NerdWallet's

Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

Credit card rewards come in two flavors: points and cash back. Treat yourself to the best card for your lifestyle.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Review
For even richer rewards (but also a much higher fee)
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Benefits

Benefits

Unlike cards tied to a specific airline or hotel brand, you can redeem rewards from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card in many ways. You earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Points are worth 25% more when you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, or you can transfer them at a 1:1 rate to several other loyalty programs. The card comes with a superb sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Finally, it's made of metal, rather than plastic, giving it a plunk factor.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

As a general travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lacks the perks — such as free checked bags and priority boarding — that airline-specific co-branded cards offer. And while the annual fee isn’t astronomical, it’s not worth paying if you don’t regularly spend on travel and restaurants.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

If you typically fly with one airline, a co-branded card might provide benefits the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card does not. But if you want flexibility in earning and redeeming rewards, this is among the best cards around.

For 2 miles per dollar plus loyalty bonuses
Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®

Benefits

Benefits

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the most flexible travel cards available. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on everything; miles can be redeemed for credit against most travel expenses. And you’re not restricted to one airline or hotel, as is the case with co-branded cards. You just book your travel, then pay for it with your rewards. There's no minimum redemption amount, so you can use rewards for a $5 cab ride if that's what you want. This card also comes with a great sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

You won’t find airline-specific perks with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you’re loyal to one airline, it might be worth comparing this card with that airline’s co-branded card. Also, Capital One raised the annual fee on this card in 2017; it's now $0 for the first year, then $95.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

When it comes to easy earning and redemption, this card is tough to beat, whether you want to redeem miles for hotel stays, flights, cab rides or cruises.

More on this card
Discover it® Cash Back Review
For a similar rewards program with different categories
Chase Freedom®

Benefits

Benefits

This card has broad rewards bonus categories that change each quarter, allowing cardholders to earn 5% cash back at such places as restaurants, online retailers and gas stations, among others. (The 5% rewards are capped at $1,500 in spending per quarter; after that, you get 1%. See current categories here.) Cardholders can also access the Discover Deals online bonus mall, which offers 5% to 20% cash back or deep discounts on purchases at popular retailers. This card has no foreign transaction fees, and it waives the first late payment fee. Finally, there’s a distinctive sign-up bonus: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

You have to keep track of what type of spending is eligible for the bonus each quarter to maximize your earnings. You also must remember to opt in to the bonus categories. If you forget, you won’t get 5% cash back.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The high cash-back rates from popular retailers at the Discover Deals online mall offer nice savings. Combine those with the card’s rotating 5% bonus categories, a $0 annual fee, a solid intro APR and a new-cardmember bonus, and you have an all-around winner.

Benefits

Benefits

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months pays an unlimited 1.5% cash back on everything. And unlike other cards that restrict when and how you cash in your rewards, you can redeem cash back in any amount at any time. This card also comes with an outstanding introductory APR offer: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.74% - 24.74% Variable APR. There's a nifty sign-up bonus: One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. The annual fee is $0.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

Unlike many rewards cards, which let you stretch your value with bonus spending categories or by redeeming points or miles selectively, this card won't give you more than 1.5 cents back per dollar spent.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Few cards offer as compelling a mix of rewards rate, redemption simplicity, 0% intro period and sign-up bonus as the Capital One® Quicksilver® Card - 0% Intro APR for 15 Months.

For the no-annual-fee version of this card
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Benefits

Benefits

This card has one of the highest rewards rates at U.S. supermarkets — 6% cash back on up to $6,000 of spending per year (then 1%) — supplemented by 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. All other purchases earn 1% back. You can extend the 6% cash back far beyond groceries by buying gift cards at the supermarket and using them at retailers and restaurants. A sign-up bonus adds to the appeal — and you may be eligible for an even better offer from American Express. Check out our American Express Pre-Qualified Offers page.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

This card has a high annual fee, although if you spend at least $31 a week at U.S. supermarkets, the cash back will offset it. Because it’s from American Express, you might have trouble using it in some places. And the 2.7% foreign transaction fee makes it a poor choice for spending abroad.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

If U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores are among your most common destinations, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a winner. However, if you spend less than $61 per week at the supermarket, you might be better off with the similar Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. Its rewards rates are lower, but it has an annual fee of $0.

