You’re going to use a credit card — to shop online, pay for plane or concert tickets or maybe even pay your monthly bills. So you might as well get rewarded for it. But with so many rewards credit cards available, it can be intimidating to try to decide on the right one for your spending habits and lifestyle. Fortunately, for its annual Best Credit Cards ranking, GOBankingRates has analyzed the options and rounded up the top choices that make up the Best Rewards Credit Cards.
Among the Best Credit Cards of 2019 are cards that offer points, cash back or miles in addition to a variety of perks and benefits. GOBankingRates extensively analyzed thousands of fees, rewards offerings, interest rates, spending requirements, bonus values and more to determine which cards would make the cut. To make it easier to choose the right option for yourself, check out GOBankingRates’ Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2019.
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
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The Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card pays cash back on everything, with bonus points in a category of your choosing.
Highlights: This rewards card pays 3% cash back on purchases made in your choice of category, whether it’s gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement and furnishings. You also get 2% cash back on grocery purchases and at wholesale clubs. And you get 1% cash back on everything else. With no annual fee and a promotional APR of 0%, this card allows the user to rack up points without penalty on the category of their choosing, as long as payments are made on time.
Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%
Annual Fee: $0
Sign-Up Bonus: $200 cash-back bonus if you make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days; 0% APR for the first 12 months
Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of the transaction amount
Cash Advance Fee: The greater of $10 or 3%-5% of the transaction amount, depending on the type of advance
The Fine Print: The bonus rewards (at the 2%-3% cash-back levels) are limited to the first $2,500 in purchases per quarter.
IHG is the parent company of Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, InterContinental and other hotel and resort properties. If you stay at these hotels frequently, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card could be worthwhile to have.
Highlights: If you are a frequent guest at an IHG hotel or resort, you can really rack up the points by getting this card and joining the IHG Rewards Club. You can earn up to 25 points per dollar spent at an IHG property if you are an IHG Rewards Club member. You also get a free night every year on your card’s anniversary.
Penalty APR: None
Annual Fee: $89
Sign-up Bonus: 80,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months after account opening
Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Cash Advance Fee: The greater of $10 or 5% of the advance amount
The Fine Print: There’s no introductory APR and the annual fee is high; you can redeem your points for hotel stays and for gift cards, but not for cash.
The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express pays a hefty bonus on groceries and gas. You can use your cash back as a statement credit, or for gift cards or merchandise.
Highlights: This is a good card to use if you’re going to charge everyday purchases. You can earn up to 6% cash back on some purchases — for example, you get 6% cash back on the first $6,000 you charge at supermarkets each year, and 6% back on some streaming subscriptions. You get 3% back on gas and transit, and 1% back on everything else.
Penalty APR: 29.99%
Annual Fee: $95
Sign-Up Bonus: Earn a $300 statement credit when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months; 0% APR for the first 12 months
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Cash Advance Fee: The greater of $5 or 3% of the amount of the advance
The Fine Print: It takes a lot of cash back to make up for the $95 annual fee.
The Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Credit Card has the lowest regular APR of any card on this list. You must be a member of Navy Federal Credit Union to apply, which means you need to be a member of the armed forces, with the Department of Defense, a veteran or a family member of one of these.
Highlights: Earn bonus points on everyday purchases, like groceries and gas. The low APR will save you money every month if you carry a balance, and there’s no annual fee. And, there are no limits on rewards. You earn triple points on groceries and gas, no matter how much you spend.
Penalty APR: 18%
Annual Fee: $0
Sign-Up Bonus: 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening; 1.99% APR for the first six months
Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Cash Advance Fee: None
The Fine Print: The introductory APR is low at 1.99%, but it’s not zero. And the card isn’t available to everyone.
The Discover it Cash Back Credit Card offers big cash-back bonuses in rotating categories and doubles the cash back you earn in your first year.
Highlights: You can earn up to 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter: gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and retailers such as Amazon.
Penalty APR: None
Annual Fee: $0
Sign-Up Bonus: Double cash back at the end of the first year; 0% APR for the first 14 months
Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Cash Advance Fee: The greater of $10 or 5% of the advance amount
The Fine Print: You have to opt in to the bonus cash back categories each quarter in order to get the additional cash back, and there’s a maximum each quarter — it’s a lot to keep track of.
|Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2019|
|Credit Card||Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Rewards Rates|
|Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card||0%||16.24%-26.24%||$0|
|IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||N/A||18.24%-25.24%||$89|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||0%||15.24%-26.24%||$95|
|Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Credit Card||1.99%||11.9%-18%||$0|
|Discover it Cash Back Credit Card||0%||14.24%-25.24%||$0|
As credit card rewards become more popular, the card issuers continually try to improve their offerings to gain more customers. As a result, some rewards have become a bit complicated. Here’s an overview of how credit card rewards work.
