Looking for a rewards credit card to earn cash or travel from the spending you’re already doing? There are hundreds of rewards cards out there, and we’ve combed through our database to hand pick the very best rewards credit cards, most with no annual fee.
If you’re just looking for one card to earn cash rewards, your best bet is to use our calculator to get a personalized recommendation based on your spending habits. Otherwise, read on for our top picks. This guide will help you understand whether you are ready to earn rewards, and whether earning cash back or miles for travel rewards is your best bet.
1. Cash back rewards credit cards
Start here: No annual fee, 2x cash
The most important recommendation we can make is to start with either the Citi Double Cash or Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature in your wallet.
Both earn double cash on everything you purchase and pay off with no limits, and no annual fee.
If you prefer MasterCard or have less than perfect credit, go with the Double Cash. If you prefer Visa or plan to use the card abroad, go with the Fidelity (it has a low 1% foreign transaction fee).
If your credit is fair or you have no credit history, then consider one of these options with a slightly lower cash back rate.
Once you have one of these base cards, you can look at our other favorite cards to earn 3%, or even 5% on some of your other spending. You can scroll down this page to see our top picks, or go to our full directory of dozens of cards that earn 3% or better cash back in many categories.
Easy double cash rewards
The Citi Double Cash card offers easy double cash rewards with no annual fee.
You get 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay your bill, so it’s easy to earn double cash on everything you buy with the card.
And since there’s no annual fee, you don’t have to miss out on the seductive 5% cash back you sometimes see on other cards. Just keep the Citi Double Cash in your wallet for most of your spending, and if you have a card that earns 5% in special categories, just use it for that spending, so you can really rack up the cash rewards.
- Earning cash back is simple – there are no special categories or limits
- There is a fee on foreign transactions, so only use this card for purchases in the U.S.
Tip: You need to earn or use rewards at least once every 12 months, or else your rewards will expire.
2% cash back with a lower foreign fee
Fidelity has been the long time king of offering 2% cash back on everything. And now instead of having to get an American Express card, it’s available as a Visa card, so you’ll be able to use the card for purchases at Costco. The foreign transaction fee is also lower for this card than the Citi Double Cash at 1%, so it’s a better card for international spending.
- You know the interest rate when you apply – the Fidelity Visa offers one variable rate for all approved accounts
- There is a 1% foreign transaction fee, which is better than most cards
- There are late payment and cash advance fees
Tip: You don’t need a Fidelity account to apply for this card. They’ll open a free cash account for you automatically, and you can access the cash rewards you earn from any ATM free of charge when you get a debit card for your account.
Up to 5% rewards with a little effort
Once you have a double cash rewards card in your wallet, you’re ready to start considering cards that earn 5% cash back in special categories. If you’re really serious about earning the most cash from your spending, you can get all of these rotating category cards and leverage the fact they earn 5% in different categories. Then, use your base double cash rewards card for everything else.
All of these cards have a limit on how much cash back you can earn at 5%, so you’ll want to pay attention to that, and some of them require you to enroll each quarter to activate your 5% cash back, so if you miss the deadline you’ll earn just 1%.
Our pick for small spenders & travelers
With Chase Freedom you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
If you spend the full $1,500 in bonus categories each quarter all year long, you could earn $300 cash back a year from your bonus category spending.
A good introductory bonus for small spenders. Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. That’s like earning 30% cash back on your first $500 in purchases with the card and gets you off to a fast start.
Boost your travel rewards. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card for travel rewards, you can combine your points with those from the Chase Freedom, letting you turn your Chase Freedom points into real airline miles with Ultimate Rewards partners like United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards, which can make your points worth even more.
Tip: You generally have about 2 and a half months during the quarter to activate your 5%. For example, for January – March 2016, you can activate by March 14, and still get the 5% in your bonus category spending for the whole quarter, even if you made purchases in the category before you activated.
Best 5% cash for bigger spenders
The Discover It and Chase Freedom are pretty similar when it comes to rewards, but if you spend more than about $1,000 a month, the Discover It is your better bet if you’re looking to choose just one.
Double cash back better for big spenders. As an introductory offer for new cardmembers, Discover will give you a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned during your first year (new cardmembers only). So big spenders get more out of this than the introductory offer on the Chase Freedom.
Plenty of 5% categories. Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like gas stations, restaurants, Amazon.com, wholesale clubs and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. All other purchases get 1% cash back.
From April until June of 2017, the bonus categories are home improvement stores and wholesale clubs.
If you spend the full $1,500 in bonus categories each quarter all year long, you could earn $300 cash back a year from your bonus category spending.