Benefits

Benefits

The relaunched Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card offers 3 points per dollar in a slew of popular categories: dining, including restaurants, takeout and bars; travel, including flights, hotels, home stays and car rentals; and gas stations, rideshares and transit. All other spending earns 1 point per dollar. Points are worth a penny apiece and are redeemable for cash, travel and more. There's a fairly decent bonus for new cardholders, and you even get a 0% introductory APR period. All with an annual fee of $0

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

There are some limitations on redemption. For cash back, the minimum redemption amount is $25, or $20 when redeeming at a Wells Fargo ATM. Travel redemptions are available only by booking through Wells Fargo; you can't use points to "erase" travel purchases like with some other cards.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Although the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card lacks some of the premium perks its competitors offer, we can’t think of another card without an annual fee that offers as many lucrative incentives to apply.

Benefits

Benefits

Whether you're dining in or dining out, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card rewards you for food purchases, with a superior 3% cash back rate on dining out, 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases. It has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 with no foreign transaction fees or minimum requirements for redeeming. It even comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The card offers a good cash-back rate on groceries, but not extraordinary. If you buy most of your food at a supermarket, a card that focuses on grocery store purchases would be better.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Unlike many competitors, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card treats food rewards as the main course. Foodies and takeout connoisseurs may want to clear space in their wallets because it's one of the best $0 for the first year, then $95-annual-fee dining credit cards available.

For a flat-rate card with a sign-up bonus
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Benefits

Benefits

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer gives cardholders one of the highest flat-rate cash back rates available. You get 1% cash back when you make purchases and another 1% when you pay them off, for a total of 2% on every purchase.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

Other cards offer higher cash-back percentages in specific categories. This card also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, making it a poor choice for spending abroad. And this offer does not include a sign-up bonus.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

With the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, earning cash back is simple and lucrative. If you're looking for a low-hassle cash back card to use daily, this is it.

Benefits

Benefits

Instead of setting bonus categories for you, this card lets you pick your own. You get 5% cash back in two bonus categories that you choose every quarter, on up to $2,000 in combined purchases per quarter. The 5% categories have included such things as gym costs, cell phone bills, movie theaters, fast food and car rentals. You'll also get unlimited 2% cash back in one "everyday" category that you choose, such as gas, groceries or restaurants. You'll earn 1% on all other eligible purchases. Best, the $0 annual fee gives this card long-term value.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card's choices for 5% categories may not suit your spending habits. Choosing and keeping track of multiple spending categories each quarter takes work.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

Get the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card if you want to choose your own rewards categories and its 5% categories appeal to you. Over the long run, it could be more valuable than similar cards that come with a larger sign-up bonus.

More on this card
United℠ Explorer Card Review

Benefits

Benefits

If you want to use an airline card as your primary rewards card, pick one for the carrier you fly most. If you often have a choice in airlines, though, it's hard to beat the United℠ Explorer Card. You get a free checked bag when you fly, priority boarding and two one-time passes each year to United’s airport lounges. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Plus, there's a great sign-up bonus. You also get primary rental car insurance. This means the card's insurance kicks in before your own auto insurance when you book rentals with the card, which can save you money if you have an accident.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

Frequent United flyers will enjoy the extra rewards and perks with the [nw:card_name 3049]. Because it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, this card is also a good choice to use abroad.
» FOR OTHER OPTIONS: See NerdWallet's best airline credit cards

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

If you’re redeeming miles for flights, you’re limited to United and its Star Alliance partners. With a general travel card, you may have more redemption options. The first checked bag on each flight is free for you and one other person on your itinerary. That probably suffices for most trips, but cards from competing airlines offer free checked bags for more travelers.

