Guide to credit card rewards: Points, miles, vs. cash back

Written by
Erica Sandberg
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Ready to upgrade from a vanilla card that doesn’t offer any rewards to an account that does? Or maybe you have one type of rewards card already and would like to explore what else is out there. Wonderful. You have choices. Some cards offer rewards in the form of points, others miles, and still others in cash. Which rewards program is right for you depends on your lifestyle. Let’s break down how these rewards systems differ.

Credit cards that offer points

Many credit cards offer rewards in the form of points. You might get a large amount of them when you open the card as an introductory (or welcome) bonus. After that, you will earn even more points when you charge with the card on eligible purchases. 

Depending on the credit card you get, it may have a fixed-point value, so you get a specific number of points no matter what you purchase. Others will have tiered systems which allow you to earn more points in some categories and less in others. 

When you have accumulated enough credit card points, you can redeem them in a variety of ways. Each credit card issuer has its own system, but you can usually trade them in for:

  • Travel. Some credit card issuers, such as Capital One, Chase, and American Express have their own travel portals, and through them you can book flights and make hotel arrangements.
  • Statement credits. Almost all credit card issuers will allow you to transform your points into cash that you can apply to your bill. It shows up as a statement credit and will reduce the amount that you owe. 
  • Shopping. Many large credit card issuers have shopping portals where you can make purchases directly from the website and use points as a form of payment. Alternatively, you may be able to use your points on partner retailer websites, such as
  • Gift cards. You can redeem your points for gift cards that you can shop with or give to other people.  

In general, credit card points are valued at 1 cent each, but the value can be lower when redeemed for shopping and higher when you use them for travel. Generally, the best value will be to redeem points towards travel, but you can consider points as flexible currency that you can use for all kinds of things.

Some popular credit cards that offer points include:



  • Earn 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.
  • Points are worth 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotel stays, card rentals, and cruises through Chase Travel.
  • New cardholders can earn 75,000 bonus points (worth over $900 when redeemed through Chase Travel) once spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening an account, and on an ongoing basis, a $50 hotel credit each year for a stay booked through the Chase Travel.



  • Earn unlimited two points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • New cardholders can earn 60,000 online bonus points – a $600 value – once spending at least $4,000 on the card in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Additionally, cardholders receive up to $100 in airline incidental credits annually plus TSA PreCheck/Global Entry statement credits of up to $100 every four years.
  • Finally, if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you can earn 25-75% more points on every purchase.



  • Earn 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases at supermarkets, then one point per dollar); 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on; and 1x point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
  • New cardholders can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points once spending $6,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months of opening an account.
  • Additional perks include: $10 total monthly statement credits when you use the card to pay for purchases at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly,, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations (enrollment required); monthly $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S, totaling up to $120 per year, when you add your Gold Card to your Uber account; and more.
  • This card has a AnnualFees annual fee.
  • American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

Credit cards that offer miles

Although some credit cards that have a point-based rewards system offer travel perks, cards that are co-branded with an airline, such as American, United, and Southwest, typically express the rewards as miles. There are also a few credit cards not associated with airlines which earn miles, too, such as the CardName and CardName.

You can accumulate miles the same way as you would points – with a possible introductory bonus and when you buy qualified things with the card – but also by traveling. These cards do not have the same super flexible rewards redemption as points, but they can make your travel experience significantly better when you stick with the brands associated with the card. Or with a card like the Venture, you can redeem your miles towards any travel purchase.

Generally, you can redeem the miles you have amassed for airfare on the credit issuer’s travel portal, but can also transfer your miles to that airline’s travel partners or book within your issuer’s travel portal. Depending on the card, you can also spend your miles on such travel related expenses as hotel accommodations. 

Although credit cards that offer miles don’t usually have the same flexibility as those that offer points, if you will be traveling a lot with a particular airline or its partners, you can come out ahead with perks. 

Mile-earning cards often come with:

  • Free entry into airport lounges and clubs
  • Seat upgrades
  • Elite airline status programs 
  • Priority boarding
  • Complimentary checked baggage
  • Valuable pack of travel-related credits such as for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, credits onboard, at the airport and at hotels 
  • Concierge services

As with points, miles are often valued at 1 cent to 1.5 cents each. 

Consider miles as currency to offset travel costs. 

Some popular credit cards that offer miles include:


  • This card offers 2x miles for every purchase made with the card, plus 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
  • Miles earned can be used to cover any travel purchase, or you can book travel through Capital One’s travel portal, or transfer your miles to eligible travel partners.
  • New cardholders are also eligible for a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles – worth $750 in travel – once you spend $4,000 within the first three months from opening an account.
  • Cardholders can enjoy Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application reimbursement.



