Here are the best rewards credit cards:

Best for easy-to-use travel rewards

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now on Capital One's secure site

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • What our experts like about it

Best for travel rewards and a large bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Rewards rate: 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases; Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • What our experts like about it

Best for online shopping cash back

Discover it® - Cashback Match™
Apply Now on Discover's secure site

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • What our experts like about it

Best for bonus category cash back

Chase Freedom®
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate; Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • What our experts like about it

Best for flat-rate cash back

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
Apply Now on Citibank's secure application

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Apply Now on Citibank's secure application

Best for families

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Rewards rate: 6% at U.S supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%); 3% at U.S gas stations and at select U.S. department stores; 1% other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • What our experts like about it

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Our pick for

Easy-to-use travel rewards

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.

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. Last year, Capital One raised the annual fee on this card; it’s now $0 for the first year, then $95.
When it comes to easy earning and redemption, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is tough to beat, whether you want to redeem miles for hotel stays, flights, cab rides or cruises.

Our pick for

Travel rewards and a large bonus

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.

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.

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.

Our pick for

Online shopping cash back

Benefits

This card has broad rewards bonus categories that change each quarter, allowing cardholders to earn 5% at restaurants, online retailers and gas stations, among others. If you sign up, you can also access the Discover Deals online bonus mall, which offers 5% to 20% cash back on purchases at popular online 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 earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

You need to remember what type of spending is eligible for the bonus each quarter to maximize reward earnings. You also must remember to opt in to the bonus categories; forget, and you won’t get 5% cash back.
The high cash-back rates from popular retailers at the Discover Deals online mall could save you a lot. 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

Our pick for

Bonus category cash back

Benefits

This card earns 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories, which in recent years have included gas, groceries, restaurants and wholesale clubs, and 1% on all other purchases. It also comes with a cash sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

The Chase Freedom® requires that cardholders opt in to the bonus category each quarter. You can do this at any time and get the bonus for the entire quarter — but if you forget, you won’t get 5% cash back. And if you don’t spend enough to maximize the bonus categories, you might earn more rewards with another card.
The Chase Freedom® has one of the best rewards rates available without an annual fee or a complicated redemption program. If you spend on the items in the 5% bonus categories — and most people do — you’ll easily earn substantial cash back with this card.

Our pick for

Flat-rate cash back

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 an additional 1% when you pay them off. You can redeem cash back as a statement credit, a gift card or a mailed check.

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 there’s no sign-up bonus.

 

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.

Our pick for

Families

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.

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.

 

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.

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 Jan. 2, 2017.

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart. NerdWallet writer Kevin Cash contributed to this article.