Rewards are typically earned as a percentage of purchases. If you have a card that offers 1% cash back and you charge something on your credit card that costs $100, you earn $1 in cash back.
Some cards will pay higher amounts on certain types of purchases. For example, if your credit card pays 2% on gas and 3% on groceries, you’ll get $2 cash back on your $100 gas purchase, and $3 back once you’ve bought $100 worth of groceries.
Certain card issuers will change the categories of purchases on which they give bonus points throughout the year. So, you could earn 3% on groceries from January through March, but then you earn 3% on gas from April through June. In some cases, you need to go to the card issuer’s website and opt in to get the increased rewards. And they might limit the amount of bonus rewards you can get; for example, the limit could be the first $2,500 of purchases in that category per quarter.
Rewards fall into three basic categories: cash back, points and miles. When you earn cash back, you’ll see an amount on your statement that shows the amount of cash back you have earned but haven’t redeemed. You can request that it be applied to your account as a credit, reducing your balance, or you can ask the card issuer to send you a check. When you earn points, you can redeem them for cash or other things, like gift cards, merchandise or travel. When you earn miles, which is common with airline or travel cards, you might be able to redeem them for cash or you may have to use them for future travel.
If you’ve been charging up a storm and have a big cache of rewards, it’s probably time to redeem them. Go to your card issuer’s website and they should have instructions on how to redeem your rewards. You should be able to select the option you want — statement credit, check, gift card, travel, etc. — and the number of points you want to redeem. Most redemptions will post on the next statement.
Maximize Your Rewards
Cash back and other rewards may seem a bit like spare change when you first start using them, but, like that spare change, they can add up. To make the most of your rewards, the first thing you want to do is to make sure you have the right rewards credit card. If you use your credit card to charge groceries, gas and the kids’ swim lessons, don’t get a travel card. In other words, get the card that gives rewards for the types of things you charge.
Next, stay on top of your rewards. If your card requires you to opt in to rewards each quarter, put a note in your calendar to go to the website every three months to opt in. And while you don’t have to log every purchase you make, keep an eye on your rewards balance to make sure you’re getting all the rewards you earn.
Redeem your rewards the right way. Cash is usually king — merchandise rewards may have you spending more than you would elsewhere for the same item.
Credit Card Churning Guide: How To Maximize Rewards
Different rewards can have different values, but the math generally works like this: You earn rewards at the rate of 1% to 5% on purchases. So, if you buy a $500 plane ticket on a card that gives 2% cash back on travel, you get $10 cash back.
Some cards give points, and they’ll say you’ll get, for example, two points per dollar spent on travel. So, that plane ticket will earn you 1,000 points. When you go to redeem your points for cash, you get $1 for every 100 points. So those 1,000 points are worth $10.
Some cards, particularly hotel or airline cards, might use a different formula. So before you decide which card you’re going to apply for, understand the value of the points you’ll be earning.
Calculating the Value of a Rewards Card
When you’re considering which card to apply for, you should calculate the value of the rewards offered. Here’s how to figure out the value of rewards from your credit card:
- Determine the number of points you earn per dollar. Some cards offer different amounts for different categories.
- Estimate the amount you will purchase on the card in a year, breaking it down by category if the points vary.
- Add in any bonus points offered.
- Divide the number of points by the redemption factor. This is usually 100, but check the fine print on the website to be sure.
Qualifying for a Rewards Card
You qualify for a rewards card in the same way you qualify for any other credit card — by having a good credit score and adequate income. If your credit is excellent, with a score between 781 and 850, you’ll likely qualify for any rewards card. If it’s good, between 661-780, you should qualify for most cards. A credit score of fair, or 601-660, means you should qualify for some cards, but you may not get the best rate and terms. If your score is poor, or 500-600, some cards will approve you, but at a higher interest rate or lower credit line. If your score is very poor, meaning below 500, you’re unlikely to be approved.
Perks of Rewards Cards
“You can think of [a rewards card] as a rebate on your spending,” said Jason Steele, a credit card and travel expert. “It could be as little as 1% of the value of your spending or as high as several percent, or even more.”