Tip: One gotcha about the Discover It is that you only get the 5% in bonus categories for spending you do after you activate your bonus each quarter. For example, for the January – March 5% categories, if you activate on February 15, only spending from February 15 to the end of March will qualify, even if you made purchases in a 5% category before then.
Best 5% with no enrollment hassle
If you want 5% in rotating categories each quarter without having to enroll each quarter, consider the NUSENDA Credit Union’s Platinum Cash Rewards card.
Automatic 5% categories. You’re automatically eligible for 5% cash rewards each quarter, up to $1,500 worth of spending across the categories each quarter. Currently that’s typically a $1,500 per quarter maximum, like the Chase Freedom. But the categories where you can earn 5% are a bit broader.
For 2016 the 5% cashback bonus categories include:
- January – March: Groceries and Gas
- April – June: Restaurants, Movies, and Home Improvement
- July – September: Gas and Education
- October – December: Restaurants, Hotels, Airfare
The introductory bonus is the weakest of the bunch, and offers 2% on all your purchases for the first 90 days. You’d have to spend $15,000 in 90 days to beat the Chase Freedom’s $150 offer.
- No need to enroll every quarter to earn 5% in bonus categories
- You need to join a credit union, though anyone can join NUSENDA
Tip: When you apply, you’ll be asked where you live or work to determine your eligibility to join NUSENDA Credit Union. If you don’t live in one of the New Mexico counties listed on the application, just enter the company you work for, and they’ll call you to offer you a non profit organization you can join for a small one time fee to be eligible.
Cash back for frequent diners
What’s better than 2% cash rewards? 3%.
While you can get 5% cash back on dining some quarters with the 5% foursome cards above, to get consistently good cash back on dining all the time, read on.
You can also check out our full list of the best cards for dining cash back.
Best unlimited dining cash back rewards
Chase AARP Visa Card
You don’t need to be over 55 to be a member of AARP, and in fact you don’t have to be a member of AARP to get this card.
If offers unlimited 3% cash back rewards on purchases at restaurants and 3% cash back rewards on purchases at gas stations, along with 1% cash back rewards on all other purchases.
You can learn more about the card (including the most recent product specifics) at AARP.org.
The information related to AARP Visa credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
- There’s no annual fee.
- There is no limit to the cash back rewards you can earn.
- There are late payment fees.
Tip: You get your choice of cash rewards via direct deposit or a statement credit.
Grocery cash rewards
Groceries are one of the most popular spending categories, and you can check out our full list of the best cards for grocery cash back.
But if you’re out to earn the most possible cash back from your grocery shopping, here is our pick:
Best grocery cash back for heavy shoppers
The Amex Blue Cash Preferred is the card that can earn the most straight cash from supermarket purchases, at 6%, but there are two big hoops to deal with.
- There’s a cap of $6,000 a year in supermarket spending that earns 6%, so you can get a maximum of $360 a year in rewards at the 6% rate.
- There’s a $95 annual fee. So, this is really offering 4.4% cash back on supermarket spending if you spend the full $6,000 a year at supermarkets and take the annual fee out of your rewards.
So the rule is this: if you spend about $300 – $800 a month at supermarkets, consider this card. Otherwise, get 3% back at supermarkets with no annual fee with the Amex Blue Cash Everyday or Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate Card (anyone can join their credit union).
- The biggest supermarket cash back rate.
- There is a $95 annual fee and a cap on the supermarket cash rewards you can earn at 6%.
Tip: If you shop at big box stores like Walmart or Target, those aren’t considered supermarkets, even when you’re buying groceries, and spending there won’t earn the grocery cash back bonus.
Cash rewards for less than perfect credit
If you’re credit’s not perfect, but you’re now able to pay your cards in full each month, you won’t yet qualify for the very best cash rewards, but you can do well with no annual fee.
Best cash rewards for rebuilding credit
Discover It® Secured Credit Card – No Annual Fee
If you have little or no credit history, or are rebuilding credit, the Discover It Secured Card is the best way to do it while earning rewards.
Please only do this if you can pay your balance in full every single month on time. You can earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations (up to $1,000 of spend each quarter) and all other purchases get 1%. There is no annual fee. You just need a $200 deposit to secure your card.
- No annual fee.
- The Regular APR is 23.74% variable.
Tip: You will get your official FICO credit score for free with this card. Watch it closely, because the goal of a secured card is to graduate to an unsecured card as quickly as possible.
