Best rewards credit cards of February 2020
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Some of the most popular credit cards from our partners out there thanks to their enticing welcome bonuses and getting something for what you spend anyway, most simply put, a rewards credit card is a type of credit card that earns you points/rewards each time you use your card. Points, cash back, miles, etc. earned with rewards credit cards can be redeemed for statement credit, cash back, gift cards, airline tickets, hotel stays, car rentals and more.
When it comes to rewards credit cards, there are two primary types of rewards credit cards to consider: rewards cards that earn you cash back and rewards cards that earn you points or miles to redeem toward purchases or travel.
Let's start by looking at cash-back credit cards, usually the most straightforward and easiest type of rewards credit cards to use. First, it's important to understand that cash back credit cards are NOT the type of credit cards that give you cash back at the the grocery store register or at an ATM. Retrieving cash back in this manner is considered a "cash advance" and you will be charged a fee if you use your cash back credit card in this way.
Instead, cash-back rewards credit cards are a type of credit card that encourages cardholders to frequently use their card in exchange for cash rewards such as statement credits, cash deposits or gift cards. With cash-back credit cards, rewards are accumulated with each $1 you spend, usually at a rate anywhere between 1 to 6 percent. For example, if you make a $1,000 purchase with a card with a 2 percent cash-back rewards offer, you'll earn 2,000 points on that transaction, or $20 cash back. It's important to note that some cash-back cards accumulate rewards as points that can be redeemed for merchandise or other rewards, but many simply accumulate as a percentage amount that you can then redeem for the dollar value.
Other rewards credit cards, such as travel rewards cards or airline-branded and hotel-branded credit cards, earn you points or miles each time you make a purchase, but instead of redeeming these miles or points for cash back, you can use your rewards for things like airline tickets, hotel stays, gas cards, gift cards, and more. With some of these cards you can even redeem points for cash back, however, if it's cash back you want, you're better off sticking with a cash back credit card as the redemption value will likely be better. That said, there are a number of travel rewards cards that allow you to redeem your rewards for statement credit to cover travel expenses.
In general, using a rewards credit card is very simple. Since credit card transactions automatically accumulate rewards on your behalf, there's little you have to do beyond using your credit card and then later deciding how you want to redeem your rewards. With this said though, it's important that you make sure to pay off your card every billing cycle, otherwise, interest charges could quickly cancel out any rewards you've accumulated.
When deciding which credit card is best for you, it's important to consider your lifestyle and spending habits to determine which type of card you will benefit from the most. There's no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" credit card, so to speak.
Read on to learn more about the best rewards credit cards of 2019 to help determine which card is best for your wallet.
BEST REWARDS CREDIT CARDS
BEST CARDHOLDER-CHOICE CASH-BACK REWARDS
Why We Like It: Cardholder-choice cards are still fairly rare, but we like that they're starting to show up more because they allow each consumer to truly make the most out of their unique spending. With this card, you can chose from six categories where you want to earn top rewards – and you can change your mind as often as once per calendar month.
The Bonus: Earn a $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend $1,000 on your new card within the first 90 days.
The Rewards: Earn 3% cash back in a category of your choosing from the following list: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings; earn 2% back on your grocery store and wholesale club purchases (3% and 2% earning is on the first $2,500 in combined quarterly spending in choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases, then 1%); earn an unlimited 1% back on all your other purchases.
Plus, if you're a Preferred Rewards client with Bank of America, you can earn a 25%-75% cash back bonus on each purchase depending upon your Preferred Rewards tier. Read our full Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card review.
Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: 3%
BEST FLAT-RATE CASH-BACK REWARDS
Why We Like It: Rewards credit cards can certainly be great thanks to all of the high perks that they offer, but one of their biggest downfalls is that they sometimes come with a hefty fee. While you can sometimes find a rewards credit card that offers a free introductory offer, most often, after your first year of card membership is up, you'll be responsible for paying an annual fee each year your account is open. This card, however, is a no-annual-fee option not just for your first year as a cardholder, but every year after that as well. Plus, cardholders can earn what amounts to an unlimited 2 percent cash back on every purchase made – 1 percent when you make a purchase, and then an additional 1 percent when you pay for those purchases in full or over time. Since this credit card is free to hold, as long as you're paying off your balance each month, you'll essentially be getting paid to use it, making this a great everyday go-to card. (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser)
The Bonus: 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (then, 15.49% – 25.49% (Variable))
The Rewards: Earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases made, plus another 1 percent when you pay for your purchases (just make sure you're paying at least the minimum balance due each month, on time). That means you'll essentially earn 2 percent cash back on every purchase. Read our full review of the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer.
Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: 3%
BEST ROTATING CATEGORIES CASH-BACK REWARDS
Why We Like It: Rotating categories cash-back rewards cards generally offer the highest rewards earning out there; the catch is that your spending has to align with the bonus category and those categories generally aren't announced until right before the quarter starts. Not so with this card; Discover announced the full 2019 bonus calendar at the start of the year, so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
The Bonus: Discover will MATCH all the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardholder. That could mean some substantial cash-back rewards during that first year.
The Rewards: Earn 5% back on the first $1,500 you spend in categories that rotate each quarter (you must enroll quarterly to earn at the 5% level). Earn 1% back on all your other purchases and in the bonus categories once that spending cap has been met. Check out all the bonus categories in our full Discover it® Cash Back review.
Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Why We Like It: You already spend money every week at the supermarket, and if you have a car, chances are you're spending at the gas pump on a weekly basis as well. Why not get cash back for the purchases you have to make? (American Express is a CardRatings advertiser)
The Bonus: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 with your card in your first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
The Rewards: Earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent after that and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. That's at least $120 cash back just on supermarket purchases alone (based on $6,000 in purchases a year). Also, you'll earn 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit like parking, tolls, bus fares, rideshares and more, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Terms apply. Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.
Annual Fee: $95.
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.
FOR DINING OUT
Why We Like It: Dining out is already fun on its own, but it's a whole lot more exciting when you know you're earning cash back while doing so! This card earns cardholders generous unlimited cash back on all dining out and entertainment purchases, making a night out on the town so much more fun. What's more, if your idea of a good time involves cooking up some new dish at home, you'll be pleased to know that you also earn bonus rewards on your grocery store purchases. And, if your love of food needs a global escape, you'll appreciate that this card won't charge you foreign transaction fees when you use it while abroad.
The Bonus: Earn $300 cash back once you spend $3,000 on purchases within your first three months of account membership.
The Rewards: Earn an unlimited 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, 2 percent at grocery stores and 1 percent on all your other purchases. Read our full Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card review.
Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
If the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card sounds like a good fit for your lifestyle but you want to avoid paying an annual fee, Capital One also offers the no-annual-fee Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This version still offers solid rewards of unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, 2 percent back on grocery store purchases and 1 percent on everything else. The new card member offer is a bit lower at $150 cash back after you spend $500 within three months.
FOR GAS REWARDS
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
Why We Like It: If you're constantly on the road, thanks to the high price of gas you're probably spending a fortune every year at the pump. With this card you could help to offset this cost with a whopping five points earned on every $1 you spend on gas, as well as three points for your supermarket purchases and one point on everything else. Penfed rewards can then be redeemed for gift cards, travel, and shopping purchases, making the high cost of gas a little less painful.
The Bonus: Earn a $100 statement credit once you spend $1,500 with your card in your 90 days of account membership.
The Rewards: Earn five points for gas purchases at the pump, three points for supermarket purchases and one point per $1 spent for all other purchases. New cardholders will also enjoy 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months (then, 11.74% to 17.99% Variable). If you take advantage of this balance transfer, you will immediately be charged interest on all purchases made with your credit card unless you pay the entire account balance, including balance transfers, in full each month by the payment due date. Read our full review of the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card.
Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
FOR AIRLINE REWARDS
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
Why We Like It: As with any airline-branded card, this card is only as good for you as your level of loyalty to the brand. However, this card does go a step further in that you earn bonus rewards for a number of your everyday purchases, so earning rewards can happen more quickly than with many branded credit cards.
The Bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months of card membership.
The Rewards: Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Also earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card. It gets better: There are no Foreign Transaction Fees and your first checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation. Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights* and receive 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights. Read our full Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® review.
Annual Fee: $99, waived for first 12 months*
Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
FOR HOTEL REWARDS
Why We Like It: Twelve points per $1 spent is an almost unheard of earning rate with rewards credit cards, but that's exactly what you'll get with this card when you use is to book a hotel stay at any participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio. What's more, cardholders will also receive a generous rewards for purchases at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations as well as on all other purchases. Also, this card generously offers cardholders 10 complimentary airport lounge access visits per year after a one-time signup with Priority Pass™ Select – that's a truly unique perk for a card with this low of an annual fee. Terms apply.
