What are the best rewards credit cards right now?
Many of the best rewards credit cards excel in the short-term, offering lucrative sign-up bonuses, while others emphasize valuable ongoing rewards. Some even combine the two. Below, you can see what our editors consider to be the best rewards credit cards on the market right now for each credit category (i.e. Excellent, Good, Fair and Bad).
2017’s Best Rewards Credit Cards – Editors’ Picks
To learn more about these and other elite offers, make sure to check out our editors’ in-depth review of the year’s best rewards credit cards
Who should get credit cards with rewards?
You should center your credit card search around rewards if you have good credit AND pay your bill in full every month. With that being said, different people who meet the aforementioned criteria should get different types of rewards credit cards, as not all rewards are created equal. We generally suggest gravitating toward cash back rewards credit cards given their simplicity and transparency, but based on your specific needs and spending habits, a non-cash back credit card could prove more lucrative. For more detailed information about picking the right credit card rewards program, check out the question about that subject below.
Who shouldn't get credit cards with rewards?
If you have less-than-good credit or revolve a monthly credit card balance, you should not focus on credit cards with rewards. If you don’t have good credit, you should focus on minimizing monthly and annual fees in order to build your credit standing as inexpensively as possible. If you don’t pay your bill in full every month, the benefit provided by credit card rewards will be eroded, if not wiped out completely, by interest charges. While you might find that some credit building
or 0% credit cards
offer some rewards, consider that a happy accident.
As always, you should avoid using a credit card if it leads to you spending more than you would normally. If this occurs, pay off your credit card balances and lock your card(s) in a drawer. Don’t worry, your credit score will still benefit just from your credit card(s) reporting you as being in good standing on a monthly basis.
What are the different kinds of rewards credit cards?
Rewards credit cards generally have three main characteristics: their rewards currency, their targeted consumer demographic, and whether or not they are affiliated with any particular company or organization.
There are three primary rewards currencies: points, miles and cash back. In addition, rewards credit cards are also targeted to three main demographics: students, small business owners and general consumers. Credit cards that are affiliated with certain companies, organizations or causes are known as affinity cards. Affinity cards include both store cards, which provide rewards strictly on purchases you make at affiliated stores, and co-branded Visa or MasterCard cards that can be used anywhere but provide added rewards for purchases made through the respective company or organization tied to the card. In short, people get them because they have an affinity for the store or organization the card is tied to and would like their credit card rewards to reflect and fuel this interest.
How do I choose between credit card rewards programs?
Each credit card company typically has its own rewards program, and while some are known for having the best customer service or the best cash back rewards, for example, your credit card rewards comparison should really be focused around finding the single best rewards credit card for your lifestyle.
“When every business is offering the same [type of] loyalty program, it will be hard for customers to differentiate one from another,” says Dr. Christina Chi, an assistant professor in the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University. “What makes a business stand out is, of course, first and foremost, the quality of the service/product. If two businesses are offering similar quality product/service at a similar price, then their loyalty program may help make the difference. Whoever's loyalty program offers the better deal and is easier to redeem the loyalty points will win out.”
The first step in choosing a rewards program is deciding whether travel rewards are suitable, so ask yourself: Do I compile 30,000 airline miles or 20 nights in a hotel annually? If your answer is “yes,” get a generic travel rewards card or the card tied to your favorite hotel/airline (if most of your travel is with that company).
If you answered “no,” we recommend simply finding the cash back credit card offering the most lucrative rewards on your biggest expenses. Credit card companies can easily devalue points/miles by changing the number that must be redeemed for certain rewards. This is not possible with cash.
In addition, cash back rewards offer a lot of redemption versatility in that you can redeem your earnings for any type of expense via statement credits – unlike many points and miles-based credit cards. Interestingly, this “perk” benefits card issuers as well. “If there are a lot of options for a consumer to redeem accrued points (or whatever), consumers will have a more favorable image of and feeling for the company,” says Dr. Patricia Huddleston, a professor of retailing in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing at Michigan State University.
What should I look for in the fine print of a rewards credit card application?
Trying to compare credit card rewards can be confusing, especially given the fact that some of the most important information about a card might be buried within the application’s fine print. Below you will find some of the most important terms to look for when examining a credit card offer
- "Expiration" – It’s extremely important to determine whether your rewards will expire, especially if you are someone who likes to compile a lot of rewards and redeem them all at once.
- "Up to" – Some rewards credit cards only allow you to earn points, miles or cash in various spending categories up to a certain amount spent. The presence of any such quotas or limits impacts the ultimate benefit a card will provide.
- "Rotating" – Credit cards often provide higher earning rates on specific spending categories that change, usually on a quarterly basis. You typically need to sign up for these heightened rewards, however.
- "Tiers" – Some credit cards use a tiered rewards structure where the number of points/miles or percentage of cash back you get for every purchase increases based on your annual spending.