2. Travel Rewards Cards
Real airline miles
If you’re serious about travel, you want points that give you the option to turn them into real airline miles. Yes, there are ‘no hassle’ cards out there that promise to avoid the rules and traps of airline miles, but you’ll often pay more in points if you use those cards, especially if you’re flying on expensive international flights.
Best real airline miles with no annual fee
The Amex Everyday earns Amex Membership Rewards points.
With Membership Rewards points, you can turn your points into real airline miles with several frequent flier programs, including Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue True Blue, Virgin America Elevate, and British Airways Avios.
If you fly Delta and use SkyMiles this is a no brainer way to build on the SkyMiles you already have without a fee. Real airline miles are the best way to get expensive international flights and you can check here to see if focusing on convertible points that can turn into real airline miles is a good plan for you.
Even better, if you don’t want to deal with airline miles, you have the flexibility to use your points for travel on almost any airline. Just book your flight via the American Express website and pay for it with points.
- No annual fee.
- There are late fees and a wide range of APRs you may be charged depending on your credit profile.
- You get 2x points per dollar on gas spending, and a 20% bonus on all of your spending each statement period when you use your card to make 20 or more purchase in any category.
Tip: Some people find the Chase Sapphire Preferred we mention below (which has an annual fee) has more useful travel partners, because it lets you transfer points to both United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards.
Best for serious travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
Serious travel rewards are all about being able to earn points you can transfer into real airline miles or hotel points with several travel partners, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s roster of partners is one of the most useful round. It’s why so many travel enthusiasts love this card.
Transfer to real airline miles and hotel points. You can transfer your points into you accounts with United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport, and more anytime you want. Between United and Southwest you’re covered for getting around in the U.S. or just about anywhere in the world at attractive point prices. And as you learn more about travel rewards you can take advantage of other partners like Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
A fallback for when mile seats aren’t available. You always have the option to book flights directly via Chase on most airlines without the restrictions of frequent flier programs. Every 10,000 points is worth $125 in flights, hotels, or rental cars booked via the Chase website.
A big introductory bonus. The Sapphire Preferred comes with a big introductory bonus offer that can earn you award travel fast.
2x points on dining and travel. You get double points on all dining and travel purchases you make, even cab rides, fast food, and subway tickets.
Check to see if trying to convertible points that can turn into real airline miles makes sense for your habits, but if it does, this is a great card to get started earning big travel value fast.
- There are no foreign transaction fees.
- There is a $95 annual fee, after a $0 introductory fee the first year.
Tip: For a real powerhouse combo, pair this up with a no annual fee Chase Freedom. The points you earn from the Chase Freedom can be added to those from your Sapphire Preferred, letting you take advantage of the fact the Freedom earns 5x points in special bonus categories.
And if you really want to turbocharge rewards, but can deal with a higher annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on travel and dining.
Points that work like cash for travel
If you don’t want to put in the work to get the extra value real airline miles can offer, but like rewards for travel, consider a card that earns points that work like cash. With these cards you just pay for your flight or hotel with the card, and then use points to get statement credit.
Best for not messing with miles
If you’re a big traveler, the action is with real airline miles. But if you don’t want to keep track of rules, and still want great rewards for travel, the Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the biggest earners available.
Pay for travel, get it reimbursed. Instead of using an airline mile program, with the Venture® Rewards Credit Card you just pay for travel with your card, then use your Venture® miles to get it reimbursed on your statement. 10,000 miles is worth $100 toward any travel.
2x miles on everything. Everything you buy with the card earns 2x miles, so you can earn up to twice as fast as many airline cards.
A big introductory bonus. The Venture® Rewards Credit Card comes with a big introductory bonus offer that can save you hundreds on your next trip.
- There are no foreign transaction fees.
- There is a $59 annual fee, after a $0 introductory fee the first year.
Tip: You can’t mix and match Venture® miles with any regular airline miles you already have. Venture® miles are simply like cash you can use to pay for travel charged to your card.
Best for savers with no fee
This card has a pretty basic 1.5x points per dollar on everything you spend, and you can use those points to cover any travel purchase. There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.
$50,000+ in Bank of America accounts = big earning. Where it gets interesting is if you have $50,000 or more in retirement, savings, checking, or other account balances with Bank of America. That qualifies you for the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program which lets you earn 2.25x – 2.6x points per dollar with no limits.
That’s because Platinum and Platinum Honors level members of Preferred Rewards get a 50% – 75% bonus on all the points earned with many Bank of America credit cards, including the Travel Rewards card.
You can rollover any of your 401k or IRA accounts to a Merrill Edge account with no maintenance fees, so you don’t need a huge checking or savings account balance to get this benefit.
