[1 PRODUCT] Best Rewards Credit Cards of December 2021

NerdWalletNov 3, 2021

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Rewards credit cards come in two main varieties: cash-back cards and travel cards. Cash-back cards pay you back a percentage of the amount of each transaction. Travel rewards credit cards give you points or miles for each dollar you spend; you redeem those rewards for free flights, hotel stays and more. No single rewards card is right for everyone. It's all about how you spend money and what kind of rewards you value.

Some of our selections for the best rewards credit cards can be applied for through NerdWallet, and some cannot. Below, you'll find application links for the credit cards from our partners that are available through NerdWallet, followed by the full list of our picks.

Our pick for

Travel rewards — bonus categories

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee


Intro APR


Regular APR

15.99%-22.99% Variable APR

Recommended Credit Score

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides outstanding value and flexibility — including the option of transferring your rewards to popular airline and hotel loyalty programs — for a reasonable annual fee.


  • You earn 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to several other loyalty programs, including United, Southwest, Marriott and Hyatt. Further, Ultimate Rewards® points transferred to this card from other Chase cards can be redeemed the same way. The card also comes with a superb sign-up bonus.


  • The rewards you earn on your spending are valuable in themselves, but if it's perks you're looking for — for example, free checked bags on flights, free hotel upgrades or automatic travel credits — look to a branded airline or hotel card or this card's premium sibling, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Read full review
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories

  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.

  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.

  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

Summary of [1 PRODUCT] Best Rewards Credit Cards of December 2021


Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.

Our pick for: Cash back — high flat rate

Year after year, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer has been our choice for the best flat-rate cash-back card. You earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy something and 1% when you pay it off. There's no 0% intro period for purchases and no sign-up bonus, but the high rewards rate more than makes up for the lack of bells and whistles. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back — up to 5% in multiple categories + cash bonus

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, as well as on travel booked through Chase, at restaurants and at drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There's a fantastic bonus offer for new cardholders and a 0% intro APR period, too. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back — bonus categories + cashback match

The Discover it® Cash Back earns bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate. In past years, those categories have included common spending areas like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending aligns with those categories (and for most households, it probably will), you can rake in serious rewards. You also get the issuer's signature "cash-back match" bonus in your first year. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back — bonus categories + high ongoing rate

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® was already a fine card when it offered 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Now it's even better, with bonus rewards on travel booked through Chase, as well as at restaurants and drugstores. On top of all that, new cardholders get a 0% introductory APR period and the opportunity to earn a sweet cash bonus. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back — families (groceries, gas, commuting, streaming)

If your household spends a lot on groceries, gas, transit and streaming services, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is for you. The rewards it pays in those categories — particularly at U.S. supermarkets and on select streaming services — are among the richest of any card. There's a nice bonus offer for new cardholders and an introductory 0% APR period, too. The generous benefits come at a cost, though: Unlike most cash-back cards, this one charges an annual fee. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back — customizable rewards

If you don't mind putting some work into your rewards, check out the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card – NerdWallet Exclusive Offer. It might be the most customizable cash back card available. You pick which categories earn the most cash back — you get two 5% categories and a 2% category — and you can change those options every quarter. There's a good bonus offer for new cardholders, too. Read our review.

Our pick for: Flexible food rewards + no annual fee

The U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card is perhaps the most cost-effective restaurant card on the market, earning a whopping 4 points per dollar on dining purchases including takeout and delivery. You can find higher rates on dining, but not on cards with no annual fee. Read our review. 

Our pick for: Travel rewards — flat-rate rewards

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is probably the best-known general-purpose travel credit card, thanks to its ubiquitous advertising. You earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Miles can be redeemed at a value of 1 cent apiece for any travel purchase, without the blackout dates and other restrictions of branded hotel and airline cards. The card offers a great sign-up bonus and other worthwhile perks. Read our review.

Our pick for: Travel rewards — bonus categories

For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout), select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 points per $1 spent on travel not purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. Points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. The sign-up bonus is stellar, too. Read our review. 

