Best Rewards Credit Cards | Kiplinger

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many facets of life, and how you use rewards credit cards may be one of them. If you’ve been hunkered down at home over the past year, you haven’t been racking up many points or miles on travel purchases or exchanging rewards for flights and hotel stays. 

During the pandemic, some issuers have juiced up travel rewards cards by providing temporary rewards in categories more in line with how consumers have been spending their money—offering extra cash back or points when you spend on groceries, gas, home improvements or takeout orders, for example, or giving higher point values when you redeem rewards for such purchases.  Even as travel takes off again, issuers of travel cards may keep touting heightened rewards on categories outside the travel arena, too.

However, as the pandemic wanes, robust travel rewards will be front and center once again for both card issuers and customers. Initial bonuses—through which new cardholders can earn a pile of extra cash back, points or miles, usually by meeting a spending minimum in the first few months—may become more generous on travel cards later this year, says Matt Schulz, of CompareCards.com

Whether you want to collect miles and points for your post-pandemic vacation or stick with simple cash-back rewards, you have no shortage of great choices among our 2021 picks of the best rewards credit cards. We’ve awarded medals to cards in 17 categories.

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Best Cash-Back Credit Cards: Flat-Rate Cash Back (No Annual Fee)

These cards provide simple and strong rewards on all purchases.

Gold Medal: Citi Double Cash Mastercard

  • Website: www.citi.com
  • Interest rate: 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $480

Citi Double Cash takes top honors in this category year after year because its rewards are simple and plentiful: You get 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% back when you pay the bill, for a total of 2% on all spending. Redeem a cash-back balance of at least $25 for a check, a deposit into a linked Citi savings or checking account or any checking account from which you’ve paid your credit card bill at least twice, or a statement credit. (If you choose a statement credit, you won’t receive 1% cash back on the payment.) Rewards expire if you don’t earn cash back for 12 months. 

Silver Medal: PayPal Cashback Mastercard

  • Website: www.paypal.com
  • Interest rate: 19.99% to 26.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $480

If you have a PayPal account, check out this card. It offers 2% cash back on every purchase, and you can use it anywhere that accepts Mastercard payments. Redeem cash back to your PayPal account; from there, you can transfer it to a linked bank account. Or use it to make purchases or send money to other PayPal users if you have a Cash or Cash Plus account. 

Bronze Medal: Capital One Quicksilver 

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 15.49% to 25.49%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $200 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $360

Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, which you can redeem in any amount for a check or statement credit. The card has no foreign transaction fee, making it a good option to keep in your wallet when you head overseas. It may be issued on the Mastercard or Visa network.

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Best Cash-Back Credit Cards: Flat-Rate Cash Back (Worth the Fee)

Gold Medal: Farmers Insurance Federal Credit Union Crystal Visa

  • Website: www.figfcu.org
  • Interest rate: 0% for six months, then 12.99% to 18%
  • Annual fee: $99, waived the first year
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $5,000 in the first three months and get $100 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $720 the first year; $501 from the second year on

For the first year, pay no annual fee and get an outstanding 3% return on all purchases. After that, you’ll pay a $99 annual fee but earn a still-impressive 2.5% on all spending. Rewards are tracked as points, which you can exchange at a rate of a penny each for a bank account deposit or statement credit (minimum redemption amount: 5,000 points). Or you can redeem points for travel, merchandise or event tickets, but point values and minimum redemption amounts vary. Anyone can become a member of Farmers Insurance FCU by joining the American Consumer Council and depositing $5 into a savings account.

Silver Medal: Alliant Cashback Visa

  • Website: www.alliantcreditunion.org
  • Interest rate: 12.24% to 22.24%
  • Annual fee: $99, waived the first year
  • Typical annual rebate: $600

The Alliant Cashback Visa provides 2.5% cash back on all spending. Rewards earnings are capped at $250 ($10,000 in purchases) per monthly billing cycle. When you’ve accumulated at least $50 in cash back, you can redeem it as a statement credit or deposit it into an Alliant Credit Union checking or savings account. Cash back expires from four to five years after you earn it. To join the credit union, you can become a member of the Foster Care to Success charity (Alliant pays the $5 membership fee on your behalf). You must also open a savings account; Alliant makes a complimentary $5 deposit into it for you.

