A rewards credit card can be an excellent financial tool to earn rewards on your expenses. Whether you’re interested in cash back or travel rewards, either product can earn you valuable rewards.
The Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2021
The world of rewards credit cards can be daunting, confusing and overwhelming for some. To make the decision easier, we narrowed it all down to the information you need to know, along with the top rewards credit cards you should know about.
These cards all have the potential to earn you valuable rewards for spending on them. That doesn’t take into account the excellent benefits many of them come with, including airport lounge access, concierge service, complimentary hotel loyalty status and more.
So regardless of what type of rewards you want to earn, there are plenty of options to choose from.
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- I’m looking to find and compare the best cash back or travel credit cards.
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MoneyGeek Quick Tip: You will need at least a “good” credit score for most rewards credit cards, which is considered above a 670. And when rewards credit cards are mentioned, that is typically referring to three different types of credit cards:
MoneyGeek’s Take: Rewards Cards You Can't Go Wrong With This Year
To determine which rewards credit cards are the best, we analyzed 94 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. that offer rewards. We compared each card against a long list of criteria, including the value of the rewards given, welcome bonus, APR, foreign transaction fees and customer reviews. We also looked into the perks associated with each card and the ease of redeeming the rewards earned.
Best Cash Rewards Credit Cards
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: The Capital One Quicksilver card takes the top spot for the best cash back card and overall spending card. With a flat-rate cash back reward, it makes earning valuable cash back simple.
- Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card: The Chase Ink Business Cash card is the best business cash back credit card for its excellent benefits, valuable welcome bonus and low annual fee.
- Deserve EDU: The Deserve EDU card is an excellent cash back card for students. It earns a flat rate of cash back, and after completing the welcome bonus, cardholders will earn one year of Amazon Prime Student.
- Credit One Bank Visa Credit Card with Cash Back Rewards: For consumers with fair credit, the Credit One Bank Visa Credit Card with Cash Back Rewards is an excellent choice to earn cash back rewards while building up your credit score. You will earn a 1% flat-rate cash back, and the card offers a competitive APR.
Compare more cash back cards on our Best Cash Back Cards Review page
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is our top pick for the best overall travel rewards credit card. With this card, you will earn 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases. There is also an excellent welcome offer where you can earn 20,000 bonus miles for spending $500 in the first three months of card membership.
- American Express Gold Card: The American Express Gold Card is not only an eye-catching metal credit card, but it is also the best travel rewards credit card with an annual fee. For $250 a year, you will earn outstanding rewards on restaurants and grocery store purchases, along with travel and restaurant credits.
- Mastercard Titanium Card: For consumers looking for luxurious travel experiences, the Mastercard Titanium Card is a great pairing. For $195 per year, you will have 24/7 concierge service, a complimentary subscription to Luxury magazine and benefits that include travel credits for private flights and travel insurance.
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: The World of Hyatt Credit Card is our top hotel credit card because of the valuable rewards you earn while spending on the card. Hyatt points are largely regarded as the most valuable hotel points. And earning these points with a modest $95 annual fee, along with many other benefits, is an excellent value.
- United Gateway Card: The United Gateway Card earns our approval as the best airline card for everyday spending. With no annual fee and a wide range of bonus spending categories, including gas stations, public transportation and grocery stores, there are plenty of opportunities to earn United miles for your next flight.
Compare more travel cards on our Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards page
Best Rewards Credit Cards as of September 2021
There are many different rewards credit cards to choose from, and the best card for you may be different from the best card for someone else. Yet all of the best rewards credit cards have two things in common: easy-to-earn rewards for your purchases and excellent perks. We've compiled the best offers currently out there to give you a good starting point for your research.
Best Cash Back Cards for Consumers and Business Owners
The best cash back cards for consumers and business owners vary greatly, based on each person’s spending habits. Keep in mind that consumer cash back credit cards and business cash back credit cards are nearly identical, but their cash back categories can be different in some cases.