The Bonus: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases on the card within the first three months of card membership. Additionally, cardholders will earn a free weekend night reward stay after you spend $15,000 on your card in a calendar year and if you spend $40,000 on your card in a calendar year you'll be upgraded to Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year. Terms apply.
The Rewards: Earn 12 Hilton Honors bonus points per $1 on hotel bookings made at participating Hilton Portfolio hotels or resorts; six points on each $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and three points on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
Hilton Honors bonus points can be redeemed for almost anything, from hotel stays, to shopping, to dining out, but just to put things into perspective and give you an idea of how far your points can get you, the number of points required for a rewards stay starts as low as 5,000 points a night. The number of points required to book a free night's stay varies by hotel, room, booking and stay date, but if planned right, you can get a lot of free nights just from the welcome offer alone. Terms apply. Read our full Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card review.
Annual Fee: $95.
Foreign Transaction Fees: None.
BEST SMALL BUSINESS REWARDS CARDS
Why We Like It: Because there is no annual fee, this card practically pays people for using it, instead of the other way around (as long as you pay off your balance on time). We like the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card because it's simple. All you have to do is use it for what you'd regularly be paying for anyway, make sure to pay off your monthly balance on time, and then enjoy a little extra cash flow for things like bills or maybe something a little more exciting like employee appreciation gifts or company parties.
The Bonus: Earn a $500 cash back bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. New cardholders will also enjoy a introductory 0 percent APR on purchases for 12 months (then, 14.74% - 20.74% Variable).
The Rewards: Earn 5 percent cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on Internet, cable, and phone services annually; 2 percent back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year; and an unlimited 1 back on everything else. Read our full review of the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card.
Annual Fee: $0
Foreign Transaction Fees: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Sure, the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card is a good card in its own right, but it shines when paired with another member (or two!) of the Ink family. For instance, the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card offers an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase. That means you could use the Unlimited card for all the purchases that don't earn 5 percent or 2 percent back with the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card. Furthermore, you could pair one or both of these cards with the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card (discussed below) to up your earning even more and stretch your rewards a bit further upon redemption.
Why We Like It: With the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, users will have the opportunity to rack up a bunch of rewards under a high spending cap. Because the spending cap is so high, this card could work well for medium sized businesses. Additionally, redeeming your points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program means they will be worth 25 percent more; that makes the welcome offer worth as much as $1,000 in travel.
The Bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. That's $1,000 towards travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, but those points are also transferable to a number of hotel and airline loyalty programs, which means you might be able to make them go even further.
The Rewards: Earn three points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases in travel; shipping; Internet, cable and phone services; and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Earn one point per $1 on all other purchases.
Say you spend $150,000 each year on travel; shipping and advertising purchases; and Internet, cable, and phone services – that's 450,000 rewards points alone right there. Add those accumulated points to the 80,000 bonus points that are offered to new cardholders who spend at least $5,000 with the card within the first three months of account membership, and your points the first year alone are worth more $6,600 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. When you look at things that way, the modest annual fee almost seems like nothing. Read our full review of the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card.
Annual Fee: $95
Foreign Transaction Fees: $0
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE BEST REWARDS CARD?
With so many great rewards credit cards available, why are you still using a basic card with no benefits? It's time to find a card that pays you for your business.
But choosing the right one can be an overwhelming process if you're new to the world of rewards cards. You have your choice of points, miles or cash back as well as incentives, signup/welcome offers and fine print to navigate. So let's answer the following question: What are the steps to choosing the best rewards credit card?
UNDERSTAND THE REWARD CREDIT CARD OPTIONS YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE FROMTo start your search, take a look at the cards the experts cite as being the best of the best. However, remember credit card terms can change at any time so be sure to check the terms right before you decide to apply. The CardRatings team regularly updates our "best of" lists, including this Best Rewards Credit Card article, so this is a great place to start. Or, if you already have an idea of the type of rewards card you want, take a look at one of our more specialized "best of" lists, such as Best cash back credit cards, Best airline rewards credit cards, Best travel rewards credit cards or Best gas rewards credit cards.
UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN FINANCES, LIFESTYLE AND CREDIT NEEDS
It is one thing to know what others think are the best credit cards, it is another to find a card that's right for you. Here's are some tips to help you narrow down the list.
