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Every time you swipe, tap, dip, or type to pay for a purchase with your credit card, the merchant has to pay a small fee to the credit card companies for processing the transaction. The best credit cards give you a slice of that fee in the form of credit card rewards – and there are plenty of rewards cards to choose from.
What’s the best credit card for rewards? Short answer: it depends. Credit card reward programs run the gamut; some offer point bonuses, others reward certain types of spending. It’s not a one-size-fits all solution, but your perfect reward card fit is out there.
The top reward credit cards cater to an array of desires. Whether you want to get cash back or earn miles and points toward free travel, the cards below are all a great place to get started.
This card continues to gain in popularity, and has become a favorite amongst the list of best rewards credit cards. After starting out with a valuable 60,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, this popular travel rewards card offers 2x points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Points are worth 1.25 cents each when booking with Chase Ultimate Rewards, or you can transfer them to a partner airline or hotel to book a reward directly.
While moving points to United, Southwest, Marriott, or other partners may sound like extra work, it can help you squeeze out even more value per point when it comes time to redeem. For example, many United awards start at 25,000-points round trip. That’s fewer points than you may need to book at the 1.25 cents per point value at Ultimate Rewards. It’s always worth doing a little extra math to get the best results!
This rewards card also comes with a ton of benefits, including purchase protection, travel insurance, no foreign transaction fees, and other useful perks. The card charges a $95 annual fee. If you want the super luxury version, check out Chase Sapphire Reserve. It charges a steeper $450 annual fee, but also includes access to over 1,200 premium airport lounges around the world.
Travel rewards are great for people who love to explore new places. However, if you don’t dream of exciting, exotic, or relaxing vacations, a cash back card may prove to be the best rewards credit card for you. After all, you can redeem for cash, then use your cash back any way you see fit. Take advantage of statement credits that eliminate a portion of your bill or opt for a check you can cash at your local bank branch.
Double Cash is a unique rewards credit card that offers an effective 2% cash back on every purchase. You get 1% cash back on the purchase and another 1% when you pay your bill. Assuming you always pay your bill in full and on time, you won’t pay any interest and will get a lot back. All this with no annual fee!
This card offers limited purchase and travel protections, so it won’t give you the same kinds of insurance on a large purchase as you would get with many cards that do charge an annual fee. But when you consider the equivalent 2% cash back with no annual fee, the card is a great deal.
Chase offers the Freedom cards in two varieties, and both worth considering. Chase Freedom offers 5x points per dollar on popular, rotating bonus categories and 1x everywhere else. Freedom Unlimited gives you a flat rewards rate of 1.5x points per dollar everywhere you spend.
Both are excellent credit cards from Chase with no annual fee. If you also hold one of the Sapphire cards mentioned above, you can combine balances and turn Chase cash back into Ultimate Rewards points at a value of 1 cent = 1 point. Because you can redeem for 1.25 cents per dollar with Sapphire Preferred and 1.5 cents per dollar with Sapphire Reserve, either of these cards pairs well with a Sapphire card to turbocharge your earnings.
Chase Freedom is a little more work, as you have to keep track of the bonus categories that change every 3 months, and the 5% bonus is limited to $1,500 in quarterly combined purchases. Both cards currently offer a $150 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months.
Capital One Venture rewards users in two different ways: through cash redemption and travel points. While you can use the “redeem for cash” version, many people opt for the travel rewards version. It gives you 2x points per dollar on new purchases and 10x when booking at Hotels.com through January 2020. It comes with a 50,000-point bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
While the card charges a $95 annual fee, it is waived the first year. It is also easy to see how you can get $100+ in annual value from the card. In addition to travel points, the card covers Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, has no foreign transaction charges, and offers a range of travel and purchase benefits.
Points are transferrable to a list of airline partners, though ratios range from 2:1 to 2:1.5 points – that means you get less than 1 airline mile for each 1 Venture point. You can redeem points at a value of 1 cent each for statement credits on past travel purchases, but you may be able to get a little bit more value transferring or booking travel through the Capital One portal.
Choosing the best rewards credit card for your needs means looking at your spending habits, and the rewards that would benefit you most. The above are some of the best rewards credit cards available, so consider your needs and pick the right rewards program for your need.
Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel, and technology writer in Ventura, California. He is a former bank manager and corporate finance and accounting professional who left his day job in 2016 to take his online side hustle full-time. He has in-depth experience writing about banking, credit cards, investing, and other financial topics. You can connect with him at Personal Profitability or EricRosenberg.com.