FEATUREDChase Ink Business CashBest cash back business card sign-up bonus
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 5%*Reward Rate
- $0Annual Fee
- 13.24% - 19.24%APR
- Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards VisaA great card to maximize cash back rewards
- FairCredit Needed
- 1%–10%*Reward Rate
- $95Annual Fee
- Capital One Quicksilver RewardsBest cash back rewards credit card for everyday spending
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1.50%Reward Rate
- $0Annual Fee
- Deserve EDU Mastercard for StudentsBest student cash back card for limited credit history
- LimitedCredit Needed
- 1%Reward Rate
- $0Annual Fee
If you had your eyes set on the Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa credit card but you didn't like the idea of paying an annual fee? Well, you're in luck. Credit One offers a Platinum Rewards Visa card without an annual fee. You may receive less cash back with the no annual fee option, but you still enjoy all the same benefits and earn 2% cash back on eligible purchases. Learn more at Credit One's website.
Best Credit Cards for Travel Rewards
There are several top credit cards for travel rewards, meaning that there are excellent cards for many different consumers. But the best travel credit card for you is the one that complements your spending and travel needs the best.
FEATUREDAmerican Express Gold CardBest rewards card for frequent fliers and diners
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1-4 points per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
- $250Annual Fee
- Mastercard Titanium CardBest rewards credit card for luxury travel/hotel perks
- ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1-2%* Points per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
- $195Annual Fee
- Chase World of HyattA great rewards card for travelers who like staying at Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1 Point per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
- $95Annual Fee
- Chase United GatewayA great no-annual-fee rewards card for people who fly United
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1 Miles per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
- $0Annual Fee
- Capital One VentureOne RewardsThe best travel rewards card with no annual or foreign transaction fees
- Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
- 1.25 Miles per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
- $0Annual Fee
When you are selecting a card for yourself or your business, whether it is cash back or travel rewards, it is essential to remember one key factor: apply for a card that best complements you or your business’ needs.
Whether you base your choice on the specific rewards wanted or on maximizing each purchase with bonus categories, you want to choose a card that best fits your needs, rather than simply picking one because of a recommendation from a colleague.
How We Rank Rewards Credit Cards
We compile and rank our lists of suggested credit cards based on publicly available data from card issuers and other reputable sources like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. We analyze and compare over 55 data points for approximately 2,500 cards to assign a rating for each card feature.
These data points include annual fees, interest rates, rewards, benefits, and more. These ratings are stack ranked and weighted based on the most relevant features for each card category (cash back, business, etc.). These rankings determine the top suggestions for each type of user or card category. Learn more about our data collection and ranking process.
Top Rating Criteria for Rewards Cards
Tips for Comparing Different Rewards Cards
Comparing credit card rewards programs is an art form of sorts. Think of each reward system as currencies in different countries. You wouldn’t compare one U.S. dollar to one Mexican peso and say they are the same. The same can be said for travel rewards credit cards. Each currency has its unique value and shouldn’t be weighed against another reward program.
Similarly, each rewards credit card is created differently, targeting different types of consumers. So it isn’t realistic to compare them to say one is better than the other. However, you can compare them side by side to see how each card would work best for your needs, your spending habits and the rewards you want to earn.
In addition, be sure to consider any annual fees, sign-up bonuses, foreign transaction fees if you spend outside the United States and benefits you will receive and utilize.
For example, here are two rewards cards that are designed for two very different consumers.
An Example on How to Compare Reward Cards
The Platinum Card from American Express
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points + 10x points at U.S. gasstations & U.S. supermarkets.
- Spending categories: 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel. 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel. 1 point per dollar on other purchases.
- Benefits of card membership: Airport lounge access, Uber credit, TSA/Global Entry fee credit, Hilton and Marriott status, travel insurance, concierge service, rental car insurance and more.
- Annual fee: $550
- The Platinum Card from American Express is made for consumers looking for luxury travel with regular flight and hotel purchases.
Capital One Venture Card
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
- Spending categories: Earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
- Benefits of card membership: TSA/Global Entry fee, rental car insurance, travel accident insurance, no foreign transaction fees and more.
- Annual fee: $95
- The Capital One Venture Card is great for consumers with everyday purchases that want to earn rewards that are redeemable for many different travel purchases, without having to track spending categories.