In addition to the points and rewards, you can get other perks with a rewards card. Here are some additional benefits that some rewards credit cards offer:
- Travel perks, such as travel insurance, when you use your card to purchase your tickets
- Purchase insurance, including protection for big-ticket items like TVs and electronics
- Security features, such as fraud alerts
- Account enhancements, such as overdraft protection, mobile and online account management
Some rewards cards offer fewer fees, such as no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees if you’re traveling overseas.
If you’re just starting out, a rewards card can help you build your credit. You might have to start with a low credit line, but if you pay your bill promptly and don’t overspend, you may be eligible for credit line increases along the way.
Drawbacks to Rewards Cards
Rewards credit cards have become so commonplace, and there are so many different features, that you have to look carefully to determine if the card you’re considering has drawbacks. Some things to look out for include:
- Higher interest rates than cards that don’t offer rewards. “So if you’re the kind of person who carries a balance on your cards, either sometimes or all the time, you’d be better off with a non-rewards card that offers a lower interest rate than a rewards card,” said Steele. “A non-rewards card will generally have no annual fee, whereas a premium rewards card will have an annual fee.”
- Rewards that you have to keep track of and opt in to receive. For example, some rewards cards have rotating categories that can offer very large bonuses. But the “disadvantage is that you have to remember to activate that bonus category,” said Steele.
- A higher credit score required to qualify. “There are some rewards cards that are available to people with good or even kind of fair credit,” said Steele. “Generally speaking, though, you should expect less competitive rewards when you have a lower credit score.”
Perhaps the biggest drawback to a rewards card is the tendency to purchase things you don’t need in order to get the reward. Rewards are great, but they represent a small fraction of the purchase price of an item and should never be the reason you buy something.
You can find a rewards card for just about anything: travel, business, retail, gas — the list goes on and on. And they all have their own perks. Here are some examples of the various rewards cards you can find:
- Disney: The Disney Rewards Visa card offers a 0% promotional APR on select Disney vacation packages for the first six months you have the card.
- Uber: The Uber Visa card offers 4% cash back on dining, including UberEATS.
- Sports: NHL Discover it gives you a 10% discount on NHL gear and on an NHL.TV subscription.
- Restaurants: SavorOne from Capital One gives you unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment.
- Hotels: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card gives you 14 Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar on purchases at Hilton hotels and resorts and seven points per dollar on directly booked flights.
- Gas: Sunoco Rewards gives you 5 cents off every gallon of Sunoco gas.
- Retail: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card gives you 5% back on all purchases at Amazon.com and Whole Foods.
- Luxury: Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you an annual travel credit, triple points on travel and dining, and a whole lot of street cred.
- Cash Back: Citi Double Cash Back gives you cash back twice: 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay for that purchase.
- Business: Spark Cash from Capital One gives you 2% cash back on everything.
- Credit Builder: Capital One Platinum Credit Card helps you build credit by starting you off with a low credit line and increasing it after you make five on-time payments.
The number of rewards cards can be overwhelming, and that makes it difficult to choose the right card for you. Here are some things to ask yourself to help narrow down your rewards card selection:
- What will you purchase with the card? If it’s travel or online shopping, look for a card that features extra rewards in those categories. If it’s everyday purchases, like groceries or gas, find a card that gives extra rewards for those.
- Will you pay in full every month or carry a balance? If you will carry a balance, even sometimes, look for a card with a low interest rate. If not, look for a card with no annual fee.
- Will you transfer a balance from another card? If so, find a card with an introductory balance transfer rate and low or no fee.
- How will you use your rewards? If you want cash back, look for cards that specialize in that. If you travel frequently, a travel card might provide more lucrative rewards.
Once you’ve determined what’s important to you in a rewards credit card, you need to compare the various features of rewards cards.
Take the time to compare the rewards credit cards you’re interested in, and be on the lookout for any new offerings on the market.
“If you don’t have the latest credit card and you’re not getting all of the features and benefits that you need, you’re really not doing as well as you can,” said Steele. “When it comes to rewards, you could be leaving money on the table. In terms of interest rates and fees, you don’t want to pay more than you need to.”
When comparing cards, consider these factors:
- APR: Look at the introductory and regular interest rate, especially if you will carry a balance.
- Fees: Look at annual fees, foreign transaction fees and fees for cash advances and balance transfers.
