Best Rewards Credit Cards 2021

ElitePersonalFinance
Last Update: February 15, 2021 Credit Card Reviews Credit Cards Save Money

A rewards credit card is any card that has an incentive-based rewards program attached to it. Most offer this to some degree. The only difference is with 0% APR cards, which offer a no-interest period for a set amount of time.

If you’re on the market for a rewards credit card, it will be hard to settle on just one. They all seem to have something unique to offer. Even the ones marketed for certain types of consumers, such as gas cards for regular drivers, might not offer the best value. So you have to be careful when choosing and make sure whichever cards you apply for will give you a great return.

Best Rewards Credit Cards 2021

If you’re a responsible borrower, running your day-to-day finances on a reward-based credit card can be extremely advantageous. You can find legitimate credit cards that offer as much as 6% cashback, whether in cash, travel, or merchandise rewards, on most of your purchases.

Below you’ll find the reward cards that get the highest recommendations from the Elite Personal Finance team!

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Travel Rewards Credit Card

This rewards card is incredibly invaluable for those who go out of their way to maximize their rewards earnings. You’re able to capitalize on your cashback rewards by entering the Ultimate Rewards program they offer. This will get you upwards of 2.5% cashback when eating out or going on vacation. You can also get Ultimate Rewards points, each worth a penny, and you get $50 worth of points for signing up for it.

So you will get anywhere from 1.25% to 2.50% in cash back reward with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Ultimate Reward program can score you $625 in free travel rewards if you manage to buy $4,000 in stuff with the card within the first three months of having it.

Another cool feature is that many hotels will let you exchange your credit card reward points for reward points at the hotel. So if you are just short for a certain package at the hotel, pass over some of your rewards to get your travel bonus sooner.

If you need to, you can pull from your reward points to lower your statement amount. You might even be able to solely make your minimum payment off your reward points earned each day.

Citi Double Cash

Citi Double Cash Cashback Rewards Credit Card

Citi Double Cash credit card gives you 1% cashback on your purchases. This amount is doubled as the purchases are paid off. You don’t even need to cover the full amount; pay at least the minimum due for each billing cycle, and you’ll get the second half of your reward.

So if you pay $100 of your $1,000 purchase, which had a $10 cashback already, the $100 is 10% of your debt, which would mean $1 of cashback paid for this month. If you pay it off in the next cycle, you will get the remaining $9, making it $20 total (2%) in cashback on your purchases.

You can get approved for an 18-month 0% APR period. Then you face an APR of between 13.24% and 23.24% depending on your credit status after the 18 months is over.

One awesome thing about Citi Double Cash Card is that you can get the 2% cashback for as much as you can purchase. So if you bought $1 million in stuff on your card in a year, you would get $10,000 in cash back, and then it would be doubled to $20,000 in total after $1 million in debt gets paid off. Meanwhile, you’d only get around $500 or so if you used many other cards.

Chase Freedom

Chase Freedom Cashback Rewards Credit Card

Chase Freedom credit card gives you $150 once you purchase $500 worth of stuff in the first three months. You can throw on an authorized user in this time frame and score an additional $25 in bonus cash.

A great thing … You have no annual fee to pay with this card. And you can even get approved for a 15-month 0% interest period, followed by a 14.24%, 19.24%, or 23.24% APR.

Now here’s where it gets good: you get 5% cashback for as much as $1,500 in bonus approved products four times a year. This includes wholesalers like Costco and Warehouse Club, restaurants, gas stations, and many other types of stores. You’ll also earn a flat 1% cashback on anything else, and you can accumulate these points over a period of time without having to worry about whether they’ll expire.

Further, you get purchase protection covering you for a maximum of $500 a claim or $50,000 an account if there’s a price cut within the first 120 days after your purchase.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited Cashback Rewards Credit Card

Chase Freedom Unlimited card provides you with a flat 1.5% cashback on all purchases. You won’t get the big 5% rewards as you do with the Chase Freedom card. But this could easily amount to much more than you would get otherwise. The standard card only gives 1% cashback on most purchases, so that a big spender would benefit 1.5% rate than a range of cashback levels.

You have no annual fee with a Chase Freedom Unlimited card. You get 15 months of no interest, and then you’ll get an APR ranging from 14.24% to 23.24%, depending on your credit. You’ll get the $150 sign up bonus after purchasing $500 in under three months, just like you would with the standard Chase Freedom card. You’ll also get the $25 bonus for adding an authorized user in the same time frame.

Types of Credit Card Reward Programs

Most credit cards have some incentives. The ones marketed as having such typically fall under one category – airline, cashback, gas, hotel, retail, and travel.

Before overwhelming yourself, it’s a good idea to find how each of these cards differs. Sometimes the types can cross over. For instance, a cashback card might also be a travel reward.

To make things easier, here’s how we break down these sections on the ElitePersonalFinance blog:

  • Airline Rewards 

These are cards that are used by people who regularly fly, whether domestically or abroad. The reward incentives are usually points-based instead of direct cashback. They sometimes give closer to 10% back, and sometimes the sign-up bonus is worth as much as $500 to $1,000.

