Cash back vs. miles is a frequent debate among rewards credit card shoppers, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Both are fruit, or rewards that you earn on every purchase, in this case. And both have their virtues, though a lot depends on your personal tastes. For example, you always know how much cash back is worth, while miles tend to be more mysterious. Miles are also associated with travel, which is fun. But much like you can eat both an apple and an orange, there’s room in your wallet for a cash back credit card and a credit card with miles. The best approach is to use a cash back card with a high baseline earning rate for everyday purchases and a credit card with miles for travel expenses.
It’s still good to know how these two major rewards currencies compare, no matter how many credit cards you decide to get. So let’s take a look at some of their biggest similarities and differences.
Cash Back vs. Miles: Key Categories
Averages are from WalletHub’s 2020 Credit Card Landscape Report. And if you’re wondering, rewards devaluation is when a credit card company increases the number of points or miles needed for a certain amount of redemption value, which decreases the value any unredeemed points or miles you may have. That’s not a concern with cash back because a credit card company can’t change the value of a dollar.
Cash back is just a lot more straightforward than miles because it’s already in dollar terms. So you’ll always know exactly how much you’re earning on a particular purchase as well as how much your unredeemed rewards are worth. With credit card miles, you have to compare the number needed for a certain redemption item – a flight, for example – to how much that item would cost if purchased normally.
But cash back and miles credit cards have a lot in common, too. For example, you’ll find a similar mix of rewards programs among both types of cards. Some offer the same rewards earning rate on all purchases. Some give you more rewards in designated bonus categories, if only up to a certain amount spent. And others offer even higher bonus rates in categories that change every few months. You’ll also find initial bonuses on both types of cards but only on some offers in each group.
For more information, check out WalletHub’s Credit Card Rewards Guide.