Our pick for: College students

Simplicity makes the Discover it® Student chrome a standout for students searching for their first credit card. You'll earn bonus cash back at restaurants and gas stations with no activation required and no rotating categories to keep track of. Read our review.

Our pick for: Relationship rewards

Like some other travel cards at its price point, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card gives you bonus rewards on travel and dining. But you also earn a higher rate on "other" spending than many competing cards offer. There's a great sign-up bonus and some other good perks. And if you're a Bank of America® Preferred Rewards customer, your rewards get even better. Read our review.

Our pick for: Fair/average credit

This card for people with fair or "average" credit pays the same cash-back rate as the regular Quicksilver card, which targets people with excellent credit. The key difference is that this version charges an annual fee while the regular one does not. Read our review.

Our pick for: Bad credit 

Like other secured credit cards for people building or rebuilding credit, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card requires a cash security deposit. Unlike most others, it offers rewards. But what really makes it stand out from the competition is its upgrade possibilities. The issuer has a process in place for automatically reviewing accounts for possible transition to an unsecured card. Read our review. 

Our pick for: Airline credit card

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card pays bonus rewards not only on Delta flights but also at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, making it the rare airline card that's great for everyday spending. A best-in-class checked-bag benefit (first bag free for you and up to eight others on your reservation), priority boarding and the opportunity to earn a flight credit each year make this card a bargain for Delta stalwarts. Read our review.

Not a Delta flyer? See our best airline cards for other options.

Our pick for: Hotel credit card

Hyatt isn't as big as its competitors, but World of Hyatt Credit Card is worth a look for anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. You can earn a lot of points even on non-Hyatt spending, and those points have a high value compared with rival programs. There's a great sign-up bonus, free nights, automatic elite status and more. Read our review.

Not a Hyatt customer? See our best hotel cards for other options.

Our pick for: Small business — travel rewards

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card starts you off with one of the biggest sign-up bonuses of any credit card anywhere (assuming you spend enough to earn it), then gives you bonus rewards in common business spending categories. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. Read our review.

Our pick for: Small business — cash back

The Capital One Spark Cash for Business is an excellent option for business operators whose expenses are all over the map and don't fall into the bonus categories on other business credit cards. You get a high, flat rewards rate on every purchase, with no limit to how much you can earn. There's a great sign-up bonus offer, too. Read our review.

Our pick for: Small business — cash back + no annual fee

The Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card earns a simple, flat cash-back rate on every purchase, with no limit on how much you can earn. The sign-up bonus is outstanding for a cash-back card, particularly one with no annual fee, and there's an introductory 0% APR period for purchases. Read our review. 


How cash-back rewards work

With a cash-back credit card, you earn rewards equal to a percentage of the amount you spend. Cash-back rates range from 1% to 6% — that is, 1 cent to 6 cents per dollar spent — depending on the card you use and where you use it. Your monthly statement will show you the rewards you've earned to date; you can also track your rewards online.

Cash-back cards come in three main varieties: flat-rate, tiered and bonus-category.


The simplest cash back cards earn the same percentage on every purchase, no matter where you use your card. Examples include:


These cards pay a higher rate in certain categories and 1% back on everything else. Every card has its own structure, designed to appeal to a specific type of consumer. For example:

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a good card for families. It earns 6% back on up to $6,000 in spending per year at U.S. supermarkets (1% after that); 6% back on select U.S. streaming services; 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit expenses like taxis, tolls, trains and buses; and 1% everywhere else (terms apply).

  • The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a nice option for people who like a night out. It pays 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, as well as popular streaming services and grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target). It pays 1% on all other purchases.


Cards with bonus categories that change from time to time require more effort from you. You have to have to "opt in" or "activate" the bonus categories online. Some cards even let you (or make you, depending on your perspective) choose your own categories. Once you've opted in, spending in the bonus categories earns a higher rate, although the amount of spending eligible for the bonus rate is typically capped. Examples:

  • The Chase Freedom® pays 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. All other spending earns 1%. Common quarterly categories include supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants.

