The Gold Card offers up to $120 of dining credits per year, broken into chunks of $10 each month. Credits are good for purchases through food delivery services Seamless and GrubHub, and at The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations.
Additionally, the card offers up to a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, which is good for things like checked bags, onboard food and drinks, seat reservations, seat upgrades, lounge day passes, and more.
The two credits — together worth $220 — are almost enough to offset the card’s $250 annual fee even before factoring in the value of the rewards you’ll earn.
What the experts love: Fantastic rewards on dining and groceries at US supermarkets, statement credits and benefits to offset the annual fee
Cons: Smaller welcome bonus, only 1 cent per point of value unless you transfer points to an airline. The Points Guy’s Hull also notes that the card’s annual airline fee credit is somewhat hard to use, while Rathner adds, “The $120 dining credit sounds like a lot, but it’s actually up to $10 a month at select restaurants and food delivery apps. If you don’t live near any of these restaurants or live in a city not served by those apps, this benefit is useless to you.”
Click here to learn more about the Amex Gold card.
Read more about the Amex Gold Card:
Amex Gold card review
The American Express Gold Card has a $250 annual fee, but two benefits alone can get you $220 in value each year
Amex Platinum vs. Amex Gold card
Blue Cash Preferred
AmEx Blue Cash Preferred
Why you’ll love it: Earns cash back quickly at a great rate
Welcome offer: $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $95
If you’re less excited about earning rewards points — which can be valuable, but also tricky to redeem — and want to stick with cash back, the Blue Cash Preferred is the best option, despite its $95 annual fee.
Read more: The best cash-back credit cards of 2019
Amex recently added 6% cash back on select US streaming services and 3% back on all transit. That’s in addition to the existing categories of 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (and 1% after that), 3% back at US gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else.
As a bonus, the Blue Cash Preferred offers a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months, before switching to a variable 14.74-25.74% APR.
The Blue Cash Preferred comes with a handful of travel and purchase protections as well. Cash back comes in the form of a statement credit, so effectively you can use it to “erase” purchases.
If you want to earn cash back instead of points and miles, make sure to check out our guide to the best cash-back credit cards for more options.
What the experts love: Bonus cash back on useful categories, easy to earn enough cash back to offset the annual fee, introductory APR
What the experts don’t love: The card has an annual fee, which Personal Finance Insider’s credit cards editor Sarah Silbert notes is relatively rare for cash-back cards, and there’s a cap on earning 6% back at US supermarkets each year. Rathner recommends switching to a different card for groceries once you hit the $6,000 mark. Summer Hull of The Points Guy sums it up this way: “Cash is good, points are better.”
Click here to learn more about the Blue Cash Preferred.
Read more about the Blue Cash Preferred card:
Amex Blue Cash Preferred card review
The best credit cards for buying groceries
The best American Express cards
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Why you’ll love it: Helps you earn points for normal purchases and get cash back with no annual fee
Sign-up bonus: $150 bonus (or 15,000 points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months
Annual fee: $0
If you already have the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred and are saving your points for something, the Freedom Unlimited can give your balance a nice boost. While Chase markets the card as “cash back,” it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1 cent).
When you have a premium card like one of the Sapphires or an Ink Business card, you can pool your points from the two cards. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining.
Best of all, the card has no annual fee and often has an introductory 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, there’s a 16.74%-25.49% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it’s time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1¢ each no matter how you use them and they can’t be transferred to airline or hotel partners.
What the experts love: Flat cash-back rate makes it easy to earn rewards without keeping track of bonus categories, you can transfer your points to another Chase card to redeem them for travel at a higher rate, no annual fee
What the experts don’t love: One point only equals 1 cent for cash back, to get a better value you’ll need to pair it with a Sapphire card. “The 1.5% cash-back rate is the standard at this point, but other cards like the Citi Double Cash earn 2% on every purchase. If you’re looking for a flat-rate card, earn the highest rate you can,” says Rathner.
Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Read more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited:
Chase Freedom Unlimited card review
Why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the best credit card for college students
Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited — which cash-back card is best for you?
Frequently Asked Questions
How did we choose the best rewards credit cards?
You’ll notice that this page doesn’t include every rewards credit card currently available to new applicants. That’s on purpose — we evaluated the options on the market, utilizing the expertise of our Personal Finance Insider staff and the input of credit card, points and miles, and financial experts to narrow down the list to the very best options.
We define “very best options” as those that offer concrete value through benefits like annual statement credits and airport lounge access and through rewards such as bonus points on your everyday spending.
