After 20 hours of research evaluating 65 products, we picked Chase Freedom Unlimited® as our top choice.
Much like cash back credit cards, our best rewards credit card will give you some nice incentives for every purchase you make. It’s certainly a compelling idea - earning free travel in exchange for the purchases you’re already making.
The caveat? Earning rewards for spending money makes it more tempting to flash that plastic wherever you go.
Don’t be fooled by Tina Fey in those American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card commercials, treating everyone around her to various purchases because of the points she'll get in exchange.
We're gonna go ahead and make the assumption that you don’t have the millions she has to frivolously spend. However, if you choose one of the best credit cards for rewards wisely, the payoff can be nice.
When it comes to choosing the best rewards credit card to add to your wallet, you'll need to first learn the art of restraint. But know that using a reward credit card for your everyday purchases will benefit you over the long run.
After 20 hours of research evaluating 65 products, our top pick for best rewards credit card has plenty of advantages if you use the card wisely.
WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
In order to help you make the best one based on your lifestyle, we've compiled a list of the best rewards credit cards around.
Whether you're big on traveling, dining, or shopping, there is a perfect rewards credit card suited for you In fact, rewards vary from best cashback credit cards to best credit card for travel, so you can earn free airline trips and hotel stays. Who wouldn't be excited about that?
Here’s a list of the best rewards credit cards, which have been chosen through extensive research, based on a number of factors that include: signup bonus, ongoing rewards rate, redemption options, and annual fees.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated September 3, 2019 but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.
You'll earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase; no need to worry about bonus rewards categories. Also, no foreign transaction fee, plus international chip and pin capability.
Charges an annual fee, doesn't offer great ways to maximize your rewards, and no luxury perks.
18.24%, 22.24%, or 25.24%
Earn 2 miles per dollar spent, plus get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem.
$89 (waived the first year) - so it could be worse.
Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
(Normally, you can earn 60,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — worth $600 in travel statement credits.)
Apply online through the Barclays website.
Application Process: Apply online with American Express and get a response within 60 seconds.
Rewards: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit services, and 1% back everywhere else.
Annual Fee: $95.Details:Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express »
Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds.
Rewards: Earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. Plus, you can get between 10% and 75% more rewards, depending on your relationship with Bank of America.
Bonus Offers: Receive 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days, equivalent to $250 of travel credit.
Annual fee: None.Details:Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card »
This card stands out thanks to a high rewards rate of 2x the miles per $1 spent, plus flexible, user-friendly redemption options. Like many of the other best Capital One credit cards, the use of this card means no foreign transaction fees—a perfect pair with mileage-focused rewards points.
If you’re a frequent traveler, you might be deterred from this card because of the fact that it offers no airline specific perks. You may be better off with more specific airline credit cards. Furthermore, you won’t get a lot out of this credit card if you’re looking for general cash back benefits—this is a card whose strength lies in travel.
Application Process: Apply for your shiny new credit card on Capital One’s website and receive a decision within seconds.
Annual Fee: This credit card comes with a fee of $95 per year, but you’ll get a free pass during your first year of use.
Rewards and Redemption Options: There are two ways to claim rewards when using this card:
What makes Capital One’s Purchase Eraser different than the standard option is that there is no minimum for full travel statement credit options, just a 2,500 mile minimum for partial travel credit redemptions. This means that you can redeem at least $25 to help offset costs for more expensive tickets.
Bonus Offers: Capital One offers a one time bonus of 50,000 miles for every $3,000 spent in the first 3 months of account opening, or $500 in rewards.Details:Capital One Venture Rewards Card »
Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds.
Rewards: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate; unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Bonus Offers: Score a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases during your first 3 months as a cardholder. Get $25 more when an authorized user makes their first purchase in the same 3 month period.
Annual fee: None.Details:Chase Freedom® »
Application Process: Online, through Chase.
Rewards: Earn 2X points on travel and dining purchases worldwide, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
Bonus Offers: Earn 50,000 rewards points for every $4,000 spent for the first three months, which is $625 towards travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. If you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first 3 months, you’ll earn an additional 5,000 points.
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $95.
Details:Chase Sapphire Preferred® »
Application Process: Apply online and get a response within 60 seconds.
Rewards: Earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel, and hotel stays booked through Amex Travel. Earn 1X points on all other purchases.
APR: None; it's a charge card and requires you to pay your balance in full each month.
Annual Fee: $550.Details:The Platinum Card® from American Express »
There's a lot to love about the Chase Freedom Unlimited cash back credit card. It provides a high rewards rate with no nonsense in terms of rotating spending categories - just a flat 1.5% back on every purchase you make with the card. With responsible use, you won't have to pay a penny to use this card, as there's no annual fee.
As far as actually getting the cash back you've earned, there's no minimum required for redemption, and cash back earnings can be redeemed for any amount (unlike the Chase Freedom card, which requires a minimum $20). On top of that, there's a relatively small minimum spend required to earn the lucrative account opening bonus.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card doesn't offer any specific bonus categories, due to its nature as a flat-rate cash back credit card. So those who know their high-spending categories (like groceries, for example) may want to opt instead for a cash back credit card that caters to their spending habits.