  • The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card – NerdWallet Exclusive Offer lets you customize your categories. You earn 5% back on up to $2,000 in combined quarterly spending on two categories you choose from a pretty extensive list, plus 2% back in one “everyday” category you choose, such as gas stations or grocery stores. All other purchases earn 1% back. Category options are subject to change, and you must make your choices each quarter.

What determines your bonus rewards?

When a card pays bonus cash back in specific categories, you earn those higher rewards based on where you use your card, not what you buy. If the category is "grocery stores," for example, then anything you buy at a supermarket will count — not just groceries. Conversely, groceries bought somewhere else, such as at a drugstore, wouldn't qualify for grocery store rewards.

Each merchant that accepts credit cards is assigned a category code by credit card networks like Visa. The code identifies the type of merchant it is, and these codes are what trigger your bonus rewards.

How to redeem cash-back rewards

Despite the term "cash back," most people don't actually take their cash-back rewards in the form of, well, cash back. The easiest and most common thing to do is to apply your rewards to your account as a statement credit. This directly reduces the amount you owe. (If your balance is $80, for example, and you redeem $30 in cash back, your balance becomes $50.) You're not getting literal cash back from the issuer, but less cash will be coming out of your pocket to pay the bill, so the effect is the same.

Depending on the card, you could also get your rewards deposited directly into your bank account or receive them as a check in the mail. Some cards set a minimum amount to redeem, usually $20 or $25. Other cards have no minimum for redemption.

» MORE: For cash-back options beyond those featured on this page, see our best cash-back credit cards.


How travel rewards work

By Sam Kemmis, NerdWallet point and miles expert

With a travel rewards credit card, you earn points or miles every time you use the card, but you can often earn more points per dollar in select categories. For example, some travel rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, offer bonus points on any travel spending, while others grant bonus points only when you use the card with a specific airline or hotel chain.

Not all points and miles earned on travel cards are the same:

What is a credit card point or mile worth?

How do we value points and miles? With the rewards earned on general travel cards, it's simple: They have a fixed value, usually between 1 and 1.5 cents per point, and you can spend them like cash. With airline miles and hotel points, finding the true value is more difficult. How much value you get depends on how you redeem them.

To better understand what miles are worth, NerdWallet researched the cash prices and reward-redemption values for hundreds of flights. Our results:



Mile value

1.1 cents.

1.2 cents.

1.3 cents.

0.7 cent.

1 cent.

1.5 cents.

1.4 cents.

1 cent.



Point value

0.7 cent

0.5 cent

1.9 cents

0.8 cent

0.7 cent

0.6 cent

0.9 cent

For details about our methodology, see our valuations page.

Our valuations are different from many others you may find. That’s because we looked at the average value of a point based on reasonable price searches that anyone can perform, not a maximized value that only travel rewards experts can expect to reach.

You should therefore use these values as a baseline for your own redemptions. If you can redeem your points for the values listed on our valuations page, you are doing well. Of course, if you are able to get higher value out of your miles, that’s even better.

How to redeem travel rewards

How you go about cashing in your travel rewards depends on the type of card you earned them on and what you want to do with them. In most cases, you'll be redeeming either through your card issuer or through the loyalty program tied to the card.


With a general-purpose travel card, you can usually use your points to pay for travel ahead of time by going through your card issuer's booking portal, which operates much like Orbitz or Expedia. Many cards also allow you to turn your points into statement credit for travel expenses already incurred. With this option, you use your card to book travel however you want, and then wipe out the cost on your statement by applying your points to your balance. You'll also go through your issuer's rewards portal to transfer points to airline or hotel programs.

You might have other options for using your points on general travel cards, such as for cash back or gift cards, but be careful with these options. You'll often get a lower value per point for non-travel redemptions.


When your rewards are airline miles or hotel points, you typically redeem them for free flights or stays by signing in to your account in the associated loyalty program, such as Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage, Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors. Enter your desired booking dates, then choose to see the price expressed in miles or points. Depending on the program, there may be limits and restrictions. An airline may have "blackout dates" when you can't get a free flight, for example, or a hotel may make only a certain number of rooms available for reward redemptions on a first-come, first-served basis.