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Best Cash-Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories

Italy, Rome - January 14 2020: The icon of the streaming app Netflix, surrounded by other competitors app the screen of an iPhone. The main competitor for Netflix are today Amazon Prime, Appl

Gold Medal: Chase Freedom Flex Mastercard

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.99% to 23.74%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $200 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $511

Last year, Chase introduced Freedom Flex, which offers high rebates both in rotating quarterly categories and in other categories that remain steady. All year, you get 5% back on travel that you book through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, 3% back on restaurant and drugstore purchases, and 1% back on other spending. You’ll also earn 5% back in a category that changes each quarter (5% rewards are limited to $1,500 spent per quarter). In 2021, the quarter-one categories included wholesale clubs (note that in its stores, Costco Wholesale accepts credit card payments only from cards issued on the Visa network); internet, cable and phone services; and select video- and music-streaming services. Quarter-two categories are gas stations and home improvement stores. Categories for quarters three and four were not announced at press time. As a temporary benefit, through March 2022 you get 5% back on rides with ride-sharing service Lyft. Rewards come in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are worth 1 cent each for cash back (redeemable in any amount), travel or gift cards (minimums may vary).  

Silver Medal: U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa

  • Website: www.usbank.com
  • Interest rate: 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first 90 days and get $150 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $503

With this card, pick two categories each quarter that earn 5% cash back on up to $2,000 spent in combined purchases. Recently, the 12 options included TV, internet and streaming services; ground transportation; home utilities; cell-phone providers; fast food; and department stores. You also get 2% back in one category of choice: gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores. All other spending gets 1% back. Redeem rewards as a statement credit or deposit into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account. Or get a U.S. Bank prepaid debit card ($25 minimum). Cash back expires after three years. 

Bronze Medal: Discover It Cash Back

  • Website: www.discover.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 14 months, then 11.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: A match of cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards
  • Typical annual rebate: $395

Each quarter, Discover It offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in a new category. In 2021, the 5% category included purchases at grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS in the first quarter. The 5% rebate applies to gas stations, wholesale clubs and select video- and music-streaming services in quarter two; restaurant and PayPal purchases in quarter three; and Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com in quarter four—convenient for holiday shopping. All other spending earns 1% cash back. Redeem rewards in any amount for a charitable donation, bank-account deposit or statement credit or to make purchases directly with select merchants. Or with a $20 minimum balance, redeem cash back for gift cards.

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Best Cash-Back Credit Cards for Saving Goals

Several piggy banks

Gold Medal: Fidelity Rewards Visa 

If you need motivation to stash your rewards into savings, consider this card from Fidelity Investments. You get two points per dollar on every purchase, resulting in a 2% payback if you redeem points as a cash deposit into an eligible Fidelity account. You can split rewards among up to five accounts, including a brokerage account, a cash management account, an IRA, a health savings account, a 529 college-savings plan or a charitable-giving account. Or direct rewards to a friend or family member’s account—say, depositing them into a grandchild’s 529 plan. If you instead redeem points for travel, merchandise, gift cards or statement credits, they’re worth only about half the value. You need at least 2,500 points for any type of redemption. 

Silver Medal: TD Double Up Visa

  • Website: www.td.com
  • Interest rate: 14.99% to 24.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first 90 days and get $75 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $480

Get a 2% return on every dollar spent if you redeem your rewards into an eligible TD Bank checking or savings account. You earn one point per dollar on every purchase, and points are worth a penny each when you redeem them for cash into a TD Bank account (2,500-point minimum redemption). TD deposits an additional 1 cent into the account for every point redeemed. If you redeem points for a statement credit, cash back into a non-TD bank account, travel or gift cards, points are worth at least a penny apiece (a 1% return on spending), but TD doesn’t match deposits or credits. 