This list doesn’t include our top picks for airline and hotel cards. You can learn more about those cards here:
The best airline credit cards of 2019
The best hotel credit cards of 2019
What credit card offers the best rewards?
If you don’t want to overthink it, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you want a lower annual fee) is a safe bet. However, there is no easy answer if you want to optimize all of your spending, because all the types of points and miles have different values. We recommend using The Points Guy’s valuations to get a sense of what the different currencies are worth. For example, one Chase Ultimate Rewards point is worth 2 cents, while one Delta miles is worth 1.2 cents. So when you look at how many points or miles a rewards credit card offers per dollar, remember that you need to take the value of those points or miles into account.
What are the different types of rewards credit cards?
There are a few main types of rewards cards:
“Flexible” travel rewards credit cards —Most of the picks in this article fall under this category. These cards earn bank points, also called “flexible points,” that can be redeemed for travel, either directly through the issuing bank’s travel portal (like Amex Travel) or with travel partners. This type of rewards credit card is usually the most valuable because you have the most options for using your rewards. For example, Amex has more than 20 travel partners you can transfer points to, and Chase has 13. Examples of this type of card include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Amex Gold card, and the Capital One Venture Card.
Cash-back credit cards — Examples include the Blue Cash Preferred card. These cards don’t earn points or miles; they earn you cash back on all your purchases. If you don’t travel or your priority is to get money back, these are the cards for you.
Hotel or airline travel rewards credit cards — Examples include the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. These are travel-focused credit cards that earn rewards with a specific hotel or airline loyalty program and offer benefits like credit toward elite status. For that reason, they make the most sense for travelers who are loyal to the given travel brand.
Should I earn cash back or points?
It depends on what you want to do with your rewards. If you want to put money back in your bank account, a cash-back credit card will help you accomplish just that — and you usually won’t have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all.
On the other hand, if you’re hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all three of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for things like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency “miles,” they aren’t miles with a given airline program.)
If you’re willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there’s value in having both cash-back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you’re willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation.
The experts’ advice on choosing the best rewards card for you
We interviewed a certified financial planner along with top experts on credit cards and travel rewards about what makes a good rewards card and how to choose the best options for you.
Here’s what they had to say when we interviewed them about finding the best card for you. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity. Special thanks to Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback for interviewing the experts.)
Generally, what features make a rewards credit card good?
Sara Rathner, travel and credit cards expert at NerdWallet:
I look for three things when I consider a rewards card:
Does it earn more points or miles where I spend the most?
Can those points or miles be applied to rewards I’d actually want? (Like airlines I typically fly, hotels I want to stay at, etc.)
Is it easy to redeem points, or will I get lost in a maze of draconian rules, restrictions, and blackout dates?
I also weigh the annual fee, but a sign-up bonus and other perks tend to offset the fee for me.
Luis Rosa, certified financial planner:
Generally, cards that offer a variety of reward options are best because they offer the card holder flexibility. Whether it’s points, miles, or discounted offers with a particular airline or hotel brand, the more options available the better in order to help the card holder take full advantage of the rewards offering.
Summer Hull, travel director at The Points Guy:
Solid earning structure, built-in benefits that are useful and not duplicated on many other cards, annual fee that is easy to justify relative to the perks, and some unique offerings that would be hard to get elsewhere.
Sarah Silbert, credit cards editor at Personal Finance Insider:
A good rewards credit card earns points that are flexible, meaning you have lots of options for using them, like you do with Amex and Chase points. It also has bonus categories that give you the opportunity to earn rewards quickly, as well as (hopefully) a generous sign-up offer for new cardholders.
Beyond that, a good rewards card should offer you benefits that make it worth the annual fee (if there is one), such as statement credits that cover travel purchases and travel coverages like trip delay insurance.
How can someone identify whether a rewards credit card is good for them?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Look for a card that rewards you where you spend the most, with terms you can live with. A card that’s trendy won’t necessarily be the right card for you. It’s a highly personal decision, and it’s worth it to not overlook a less flashy card that may suit your needs really well.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
To best identify if a rewards credit card is good for you, consider your lifestyle and spending habits. For example, do you have a preferred hotel brand or airline? Do you often travel abroad? Knowing the answer to these types of questions will help you narrow down your choices in order to best help you identify if a rewards credit card is good for you.
Summer Hull, The Points Guy:
It’s really 99% math. If you can place value on the rewards you earn and the perks included, it gets easy to see if a particular card is a good match for your spending habits and rewards desires.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
Look at the card’s bonus categories and see if they align with where you spend your money. Also remember to check if a card has a foreign transaction fee before you take it abroad — many cash-back cards do charge this fee, so don’t assume.