While going through this list, you'll also notice that it's not the highest flat-rate cash back card around. There's also a foreign transaction fee, so if you want a credit card specifically for international travel you should look into opening a credit card that caters specifically to travelers.
Application Process: Online, over the phone, or at a branch. Online is the easiest method, but it's nice to know that you have options!
Annual Fee: No annual fee! How's that for maximizing the money in your pocket? Balance transfer fees are $5 or 5% of the transferred amount (whichever is greater).
APR: 0% for the first 15 months, then a variable APR of 16.24% to 24.99%.
Rewards: You can redeem your rewards as cash back in the form of:
Or, you can also redeem rewards using the Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1 cent each and may be claimed through the Ultimate Rewards portal for:
Bonus Offers: Earn a $150 bonus after spending $500, within 3 months after opening a new account. Additionally, you can also earn $25 if you opt to add an authorized user of the card, and that person makes their first purchase within the 3 month period.Details:Chase Freedom Unlimited® »
With so many different credit card options available, it’s difficult to navigate the financial world and choose the card that’s right for you. That’s why we’ve compiled an extensive list of frequently asked questions about rewards credit cards to help you make an educated decision. Call us out in the comments section below if we forgot anything!
General Questions About Rewards Credit Cards
A rewards credit card is a credit card that lets cardholders rack up rewards for qualifying purchases. There are different types of rewards credit cards, including cash-back rewards cards, airline rewards cards, and hotel rewards cards.
Nope, but people often confuse the two. Both card types generally let customers earn rewards, but there are some notable differences:
The good news is that you might not have to choose between a customer loyalty card and a rewards credit card. Your favorite retailer might accept both, and you might even be able to pair them with paper coupons and digital rebates.
Unless the store forbids it, you can combine a rewards credit card with a customer loyalty card. Some gas stations and retailers encourage shoppers to pay with cash when they use their loyalty cards, so that might be a roadblock for you.
Rules may vary by location, so don’t get discouraged if one manager says no. You can try your cards at a different location or contact the corporate office to learn more about the policies regarding customer loyalty cards.
Usually, yes. Think of it like this: Good behavior gets rewarded in the financial world.
If you pay your bills on time, you get cards with low APRs and generous rewards. If your credit sucks, you get stuck with high interest rates and few, if any, reward options.
We’ve seen a couple cash-back credit cards (Credit One Cash Back Visa is a popular one) that don’t require good credit, but there simply aren’t many traditional rewards credit cards that approve folks with bad credit.
We’ve got seven favorites! You can find them in the review above, but we’ll also list the cards here:
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred is ideal for everyday purchases, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, and BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card are excellent options for frequent travelers.
We encourage you to read our detailed review of each card above so you can figure out which one is best for your lifestyle.
Applying for Rewards Credit Cards
All you need is a smartphone or a laptop! Just input some basic info about yourself, and you’ll have a decision in less than a minute if your application doesn’t require manual review.
Some credit card companies also let you apply over the phone, at a bank, or at a hotel or airline. It’s only necessary to submit one application, so don’t apply in person if you’ve already applied online.
Clean up your credit report! Rewards credit cards typically require you to have good or excellent credit, but you might be able to squeak by with fair credit if your debts are all fairly old.
Also, make sure you don’t job hop or home hop. Credit card companies like stability!
Whenever you want, but we recommend waiting a minimum of 6 months, preferably much longer. Many financial experts suggest waiting at least 12 to 18 months.
The length of time you should wait depends on the reason(s) you were rejected for a rewards credit card. Have you fixed the issues that caused your rejection? Has your FICO score significantly increased since your rejection?
If the answer is no to either of those questions, you aren’t ready to reapply. A credit card company needs to see a considerable change in circumstances - in a good way, not a bad way - before they’ll consider approving your card.
If you think you were unfairly rejected, contact the credit card company ASAP and ask for the reconsideration line. All of the major credit card companies have one, and speaking with a customer service agent who specializes in reconsideration might just help you score the card you want. If your phone skills aren’t the best, mail a detailed letter describing why you feel you’re a good candidate for the card you want.
There are lots of reasons this happens, but it basically boils down to this: The computer that evaluates applications can’t figure out what to do with yours. There might be a typo that’s throwing off the computer when it compares your app to your credit report, or you might have inputted data that set off a red flag.
When a credit card company requests additional time to evaluate an application, it simply means they’re handing it over to a human for processing.
Yes, you can apply for an unlimited number of cards (but we don’t recommend it). Consider your credit history and your current financial situation before you apply, and make sure you only choose cards that you’ll use often.
Some rewards cards offer very specific rewards, plus they have annual fees. It might be tricky to justify the annual fee if you’re spreading out purchases across multiple credit cards.
Credit Card Reward Types and Redemption Options
There are several different types of credit card rewards, including:
Apply for a cash-back credit card if you like getting rewarded for everyday purchases and/or if you don’t travel often. Cards that offer hotel rewards and airline rewards are great for frequent travelers, and so are cards with gas rewards.
Some cards offer more than one reward type. If you’re not sure which type of rewards you like best, consider test-driving a card that waives the annual fee for one year.