Bronze Medal: SoFi Mastercard 

  • Website: www.sofi.com
  • Interest rate: 12.99% to 24.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $480

This card from financial-technology company SoFi provides two points for every dollar spent, and it incentivizes saving by offering a 2% payback on every purchase if you deposit your rewards into a SoFi cash-management account or investment account. Or apply cash back to your SoFi student loan or personal loan. If you redeem points for statement credit, they’re worth only half the value.

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (No Annual Fee)

passport, credit card, tickets on wooden background close up

Silver Medal: Chase Freedom Unlimited Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com 
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.99% to 23.74%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $200 back
  • Typical annual rebate: 45,518 points, worth $455

Chase Freedom Unlimited, which Chase revamped last year, now offers five Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, as well as three points per dollar on restaurant and drugstore purchases. Plus, Lyft rides earn five points per dollar through March 2022. Get 1.5 points per dollar on all other spending—higher than the standard one point or 1% that many cards offer on purchases outside their maximum rebate categories. Points are worth 1 cent each for cash back (redeemable in any amount), travel or gift cards (minimums may vary). Leave this card at home if you travel abroad—it charges a 3% foreign-transaction fee. 

Bronze Medal: Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa

  • Website: www.bankofamerica.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for the first 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Typical annual rebate: 37,500 points, worth $375 in travel and dining statement credits

Rewards are uncomplicated with this card: You earn three points per dollar spent when you book travel through Bank of America’s Travel Center and 1.5 points per dollar on other spending. Points are worth 1 cent apiece when you redeem them for statement credits on travel and restaurant purchases, or 0.6 cent each when you exchange them for cash back, such as a check or deposit into a Bank of America deposit account or Merrill cash management account (2,500-point minimum redemption for any of those options). Point values vary for gift card redemptions (3,125-point minimum).

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (Annual Fee)

Air miles rewards with person touching airplane shape, frequent flyer loyalty program to earn points and bonuses for travel benefits like elite cards, airport lounge, business or first class

Gold Medal: Capital One Venture

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 17.24% to 24.49%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months; get an additional 50,000 miles if you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months
  • Typical annual rebate: 54,000 miles, worth $445 in statement credits on travel purchases after subtracting the annual fee 

Capital One Venture clinches the gold medal for its simple but lucrative rewards structure: You earn five miles per dollar spent on hotel and car rental purchases made through Capital One Travel and two miles per dollar on everything else. Miles are redeemable in any amount at a rate of a penny apiece for statement credits on travel purchases or travel bookings through Capital One; miles are worth 0.5 cent each if you redeem them for a statement credit on non-travel purchases. Or transfer your miles to any of more than a dozen participating hotel and airline loyalty programs, including those of Air France, JetBlue and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts (you get 1.5 points or miles from most loyalty programs for every two Capital One miles transferred). Another nice perk for travelers: Every four years, receive reimbursement of the application fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85); each provides expedited security screening at the airport. The card may be issued on the Visa or Mastercard network. 

Silver Medal: U.S. Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express

  • Website: www.usbank.com
  • Interest rate: 14.49% to 24.49%
  • Annual fee: $85
  • Sign-up bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first four months
  • Typical annual rebate: 43,146 points, worth $562 in travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee

This card offers five points per dollar on prepaid hotel and car rentals booked through U.S. Bank’s FlexPerks Rewards Center, three points at restaurants, two points on airline and gas-station purchases, and one point on other spending. The key to maximizing the value of points is to trade them for travel bookings through the rewards center (1,000-point minimum redemption), for which they’re worth a strong 1.5 cents each. Or trade them at a rate of a penny each for non-travel redemptions, such as a statement credit or deposit into a U.S. Bank deposit account (5,000-point minimum redemption). Points expire five years from the end of the calendar quarter in which they were earned. Cardholders also enjoy reimbursement of up to $100 for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee and complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi hotspot access. 

