- The Points Guy
Here are the best rewards credit cards of 2019:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best overall rewards credit card
- Platinum Card® from American Express: Best luxury travel benefits
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best beginner travel rewards card
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Simplest to use
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for rewards on dining out and groceries
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best cash-back rewards
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best no-annual-fee rewards credit card
Since the 2016 launch of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, rewards credit cards have exploded into a mainstream obsession.
It’s not hard to see why more people than ever are jumping into the once-obscure world of credit card rewards and bonuses. There’s the lure of high sign-up bonuses and special perks, not to mention the opportunity to use points for free flights, hotel stays, and even first-class tickets.
So what’s the best move for someone seeking to boost their stock of credit card points and frequent flyer miles? Here are some of the top credit cards currently available, based on sign-up bonuses, rewards earned on everyday spending, benefits, and overall value.
We consulted top credit card, finance, and travel experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best rewards card for your needs. You’ll find the full text of our interviews with them at the bottom of this post.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
- David Slotnick / Business Insider
Why you’ll love it: Easy to earn rewards for travel and more, with a great sign-up bonus and 3x points on travel and dining
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $450
With 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and any travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else, the Sapphire Reserve makes it easy to maximize your everyday spending, and it comes with a slew of perks.
While there are a few different ways to use Chase points, there are usually two options to get the best value. First, your points are worth 50% more toward travel booked through Chase. Second, you can transfer points to a number of frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs – typically, this gets you the most value for your points.
Benefits include access to airport lounges through the Priority Pass network, trip delay coverage, purchase protection, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, and primary car rental insurance. However, while the airport lounge access can be great, most Priority Pass lounges are in international terminals, which isn’t helpful when you’re flying domestically. If you find lounge access crucial, you should consider the Amex Platinum, which offers superior lounge access within the US.
The Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee is a hefty $450, but that’s offset by a $300 travel credit each year, good for things like taxis, subway fare, parking, tolls, and flights.
There aren’t many downsides to this card besides the upfront annual fee. Chase has invested heavily in making the Ultimate Rewards program competitive. Booking flights by transferring points to frequent flyer partners is generally more lucrative – that’s usually how people use points to fly in first and business class – but it can be complicated because you have to decipher award charts, find availability, and work around complicated airline rules.
What the experts love: Points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel through Chase, 3x points on two very broad bonus categories (travel and dining)
What the experts don’t love: The high annual fee. “It’s hard to wrap your head around a $450 annual fee. Unless you can fully use all the other perks this card offers, it will become expensive to carry this card for a long time,” says NerdWallet’s travel and credit cards expert, Sara Rathner.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review
- Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is my top pick for eating out
- American Express
Why you’ll love it: Big welcome offer and lots of perks for travelers
Welcome offer: 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $550
The Amex Platinum has a higher annual fee than the Sapphire Reserve, but also a longer list of benefits. The Platinum card is also one of the best options for paying for flights, because you’ll earn 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with airlines.
Like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points can be used to purchase travel, gift cards, or products directly through from the issuer, or they can be transferred to certain airline and hotel loyalty programs. The best value comes from that latter use. If you redeem points by using them to book travel through Amex, you’ll get around 1 cent per point.
The Platinum Card includes access to the same lounges as the Sapphire Reserve, plus Delta Sky Clubs and the proprietary American Express Centurion Lounges. Amex Platinum cardholders also get exclusive access to major events and experiences, including once-in-a-lifetime “By Invitation Only” events.
Of course, $550 is a lot to pay out each year. Up to $200 in annual airline fee credits and up to $200 in annual Uber credits certainly help, but the airline credit can be difficult to use if you aren’t checking bags or buying drinks on flights.
The bonus spending categories on this card are less generous than on the Sapphire Reserve, meaning it can take longer to earn points unless you book a lot of flights. Even so, the card remains extremely valuable if you can make good use of the benefits. For example, in my first year with the card, I got more than $2,000 in value, which is more than enough to make up for the fee.
What the experts love: Airport lounge access (especially to Amex Centurion Lounges – “They’re pretty high end as far as airport lounges go!,” says Rathner), access to high-end hotel benefits through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, 5x points on flights
What the experts don’t love: High annual fee, some annual statement credits have significant limitations. “You have to choose one airline to apply the annual $200 statement to, which limits your flexibility,” says Rathner.