- Know your financial situation: Before applying for any card, you need to have a clear idea of where you stand financially. What is your credit score? How many cards have you applied for in the past year and from which issuers? Are you employed? Are you anticipating applying for a car loan or mortgage in the immediate future? Knowing the answers to these basic questions will help you apply for a card for which you stand a good chance of being approved. You don't want to apply for a bunch of cards for which your current financial situation will likely disqualify you.
- Pick your rewards: Let's start with the fun part: how do you want to be rewarded? Do want cash – typically awarded as a statement credit of deposit into a qualifying account – or do you plan to travel and want to earn miles toward free flights? Other cards may reward you with points that can be redeemed for hotel visits, gift cards or merchandise.
- Determine how the rewards are calculated: Next, figure out how you are going to rack up those points, miles or cash. Do you get a flat amount per $1 spent or are there bonuses for certain types of purchases or merchants. Are those bonuses fixed or do they change every month or quarter? Changing categories and tiered rewards are particularly common among cash-back rewards cards.
- Look for signup/welcome bonuses and ongoing perks: Many, if not most, rewards cards offer some kind of signup/welcome bonus to new cardholders when the spend a certain amount of money on the card within a specific time frame. You'll want to make sure you can meet that spending threshold to earn the bonus. Additionally, if you are in need of an intro 0% APR period for purchases and/or balance transfers, make sure you understand those terms before applying. Lastly, take a look at the extra features and perks available to cardholders beyond the rewards earning. This could be anything from trip cancellation insurance to extended warranties on your purchases to free checked baggage for your flights and more.
- Consider the fees: If you pay off your balance in full each month, this probably won't be as big a consideration for you; however, if you carry a balance, you need to know the interest rate so you can anticipate your payments. Furthermore, you'll want to consider whether you'll reap enough rewards to offset an annual fee and whether a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees it something you're looking for.
- Read the fine print: Some cards make you jump through hoops, and you don't want these little details to catch you by surprise. Check if your rewards are capped or if there are limitations on redemption. Also find out if you need to spend a certain amount to get promised bonuses.
A rewards credit card can be a great way to put some extra money in your pocket, but you want to be sure you aren't leaving money or perks on the table by choosing the wrong card. More importantly, you want to be sure you don't do damage to your credit score by applying for, and being turned down by, the wrong card.
BEST PRACTICES AND REWARD REDEMPTION TIPS
Now that you know a bit more about the best rewards credit cards of 2019 and how to choose the right one for you, we'll leave you with a few of our best spending practice and reward redemption tips to help you make the most out of your rewards credit card:
Consider carrying more than one card. Depending on your spending habits, it might make good sense for you to utilize more than one credit card so you can maximize the rewards. Say you spend a lot on gas each year, for example, but you also fly and eat out a lot. To make the most of your rewards, it might be practical for you to have a great gas rewards card in your wallet as well as a top rewards card for dining out.
Keep your card utilization low. Just because you have a high spending limit doesn't mean you should use it all, even if doing so means you could accumulate some extra rewards. Keeping your credit card utilization low can help your credit score, and also keeps space available in case you have a large emergency purchase that you need to put on your card.
Use your rewards. This one probably seems like a no-brainer, but far too often people accumulate rewards and forget to use them. Usually, your rewards will stay in your account as long as your account is active, but it's good to have a timeline and goals in mind for when and how you'll use your rewards. Either work toward a specific goal, such as accumulating enough points to pay for a plane ticket to Europe, or redeem your rewards as they become available. Most often with cash-back credit cards taking the cash as soon as it's available, whether in the form of a statement credit or a check or deposit, is a fine idea. Keep in mind there often a minimum redemption value. What happens to your rewards when and if you close your account and knowing whether your card has a minimum redemption amount (most cash back cards do) are two important things you'll want to find out before applying for a new credit card.
Pay your monthly balance on time. We've said it before, and we will say it again: Pay your monthly balance on time! (and in full whenever possible) Rewards cards can be great for all of the enticing perks that they offer, but if you don't pay your bill on time, late fees can quickly cancel out any points that you've accumulated. If you carry a balance, that accumulating interest will absolutely eat into any rewards you earn.
For rates and fees of American Express cards mentioned in this post, please see the following links: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (See Rates and Fees)