Bronze Medal: Citi Premier Mastercard

  • Website: www.citi.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 52,526 points, worth $430 in gift card and travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee

Earn three points per dollar spent in a solid collection of categories: restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and air travel and hotels. All other spending earns one point per dollar. Trade points at a rate of 1 cent each for gift cards ($10 minimum redemption) or travel bookings through Citi’s ThankYou rewards portal. You can also transfer ThankYou points to participating airline frequent-flier programs, including those from JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (most transfers are at a 1:1 ratio). Each calendar year, the Premier card provides a $100 discount on a prepaid hotel stay of $500 or more.

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (Flexible Travel Redemptions)

Florida beach and palm trees

Gold Medal: Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months; $50 statement credit for grocery purchases in the first year
  • Typical annual rebate: 31,526 points, worth $299 in travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee

This card gets top marks for flexibility, thanks to healthy point values and the ability to transfer points to an appealing list of partner travel loyalty programs. You earn two Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on restaurant and travel purchases, and one point per dollar on all other spending. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (minimum redemption amounts may vary). And with the Pay Yourself Back feature, you can get a 1.25-cent value when redeeming points for statement credits against purchases in rotating categories; through September, the categories include grocery stores, home-improvement stores, restaurants and select charities. Points are worth a penny each for cash (no minimum to redeem) or gift cards (minimums may vary). Or transfer points at a one-to-one ratio to partner travel loyalty programs, including Southwest Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. 

A few temporary perks: five points per dollar spent on Lyft rides through March 2022, up to $60 back on a Peloton Digital or All-Access membership through December, and a free subscription of at least a year to DashPass, which offers waived and reduced fees with food-delivery service DoorDash (activate by December 31). 

Silver Medal: American Express EveryDay

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 12.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 36,772 points, worth $368 for certain travel redemptions

With the American Express EveryDay card, earn Amex Membership Rewards points without paying an annual fee. You get two points for every dollar spent at supermarkets (up to $6,000 spent per year; one point thereafter) and one point per dollar on other spending. Each month that you make at least 20 purchases on the card, you get a 20% bonus on the points you’ve earned. You can transfer points to partner travel loyalty programs, including Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors. (Most transfers are at a one-to-one ratio; the ratio for Hilton is one Membership Rewards point per two Hilton points). Or exchange points at a rate of a penny each for flights booked through American Express Travel (minimum 5,000 points). You can also redeem points for hotel reservations and other travel bookings, as well as statement credits or gift cards, but point values are often lower. The card charges a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee. 

Bronze Medal: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 56,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, worth about $353 after subtracting the annual fee

If you are a frequent guest at Marriott properties, you should consider this card because you can either redeem Marriott Bonvoy points that you earn with it for hotel stays or transfer them to more than 40 frequent-flier programs, including American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards and United MileagePlus (at a ratio of three Marriott points to one mile for most programs). For every 60,000 points that you transfer, you get a bonus of 5,000 miles. The card doles out six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels and two points per dollar on all other spending. Points expire if your account is inactive for 24 months.

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (Premium Travel Rewards)

Tyumen, Russia - May 11,2019: Mobile app taxi LyFt taxi on a Apple iPhone XR

Gold Medal: Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 16.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Frequent travelers can squeeze a lot of value out of this feature-packed card. It offers a $300 annual statement credit on travel spending—and through December, gas and grocery store purchases count toward the credit, too. Other benefits include a credit of up to $100 every four years for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee and free access to airport lounges through Priority Pass Select. Through December, cardholders get up to $120 back for a Peloton Digital or All-Access membership and up to $60 in statement credits for purchases with food-delivery service DoorDash. You have until December 31 to activate a free subscription of at least a year to DashPass, which provides reduced fees on DoorDash deliveries, and until March 2022 to start one year of free membership with Lyft Pink, which provides discounted rides, priority airport pickups and other perks from Lyft.

