When you use a rewards credit card, you get points for every dollar you spend.
The greatest rewards credit card, when used wisely — that is, paying off your bill in full each month — may be incredibly beneficial, whether in the form of welcome bonuses, gift cards, cash back, or points and miles that can be redeemed for travel.
Summertime is peak vacation season for many of us, which means you’ll likely spend more money on meals and travel.
The good news is that many of these credit cards offer the best rewards for those specific categories.
Of course, before you apply for any credit card, make sure you’re familiar with the system and how to get the most out of your benefits.
Before you can start earning credit card rewards, you usually have to spend a significant amount of money, which can lead to overspending and debt due to high interest rates and fees.
If you’re looking for a new rewards credit card to help you earn more cash back, make a big-ticket purchase, or save money when traveling, here are our top selections in each category.
Yearly fee: $0 Rewards rates: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on travel through Chase, 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target (r) or Walmart (r) purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% back on dining, 3% back on drugstore purchases Welcome bonus: $200 Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $50
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers all-around fantastic benefits, with 5% cash back on Chase travel expenditures, 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 3% on dining, 3% on drugstore purchases, and a 1.5% flat rate cash back on all other purchases.
If you spend $500 or more in your first three months as a card member, you’ll get a $200 bonus — one of the lowest bonus requirements among the cards reviewed here.
It’s worth noting that the 5% cash back on travel is only available for trips booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Despite it has a lower standard rate (1.5%) than the Citi Double Cash Card (up to 2% cash back; 1% when you buy + 1% when you pay), we believe the flat 1.5% rate combined with the higher category spending rates makes it the better card for most consumers.
This card works well as a standalone card or as a supplement to a specialized category card, such as a travel credit card, which may offer larger bonuses for specific purchases.
It’s extremely advantageous when used in conjunction with a Chase Ultimate Reward card because you can convert your rewards into points, increasing their worth.
Keep in mind that cards with higher rates in some areas, such as the Capital One Savor’s 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, may have lower rates in others.
As a result, having the Freedom Unlimited card’s flat 1.5% cash back for everyday transactions that don’t fit into other cards’ bonus areas pays off.
Any quantity of Chase points can be redeemed as a statement credit or as a direct payment into your bank account.
When compared to other cards that only enable redemptions at specified thresholds, such as 2,500 reward points or $25, the redemption flexibility is a big plus.
CapitalOne Yearly fee: $95 Reward rates: Unlimited 2x miles (2 miles per dollar) on every purchase Welcome bonus: 100,000 miles Bonus redemption threshold: $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account activation; or receive 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months Credit requirement: Good to Excellent
This card not only features one of the greatest welcome bonuses among the cards we looked into, but it also provides a secondary incentive for lower spenders and a $95 annual fee.
The tiered benefit structure is uncommon, and few cards with an annual cost of $100 or less offer such a substantial bonus.
As a result, we believe this card provides unrivaled value.
Nevertheless, this card has a high spending criteria, which means you’ll need to spend an average of $1,670 every month for a year to qualify.
Now here’s the catch: if you spend even $100 more each month than you normally would only to get the extra, you’ll basically wipe out the value of the incentive.
As a consolation, you can still earn 50,000 miles after spending only $3,000 in the first three months on purchases.
*The value of Capital One miles is determined by how they are redeemed.
Your miles are worth one cent apiece if you redeem them through Capital One as a statement credit or for travel.
According to The Points Guy’s valuation, transferring your miles to an affiliate travel partner can be worth up to 1.7 cents per mile, depending on the exact airline or hotel stay.
Chase Yearly fee: $550 Reward rates: 3x points on dining and travel (3x on travel begins after earning $300 annual travel credit), 1x points on all other purchases Welcome bonus: 60,000 bonus points Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $4,000 in the first three months Credit requirement: Good Initial APR: N/A APR for purchases: 16.99% to 23.99% variable APR for balance transfers:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a broad travel rewards credit card, which means you may earn points on any travel or dining purchase, rather than only with one airline, and your redemption possibilities are far more flexible and transferable.
For those who value additional travel features like travel insurance, hotel discounts and freebies, and lounge access, the Chase Sapphire Reserve rewards card is even better.
This travel card is ideal for anyone who spends at least $12,000 per year on travel (flights, hotels, rental vehicles, trains, buses, taxis) and dining (restaurants, cafes, pubs).
Through March 2022, cardholders can earn 3x points on travel and dining purchases, 1x points on all other qualified purchases, and 10x points on Lyft trips.
While the annual fee of $550 is a bit on the high side, a $300 statement credit for travel expenditures reduces the yearly investment to $250.
After spending $4,000 in the first three months, you’ll get 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $900 when redeemed for travel through the Chase portal).
In addition, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck (both of which are good for five years) as well as a number of VIP-style travel advantages, which are detailed in our entire review of the card.
According to the Points Guy’s most recent valuations, you can transfer points to one of 13 travel partners, including 10 airlines, at a redemption rate of up to 2 cents per point for a 6% total return (keep in mind that you won’t always obtain maximum value for every trip).
You can also book travel (flights, hotels, cruises, and so on) through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards system, which pays 1.5 cents per point or $1.50 for 100 points, giving you a 4.5% return on travel and dining purchases (far above most airline credit cards).