Quick Glance of the Top Rewards Cards
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- Card NameCredit NeededReward RateAnnual Fee
- Capital One Quicksilver RewardsGood-Excellent1.50%$0
- Chase United GatewayGood-Excellent1 mile per $1$0
- Chase Ink Business CashGood-Excellent5%*$0
- Chase World of HyattGood-Excellent1 point per $1$95
- Mastercard Titanium CardExcellent1-2%* per $1$195
MoneyGeek’s Guide to Choosing & Using Your Rewards Card Wisely
Choosing a rewards credit card can be a tough decision. With so many options to choose from, along with understanding credit card rewards programs, analyzing your spending habits to maximize your rewards earnings, managing your credit and redeeming your rewards — it can be a large undertaking.
When first researching which travel rewards credit card works best for you, keep in mind one simple question: What is your end goal? Is your end goal to earn rewards for a dream vacation to the Maldives? Or do you want to earn hotel rewards because you roadtrip often? Or do you often fly to see loved ones? Whatever your needs are, identify them, and then find a credit card product that can help solve that issue.
Once you find the card that fits your needs, and you are hopefully approved for it, you can start earning rewards. First, your card likely will have some sort of sign-up bonus. This is an introductory offer for new cardholders to earn a large number of points at the beginning of their card membership. Issuers offer these to bring in new customers, and for new cardholders to quickly benefit from using the card.
Be sure to look into the sign-up bonus to ensure you meet the requirements. If you miss the sign-up bonus time period, you will not be able to earn those points again. The sign-up bonus is a large part of travel rewards cards, so you’ll want to make sure you can afford to take advantage of that benefit without overspending.
Earning Rewards After the Sign-up Bonus
After the sign-up bonus, now comes the monthly management and earning of the rewards. First off, do not overspend to earn more rewards. You are spending a dollar to earn a few cents back. This can potentially drive you to carry a balance on your credit card, resulting in interest payments. These interest payments will essentially erase any value you are earning from the points. So a core tenet of earning credit card rewards is to always pay your bill in full.
How Do Credit Card Rewards Work?
Credit card rewards are an extremely lucrative incentive for both credit card issuers and consumers to earn rewards on their spending. There is ample opportunity to earn credit card rewards for your spending, but it can get complicated.
In short, credit card issuers give rewards in the form of hotel points, airline points or issuer-specific rewards that can be redeemed or transferred to your preferred rewards programs. The amount of points they give is based on your spending, along with a potential sign-up bonus. Once you earn the points, they can be redeemed for a number of items or experiences.
Keep in mind that not all redemptions are created equal. Before you redeem your points, look into the cash price of the redemption. This will give you an idea if the redemption is a valuable one or not.
Issuers will provide you with options to use your points -- efficiently and non-efficiently. The efficient manners are likely to be travel, while the not-so-efficient redemptions are statement credit, gift cards and merchandise.
Understanding How Travel Credit Cards Work
Travel credit cards work by rewarding cardholders with travel rewards for spending money on their credit cards. The rewards come in many forms, including hotel points, airline points or points specific to the card issuers like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. Each of these points has different values and varied opportunities to redeem them.
Travel credit cards aren’t always the best solution for every consumer. If you rarely travel or don't anticipate traveling much, you may have better opportunities with a cash back credit card. But even if you travel a few times per year, a travel credit card can help you save on hotels, flights, rental cars and other expenses. In addition, several travel credit cards come with complimentary travel insurance, protecting your trip in the event things go awry.
The largest drawback of travel credit cards is many of them have annual fees. But keep in mind the value you are earning by paying the annual fee. Between earning points, travel insurance, benefits like airport lounge access and possible hotel loyalty program status, there are many cases where an annual fee makes sense. But it is advantageous to analyze the benefits and be realistic about how often you plan on using them before paying an annual fee on a travel credit card.
FAQs About Travel Rewards Cards
Travel rewards cards are a very popular tool to save money on flights, hotels and other travel-related expenses. However, because the rewards programs are so varied, it can be complicated to grasp at first. The answers to these common questions can help you decide which travel rewards card best fits your travel habits and goals.
For more information and our take on the best travel credit cards check our page about the best travel credit cards of 2021.
Understanding How Cash Back Cards Work
Cash back credit cards are a simple yet efficient way to save on your daily purchases. Because cash back credit cards don’t have any complicated redemption processes like some travel rewards credit cards, it is preferred by many.
When using a cash back credit card, you earn cash back based on how much you spend in specific categories. There are also cash back credit cards that award a flat rate for cash back on all spending. One is not better than the other — it simply depends on if you spend more in the categories or if your spending is less predictable. In addition, there are cards that have rotating categories each quarter, so someone with less predictive spending could benefit from a card like this.