Sapphire Reserve pays out three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and travel purchases and one point per dollar on other spending, and through March 2022, Lyft rides earn 10 points per dollar. Points have a rich value of 1.5 cents each if you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (minimum redemption amounts may vary). Recently, through the Pay Yourself Back feature, you could also get a 1.5-cent point value when redeeming points for statement credits against purchases in rotating categories; through September, the categories include grocery stores, home-improvement stores, restaurants and select charities. Or transfer points to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs, as with Chase Sapphire Preferred (see the Flexible Travel Redemptions category). 

Silver Medal: American Express Platinum

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Sign-up bonus: 75,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first six months

American Express Platinum is a great choice among premium cards if you spend a lot of time at airports. It provides free access to several lounge networks, including Amex’s own well-regarded Centurion lounges. And you get free visits to lounges from Airspace, Escape, Delta Sky Club and Priority Pass Select, too. Cardholders also get a $200 yearly credit for incidental fees (such as for checked baggage or in-flight meals) on one airline of choice; $15 in Uber Cash per month for Uber rides or Uber Eats deliveries ($35 in December); Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status; an application-fee credit of up to $100 for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry; extras such as early breakfast, late checkout, and dining and spa credits at select hotels; and complimentary membership in premium car-rental programs from Avis, Hertz and National. 

Earn five Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights (up to $500,000 spent yearly) and prepaid hotel reservations booked through Amex Travel. During your first six months of card membership, the card recently offered 10 points per dollar on up to $15,000 in combined gas station and supermarket purchases, too. Other spending gets one point per dollar. Points are transferable to partner travel loyalty programs (for details, see the Amex EveryDay card, the silver medalist in the Flexible Travel Redemptions category), or exchange points at a rate of a penny each for flights booked through American Express Travel (minimum 5,000 points). 

Bronze Medal: Citi Prestige 

  • Website: www.citi.com
  • Interest rate: 16.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: $495
  • Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Pick up five points per dollar on restaurant and airfare spending, three points per dollar on hotel and cruise line purchases, and one point per dollar on other spending. Points are redeemable at a rate of a penny apiece for travel bookings through Citi’s ThankYou Travel Center, or you can transfer them to participating airline frequent-flier programs, including those from JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (most transfers are at a 1:1 ratio). Cardholders also get free airport lounge access with a Priority Pass Select membership, reimbursement of up to $100 every five years for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, a free fourth night during a hotel stay of at least four consecutive nights booked through Citi’s ThankYou.com (you can use the benefit twice per year) and a $250 statement credit on travel purchases each year. Through December, supermarket and restaurant purchases count toward the credit, too.

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (Dedicated Airline Cards)

Gold Medal: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express 

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 15.74% to 24.74%
  • Annual fee: $99, waived the first year
  • Sign-up bonus: 70,000 SkyMiles if you spend $2,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 36,169 miles, worth about $362

This card awards two SkyMiles per dollar not only on Delta purchases but also in two other attractive cate-gories: restaurant and supermarket spending. All other purchases earn one SkyMile per dollar. Cardholders also get one free checked bag for up to nine passengers on a flight reservation, priority boarding, a 20% discount on in-flight purchases (excluding Wi-Fi) and a $100 credit for a Delta flight if you spend at least $10,000 on the card in a year. 

Silver Medal: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $149
  • Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Rapid Rewards points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 27,000 points, worth about $256 after subtracting the annual fee

Frequent fliers on Southwest Airlines get a lot of bang for their buck to offset the annual fee with this card. Included are a $75 yearly travel credit for Southwest purchases (excluding upgraded boarding and in-flight purchases), annual reimbursement for up to four upgraded flight boardings to positions A1 to A15, a bonus of 7,500 Rapid Rewards points on your account anniversary each year, and 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List or A-List Preferred status for each $10,000 in purchases on the card (up to $100,000 yearly). Cardholders earn two points per dollar on Southwest purchases and one point per dollar on other spending. Recently, you could also get three points per dollar spent at restaurants for the first year.

