The Best Rewards Cards of 2019

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Who doesn’t love earning rewards for the spending they do every day? We evaluated dozens of rewards credit cards to help you find the ones that offer the best value and perks for your spending style. For this list, we’ve stayed away from narrowly focused co-branded airline, hotel, and retail cards cards, and instead concentrated on general travel and cash-back cards.

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our Rating Among Rewards Cards
4.7
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.24% - 26.24% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee
Rewards Earning Rate 1.5 % Cash Back on every purchase, every day.
Intro Purchase APR 0%
Intro Purchase APR Length (number of months) 15
Foreign transaction fee 0%

Why We Chose This Card

Simplicity is the true value of this card, which earns the same 1.5% flat rate of cash back on all purchases, and has easy redemption options. That’s why it also outscored competitors for Best Flat-Rate Cash-Back Card and Best No-Annual-Fee Rewards Card. We also love the lengthy no-interest introductory period for purchases, and the sign-up bonus (just a $500 spend is required in the first three months you have the card). All this without an annual or foreign transaction fee. Easy peasy.

Best for Simple Travel Rewards

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Our Rating Among Rewards Cards
4.7
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.24% - 24.24% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase.
Intro Purchase APR 0%
Intro Purchase APR Length (number of months) 12

Why We Chose This Card

Solid travel rewards without the number-crunching or annual fee is why we find this card so appealing. You earn the same number of rewards points no matter what type of spending you do, but you can access benefits usually reserved for higher-end travel cards, like transferring to airline partners.

Best for Boosting Travel Rewards on Different Purchases

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Our Rating Among Rewards Cards
4.6
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 18.99% - 25.99% variable
Annual Fee $450
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3X points on dining at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee 0%

Why We Chose This Card

This card offers a tiered reward structure, letting you earn more points for travel and dining than other purchases, so it’s great for amping up your earnings if you spend a lot on those expenses. The hefty annual fee is negligible for big travel spenders who can maximize the numerous benefits, starting with the 50,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening the card (valued at $750 when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal). And, if you’re willing to do some homework, you can stretch your rewards even further by transferring points to travel partners.

Best Sign-Up Bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our Rating Among Rewards Cards
4.6
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
Foreign transaction fee 0%

Why We Chose This Card

The current sign-up bonus is 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months you have the card. That's worth the same value as the higher-fee Sapphire Reserve card—$750 when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. And, The Balance researchers found you may boost that value to $940 by transferring points to United Airlines.

Best for a Wide Variety of Cash-Back Rewards

Chase Freedom®

Our Rating Among Rewards Cards
4.0
Chase Freedom®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.99% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee No Annual Fee
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro Purchase APR 0%
Intro Purchase APR Length (number of months) 15
Foreign transaction fee 3%

Why We Chose This Card

Earning the nice sign-up bonus and then maxing out the 5% bonus-earning categories that rotate each quarter will squeeze the most value from this card. As the name implies, you also have the freedom to redeem your rewards in multiple ways, including travel, which is always a plus.

Find Your Credit Card Match

We believe the rate at which you earn rewards, as well as the overall cost of the card, are the most important factors to consider when choosing a rewards card, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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    Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
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What Are Rewards Credit Cards & How Do They Work? 

Rewards credit cards are designed to give you a gift in return for your loyalty to the card. The idea is simple: Use your rewards credit card to pay for purchases, accumulate points based on how much you spend, and then cash them in for travel, cash, merchandise, or other types of rewards.

What Are the Different Types of Rewards Credit Cards?

  • Cash-back cards
  • General travel rewards cards 
  • Airline cards
  • Hotel cards
  • Retail cards

How Cash-Back Rewards Work

Cash-back rewards are exactly what their name implies—cards that let you earn a mini rebate (“cash back”) on every dollar you spend. Generally, cards that earn more per dollar spent come with stricter qualification requirements, and some charge an annual fee. Every time you swipe to pay for an eligible purchase, you will earn back a small percentage of that amount, usually in the following ways:

Flat Rate

This means you earn the same percentage on all purchases—such as 2% cash back, which equals $2 for every $100 that you spend. 

Set Bonus-Earning Categories

With this kind of structure, you can earn extra on certain kinds of purchases. For example, you might get 3% back on groceries, 2% back at department stores, and 1% back on all other purchases. 

Some cards put limits on how much you can earn in these categories. For instance, you may only earn 3% back on groceries on the first $6,000 you spend every year. After that, you only earn 1% back.

Rotating Bonus-Earning Categories

Some cash-back cards have bonus categories that change each quarter. You might earn 5% cash back on travel purchases one quarter, then 5% at gas stations the next quarter, and 5% at grocery stores the next. You usually have to sign up to activate the 5% bonus earnings each quarter and you earn 1% cash back on all non-bonus spending.

How Travel Rewards Work

Travel rewards cards are for people wanting to redeem rewards for flights, hotel stays, and other travel-related benefits. Often, you’ll earn bonus points when booking travel with your card, in addition to earning at a lower rate for other purchases. As with cash-back cards, there are a couple of sub-categories within the travel rewards cards: 

General Travel

With these cards, you earn points (sometimes called miles) redeemable for free flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other types of travel expenses with different travel providers. 