Read more about the Amex Platinum:
- Amex Platinum credit card review
- 8 things to do when you get the Amex Platinum card
- Pros and cons of the Amex Platinum
- The Amex Platinum is available to active duty servicemembers at no annual fee – but even with the fee, the credit card is a great value
- Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy
Why you’ll love it: Higher sign-up bonus and lower annual fee than the Sapphire Reserve, easy to rack up points
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $95
The Reserve’s older sibling, the Sapphire Preferred, offers a number of similar features and a higher sign-up bonus for a lower annual fee. The card earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points instead of the Reserve’s 3x points on dining and travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Points are worth a lower 1.25 cents apiece on travel booked through Chase, but can still be transferred to frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. There’s no annual travel credit, but there’s still car rental primary coverage, as well as slightly less-generous trip delay coverage and purchase protection.
While the Sapphire Preferred was the all-around best card for a long time, the Sapphire Reserve has made it a harder choice. Although the Preferred has a lower annual fee and higher initial bonus, it earns fewer points on bonus spending categories than the Reserve, and the value of the points on travel booked through Chase is less.
The no-hassle travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve makes the annual fee on that card effectively $150 (accounting for the $300 you get back through the credit), so – depending on your spending habits – it can be worth paying more up front for the Sapphire Reserve.
What the experts love: Good sign-up bonus, some of the benefits of the Sapphire Reserve at a lower price, travel perks like primary rental car insurance.
What the experts don’t love: No annual travel credit, earns points more slowly than the Sapphire Reserve, no Global Entry or lounge access, which Rathner notes are “increasingly typical” credit card benefits.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
- Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best rewards credit card for beginners
- Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card’s 60k bonus to earn a free trip
- The best Chase credit cards
- Alyssa Powell/Business Insider
- The Points Guy
Why you’ll love it: Low annual fee, easy to earn miles for travel
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $0 the first year; then $95
Capital One’s travel rewards program isn’t necessarily as lucrative as what other banks offer. However, Capital One recently expanded the card’s benefits, adding airline transfer partners, and launching transfer bonuses – such as a 20% bonus to Air France/KLM. While the transfer value isn’t quite as good as with Chase or Amex, the flip side is that Capital One miles are easy to earn and easy to use – and thanks to a new partnership, you can earn them quickly.
The Venture Rewards card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. The card also earns a stunning 10x miles when you book prepaid hotel stays with Hotels.com (you just need to go through a special landing page: hotels.com/venture). Plus, you can earn through Hotels.com’s own rewards program at the same time.
Miles can be redeemed as a statement credit to “erase” travel purchases. For example, if you buy a $500 plane ticket, you can apply 50,000 miles to cancel out that charge. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.
Capital One added airline transfer partners in late 2018 – most are at a 2:1.5 ratio, and a few are 2:1 – meaning it’s now possible to get outsized value from the card. This is especially the case when you consider that you can earn 10x Capital One miles on hotels, which translates to 5-7.5 airline miles per dollar, based on the transfer ratios.
What the experts love: Low annual fee, 10x miles at Hotels.com/venture, redemption flexibility with the Purchase Eraser function
Cons: Points transfer at a lower ratio than 1:1, and transfer partners aren’t quite as strong as Chase’s – as Rathner notes, “the only US carrier available is JetBlue and there are no hotel partners.”
Read more about the Capital One Venture:
- Capital One Venture credit card review
- Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Capital One Venture – which card is better for you?
- Capital One Venture vs. Capital One Savor
Why you’ll love it: Generous rewards on dining and groceries
Welcome offer: 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $250
The Gold Card earns a massive 4x points at restaurants worldwide and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets (and 1x point after that), 3x points on flights booked directly through the airline, 2x points on hotels booked and prepaid through Amex Travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1 cent of value each when you transfer them to frequent flyer partners, this is one of the highest-earning available cards for everything food-related.
The Gold Card offers up to $120 of dining credits per year, broken into chunks of $10 each month. Credits are good for purchases through food delivery services Seamless and GrubHub, and at The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations.
Additionally, the card offers up to a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, which is good for things like checked bags, onboard food and drinks, seat reservations, seat upgrades, lounge day passes, and more.
The two credits – together worth $220 – are almost enough to offset the card’s $250 annual fee even before factoring in the value of the rewards you’ll earn.