Bronze Medal: JetBlue Plus Mastercard

  • Website: www.barclaycardus.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 24.99%
  • Annual fee: $99
  • Sign-up bonus: 40,000 TrueBlue points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Typical annual rebate: 47,169 points, worth about $420 after subtracting the annual fee

This card will prove lucrative for frequent JetBlue flyers. It provides six TrueBlue points per dollar spent on purchases from JetBlue, two points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar on other spending. Plus, you get 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary each year; one free checked bag for you and up to three other passengers on a flight reservation; a 50% discount on in-flight cocktail and food purchases; a $100 annual statement credit if you purchase a JetBlue Vacations package of at least $100 with the card; and Mosaic loyalty status if you spend $50,000 or more on the card in a calendar year. Each time you redeem points for a flight, you get back a 10% point bonus.

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Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards (Dedicated Hotel Cards)

Suitcase by bed in hotel room at tourist resort

Gold Medal: World of Hyatt Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 30,000 World of Hyatt Bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 36,907 points, worth about $532 after subtracting the fee

Healthy point values help boost the Hyatt card to the top of the heap among hotel cards. Earn four World of Hyatt Bonus points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels and two points per dollar for purchases with restaurants, airlines, local transit, fitness clubs and gyms. In the first six months of card membership, you also get two points per dollar on all other purchases (on up to $15,000 spent); after that, you earn one point per dollar on other spending. Each year after your cardmember anniversary, you get a free night at a Hyatt property (in hotel categories one through four), as well as an extra free night if you spend at least $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. Cardmembers also enjoy Discoverist loyalty status, five qualifying night credits toward the next tier status each year, and two more qualifying night credits for each $5,000 spent on the card. 

Silver Medal: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 15.74% to 24.74%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 130,000 Hilton Honors points if you spend $2,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 120,789 points, worth about $509 after subtracting the annual fee

This card makes up for low Hilton Honors point values by piling on plenty of extra points in everyday spending categories. You earn 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, six points per dollar on restaurant, supermarket and gas purchases, and three points per dollar on all other spending. (Points typically expire if you are inactive in the Hilton Honors program for 15 months, and earning points with the credit card counts as activity; points set to expire in 2021, however, will not expire until December 31.) Plus, get automatic Hilton Honors Gold loyalty status, or Diamond status if you spend at least $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. If you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, you get a free weekend-night reward. Through Priority Pass Select, cardholders can visit participating airport lounges free up to 10 times a year. Rather skip the annual fee? Check out the Hilton Honors Amex, which also provides bountiful points in a range of categories.

Bronze Medal: Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Visa

  • Website: www.barclaycardus.com
  • Interest rate: 15.74% to 24.99%
  • Annual fee: $75
  • Sign-up bonus: 45,000 Wyndham Rewards points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Typical annual rebate: 64,883 points, worth about $509 after subtracting the annual fee

Earn six Wyndham Rewards points per dollar spent at Wyndham properties, four points per dollar on restaurant and grocery store purchases, and one point per dollar on other spending. (Points expire if your Wyndham Rewards account is inactive for 18 months.) Cardholders get a 7,500-point bonus on their account anniversary each year, automatic Platinum status with Wyndham’s loyalty program, discounts on the best available rates for overnight Wyndham stays, and a 10% discount on points needed to reserve hotel stays with the program’s Go Free awards, which allow you to book free nights with specified point increments.

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Best Fuel Rewards Cards

Female making a payment for gas on a station

Gold Medal: Abound Credit Union Platinum Visa

  • Website: www.aboundcu.org
  • Interest rate: 9.25% to 18%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $324

Get 5% cash back on fuel purchases paid at the pump and 1% back on other retail spending. Rewards redemption is simple: Abound automatically applies cash back to your account each month. To become a member of the credit union, join nonprofit organization USA Cares (no fee applies), pay a one-time, $10 membership fee to the credit union, and deposit $5 into a savings account. 

