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.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for Cash back — bonus categories + high ongoing rate
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for Travel rewards — flat-rate rewards
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card: Best for Cash back — high flat rate + incentives
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for Travel rewards — bonus categories
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Dining and groceries + no annual fee
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for Cash back — families (groceries, gas, commuting, streaming)
Discover it® Cash Back: Best for Cash back — bonus categories + cash-back match
Citi Custom Cash® Card: Best for Cash back — 5% categories tailored to your spending
U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card: Best for Road trips
Chase Freedom Flex℠: Best for Cash back — up to 5% in multiple categories + cash bonus
Citi Double Cash® Card: Best for Cash back — high flat rate
Discover it® Student Chrome: Best for College students
U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card: Best for Flexible foodie rewards + no annual fee
U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card: Best for Cash back — maximum customization potential
World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for Hotel credit card
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best for Airline credit card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card: Best for Rewards on rent payments
|Annual fee||Rewards rate||Intro offer|
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
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 has been a top choice among flat-rate cash-back cards. 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 bonus categories, but the high rewards rate more than makes up for the lack of bells and whistles. Read our review.
Our pick for: Cash back — 5% categories tailored to your spending
The Citi Custom Cash® Card offers a lot of value for a $0 annual fee: 5% back automatically in your eligible top spending category on up to $500 spent per billing cycle (1% back on other spending). The list of eligible 5% categories is varied and includes biggies like restaurants, grocery stores and more. And unlike with its competitors, there's no activation schedule or bonus calendar to keep track of. Read our review.
Our pick for: Cash back — high flat rate + incentives
Among flat-rate cash-back cards, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card. It earns an unlimited 2% back on all purchases, which is excellent. But in addition, the card offers a rich sign-up bonus and a generous 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers. That's an impressive, hard-to-find combination of features on a card with a $0 annual fee. 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 specific major retailers. 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 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 welcome 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: Dining and groceries + no annual fee
Love the night life but dead-set against paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It pays a lower cash-back rate on dining and entertainment than the regular Savor card, but the rewards are nevertheless quite good (see rates and fees). The sign-up bonus is smaller than on the annual-fee version, too, but it's still solid (see rates and fees). 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. 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 (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Travel rewards — bonus categories
For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns bonus rewards (up to 5X) on travel, dining, select streaming services, and select online grocery 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: Rewards on rent payments
The Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card stands out by offering credit card rewards on rent payments without incurring an additional fee. The ability to earn rewards on what for many people is their single biggest monthly expense makes this card worth a look for any renter. You also get bonus points on dining and travel, and redemption options include point transfers to partner hotel and loyalty programs. 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: Road trips
The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card is one of the most generous cards on the market if you're taking to the skies or the road, thanks to the quadruple points it earns on travel and purchases at gas stations and EV charging stations. It's also a solid card for everyday expenses like groceries, dining and streaming, and it comes with ongoing credits that can offset its annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95. Read our review.
By Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet
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 Discover it® Cash Back pays 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. (Category activation required.) All other spending earns 1%. Common quarterly categories include grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants.
The U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card 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.
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.
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.
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:
Airline- and hotel-specific cards — such as the United℠ Explorer Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Card — give points and miles that can be used only with the brand on the card. (Although it's possible in some cases to transfer hotel points to airlines, we recommend against it because you get a poor value.)
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:
Keep in mind that the airline values are based on main cabin economy tickets and exclude premium cabin redemptions. See our valuations page for business class valuations and details about our methodology.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
Last updated on December 5, 2023
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. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.
There are two main types of rewards credit cards: cash-back cards and points/miles cards:
• With a cash-back credit card, the card issuer "pays you back" a certain percentage of every purchase. For example, if your card earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases and you buy something for $100, you would earn $1.50 in cash back.
• With a points or miles card, the issuer gives you a certain number of rewards points (often called “miles” on airline and travel credit cards) for each dollar you spend. How you use the points or miles depends on the card. Common redemption options include travel, gift cards and merchandise.
With most rewards cards, you can see your accumulated earnings on your monthly statement or through your online account portal, and you can decide when and how to redeem them.
What you can do with your credit card rewards depends on the type of rewards you’ve earned and the card’s rules:
• Cash-back rewards are typically redeemable for a credit on your statement, which reduces your outstanding balance. You may also be able to have your rewards deposited into a bank account or sent as a check.
• Points or miles are most commonly redeemed for travel, but you may also be able to redeem them for gift cards, merchandise or cash back. For cards that carry the name of an airline or hotel brand, you typically use your rewards for free travel or upgrades. Some bank-branded credit cards let you transfer their points into airline or hotel programs.
In most cases, there is no limit to how many points or miles or how much cash back you can earn with a credit card. Some cards do limit how much spending is eligible for bonus rewards — that is, higher rewards offered in specific categories — but after you hit that limit, you still earn rewards at the base rate. For example, a card might offer 3% rewards on up to $6,000 a year in spending and then 1% after that.
How much each point or mile is worth depends on the card that issued it and how you redeem it. As a very general rule of thumb, it’s helpful to think of points and miles as worth an average of 1 cent apiece, although you can certainly get a higher (or lower) value.
In some programs, points are worth 1 cent apiece regardless of how you redeem. In others, you might get 1 cent per point when redeeming for travel and 0.5 cents when redeeming for gift cards or cash back. Airline miles could be worth anywhere from less than 1 cent to more than 5 cents apiece depending on how many miles you need to earn a free flight and how much that flight would have cost if you were paying cash. Hotel points are similarly variable in value. See our travel loyalty roundup page for NerdWallet’s current valuations for airline miles and hotel points.
The best rewards credit cards typically require good to excellent credit for approval. Good credit is generally defined as a credit score of 690 or better. However, there are some decent rewards-bearing cards for people with fair credit and even bad credit. Keep in mind that credit scores are only one factor in your application. Every issuer has its own criteria for approval.