Another alternative is to redeem your points for cash at a 1-cent rate, thereby converting your card into a 3% cash-back card for travel and eating.
Best eating and entertainment rewards Yearly fee: $95 Reward rates: Unlimited 4% cash back on dining, entertainment, and popular streaming services, 3% at grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases Welcome bonus: $300 Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $3,000 in the first three months Credit requirement: Good to Excellent Initial APR: None APR for purchases: 15.99% to 24.99% variable APR for balance tr: 15.99% to 24.99% variable APR for balance tr: 15.99% to 24.99% variable A
With a $300 introductory bonus (after spending $3,000 in the first three months) that practically cancels out the annual fee for the first three years, we believe the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards card is one of the best options available.
The headline rate on the Savor card is 4% on eating and entertainment, which includes “tickets to a movie, play, concert, sports event, tourist attraction, theme park, aquarium, zoo, dance club, pool hall, or bowling alley” for dining and “tickets to a movie, play, concert, sporting event, tourist attraction, theme park, aquarium, zoo, dance club, pool hall, or bowling alley” for entertainment.
If you’re like the majority of Americans, you’ll notice that the incentive is heavily weighted toward dining rather than entertainment.
But, because the $3,000 bonus barrier is so high, you may need to utilize the card for non-bonus category spending during the first three months to ensure that you meet it.
You’ll lose a few percentage points from other cards, but it’s worth it to ensure you don’t miss out on $300 — just do the arithmetic to make sure it’s worth it.
If you spend more than $300 per month on dining and entertainment, this card is a good fit.
If that’s the case, I’d suggest placing only those purchases on it.
There’s no incentive to pay the 1% surcharge on anything other than food and entertainment.
Use your 1.5% or 2% card for these.
Capital One Savor points can be redeemed in the form of a statement credit or a check for any amount (there are no minimum or maximum earning limits).
Yearly fee: $0 (must be a Prime member to apply) Reward rates: 5% cash back at Amazon and Whole Foods; 2% at restaurants, petrol stations, and drugstores; 1% on everything else; up to 10% cash back on rotating categories and Prime exclusives Introductory bonus: Up to $150 Amazon Gift Card Bonus redemption threshold: Card approval Credit requirement: Fair Intro APR: None APR for purchases: 0%
This card also comes with a slew of other enticing features.
First, upon approval, new members can receive up to a $150 gift card, plus you can earn up to 10% back in additional rewards on chosen rotating Amazon products.
The card also offers 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and pharmacies, as well as 1% back on all other purchases.
While Amazon does provide a non-Prime member card that gives you 3% back on Amazon purchases, I’m focused on the Prime rewards card because I assume you’re a Prime member if you shop at Amazon or Whole Foods on a regular basis (over $250).
If you spend most of your money at Amazon and Whole Foods and the remainder at restaurants and petrol stations, the Amazon Prime Rewards card could be your only cash back card.
Outside of that spending profile, I recommend using this card in the same way I recommend the others: as a supplement to a flat-rate card for Amazon and Whole Foods purchases.
You can use your points to pay for anything on Amazon, or you can use them to get a statement credit from Chase starting at 2,000 points ($20).
Note that Amazon promotes (clearly) the Amazon redemption option and does not mention cash, but it is a no-fee option that may be redeemed at the same rate.
Yearly fee: $0 Reward rates: 3% on Apple, Uber, and Walgreens purchases; 2% on Apple Pay purchases; 1% on everything else Welcome bonus: $0 Bonus redemption threshold: None Credit requirement: Fair Intro APR: N/A APR for purchases: 10.99% to 21.99% variable APR for balance transfers: Not offered Balance transfer fee: Not offered
The Apple Card boasts a one-of-a-kind rewards program that pays 3% on Apple, Uber, and Walgreens transactions (an unusual mix of categories to say the least), 2% on Apple Pay purchases, and 1% on everything else.
The 3% category isn’t going to jump out much unless you’re an Apple supershopper and an regular Uber customer.
Plus, having to use Apple Pay to get 2% pales in comparison to the Citi Double Cash Card, which offers up to 2% on everything (1% when you buy, plus 1% when you pay for those qualified items), regardless of payment method.
But, there are some benefits to Apple’s card.
The Apple Card’s reward structure is also unique in that cash back is credited to your account immediately, rather than at the end of each day.
If you can’t wait a month or two for your points to be redeemed and another four to five days for a statement credit to appear on your account, the Apple Card’s quick rewards may be intriguing.
This is a nice cash-back option if the core 3% category (Apple, Uber, and Walgreens) applies to a lot of your purchases.
However, the 2% for Apple Pay is a little weak, given that not all stores accept Apple Pay, whereas the Citi Double Cash Card offers up to 2% regardless of the transaction.
It’s worth noting that Apple has made a big show about the low APR and lack of late payment fees, but assuming you’re paying off your debt on time every month, this becomes less important.
Because the Apple Card does not report credit activity to all three main credit agencies (just TransUnion), it will have a smaller influence on your credit score if you’re seeking to improve it.
More credit card recommendations The editorial information on this page is completely based on our writers’ objective, unbiased assessments and is not influenced by advertising or relationships.
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