Silver Medal: Sam’s Club Mastercard

  • Website: www.samsclub.com
  • Interest rate: 12.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $100 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $408

This credit card from wholesale retailer Sam’s Club offers 5% cash back on up to $6,000 spent yearly on gas station purchases (1% thereafter). You also earn 3% back at restaurants, and if you have a Plus membership ($100 a year), the card provides 3% back on Sam’s Club purchases, in addition to the 2% back that Plus members get on store purchases regardless of whether they have the credit card. Those with a Club membership ($45 yearly) get 1% back on Sam’s Club purchases, and all cardholders earn 1% on spending that does not fall into any of the other rebate categories. Cash-back rewards are limited to $5,000 a year, and the previous year’s rewards are automatically loaded to your membership account starting each February. You can use cash back to make purchases at Sam’s Club stores and SamsClub.com. 

Bronze Medal: PNC Cash Rewards Visa

  • Website: www.pnc.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first six months and get $300 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $538

Earn 4% cash back on gas purchases, 3% at restaurants and 2% at grocery stores on the first $8,000 of combined spending in those categories each year. All other spending gets 1% back. When your cash-back balance reaches $25, you can redeem it for an account credit or a deposit into an eligible PNC bank or investment account. If you live in a region with PNC Bank branches, you can use the card without having any other PNC accounts. If you live outside of PNC’s branch footprint, you must have an online bank account with PNC to use the card.

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Best Grocery Rewards Cards

Gold Medal: American Express Blue Cash Preferred

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $3,000 in the first six months and get $300 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $538

Amex’s Blue Cash Preferred has long been the gold standard among grocery-rebate cards for its unbeatable 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent yearly at supermarkets (1% thereafter). Cardholders also get 6% back on qualifying video- and music-streaming subscriptions, 3% back on transit (such as taxis, ride-sharing services, parking and tolls) and gas purchases, and 1% on other spending. When your cash-back balance is $25 or more, you can redeem it for a statement credit. If you prefer a no-fee card, consider Amex Blue Cash Everyday, which offers 3% back on up to $6,000 in annual supermarket spending, 2% back on gas and select department-store purchases, and 1% back on other spending.

Silver Medal: Verizon Visa

  • Website: www.verizon.com
  • Interest rate: 18.74% to 25.74%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: A $100 credit applied to your Verizon wireless bill if you use the card (or Verizon Dollars) to pay your Verizon wireless or Fios bill for the first 24 months
  • Typical annual rebate: $525

If you’re a customer of Verizon’s wireless services, you can apply for the carrier’s credit card. It provides a generous 4% back on grocery store and gas purchases, 3% back on restaurant spending, 2% back on Verizon purchases, and 1% back on other spending. Rewards are distributed as Verizon Dollars, which you can use to pay your Verizon wireless or Fios bill and to buy Verizon devices and accessories. If your account is inactive for 24 months, you forfeit unused Verizon Dollars. If you use the card to make automatic payments for your Verizon wireless bill and sign up for paperless billing, you can get a monthly discount of $5 or $10, depending on your plan, for each line on your wireless plan. 

Bronze Medal: Navy Federal More Rewards American Express

  • Website: www.navyfederal.org
  • Interest rate: 9.65% to 18%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days
  • Typical annual rebate: 46,088 points, worth $461

If you qualify for membership with Navy Federal Credit Union, check out this card, which offers three points per dollar spent at supermarkets and restaurants and on gas and transit. Other purchases earn one point per dollar. Points are worth 1 cent each when you redeem them for cash back, travel bookings and gift cards. Navy Federal membership isn’t open to everyone, but the standards are fairly broad: You can join as a military servicemember or veteran, a roommate or immediate family member of a servicemember (including spouses, children, parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren), or a Department of Defense civilian employee. Members must deposit at least $5 into a savings account.

