best credit card rewards

Over the summer, we asked a sampling of our site visitors to tell us how they spend their credit card rewards. The results of our survey show that you're a frugal lot, with plenty of spending and traveling to do! Our respondents chose from five broad credit card rewards categories, with the rankings turning out like this:

1. Cash back rewards

Nearly half of our respondents told us that cash rebates hold the most sway over their credit card decisions. Cash is easy to redeem and easy to track, especially when you're calculating your bonus at the checkout counter with cash back rewards cards like these:

  • Chase Freedom®. You can earn on quarterly spending categories that offer 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, subject to quarterly enrollment.
  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. This card offers a 3-2-1 cash back structure for eligible purchases. Terms, Restrictions and Limitations Apply to this offer.

Mintel Comperemedia research shows that nearly a quarter of all credit card offers include some kind of cash back reward or signup bonus. That figure suggests that CardRatings.com readers are twice as likely as the average credit card holder to be taking advantage of the many lucrative cash back offers out there.

2. Travel rewards or frequent flyer miles

A little over a third of our survey group are still hitting the road often enough to make travel perks their favorite way to redeem credit card rewards. However, many of you have shifted your loyalty to cards that give you extra flexibility.

Travel credit cards connected to United Airlines and the Starwood Preferred Guest program also remain popular among frequent business travelers who like to redeem miles and hotel stays for personal trips.

3. Gas rebates

Over 9 percent of respondents said that they drop their credit card rewards into their gas tanks. You can get the biggest discounts and rebates by paying at the pump with these popular gas credit cards:

  • PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa® Card. If you have excellent credit, it's worth jumping through a few hoops to qualify for PenFed's Plus version of this card to earn 5 percent cash back on gas purchases paid at the pump. To be considered for the Plus Card you will need a qualifying PenFed product such as a money market savings account or an active checking account with direct deposit ($250 min). With the Standard Version of the card you can earn 3 percent cash back on purchases paid at the pump with an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year then an annual fee of $25. You also need to be a member of PenFed Credit Union to be considered for a credit card. Limitations and restrictions apply to this offer. Fuel purchases for airplanes and boats are not eligible for cash back rewards.
  • TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express. Buy gas at a US gas station or at any of Costco's popular warehouse clubs, and you can earn three percent cash back on gasoline on up to $4,000 per year in purchases, then one percent. Cash back will be issued as an annual rewards coupon. Terms, limitations and restrictions apply.

While many gas stations still offer affinity credit cards, most CardRatings.com readers know how to find a great gas rewards card that doesn't require loyalty to a single brand.

4. Merchandise bonuses

About 8 percent of our readers really love to turn their credit card rewards into even bigger deals by trading points or miles for merchandise.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Chase lets Sapphire Preferred cardholders redeem many merchandise deals from its Ultimate Rewards collection at a discount, offering even more value for frequent shoppers.

Most credit card issuers now offer exclusive online malls that feature discounted deals from their merchandise partners. In some cases, you can save as much as 20 percent off retail prices when paying with points for showcased items.

5. Charitable donations

Only about one in a hundred readers who took our poll said that they turn their credit card rewards into gifts for nonprofit organizations. Before you think CardRatings.com visitors are a stingy bunch, it's important to remember that many of us now use credit cards to make cash donations to the churches and charities of our choice, often generating bonuses in the other four reward categories. Some credit cards also let cardholders help decide how to steer their corporate charitable giving programs, including:

  • Platinum Card® from American Express. In addition to making it easy for cardmembers to give Membership Rewards points to charities, American Express donated over $4 million through its Members Project.
  • Chase Slate®. Chase used Facebook voting to determine the winners of over 400 grants totaling over $15 million during its Chase Community Giving program.

Whether you choose to give away your credit card rewards or keep them for yourself, the thrill of "found money" excites us all. As consumers look for more ways to stretch their budgets, expect to see even more credit cards feature these five reward options.

Over the summer, we asked a sampling of our site visitors to tell us how they spend their credit card rewards. The results of our survey show that you're a frugal lot, with plenty of spending and traveling to do! Our respondents chose from five broad credit card rewards categories, with the rankings turning out like this:

1. Cash back rewards

Nearly half of our respondents told us that cash rebates hold the most sway over their credit card decisions. Cash is easy to redeem and easy to track, especially when you're calculating your bonus at the checkout counter with cash back rewards cards like these:

  • Chase Freedom®. You can qualify for bonus cashback once you meet initial spend requirements, along with earning potential on seasonal spending categories that offer up to 5 percent cash back, subject to enrollment and maximum spend limits.
  • Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express. This card offers a 3-2-1 cash back structure for eligible purchases. Terms and Restrictions Apply.

Mintel Comperemedia research shows that nearly a quarter of all credit card offers include some kind of cash back reward or signup bonus. That figure suggests that CardRatings.com readers are twice as likely as the average credit card holder to be taking advantage of the many lucrative cash back offers out there.

2. Travel rewards or frequent flyer miles

A little over a third of our survey group are still hitting the road often enough to make travel perks their favorite way to redeem credit card rewards. However, many of you have shifted your loyalty to cards that give you extra flexibility, like:

  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. One of the best travel rewards cards on the market, Venture lets you find the best deal on your own, then reimburses your travel costs from your "miles" balance.

Travel credit cards connected to United Airlines and the Starwood Preferred Guest program also remain popular among frequent business travelers who like to redeem miles and hotel stays for personal trips.

3. Gas rebates

Over 9 percent of respondents said that they drop their credit card rewards into their gas tanks. You can get the biggest discounts and rebates by paying at the pump with these popular gas credit cards:

  • PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa® Card. If you have excellent credit, it's worth jumping through a few hoops to qualify for PenFed's Plus version of this card to earn 5 percent cash back on gas purchases paid at the pump. To be considered for the Plus Card you will need a qualifying PenFed product such as a money market savings account or an active checking account with direct deposit ($250 min). You also need to be a member of PenFed Credit Union Certain to be considered for a credit card. Limitations and restrictions apply to this program.
  • TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express. Buy gas at any of Costco's popular warehouse clubs, and you can earn a significant annual rewards voucher. Terms and restrictions apply.

While many gas stations still offer affinity credit cards, most CardRatings.com readers know how to find a great gas rewards card that doesn't require loyalty to a single brand.

4. Merchandise bonuses

About 8 percent of our readers really love to turn their credit card rewards into even bigger deals by trading points or miles for merchandise.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred. Chase lets Sapphire Preferred cardholders redeem many merchandise deals from its Ultimate Rewards collection at a discount, offering even more value for frequent shoppers.

Most credit card issuers now offer exclusive online malls that feature discounted deals from their merchandise partners. In some cases, you can save as much as 20 percent off retail prices when paying with points for showcased items.

5. Charitable donations

Only about one in a hundred readers who took our poll said that they turn their credit card rewards into gifts for nonprofit organizations. Before you think CardRatings.com visitors are a stingy bunch, it's important to remember that many of us now use credit cards to make cash donations to the churches and charities of our choice, often generating bonuses in the other four reward categories. Some credit cards also let cardholders help decide how to steer their corporate charitable giving programs, including:

  • Platinum Card® from American Express. In addition to making it easy for cardmembers to give Membership Rewards points to charities, American Express donated over $4 million through its Members Project.
  • Chase Slate®. Chase used Facebook voting to determine the winners of over 400 grants totaling over $15 million during its Chase Community Giving program.

Whether you choose to give away your credit card rewards or keep them for yourself, the thrill of "found money" excites us all. As consumers look for more ways to stretch their budgets, expect to see even more credit cards feature these five reward options.