No other card offers so much straight cash for travel earning potential off your spending across any category.
- There are no foreign transaction fees.
- You need a big balance in Bank of America accounts to get the most out of the card.
Tip: Bank of America cards have the option to request a PIN that you can use for foreign purchases at places that don’t accept a signature.
3. Learn more
Are you ready to earn rewards with a credit card?
Rewards credit cards can be great, and earn you hundreds of dollars a year in savings, but they are still credit cards, with all the dangers that come with them.
Answer these questions
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’re not ready for a rewards credit card.
- Are you unsure if you’ll be able to pay your balance in full every single month?
- Do you plan to do a balance transfer to your card?
- Do you sometimes make late payments?
- Do you tend to max out your current credit limit, even if you pay it off?
Even if you can safely say ‘no’ to the questions, be aware that the lure of rewards can cause you to spend more than you otherwise would.
Credit card companies make money every time you spend on the card, so they want you to spend more. And the more you spend, the greater the chance you spend more than you can afford, which makes them even more money in interest payments.
How rewards work
This video explains how rewards work, and why banks offer them.
Cash back or miles for travel?
We don’t think most people should be messing with travel rewards.
Cash rewards cards are more generous than ever and choosing our favorite cash rewards cards will earn you 2% or better on your spending, which is hard to beat even with travel rewards.
You’ll get rewards you can use anywhere – to pay down bills, give a gift, or whatever you want – all with the same good value.
Travel rewards require extra effort, and they tend to penalize you if you use your rewards for something besides travel.
If you already travel twice a year or more, then travel rewards can sometimes offer you more rewards than straight cash back and you should read on.
We’ll cover cash back for travel, real airline miles, and a newer development, convertible points that can turn into real airline miles, but give you more flexibility.
Cash back for travel
Cards with cash rewards let you book travel with any airline or hotel, any time.
You don’t have to think about award rules or restrictions, but you get less value for your points if you try to use them for rewards that don’t involve travel, but you’re usually better off just earning straight cash rewards via a card like the Citi Double Cash.
Best for: People who want to keep it simple (but a regular cash rewards card Is usually better)
You can use the rewards for any travel. You can pay for travel with your card and use points to get credit back. No worrying about airline award seats or
There are lots of special category bonuses. If you’re really into maximizing things, cash rewards have the biggest array of extra points you can earn from special categories like grocery, gas, or dining spending. We keep a full list of them here.
Usually no annual fee. Cash rewards cards mostly have no annual fee to worry about.
They don’t have the biggest intro bonuses. The very biggest introductory offers are typically reserved for cards that earn airline miles or other travel rewards.
Expensive tickets aren’t as good a deal. If you spend a lot and can earn a lot of airline miles, you can save a lot on tickets that are expensive in cash, like big international trips or first class tickets.
Real airline miles
These are cards that earn miles directly into your account with one airline, like a Delta SkyMiles American Express. They’re usually not the fastest way to earn miles, but they often come with other benefits like a free checked bag.
Our rule of thumb is you should only consider airline miles if you typically spend $2,000 or more in a month on a credit card, so you can earn enough miles for an award in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, stick with a cash back rewards card.
But spending $2,000 a month isn’t the only factor. You should also be able to answer YES to at least one of these three questions:
- Do you have 5,000 or more existing airline miles?
- Are you planning to fly in business or first class?
- Do you want to go to expensive destinations like Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, or Australia?
If you can answer YES to one of them, then airline miles are a good choice for getting the most out of your card spending.
They can get you luxurious flights. If you’re really flexible with dates and times, a good chunk of real airline miles can get you flights that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars in cash.
You can build on miles you earn from flying.
If you fly more than a few times a year, this can be really lucrative since the miles you earn from your credit card get to build on the ones you already have, getting you to an award ticket a lot faster than spending on a card that just earns regular cash rewards.
They have big intro bonuses
Often, the most generous deals that offer you a bonus to open a new account are on cards that offer travel rewards, rather than regular cash rewards. That’s because travel rewards are more restricted, and not appealing to everyone.
If you don’t have a big balance, they can be hard to use. To get the most out of airline miles, you really need to pay attention to things like what airline partners you can use with which miles, where to search for award seats, and how many miles is a ‘good’ price to pay.
They can expire. Many airline miles expire after a year or so if you leave your account dormant. It’s easy to avoid it by earning or spending just one mile, but a lot of people forget and end up losing their miles, so unless you’re willing to make them a habit, stay away from regular airline miles.