Airline Cards

You earn extra points when you buy flights through the card’s co-branded airline, and you can then redeem those points for more free flights or upgrades on that airline or its partners. You also often get perks such as free checked bags, discounted access to the airline’s airport lounge, priority boarding, and more, which can make up for annual fees if you use them.

Although airline card rewards are more limited than general travel card rewards, you can often get the best value from frequent flyer miles if the program has flights that cost a lot in dollars but relatively less so in points. 

Hotel Cards

These cards are focused on earning extra points when you spend with a specific hotel chain that you can then redeem for free hotel rooms. You may also get elite status and perks such as travel insurance.

Important

Cash-back card points are generally worth 1 cent each. When you’re looking at travel rewards programs, you want your points to be worth at least that much, or you’d be better off with a cash-back card. 

Pros & Cons of Rewards Cards

Rewards cards are great, but only if you pay your balance in full each month. Otherwise, any rewards you earn will be eaten up by interest charges. If you know you’ll run a balance, you’re better off forgetting about rewards and using a low-interest credit card. 

Pros

  • Let you earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars in free travel or cash

  • Often offer a sign-up bonus

  • May come with perks like rental car insurance

Cons

  • May have an annual fee that's more than the value of the rewards

  • Tend to have higher interest rates than non-rewards cards

  • Can require work to keep up with complicated earnings or redemption schemes

  • May tempt you to spend more to earn rewards

How to Choose a Rewards Card

To determine which rewards credit card is best for you, focus on your spending habits and your redemption goals. See which of these descriptions match up best with you. 

  • Cash-back card: You don’t travel frequently and prefer cash rewards.
  • General travel rewards card: You want to earn rewards you can use for different airline, hotel, and car rental companies.
  • Airline card: You travel a few times a year, stick with one major airline or alliance, and want VIP treatment.
  • Hotel card: You travel frequently and like to stay with one specific hotel chain.  
  • Retail card: You regularly shop at the same retailer and want to receive rewards for your loyalty.

How to Accumulate Rewards Faster

Maximize your rewards by accumulating as many points as possible while staying within your budget. Don’t overspend just for points. In fact, carrying a balance month to month will quickly erase any benefit you earn.

Assuming that you’re paying your bill in full each month, here are a few strategies for earning the most rewards possible:

  • Earn the sign-up bonus: Many rewards cards offer a large bonus up-front if you spend a certain amount in the first three months of card opening. A cash-back card usually gives a statement credit; with travel rewards cards, you’ll get a lump sum of points. 
  • Consider pairing different kinds of rewards cards: If you have a card that earns 5% on groceries but only 1% on everything else, you may want to use a second 2% flat-rate card for all non-grocery purchases.
  • Pay recurring bills on your card: If you have to pay your cable and phone bill anyway, why not get points or cash back? The same goes for car insurance, subscriptions, and other regular expenses. Just be sure to check that you won’t be charged a fee for paying with a credit card.
  • Boost points with additional cardholders: Add partners or grown children as authorized users, so that multiple people will be earning points on the same account. But be mindful that the primary account holder is responsible for all charges, so only add authorized users that you completely trust.

Tip

Try timing the opening of a new rewards card with when you need to make a large purchase so that it’s easier to meet the minimum spend for your sign-up bonus.

How to Redeem Rewards

Redeeming rewards is simplest with cash-back cards, but may get more complicated with airline programs.  

For cash-back cards, you might get automatic statement credits, or an ability to redeem for cash or gift cards whenever you want, or when you reach specific thresholds (such as every $25 earned). Other redemption options might include requesting a paper check, giving money to a charity, or paying with points at Amazon.com. 

With general travel cards, some allow you to redeem points by buying your travel through their booking portal. Others let you book travel however you want and then use points for a statement credit on those charges.

You might also have the option of transferring points to travel partner programs, which can be the most lucrative option. For instance, The Balance values American Airlines points at nearly 3 cents each. That’s three times as much as you get from cash-back cards.

Note

Points don’t always transfer 1:1 between programs. For example, you may have to transfer 20,000 credit card points to get only 10,000 airline miles. Look for a card’s transfer partners and transfer ratios to get the best value.

With hotel and airline cards, you usually can book your free hotel room or free flight just like you normally would, but look for a box to check that says “Pay with points” or something similar. Depending on the airline and your travel needs, you can score great deals on free flights. But you can also at times be frustrated by a lack of available award flights. 

Can I Get a Rewards Card With Bad Credit?

Yes, even if you don’t have stellar credit, there are some entry-level cards offering rewards. Naturally, the higher-earning cards with the best sign-up bonuses and benefits are for consumers who have a strong credit history. But that’s something you can work toward as you improve your credit.

Methodology

At The Balance, it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.

Our reviews are always impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We reviewed more than 60 rewards credit cards to find the very best products in the category, and five cards made cut for this list. We do not consider co-branded airline or hotel credit cards for this list, because where you live and where you travel significantly affect the usefulness of brand-specific travel cards. For the same reason, we exclude retail rewards cards, as well.

What We Score

Cards with valuable rewards, high rewards-earning rates, big sign-up bonuses, flexible rewards programs, and exceptional benefits receive better scores. For more information about how The Balance evaluates credit cards, see our full credit card review methodology