There are so many options among rewards credit cards that picking the right one for you can be daunting. Make the process easier by approaching it systematically.

Rewards cards aren't for everyone

The first step is determining whether a rewards card is right for you at all. The best rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit — generally defined as a credit score of 690 or above — although there are a handful of options for fair or even bad credit.

A rewards card makes sense if you pay your bill in full every month. If you carry a balance from month to month, the interest you'll pay can quickly wipe out the value of your rewards; you'd be better off with a low-interest credit card, or a balance-transfer credit card that would allow you to pay down your debt over a defined period of time with 0% interest.

Look at both 'earn' and 'burn'

You'll want a rewards credit card that makes sense on both the "earn" side and the "burn" side. That means a card that rewards you for the kind of spending you do (earn) and that gives you rewards you can use (burn). For example, earning 5% cash back on home improvement stores might not do much for someone who lives in a small studio apartment. And if you never travel, airline miles are pretty much worthless.

The right choice also will depend on how much effort you’re willing to put into learning a rewards program and understanding a card’s built-in perks. Annual fees and sign-up bonuses can also sway your decision.

'Best' is a personal matter

Because of those factors, there’s no single “best” rewards card for everybody. Best might be a simple, flat-rate cash-back card, a premium travel card laden with benefits, or something in between. If you’re having trouble deciding on a type of rewards card, give special consideration to cash back. A NerdWallet study has shown cash-back credit cards are better for most people than travel cards.


We've discussed how to evaluate a credit card's rewards structure. But rewards rates aren't the only factor to consider when choosing a rewards credit card.

Annual fee

The credit cards with the richest rewards often charge annual fees. This is especially the case with travel credit cards. Typical annual fees range from around $90 to more than $500. Although some people are dead-set against paying them, annual fees can be worth it (or even a bargain) if the rewards and perks you earn outweigh the cost, and some cards waive the annual fee for the first year.

Most cash-back cards don't charge an annual fee. You can find good travel cards without an annual fee, although their rewards rates and sign-up bonuses tend to be small than those offered by their full-fee siblings.

Sign-up bonus

Also known as welcome offers, sign-up bonuses can give you a nice wad of cash or hundreds or thousands of points or miles for spending a certain amount in the first few months you have the card. But don't just look at the windfall you stand to receive. Pay attention also to the spending requirement. In general, the bigger the bonus, the more you'll have to spend to earn it. Avoid overspending to get a bonus.

0% intro APR period

You don’t normally want to carry a balance from month to month with rewards cards, but some of them offer 0% introductory APR periods on new purchases, balance transfers or both. A 0% period can be helpful if you have a big purchase coming up that you'd like a little time to pay off (which could also help you earn the sign-up bonus).

Foreign transaction fees

If you travel abroad, or plan to, look for a card that doesn't slap a surcharge on purchases made outside the U.S. Foreign transaction fees typically run about 3% of the purchase amount. A good travel card won't charge these fees, but many cash-back cards do.


Rewards are what you get for using a credit card. Perks are what you get simply for carrying the card — and depending on the card, perks can deliver even more value than rewards. Travel cards, in particular, are known for their perks. Examples include:

  • Automatic credit for travel expenses. Several general travel cards will reimburse hundreds of dollars a year in travel expenses. This might apply to any travel purchase, or to specific expenses such as airline fees or Uber rides. Learn more about travel credits.

  • Reimbursement for TSA Precheck and Global Entry. More and more cards are paying you back for the application fee for these trusted traveler programs, which help you get through airport security and customs more quickly. Learn more about trusted traveler programs, and see which cards offer reimbursement.

  • Airport lounge access. The biggest airlines (American, Delta, United) all offer high-end, high-annual-fee credit cards that get you into their airport lounges when you travel, and some lower-fee airline cards offer discounted or limited access. Several general travel cards get you into lounges in worldwide networks such as Priority Pass. American Express even has its own lounge network. Learn more about cards with lounge access.