You need a lot of them to get a good value award. Here’s how much you can expect to pay for flights with miles:
- 25,000 – 50,000 miles: domestic roundtrip ticket in Economy class (typical value: $300 – $1,000)
- 50,000 – 100,000 miles: domestic roundtrip ticket in First Class (typical value: $500 – $1,500)
- 60,000 – 100,000 miles: international roundtrip ticket in Economy Class (typical value: $800 – $1,500)
- 100,000 – 200,000 miles: international roundtrip ticket in Business Class (typical value: $2,500 – $5,000)
That’s a lot of miles. And if you’re just sticking to one credit card, don’t fly much, and
They have annual fees. Most cards that can earn you real airline miles carry a hefty annual fee, which isn’t worth it if you don’t travel much.
You’re locked into one program. Miles you earn via a traditional airline miles card are stuck in that one program, so if the airline suddenly raises prices or changes rules you’re stuck. Instead, consider convertible points (below) which we prefer over plain airline miles.
These are the newest kind of rewards on the block, and cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred earn points you can convert into real airline miles with certain airlines anytime.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred will let you convert points into miles with United MileagePlus and Southwest RapidRewards, so you’re not locked into just one airline program.
Best for: People who want to take advantage of real airline miles, but want extra flexibility
You get all the advantages of airline miles. With convertible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, you can turn your points into real airline miles with several airline programs at any time. The catch is once you turn points into real airline miles, you can’t convert them back.
You’re not stuck with one airline. Convertible points cards let you turn points into real airline miles with several participating airlines, so you have even more options than a traditional airline miles card.
You get some of the cash rewards benefits. Points from convertible points cards can be used for a lot of things besides travel, like gift cards, merchandise, and sometimes statement credit, though your points tend to go much further using them for travel.
Cash rewards aren’t as generous. If you don’t have a need for airline miles at all, don’t go for a convertible points card. Stick to a straight up cash rewards card and your points will stretch further. Convertible points cards tend to be less generous for straight cash rewards because they use the savings there to help fund the cost of being able to convert your points into real airline miles.
There are usually annual fees. You’ll generally have to pay an annual fee to get a card that earns convertible points. The Amex Everyday card is a notable exception. So again, only use these cards if you can answer “yes” to the 3 questions you should ask before earning airline miles with a credit card.
Questions and Answers
With most cash rewards credit cards, your rewards won’t expire as long as you keep your account open. But some like the Citi Double Cash require you to either earn or use rewards at least once every so often. For the Citi Double Cash that’s once every 12 months.
With cash rewards, you may lose all of your unused rewards if you close your account, so make sure you use them before closing. With travel rewards, miles you hold in an airline program aren’t affected if you close your credit card account, but they will be subject to whatever expiration rule the airline has.
No – you can earn rewards, even if you pay off your entire balance each month before it’s due.
Most cash rewards cards have no annual fee. But if you have an annual fee card, and don’t want to pay the fee, you can sometimes ask your bank to ‘downgrade’ you to a version with no fee. It might earn fewer rewards, but you can avoid the hassle of closing your account altogether.
Many cards won’t give you the rewards from your spending in months where you are late on your payment, so always make your payments on time with a rewards card.
Usually mortgage servicers and other loan providers don’t accept credit card payments. Some companies will make payments on your behalf with a credit card, but you’ll be charged a fee, and often that fee is more than the rewards are worth.
Most cards don’t offer rewards for ‘cash equivalent’ transactions like using a cash advance. Some will offer you rewards for completing a balance transfer, but you’re likely to get hit with fees or a less favorable deal than if you use a good card designed for balance transfers..
If you have cash rewards, just send the cash to whomever you want. If you have travel rewards, many cards will let you combine your points with your spouse or domestic partner. Otherwise, you can just book tickets for someone else using your points if you want to make a gift. Airline miles usually can’t be shared with other people unless you want to pay a fee.
You shouldn’t be carrying a balance month to month on rewards cards, because the interest rates on them is sometimes higher than on cards with no rewards. But if you do end up carrying a balance over from one month to another, your rewards won’t disappear as long a you make your payment on time.
5% cards are designed to catch people who aren’t paying attention. So if your card has an enrollment requirement to earn 5% each quarter, and you miss it, you’ll be out of luck for earning 5%.
Yes, many cash rewards cards offer rewards in the form of statement credit, and that reduces the balance you need to pay on your account.
Some cards require you keep your account open for a certain number of months, or else you will lose any sign on bonus you earned. It’s usually best to keep a card open for about a year or more.
Usually authorized users earn rewards in the same account as the primary user.