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 bonus category 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 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

Best for customized rewards

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
Apply Now on US Bank's secure site

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Apply Now on US Bank's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in eligible net purchases each quarter on the combined two categories you choose. 2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category, like gas or groceries. 1% cash back on all other eligible net purchases.
  • What our experts like about it

Best for dining

Capital One® Savor℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now on Capital One's secure site

Capital One® Savor℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure site

Best hotel card

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Rewards rate: Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases. Terms Apply.
  • What our experts like about it

Best airline card

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Rewards rate: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • What our experts like about it

Best for luxury travel

The Platinum Card® from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Rewards rate: 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Terms Apply.
  • What our experts like about it

Best for bad credit

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee
Apply Now on Discover's secure site

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Apply Now on Discover's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • 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

Bonus category cash back

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 earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

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.
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.

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.

Our pick for

Customized rewards

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.

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card comes with a modest sign-up bonus, and its choices for 5% categories may not suit your spending habits. Choosing and keeping track of multiple spending categories each quarter takes work.

 

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.


Our pick for

Dining

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 with no foreign transaction fees or minimum requirements for redeeming. It even comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

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 might be better.

 

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-annual-fee dining credit cards available.


Our pick for

Best hotel card

Benefits

If you want to use a hotel card as your primary rewards card, get one that matches where you stay most. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s hard to beat the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. You’ll earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG locations and 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties. Starwood’s acquisition by Marriott International opens the Starwood Preferred Guest program to a far wider range of hotels for earning and using points. It also has an impressive roster of airline transfer partners.

The card has an annual fee and doesn’t offer a free night every year to make up for it, like some cards do. If you’re not using the card regularly, it might not be worth it. And, of course, it’s not as flexible as a general travel card for redeeming points.

 

Starpoints have a high value, and the program’s airline transfer partners make this card not only the best hotel credit card but also one of the best travel credit cards overall. The Marriott-Starwood merger only makes it more appealing.

» OTHER OPTIONS: See NerdWallet’s best hotel credit cards

Our pick for

Best airline card

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 MileagePlus® 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.

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.

 

Frequent United flyers will enjoy the extra rewards and perks with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. Because it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, this card is also a good choice to use abroad.

» OTHER OPTIONS: See NerdWallet’s best airline credit cards

Our pick for

Luxury travel

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.

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.

 

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.

Our pick for

Bad credit

Benefits

The Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee 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.

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.

 

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

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. 9, 2018.

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.