What should someone consider when selecting a rewards credit card?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Travel rewards cards are popular, but they’re a better bet for consumers who travel often, especially if they travel internationally. If you stay close to home, a cash-back card may actually be more rewarding.
Also, consumers who currently have credit card debt should make paying that debt down their number-one priority, before looking for a rewards card. The interest you’d pay on your debt would wipe out the value of any rewards you’d earn. Consider a balance transfer card, which gives you a year or more to pay down your debt at 0% interest.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
Consider annual fees and foreign transaction fees. Some annual fees can be in the hundreds of dollars, so you want to make sure that the rewards you’ll accumulate will offset the cost of having the card. Another thing to consider is whether or not you carry a balance. If you do carry a balance, you should also consider the interest that you’ll be paying on that balance in order to ensure that it’s not eating away at your rewards.
Summer Hull, The Points Guy:
Is the sign-up bonus juicy? Let’s be real, big bonuses are better than small ones, so pounce when the bonus is big. But then look beyond at the earning rate, the annual perks and benefits such as statement credits and elite status.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
Make sure you’re doing your homework so you don’t miss out on a higher sign-up bonus (do some searching online to see if higher offers are available). Many cards offer limited-time welcome offers that can score you thousands of extra bonus rewards compared to the standard offers.
Always make sure that you’ll be able to use the rewards card responsibly, by paying off your statement each month and avoiding spending beyond your means.
So you know you want a rewards credit card, but not sure which one?
Our list of the best rewards credit cards can help narrow down your choices if you already know what you want. But what if you’re not sure which type of credit card is best suited to your spending habits.
If you’re looking to maximize rewards on your everyday spending, look no further than the following credit cards. We’ll break it down by spending category — from dining to gas to groceries.
With the average American spending $3,424 on dining between 2017 and 2018, this is a category most people will want to maximize. Luckily, lots of cards offer generous rewards on dining.
The Citi Prestige® Card offers the highest return on dining spending, with 5x points on these purchases. You may notice that some cards, like the Hilton cards below, offer more than 5x points — but keep in mind that the points multiplier is only half of the equation.
You also need to know how much each point is worth. We recommend using The Points Guy’s valuations to get a sense of how many cents you’ll get in value with different loyalty currencies. These valuations are based on all the different ways you can use a given type of points or miles, from redeeming them as statement credits to transferring them to a travel partner to book a flight.
Below, we’ll rank the best credit cards for dining in order of highest to lowest return based on how many rewards you earn per dollar spent, and the value of those rewards based on TPG’s estimations.
Credit cards with the best bonuses for dining
Citi Prestige: 5 points per dollar spent (points worth 1.7 cents apiece; 8.5% return on spending)
American Express® Gold Card: 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide (points worth 2 cents apiece; 8% return on spending)
Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on dining (points worth 2 cents apiece; 6% return on spending)
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: 7 points per dollar spent at US restaurants (points worth 0.6 cents apiece; 4.2% return on spending)
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% cash back on dining (4% return on spending)
Uber Visa Credit Card: 4% back on restaurants, takeout, and bars, including Uber Eats (4% return on spending)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants (3.6% return on spending)
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 3% back on dining worldwide (3% return on spending)
Based on the numbers, the Citi Prestige is the most rewarding card for dining purchases. But the Amex Gold card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve could be a better option for you if you prefer to earn Amex or Chase points. Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to 14 airline transfer partners including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, and Virgin Atlantic, but Amex and Chase’s loyalty programs partner with airlines and hotels that are arguably more useful for many US-based travelers, such as British Airways, Delta, and Marriott with Amex and Hyatt, United, and Southwest with Chase. In fact, The Points Guy values Citi points (1.7 cents per point) a bit lower than Amex and Chase points (2 cents each)
If you have a car, gas is a big spending category — and it’s one that many cash-back cards pay out big rewards on.
American Express® Business Gold Card: 4 points per dollar spent at the two categories where you spend the most each month, including US gas stations, on up to $150,000 per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar (8% return on spending)
Citi Premier℠ Card: 3 points per dollar spent on travel, including gas stations (5.2% return on spending)
Costco Anywhere Visa: 4% gas stations on the first $7,000 spent per year, then 1% (4% return on spending)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card: 6 points per dollar spent at US gas stations (3.6% return on spending)
Again, not all points are created equal, and whether 6 Hilton points is equivalent (or higher than) 4% cash back or 4 Membership Rewards points depends on how you redeem your rewards. Most people will be best off going with the Amex Business Gold card for gas rewards.