  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Earn 2x points on Southwest purchases, local transit and commuting (including rideshare), and on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming purchases; and 1x point on everything else.
  • Additionally, cardholders earn a 3,000 anniversary bonus each year, and receive two Early Bird Check-ins each year.



  • Earn 2x AAdvantage® bonus miles for every dollar spent at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; and earn one Loyalty Point for every one eligible AAdvantage® bonus mile earned from purchases.
  • New cardholders can earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first three months.
  • 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.
  • Additionally, enjoy preferred boarding on American Airline flights, and your first checked bag for free on domestic American Airline itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation.
  • Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.



  • As a welcome bonus, new cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months.
  • With this card you’ll earn 2x miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide (plus delivery and takeout in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1x point on all other eligible purchases.
  • Additionally, earn a $200 Delta Flight Credit to use toward future travel after you spend $10,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year.
  • Cardholders also enjoy first checked bag for free on Delta flights.
  • This card charges a AnnualFees

Credit cards that offer cash

The other category of rewards cards offers cash back. As with points and miles cards, cash-back cards often come with introductory bonuses where you can qualify for a certain amount of money after meeting a minimum spend. 

You can then earn more cash as a percent of each qualified purchase you make. It might be a flat rate where you earn 1.5% on every charge, or a program where you earn higher rewards in certain spending categories. For example, you may earn 3% at supermarkets and 1% on other spending categories. Other cash back cards are customizable, allowing you to select the spending categories that have the highest earning potential. 

Depending on the card, you may only earn the highest amount up to a certain figure, such as 5% on dining out up to $50,000 for the year. 

There are different ways to claim the cash that you have earned. The most common are:

  • Request a transfer into your bank account
  • Have the money sent to you as a check
  • Use the cash as a statement credit to pay off or down a balance
  • Purchase gift cards
  • Buy products from e-commerce sites, like
  • Use it at e-commerce check-out, with PayPal

The money you earn with a cash-back card is straight currency.

Some popular credit cards that offer cash back include:



  • Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining; and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.



  • You’ll earn 1% back when you make your purchases and another 1% back when you pay your bill on time (at least the minimum balance due), for a possible total of 2% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24.
  • There’s no traditional bonus offered with this card, but it offers an introductory offer of 18 months of no interest on balance transfers (then RegAPR), which is definitely a valuable bonus if you need some extra time to pay off an existing balance. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.



  • Earn 3% cash back in your choice category among the following: gas/EVC, online shopping (including cable, streaming, internet and phone services), dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishing and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and earn an unlimited 1% back on all other purchases. Update your choice category for future purchases once each calendar month using the mobile banking app or online banking, or do nothing and it stays the same.
  • As a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client (membership and tiers are based on a three-month average balance across your eligible Bank of America accounts) you can earn 25%-75% more cash back on each purchase depending on your tier. 

Which card is best for you? 

The rewards card you get should match your lifestyle so it’s important to figure out what you most want out of the account.

Cash-back credit cards are great because you can use the money that you’ve earned for anything. Many do not charge an annual fee, because the issuer is not paying for expensive perks. They are also available for a wide range of credit scores, so you can usually start out with a card that has this type of rewards program. When deciding on the cash-back credit card for you, consider whether or not you want a flat-rate card or one where you will earn more in different categories. 

Cards that offer miles are most advantageous if you plan on doing extensive travel with a specific airline. Think carefully about your present as well as your future plans. Does it include flights with that airline or its partners, and if so, do you want all the perks associated with that account? Many have annual fees, though they are typically under a couple of hundred dollars. 

Cards that offer points as rewards combine the benefits of cash-back cards and cards that offer miles. You can use those points in many different ways, from statement credits to purchasing flights. Depending on the card, the annual fee can be zero or steep, such as $250 and higher. Those in the latter category can have extraordinary benefits that offset that fee, but you have to be sure that you will really take advantage of them in order to make the fee worth it.

The bottom line on rewards credit cards

As a cardholder, you will come out ahead with the account no matter how the rewards are expressed by keeping your balance to zero. If you maintain a revolving debt, interest will be applied. Those fees will erode or negate the rewards you have worked hard to earn. That said, it’s also important to choose a card that fits your lifestyle to make the most of any rewards earned.

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Erica Sandberg
Cardratings Contributor

Erica is a personal finance reporter and writer. Her passion is helping individuals, families and small business owners understand money and credit so they can achieve their goals. Erica has contributed to countless media outlets, hosted the television program “Making it in San Francisco” and...Read more

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The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

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