  • Free checked bags and priority boarding. Exclusive to airline cards, these perks make travel a lot easier because you don't have to stuff everything into a carry-on to avoid a bag fee, and you don't have to fight for overhead-bin space because you're among the first to board the plane. The checked-bag perk alone can easily pay the annual fee on some cards. Learn more about free checked bags.

  • Free nights and other amenities. Credit cards issued by hotel chains offer perks that general travel cards can't match. Some of them give you one free night a year, which can make up the cost of the card immediately. Other benefits include free breakfast, free internet and early check-in or late check-out.



  • Rewards cards make purchases work harder for you. Earning rewards on every dollar you spend is like finding change in your couch cushions every day. Save up that change, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

  • They allow you to travel more often, or more luxuriously, at a discount. Travel rewards credit cards can make it possible to sit in first class, upgrade to a suite or skip the long security line. Even if you don’t cash in points to travel like an Instagram influencer, they can help you travel for less money.

  • They can help protect you if your vacation falls apart. Many travel cards will compensate you if your bags get lost, your flight gets significantly delayed or canceled, or you have to cut your trip short because of a family emergency or illness. Many also offer coverage for your rental car. This all comes at no additional cost to you.


  • Rewards cards typically have higher APRs. That means credit card debt will cost you more over time. For a major purchase you’d like to pay back over time, look into a card with a 0% introductory APR offer. In general, use a rewards card only for purchases you’ll be able to pay in full when your statement comes.

  • Annual fees add up, especially if you carry multiple rewards cards.

  • They require a fair amount of mental energy. Some people relish the challenge of maximizing every purchase and piecing together a complicated, yet heavily subsidized, vacation itinerary. Others have zero interest in memorizing which card to use at gas stations, which to use at grocery stores, and which to use at restaurants. If you want rewards with little effort, a flat-rate cash back card or a travel card with a straightforward rewards program (no fancy transfers to airline partners or complicated redemptions) will make jumping into the pool of rewards cards warm and inviting.


Use the card for the bulk of your spending

Put all your ordinary expenses on the card, including monthly bills, to rack up rewards more quickly. That’s the power of a rewards card: getting extra value from your regular spending. Before applying for a card, make sure you’ll be able to meet the spending minimum required to earn the sign-up bonus. Be careful to never overspend just for rewards.

Pair cards to earn even more

Consider using complementary cards to extract maximum rewards for your spending. For example, one card might offer high rewards for restaurant spending, while an airline card gives you free checked bags and a third card gives you a nice rate on all other spending. If you have a card with a sign-up bonus, consolidate spending on that card until you earn that bonus.

Redeem rewards thoughtfully

Redeem your rewards in the way that delivers maximum value. With travel cards, you usually get a better redemption rate when you redeem for travel expenses than you would if you opted for cash back. Cash-back cards, meanwhile, may give you the highest redemption rate for statement credit, but a lower rate if you redeem points for gift cards. Some rewards can be transferred to travel partners, such as airlines and hotels, at a valuable rate. Learn what the options are and what your rewards are worth.

Use the freebies

A free checked bag can save you $60 on a roundtrip domestic flight. Access to airport lounges means free snacks and a more relaxing space in which to wait for your flight. Global Entry reimbursement is worth $100, and you’ll be spared having to remove your shoes to go through a metal detector at the airport. Take advantage of all the perks you’re offered, especially if you’re paying an annual fee.


Rewards cards come in a variety of flavors to fit different consumer preferences and spending patterns. This roundup highlights the best cards in each particular category, but there may be a better card for you. Find other great cards in our specialized roundups:

To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page.

All information about the Capital One Spark Cash for Business has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Capital One Spark Cash for Business is no longer available through NerdWallet.

Last updated on November 3, 2021


NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best rewards credit cards based on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of consumers, including both those seeking cash-back rewards and those interested in travel rewards. Factors in our evaluation include annual and other fees, rewards rates, the earning structure (for example, flat-rate rewards versus bonus categories), redemption options, bonus offers for new cardholders, introductory and ongoing APRs, and other noteworthy features such as airline or hotel perks or the ability to transfer points.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's [1 PRODUCT] Best Rewards Credit Cards of December 2021

Frequently asked questions