What the experts love: Fantastic rewards on dining and groceries at US supermarkets, statement credits and benefits to offset the annual fee
Cons: Smaller welcome bonus, only 1 cent per point of value unless you transfer points to an airline. Rathner adds, “The $120 dining credit sounds like a lot, but it’s actually up to $10 a month at select restaurants and food delivery apps. If you don’t live near any of these restaurants or live in a city not served by those apps, this benefit is useless to you.”
Read more about the Amex Gold Card:
- Amex Gold card review
- The American Express Gold Card has a $250 annual fee, but two benefits alone can get you $220 in value each year
- Amex Platinum vs. Amex Gold card
- American Express
Why you’ll love it: Earns cash back quickly at a great rate
Welcome offer: $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual fee: $95
If you’re less excited about earning rewards points – which can be valuable, but also tricky to redeem – and want to stick with cash back, the Blue Cash Preferred is the best option, despite its $95 annual fee.
Read more: The best cash-back credit cards of 2019
Amex recently added 6% cash back on select US streaming services and 3% back on all transit. That’s in addition to the existing categories of 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (and 1% after that), 3% back at US gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else.
As a bonus, the Blue Cash Preferred offers a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months, before switching to a variable 14.74-25.74% APR.
The Blue Cash Preferred comes with a handful of travel and purchase protections as well. Cash back comes in the form of a statement credit, so effectively you can use it to “erase” purchases.
What the experts love: Bonus cash back on useful categories, easy to earn enough cash back to offset the annual fee, introductory APR
What the experts don’t love: The card has an annual fee, which Personal Finance Insider’s credit cards editor Sarah Silbert notes is relatively rare for cash-back cards, and there’s a cap on earning 6% back at US supermarkets each year. Rathner recommends switching to a different card for groceries once you hit the $6,000 mark.
Read more about the Blue Cash Preferred card:
- Amex Blue Cash Preferred card review
- The best credit cards for buying groceries
- The best American Express cards
Why you’ll love it: Helps you earn points for normal purchases and get cash back with no annual fee
Sign-up bonus: $150 bonus (or 15,000 points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months
Annual fee: $0
If you already have the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred and are saving your points for something, the Freedom Unlimited can give your balance a nice boost. While Chase markets the card as “cash back,” it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1 cent).
When you have a premium card like one of the Sapphires or an Ink Business card, you can pool your points from the two cards. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining.
Best of all, the card has no annual fee and often has an introductory 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, there’s a 16.74%-25.49% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it’s time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1¢ each no matter how you use them and they can’t be transferred to airline or hotel partners.
What the experts love: Flat cash-back rate makes it easy to earn rewards without keeping track of bonus categories, you can transfer your points to another Chase card to redeem them for travel at a higher rate, no annual fee
What the experts don’t love: One point only equals 1 cent for cash back, to get a better value you’ll need to pair it with a Sapphire card. “The 1.5% cash-back rate is the standard at this point, but other cards like the Citi Double Cash earn 2% on every purchase. If you’re looking for a flat-rate card, earn the highest rate you can,” says Rathner.
Read more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited card review
- Why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the best credit card for college students
- Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited – which cash-back card is best for you?
Frequently Asked Questions
How did we choose the best rewards credit cards?
You’ll notice that this page doesn’t include every rewards credit card currently available to new applicants. That’s on purpose – we evaluated the options on the market, utilizing the expertise of our Personal Finance Insider staff and the input of credit card, points and miles, and financial experts to narrow down the list to the very best options.
We define “very best options” as those that offer concrete value through benefits like annual statement credits and airport lounge access and through rewards such as bonus points on your everyday spending.
This list doesn’t include our top picks for airline and hotel cards. You can learn more about those cards here:
What credit card offers the best rewards?
If you don’t want to overthink it, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you want a lower annual fee) is a safe bet. However, there is no easy answer if you want to optimize all of your spending, because all the types of points and miles have different values. We recommend using The Points Guy’s valuations to get a sense of what the different currencies are worth. For example, one Chase Ultimate Rewards point is worth 2 cents, while one Delta miles is worth 1.2 cents. So when you look at how many points or miles a rewards credit card offers per dollar, remember that you need to take the value of those points or miles into account.
What are the different types of rewards credit cards?
There are a few main types of rewards cards:
- “Flexible” travel rewards credit cards –Most of the picks in this article fall under this category. These cards earn bank points, also called “flexible points,” that can be redeemed for travel, either directly through the issuing bank’s travel portal (like Amex Travel) or with travel partners. This type of rewards credit card is usually the most valuable because you have the most options for using your rewards. For example, Amex has more than 20 travel partners you can transfer points to, and Chase has 13. Examples of this type of card include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Amex Gold card, and the Capital One Venture Card.