It depends on the card, but you usually earn rewards simply by using your card to pay for qualifying goods or services. You can do this online or in a store.
Some cards, including the Discover it Credit Card, have rotating rewards. Make sure you’re shopping in the right category if you want to maximize your rewards.
Some credit card rewards are automatically disbursed in the form of an account credit. Other times, you have to wait until you earn a specific amount to cash out your rewards. You can also apply some rewards to purchases, like if you’re buying airline tickets online with a travel rewards card.
Cash rewards are often distributed via direct deposit or paper checks, but sometimes you can convert them to gift cards or travel-related rewards.
Sometimes, but it depends on the card. We’ve seen many cards that let you rack up rewards with no expiration date.
If you have an expiration date, expect your rewards to last at least a year or two. Credit card companies generally give you plenty of time to redeem your rewards.
Yes, if you choose a card that offers unlimited cash back. The Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card offers unlimited cash-back rewards.
Some cards put a cap on rewards, but the company should clearly outline restrictions in your cardholder agreement.
Possibly. Some credit card companies let you transfer rewards from card to card. You might also have the option to transfer your credit card rewards to a different rewards program, such as a hotel or airline loyalty program.
Keep in mind that transfers aren’t always point-for-point or dollar-for-dollar transfers. In other words, you might lose some of your rewards during the transfer.
Rates and Fees
Your credit history determines your APR, so clean up your credit as much as possible before you apply for a new card. The higher your FICO score, the lower your APR will probably be for the card.
It’s important to remember that APR ranges drastically. Someone with excellent credit might pay as low as 10% or 12% interest, while someone with bad credit might pay anywhere from 24% to 30% interest.
You might have to, but it depends on which card you choose. As a general rule, a high annual fee equals excellent rewards. The exception is if you have bad credit and get a card geared toward people with unfavorable credit histories.
Not a fan of fees? Look for a card that offers an introductory period for new cardholders. You’ll typically get to try the card for 12 months without paying a fee, and you might even enjoy a 0% APR and no balance transfer fees during your promotional period.
Forgive us for being blunt, but don’t get a card that charges an annual fee if you can’t afford to pay it. You should never get a credit card that you can’t afford.
Also, it’s difficult to bail out on the annual fee since every card we know of adds it directly to your statement. Try to avoid maxing out your card so you don’t end up over your credit limit when the annual fee hits. You may want to mark down the date in your planner so you can prepare for it; many companies don’t warn you that it’s almost time to pay your yearly fee.
Possibly. You can’t call the company and specifically request to pay your fee with rewards, but you can use cash-back rewards to pay your credit card bill. You can use cash-back rewards to pay for anything you want (as long as your purchase doesn’t break the law) if you’re getting paid via direct deposit or check.
Not necessarily. Many cards charge a higher APR for cash advances than they do for goods and services. You’ll probably also pay a higher APR on cash advances from an ATM.
If you’re a new cardholder, you might have a promotional APR (usually 0%) for anywhere from a few months to 1.5 years. After the promotional period ends, you’ll get charged the regular rate for all of your purchases.
After establishing a lengthy history of paying your credit card bill on time, you can contact the company and request that they lower your APR. If they deny your request, you can transfer your balance to a new credit card with a lower interest rate.
Issues and Concerns Related to Rewards Credit Cards
Yes, so make sure you play by the rules! Follow all of the requirements in your credit card agreement, and make sure you always pay your bill on time. Here are a few reasons why a company might freeze your rewards:
A credit card company might also freeze your rewards to protect you, like if your card is lost or stolen. This is just a temporary freeze that should be lifted shortly after the issue that caused the freeze gets addressed.
Yes, but this generally only happens if you break the rules. When you receive a new card, it generally comes with a cardholder agreement. This agreement specifies exactly what you can buy with your card, and you won’t be rewarded for purchases that violate it.
For example, you might be prohibited from buying firearms or gambling at a casino with your credit card. If you ignore these guidelines and use the card anyway, the credit card company does not have to honor your rewards.
A company might also refuse to honor your rewards if you’re behind in payments or if you are currently going through a bankruptcy.
Talk to your credit card company as soon as you can. They may extend your redemption deadline if you explain what’s going on, especially if you can provide proof of your situation. Here are some emergency situations that may qualify:
This is not a full list of potential emergencies. If you think you’ve got a valid excuse for not redeeming your rewards in time, talk to your credit card company.
Uh oh! Make a payment as soon as possible so that you don’t damage your credit. Many credit card companies don’t report delinquent payments until you are at least 30 days late, so you should be okay if you’re only a day or two behind.
If you know your bill is going to be late, call the company and give them a heads up about your situation. Some cards offer an extension, especially if you have a good payment history. You may also be able to get late fees waived.
This is a common complaint from cardholders, so we totally get your frustration. There are several reasons why your credit score might drop when you add a new card, so it’s difficult to give you a specific answer without knowing much about your credit history.
Here are a few reasons why your credit score might drop when you get a new card:
Pay the bill for your new card (and other bills!) on time for at least 3 to 6 months, and your score should slowly increase.