Nearly all consumers can benefit from a cash back credit card. Saving money on your day-to-day purchases is universal. However, if you enjoy traveling, consider that those same purchases could earn you more valuable rewards on a travel rewards credit card.
If simplicity and saving money are your largest priorities, a cash back credit card will serve you well.
FAQs About Cash Rewards Cards
Cash rewards cards are a very popular tool to save money on your day-to-day purchases. They are much less complicated than travel rewards credit cards because cash back is based on your purchases.
Find more information about how the various cash back cards work and our pick of the top cash rewards cards on our best cash back credit cards page.
Understanding How Business Rewards Cards Work
Business rewards credit cards work nearly identical to other rewards credit cards. The only difference is that business rewards credit cards typically have spending categories geared towards business owners, such as office supply stores and travel.
Generally speaking, a business credit card would be a great idea for any business owner. And the best part is that you don’t need to own a multi-million dollar business. Even if you have a side hustle or occasionally resell items online, you are considered a business. And if you incur any expenses from your business, a business credit card can provide you with additional working capital and, at the same time, give you the opportunity to earn rewards to save your business money.
There are a few downsides of business rewards cards to be aware of. First, the card issuer will likely require a personal guarantee, meaning you will need to give your Social Security number when you apply.
Also, business credit cards tend to have high-interest rates. So using a business credit card to float debt is not an advantageous idea. If you need a loan, applying for a small business loan might be a better route.
FAQs About Business Rewards Cards
Business rewards cards can be very beneficial for business owners. But while they work similarly to personal rewards cards, there are a few nuances to be aware of.
For more information and our take on the best business credit cards check our page about the best small business cards of 2021.
How to Choose the Right Rewards Card or Cards for You
Choosing the best rewards credit card may be daunting, as there are dozens to choose from. To simplify the process, there is one question to keep in mind: What is my goal? Is it earning travel rewards, or do you simply want to earn cash back to save on your purchases? From there, you can reverse engineer to the right rewards card.
If a travel credit card is for you, think about these factors as you sort through different travel credit cards:
- Do you want luxurious travel benefits? Or are you more focused on budget/efficient travel?
- Where do you spend mostly?
- Do you prefer airline miles? Hotel points? Or rewards that can be used for either?
- Do you travel mostly alone? Or do you travel with a partner/family?
- Are you open to paying an annual fee for a rewards card?
These questions, along with understanding your motive for getting a travel rewards credit card, can help you select a card that is right for you, your travel habits and spending patterns.
If a cash back credit card suits your needs, the vetting process is simpler. Is your spending specific to one or two categories (i.e., groceries, gas, etc.)?
If the answer is yes, find a credit card that will reward you most for those categories. If the answer is no, find a credit card that will reward you for your generalized spending habits.
4 Tips for Maximizing Your Rewards & Building Better Credit Habits
Earning credit card rewards is exciting as you are earning rewards for money you would normally spend anyway. However, earning credit card rewards is a careful dance, as you never want to spend more money simply to earn a few extra points. This is one of many tips on maximizing your credit card rewards and managing your credit efficiently.
Spend efficiently, not recklessly
Credit card rewards are meant to enhance your spending experience, not to incentivize further spending than needed.
Maximize your rewards potential
Each point you earn has a potential value that can be earned. However, the different redemptions will net you a different value. For example, turning your points into cash back on your statement will likely net you a lower value than using your points for travel.
Pay off your balance in full
If you are paying interest on your statements, the value of your points is likely zero since the extra money you are spending in interest will negate the value of the points.
Mix and match cards
If you want to maximize every single purchase, don’t hesitate to work your way up to have multiple rewards credit cards. By having multiple cards that award bonus points for specific spending categories, you will be able to earn heaps of rewards over time.
FAQs About Rewards Credit Cards
Having a rewards credit card in your wallet can be very lucrative. But to maximize your earning potential, it’s important to understand how rewards programs work, what the rewards are worth, redemption options and more.
About the Author
Advertiser Disclosure: MoneyGeek has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. MoneyGeek and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. To ensure thorough comparisons and reviews, MoneyGeek features products from both paid partners and unaffiliated card issuers that are not paid partners.