- Cash-back credit cards – Examples include the Blue Cash Preferred card. These cards don’t earn points or miles; they earn you cash back on all your purchases. If you don’t travel or your priority is to get money back, these are the cards for you.
- Hotel or airline travel rewards credit cards – Examples include the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. These are travel-focused credit cards that earn rewards with a specific hotel or airline loyalty program and offer benefits like credit toward elite status. For that reason, they make the most sense for travelers who are loyal to the given travel brand.
Should I earn cash back or points?
It depends on what you want to do with your rewards. If you want to put money back in your bank account, a cash-back credit card will help you accomplish just that – and you usually won’t have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all.
On the other hand, if you’re hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all three of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for things like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency “miles,” they aren’t miles with a given airline program.)
If you’re willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there’s value in having both cash-back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you’re willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation.
The experts’ advice on choosing the best rewards card for you
We interviewed a certified financial planner along with top experts on credit cards and travel rewards about what makes a good rewards card and how to choose the best options for you.
Here’s what they had to say when we interviewed them about finding the best card for you. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity. Special thanks to Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback for interviewing the experts.)
Generally, what features make a rewards credit card good?
I look for three things when I consider a rewards card:
- Does it earn more points or miles where I spend the most?
- Can those points or miles be applied to rewards I’d actually want? (Like airlines I typically fly, hotels I want to stay at, etc.)
- Is it easy to redeem points, or will I get lost in a maze of draconian rules, restrictions, and blackout dates?
I also weigh the annual fee, but a sign-up bonus and other perks tend to offset the fee for me.
Generally, cards that offer a variety of reward options are best because they offer the card holder flexibility. Whether it’s points, miles, or discounted offers with a particular airline or hotel brand, the more options available the better in order to help the card holder take full advantage of the rewards offering.
A good rewards credit card earns points that are flexible, meaning you have lots of options for using them, like you do with Amex and Chase points. It also has bonus categories that give you the opportunity to earn rewards quickly, as well as (hopefully) a generous sign-up offer for new cardholders.
Beyond that, a good rewards card should offer you benefits that make it worth the annual fee (if there is one), such as statement credits that cover travel purchases and travel coverages like trip delay insurance.
How can someone identify whether a rewards credit card is good for them?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Look for a card that rewards you where you spend the most, with terms you can live with. A card that’s trendy won’t necessarily be the right card for you. It’s a highly personal decision, and it’s worth it to not overlook a less flashy card that may suit your needs really well.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
To best identify if a rewards credit card is good for you, consider your lifestyle and spending habits. For example, do you have a preferred hotel brand or airline? Do you often travel abroad? Knowing the answer to these types of questions will help you narrow down your choices in order to best help you identify if a rewards credit card is good for you.
Sarah Silbert, Business Insider:
Look at the card’s bonus categories and see if they align with where you spend your money. Also remember to check if a card has a foreign transaction fee before you take it abroad – many cash-back cards do charge this fee, so don’t assume.
What should someone consider when selecting a rewards credit card?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Travel rewards cards are popular, but they’re a better bet for consumers who travel often, especially if they travel internationally. If you stay close to home, a cash-back card may actually be more rewarding.
Also, consumers who currently have credit card debt should make paying that debt down their number-one priority, before looking for a rewards card. The interest you’d pay on your debt would wipe out the value of any rewards you’d earn. Consider a balance transfer card, which gives you a year or more to pay down your debt at 0% interest.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
Consider annual fees and foreign transaction fees. Some annual fees can be in the hundreds of dollars, so you want to make sure that the rewards you’ll accumulate will offset the cost of having the card. Another thing to consider is whether or not you carry a balance. If you do carry a balance, you should also consider the interest that you’ll be paying on that balance in order to ensure that it’s not eating away at your rewards.
Sarah Silbert, Business Insider:
Make sure you’re doing your homework so you don’t miss out on a higher sign-up bonus (do some searching online to see if higher offers are available). Many cards offer limited-time welcome offers that can score you thousands of extra bonus rewards compared to the standard offers.
Always make sure that you’ll be able to use the rewards card responsibly, by paying off your statement each month and avoiding spending beyond your means.