The Best Airline Rewards Credit Card: We’re big fans of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It gives you a sign-up bonus worth between $500 and $625, and they have a wide 1:1 points transfer program. It has a $95 annual fee, but it’s free for the first year!

  • Cashback Rewards

Some of them offer a straight-up reimbursement for a set percent of what you spend in stores. The amount of cashback you receive is different — most offer between 1% and 2% for flat rate cashback. If you look for something more lucrative, you could get upwards of 5% for certain purchases.

The Best Cashback Rewards Credit Card: If you’re a big shopper, then the absolute best cashback for you would be the Citi Double Cash card. It compensates you with 1% of your purchase amount upfront and another 1% once the balance is paid. This means you get an effective rate of 2% cashback on all your purchases, while most other flat-rate cards will give you 1% or 1.5% back at best.

  • Gas Store Rewards

These are cards that reward you for spending money on gas. They offer upwards of 5% in cashback. Sometimes you will get other savings and specialty bonuses. You’ll need to get a gas reward card through a franchised gas station for the most part. You’ll have to shop there for gas every time you gas up to make it worth your while.

The Best Gas Rewards Credit Card: We aren’t big advocates for gas credit cards because they usually reduce your overall return rate. You can get the same or more in cashback through a typical cashback credit card. So take the time to look at those before settling for a particular gas card. And remember, you’ll have to start planning out when and where you gas up each time you’re running low to maximize the card’s value.

Instead, we recommend you go for a standard cashback card that offers extra for spending money on gas. You might be able to get 2% or 3% back (and sometimes even 5%) on your gas purchases this way. Then you also know you’re getting at least a little back on all your other purchases, regardless of where you shop.

If you are stuck on getting a gas rewards card, go for the PenFed Cash Rewards Plus card. This gives you 5% back on all gas purchases, which is the best flat cashback rate on gas that you will find right now!

  • Hotel Rewards

Everyone at Elite Personal Finance finds Starwood Preferred Guest credit card to be the best choice of hotel card. It offers a 1:1 point transfer program with a 25% bonus on every 20,000 points transferred. Your sign-up bonus is worth $600 (or $750 if you do the points transfer), and you have to spend $3,000 in your first three months to get it.

  • Retail Store Rewards

Retail reward credit cards typically offer cashback incentives when shopping at the store that sponsors them. If it’s not just a store-based card, MasterCard or VISA might have a standard cashback agreement in place. Many of them have at least 1% cashback everywhere and then a little extra in specific stores. But you have to be very careful; if you’re ever stuck shopping at a certain store, you’re limited to their prices, which could costs you more.

The Best Retail Rewards Credit Card: A retail card has to offer a bigger reward than the top cashback, which isn’t easy when they have a bottom line to meet. Airlines and hotels don’t struggle with beating the approximately 5% maximum cashback, though, as they can provide a steeper discount.

With that said, you can always get Amazon Rewards VISA card, which gives 3% back on Amazon purchases, 2% back on gas, pharmacies, and restaurants, and 1% back on everything else. Since Amazon has just about anything and everything, and they regularly have the best price, it’s certainly a great retail rewards card to have.

  • Travel Rewards

Credit cards with rewards for traveling will offer incentives on flights, hotel reservations, vehicle rentals, and much more. Sometimes, they focus on one of these areas, like how Starwood Preferred Guest is mainly meant for hotel rewards. But many are fully packaged, offering reward points and cash-out options on flight bookings, hotel stays, etc.

The Best Travel Rewards Credit Card: If you are someone who flies a lot, whether domestically or across the world, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card is your best bet with a sign-up bonus that’s worth up to $1,250 if claimed right. The Starwood Preferred Guest card is the number one option with a sign-up bonus worth $750 towards a qualifying flight for those who stay in hotels.

About Rewards Credit Cards

How much can you make?

The biggest cash-in comes from taking advantage of large sign-up bonuses. Most offer you anywhere from $100 to $400 in a one-off payment. However, if you shop around, you will notice a few specialty rewards cards that give you $500 to $1,000 for your sign-up bonus instead. Of course, you have to pay attention to the fine print; typically, the sign-up bonus is released after spending at least a certain amount on your card within the first three months.

Which type of offer is the best?

You shouldn’t worry too much about the exact type of card you want. Focus on the fine print to get an idea of how much value you can extract. Look at which stores you can shop at, the maximum you can get back per month, quarter or year, and anything else that affects your return rate. Also, look online for specific reviews from cardholders that have used it.

What is the average APR?

The biggest downfall with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR than traditional credit cards. You can get closer to 10% APR for quite a few standard cards, while most reward cards are more in the 14% to 16% range. If you’re only an average borrower, you might see yourself with a 20% or higher APR rate.

Are there reward credit cards for people with bad credit?

Unfortunately, there are not many reward credit cards that are available for people with bad credit. In fact, it’s hard to get an unsecured credit card if you have already destroyed your creditworthiness. If you want to get rewarded for your spending, and if you want to build up your credit, you can still get the secured Discover it card. This will give you 1% back on all purchases, but you get 2% cashback for gas and groceries.

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