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NerdWallet’s Best Rewards Credit Cards, Fall 2014

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Whether you’re looking for killer rewards rates, a signup bonus that will make your head spin, free flights or hotel nights, or simply rewards on the purchases you make every day, we’ve got you covered. No matter where you spend or how you want to redeem, we’ll help you find the best rewards cards for the season.

Best 5% rewards cash back card: Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom - $100 Cash Back Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Want one of the best rewards rates out there without the commitment of fees and hassle of annoying rewards programs? Enter the Chase Freedom®, which earns 5% cash back on bonus categories that change every quarter, such as gas, groceries, restaurants and Amazon.com, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. You’ll earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, the card comes with a great signup bonus: Get a $100 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Among our most popular cards, its high rewards rate and ease of use make it a favorite among NerdWallet staff and readers alike.

Best travel credit card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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on Chase's
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The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is another top-notch card, offering one of the best signup bonuses in the business. To start things off, you get a signup bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. And it gets better: Your points are worth 25% more if you redeem for travel booked through Chase’s tool. That’s a pretty amazing signup bonus! As for ongoing rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards Points per $1 spent on travel and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. Your effective rewards rate, then, can be as high as 1.25% base and 2.50% bonus. Keep in mind that there’s an Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95. But it has no foreign transaction fee, making it a great choice for a traveler looking to score some free flights.

Best balance transfer cash back card: Discover it®

Discover It Credit Card
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on Discover's
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The Discover it® has it all (get it? It?): 5% cash back on categories that change quarterly, up to $1,500 spent each quarter. These categories are nice and broad, including restaurants, online shopping and gas. The Discover it® generally offers less appealing rewards categories than the Chase Freedom®, but where it outstrips the other cards is its capacity to help those with existing credit card debt. You’ll get 18 months of 0% interest on balance transfers and 6 months on purchases; high-end perks like purchase, warranty and return protection; and no annual or foreign transaction fee as well as a waived first late payment fee.

Best flat rate cash back card: Citi® Double Cash Card

Citibank Citi® Double Cash Card Credit Card
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on Citibank's
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The Citi® Double Cash Card provides no annual fee, no hassle and high rewards. You’ll earn 1% cash back on every purchase you make, then an additional 1% cash back when you pay them off. Plus, there’s no limit to the cash back you can earn. When it comes time to redeem, you can cash in your rewards for a statement credit, a gift card or a check in the mail. This is one of the Nerds’ favorite cash back cards on the market today, and hopefully it’s easy to see why!

Best flat-rate travel rewards card: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Barclays Arrival Plus Credit Card
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on Barclays's
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Forget best airline miles card – the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is one of the best credit cards out there, earning 2 miles on every dollar spent, and a full 2.2 miles on every dollar spent when you use your miles to book travel. You can also redeem your miles as a simple statement credit against any travel expense – gas, airfare, lodging, you name it. The annual fee is $89 - Waived first year, and a signup bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. It comes with the benefits of a World MasterCard, including baggage insurance and travel insurance. Plus, it has no foreign transaction fee, which often sets you back 3% of whatever you pay overseas. If you travel – or if you simply put money on your card – the Arrival Plus is the card for you.

Our favorite for grocery and gas rewards: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is our favorite deal for families and people who spend on gas and grocery rather than travel. It offers an impressive rewards rate – 6% cash back on groceries, up to $6,000 spent annually, as well as an unlimited 3% rewards on gas and department stores. Plus, you can take advantage of the gift card trick to up your rewards rate on virtually any spending to 6%: Just buy gift cards to Starbucks, the Gap, Home Depot, etc. at the grocery store checkout line, so you’ll get the full rewards rate anywhere that offers gift cards. The $75 annual fee is countered by a good signup bonus: Get 100 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $100 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months. Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period.

The no annual fee version, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, is an option for those uncomfortable with the idea of annual fees, but it’s generally an inferior card. Looking only at grocery rewards, if you spend $2,500 on groceries annually (that’s about $50 a week) you’re better off with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. And that doesn’t even account for gas and department store rewards, or the better signup bonus. If you spend on family rather than travel, and the bulk of your income goes to food and gas, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the perfect card.

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