Thanks to a vast list of hotel and airline transfer partners, you can redeem Membership Rewards points for some incredible travel experiences. If you have a business-class trip to Europe in mind, Membership Rewards transfer partner All Nippon Airways (ANA) offers one of the best deals out there at 88,000 miles round-trip.
However, if you’re saving up your Hilton points for a high-end resort in the Maldives, it could be worth channeling gas spending toward the Hilton Honors Surpass card.
American Express Gold Card: 4x points at US supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year (then 1x point; 1%-8% return on spending)
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% cash back at supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1%; 1%-6% return on spending)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card: 6 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (3.6% return on spending)
Blue Cash Everyday® Credit Card from American Express: 3% cash back at supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1%; 1%-3% return on spending)
With 4x points on the first $25,000 spent each year at US supermarkets, the Amex Gold card offers the most generous payout on grocery spending. Considering the average US household spends $4,445 on groceries per year, these limits shouldn’t be problematic for most consumers.
Earning 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent, the Blue Cash Preferred card is a good option if you prefer cash back to rewards points. When maxed out, the 6% back equates to $360 cash back, which is enough for most people to book at least a couple of hotel nights or a round-trip transcontinental flight.
Read more: What a year of grocery spending could earn you with 3 popular credit cards
Flights and other travel
The Platinum Card from American Express: 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with amextravel.com, 5 Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com (10% return on spending)
Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on travel (6% return on spending)
American Express Gold card: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (6% return on spending)
Citi Prestige: 5 points on air travel, 3 points on hotels and cruise lines (5.1%-8.5% return on spending)
Citi Premier card: 3 points on travel including gas stations (5.1% return on spending)
Uber Visa card: 3% cash back back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
Costco Anywhere Visa: 3% cash back on travel worldwide
If you’re looking for lots of rewards for flights, the Amex Platinum card is a great choice. The card earns 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines and one amextravel.com. Prepaid hotel bookings made with American Express also earn 5 points. One reason I’d recommend this card over the Citi Prestige is that the Amex Platinum will soon gain valuable travel protections like trip delay insurance, while Citi has mostly done away with these on its cards. The Platinum card also has no foreign transaction fees, meaning you can use it to earn cash back abroad without paying a 3% fee.
While the American Express Platinum is a great option, not everyone will get enough value out of the 5x bonus categories to justify the $550 annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great alternative. While it earns a lower 3 points per dollar spent, this bonus applies to all travel purchases, not just flights. Plus, the card’s $450 annual fee is largely offset by the $300 travel credit. Unlike American Express, Chase doesn’t restrict its travel credit to a specific airline. The credit automatically applies to any purchases coded as travel. That’s why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is such a popular card for earning and redeeming travel rewards.
All other spending
Chase Freedom Unlimited: 1.5% cash back on everything, can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value (1.5%-3%)
Chase Freedom: 1% cash back, 5% rotating quarterly category bonuses for up to $1,500 in combined spending (requires activation), can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value (1.5%-3%) (1%-10% return on spending)
Discover it® Miles: 1.5 miles per dollar spent, and Discover will match all your cash back at the end of the first year (3% return on spending)
Discover it® Cash Back: 1% cash back, 5% category bonuses when you activate (1-5% return on spending)
Citi® Double Cash Card: 1% when you make purchases, 1% as you pay (2%-3.4% return on spending)
Uber Visa card: 2% back on online purchases (1-2% return on spending)
Lots of cash-back credit cards offer at least 1.5% cash back on everything, which is a great benchmark to keep in mind on purchases that aren’t eligible for bonus points. The Discover it Miles a great option for those looking for a no-annual-fee card with accelerated earning power. Cardholders earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent, which is equivalent to 1.5% cash back. Points are doubled the first year and can be redeemed for statement credits toward travel purchases or transferred to your bank account.
For those looking to maximize long-term earnings, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is another great option. It earns 1.5% cash back on everything. If you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your Freedom Unlimited cash back to Ultimate Rewards points. Essentially, you could earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on everything, which equals a very solid 3% return on every dollar you spend.
If you want the flexibility of earning occasional category bonuses, the Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back are worth considering. Both cards earn 1% cash back along with 5% on select category bonuses. Bonus categories rotate every quarter and cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 worth of spending when they activate the bonus each quarter. Be sure to check the cash back bonus calendar for both Discover and Chase for a better idea of where you can expect to earn more points.
For a more straightforward option, the Citi Double Cash card is solid. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on purchases and another 1% when they pay off the card. Recently, Citi introduced cash back-to-ThankYou points conversions, making the Citi Double Cash card a great way to earn 2 ThankYou points on every dollar spent.