For beefier everyday rewards but lesser perks
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Benefits

Benefits

With this card, you earn 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on flights and hotel stays booked through the American Express travel website; 2 points per dollar on other travel booked through AmEx; and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Travel perks include a $200 airline fee credit every year, complimentary access to hundreds of airport lounges, up to $200 a year in Uber credit, and reimbursement for application fees to Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) every five years. You also get automatic Hilton Honors Gold and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, both of which offer upgrades, late checkout, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, point bonuses for stays and more. There's a sizable sign-up bonus, too.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The hefty $550 annual fee may not be worth it if you don't take advantage of all the perks. Although The Platinum Card® from American Express doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee, American Express is less widely accepted overseas than Visa and Mastercard. It charges There's an extra annual fee of $175 for up to three authorized user cards.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The Platinum Card® from American Express is a great option for high-end travel, especially if you stay at SPG and Hilton hotels frequently. When traveling abroad, you'll want to bring along a backup card, though.

More on this card
Discover it® Secured Review

Benefits

Benefits

The Discover it® Secured may be the best credit card available for people with bad credit, regardless of rewards. Not only does it have an annual fee of $0, but it also offers rewards: 2% cash back on up to $1,000 worth of spending per quarter on restaurants and gas, and 1% on all other spending. Handle your account responsibly, and you might be able to move up to an unsecured card: Discover begins reviewing your account for a possible upgrade after eight months.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

Like all secured cards, you must make a security deposit, which will determine your credit line; the minimum is $200. The deposit must be paid out of a bank account, so if you don't have access to traditional financial services, you may be out of luck.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The rewards and other features on this secured card for bad credit are better than those on many unsecured cards for good credit.

How their rewards rates stack up

Card Best for ... Rewards rate
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Travel rewards and a large bonus • 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining
• 1 point per $1 on everything else

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Easy-to-use travel rewards • 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases

Discover it® Cash Back

Bonus category cash back • 5% back in rotating categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter
• 1% back on all other purchases
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer Flat rate cash back • 1% cash back on all purchases, plus an additional 1% back when you pay them off

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Families • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 a year in spending)
• 3% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
• 1% back on all other purchases

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Customizable rewards • 5% cash back on up to $2,000 in combined purchases per quarter in two categories that you choose
• 2% cash back in an everyday category such as gas or groceries
• 1% cash back on all other purchases

United℠ Explorer Card

Airlines • 2 points per $1 spent on tickets with United
• 1 point per $1 on all other purchases

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Luxury travel • 5 points per $1 spent on flights and hotel stays booked through the American Express travel website
• 2 points per dollar on other travel booked through AmEx
• 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere

Discover it® Secured

Bad credit • 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter on gas and restaurants
1% back on all other purchases

How to choose a rewards credit card

There are so many options available among rewards credit cards that picking the right one for you can seem daunting. You can make the process easier if you approach it systematically.

First, decide whether a rewards card is right for you at all. Mainly, choose a rewards card if you pay your bill in full every month and have above-average credit. If you carry a balance from month to month, the interest will wipe out the value of your rewards; you'd be better off with a low-interest credit card.

Next, look for a card that rewards you for the kind of spending you do and that delivers rewards you can use. (Airline miles aren't much good if you never fly, for example.) The right choice also will depend on how much effort you’re willing to exert in learning a rewards program and 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.

See more in our guide to choosing a rewards credit card.

Making the most of your card

To get the most from your rewards credit card, you should understand three things: how you earn rewards, how to redeem rewards, and the non-reward perks offered by the card.

  • Earning: Consider paying for everything with the card, including monthly bills, to rack up rewards quicker. That’s the power of a rewards card: getting extra value from your regular spending. 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 cash-back 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.
  • Redeeming: Redeem your rewards in the way that delivers maximum value. For example, redeeming for cash is almost always a better option than 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 a rewards point is worth.
  • Perks: Beyond rewards, a card might offer perks, or benefits you get just for carrying the card. These include no foreign transaction fees, rental car insurance and extended warranties on items purchased with the card. Premium travel cards are often loaded with benefits, such as travel credits, hotel elite status or refunds for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees.

Optimizing your earning, redeeming and use of perks will ensure that if the card has an annual fee, you’re extracting more value than you pay.

Other cards to consider

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:

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.

Last updated September 11, 2018.

Greg is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. He previously worked at the Chicago Tribune and wrote two money books. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

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