- Sign-Up Bonus: Consider how many points you’ll get for signing up and how much those points are worth.
- Rewards, Cash-Back and Points: Compare how points are earned and how they are redeemed. Calculate what you would earn on a given transaction with each card you’re considering.
- Spending Categories: Make sure these align with your spending habits.
- Additional Benefits and Perks: Compare the ones you will actually use.
Remember that credit card market is a “really, really vibrant market that changes frequently,” said Steele. “And by comparing the best cards out there, you can find the deal that’s right for you.”
Here are answers to a few commonly asked questions about rewards cards.
What credit score do I need to get a rewards credit card?
To qualify for a rewards card with the best interest rate, lowest fees and best rewards, you’ll need a score of “Excellent,” which is between 781-850. If your score is “Good,” or 661-780, you’ll qualify for most cards. If your score is “Fair,” or 601-660, you may not get the best available rate but you will probably be approved. If your credit score is “Poor,” or 500-600, you may be approved, but may pay a higher interest rate or receive a lower credit line. If your score is “Very Poor,” 300-499, it’s unlikely you would be approved.
Which rewards card is the easiest to get approved for?
Some rewards cards are easier to qualify for than others. The Capital One Quicksilver Card and Capital One Platinum Card are promoted as being good choices for those with “Average” credit, and both will increase your credit line after five on-time payments.
Can you earn cash back with a rewards credit card?
Most rewards cards offer cash back as an option. The few that don’t include hotel cards, like the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, which only lets you redeem your points for stays at Hilton properties.
Do rewards, points and cash back expire with a rewards credit card?
In most cases, rewards do not expire. Points on cards from banks like Capital One, Chase and Discover never expire as long as your account is open and in good standing. Points on some travel cards may expire. For example, points on the IHG Rewards Card expire after 12 months of no account activity.
What happens to my rewards if I close my account?
If you close your account, you’ll lose your points, so use them up before you close the account.
Are there any rewards cards with no annual fee?
Yes; Bank of America Cash Rewards, Navy Federal More Rewards, Discover it Cash Back and many other cards all have no annual fee.
Can I transfer my rewards to a friend or family member?
Most rewards cards will allow you to transfer your rewards points. Just go to the card website and look for the rewards section.
Will I lose my rewards if I miss a credit card payment?
No, but you cannot redeem your rewards if your account is not in good standing. If you miss a payment, your standing will not be good until you pay the minimum you owe.
Can I earn rewards by transferring my balance?
No, rewards cards don’t give rewards on balance transfers.
Can I earn rewards by adding an authorized user to my card?
Yes. Every purchase, whether it’s made by you or another authorized user, earns rewards.
Can I use rewards to pay off my credit card?
Yes. You can use your rewards as a statement credit. You will still need to make your minimum payment if you have a balance.
Learn More About the Best Credit Cards of 2019
Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed dozens of rewards cards — including cash-back, travel and store credit cards — and identified the best rewards credit cards by analyzing the following factors: (1) annual fees; (2) regular APR for purchases; (3) promotional APR for purchases; (4) sign-up bonuses; (5) rewards and features. All fees and rates are subject to change at the credit card issuers’ discretion. Some bonus offers might no longer be available on the credit card issuers’ websites, depending on how you access the web page. All data was sourced from each financial institution’s website or promotional material and are accurate as of June 12, 2019. Please verify terms and conditions — especially sign-up bonuses and other bonus offers — before opening an account.
Editorial Disclosure: GOBankingRates is a personal finance and consumer interest rate website owned by ConsumerTrack, Inc., an online marketing company serving top-tier banks, credit unions, and other financial services organizations. Some companies mentioned in this article might be clients of ConsumerTrack, Inc., which serves more than 100 national, local and online financial institutions. Rankings and roundups are completely objective, and no institution, client or otherwise, paid for inclusion or specific placement. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of GOBankingRates alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the companies included in the article. All fees and rates are subject to change at the issuers’ discretion. Some interest rates might be short-term or promotional offers only, and it is possible additional terms and conditions must be met in order to obtain the interest rates listed. Rates and availability might vary by region. Verify terms and conditions before opening an account.
GOBankingRates bases its assessment of “best” and “top” products on the above-stated parameters to create a baseline for comparison. This assessment is an approximation of “best” and “top” designed to help consumers find products that might be appropriate for them. There could be other options available as well. Consumers should consider various options appropriate for their personal circumstances.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.