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Best Dining Rewards Cards

 Ordering food with smartphone

Gold Medal: U.S. Bank Altitude Go Visa

  • Website: www.usbank.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 14.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Typical annual rebate: 41,483 points, worth $415

Get an appetizing four points per dollar spent on restaurant purchases with this card, which U.S. Bank introduced last year. It also provides two points per dollar spent on groceries, gas and eligible video- and music-streaming services and one point per dollar on other spending. Points are redeemable at a rate of a penny apiece for merchandise, gift cards and travel bookings (1,000-point minimum redemption for those options), and points have the same value for statement credits or deposits into a U.S. Bank savings or checking account (2,500-point minimum). You also get a $15 statement credit each year that you charge 11 consecutive months of payments to eligible streaming services, such as Apple Music, Hulu and Netflix. 

Silver Medal: Capital One SavorOne Mastercard

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 15.49% to 25.49%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spent $500 in the first three months and get $200 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $375

The SavorOne card offers 3% cash back on restaurant and entertainment spending (the entertainment category includes purchases at movie theaters, sporting events, amusement parks, zoos and some other venues), 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on other purchases. Redeem cash back in any amount for a statement credit or check. Cardholders also get dining perks, such as premium service with restaurant-reservation app OpenTable and presale tickets for benefit dinners through Capital One’s Taste America program. If you spend significant amounts on dining purchases, the $95 fee on the Capital One Savor card may be worthwhile because it pays a higher rate of 4% back on dining purchases. 

Bronze Medal: American Express Gold

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 22.99%
  • Annual fee: $250
  • Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 53,507 points, worth $285 for certain travel redemptions after subtracting the annual fee 

Amex Gold is well suited to travelers who dine out frequently and can make good use of a strong grocery rebate, too. You get four Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and on up to $25,000 spent yearly at U.S. supermarkets, three points on airfare, two points on qualifying purchases at AmexTravel.com, and one point on other spending. Redeem points at a rate of a penny apiece for flights booked through Amex Travel, or transfer them to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs. (For more detail on transfers, see the Amex EveryDay card, the silver medalist in the “Flexible Travel Redemptions” category). Plus, cardholders get $10 in Uber Cash each month—which you can spend on Uber Eats orders or Uber rides—and a $10 monthly statement credit for purchases through Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed and other participating food-delivery services. And when you stay at properties in Amex Travel’s Hotel Collection, get up to $100 in credit for qualifying activities at the hotel, such as visiting its restaurants or spa.

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Best Shopping Rewards Cards

Photo of shopping mall

Gold Medal: Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 17.99% to 26.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 5% back for in-store Walmart purchases the first 12 months if you use the card through Walmart Pay
  • Typical annual rebate: 38,823 points, worth $388

If you’re a regular visitor to Walmart’s website and stores, you can get good value from its credit card, which offers five points per dollar spent at Walmart.com (including grocery delivery or pickup). For the first year, you also get five points per dollar spent on in-store purchases if you use the card through Walmart Pay, Walmart’s mobile payment app; after that, you get two points per dollar at the store. Purchases at Walmart and Murphy USA gas stations, as well as restaurant and travel spending, earn two points per dollar, and other spending earns one point per dollar. Exchange points in any amount at a rate of a penny each for checks, statement credits, gift cards or travel bookings. 

Silver Medal: Amazon Rewards Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 14.24% to 22.24%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: $50 Amazon gift card upon approval
  • Typical annual rebate: 34,427 points, worth $344

Amazon’s credit card pays out three points per dollar spent at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market—or five points per dollar if you’re a member of Amazon’s $119 yearly Prime service. The card also pays two points per dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and one point per dollar on other purchases. Redeem points at a rate of a penny each for cash back, purchases directly at Amazon.com, gift cards (2,500-point minimum) or travel bookings. 

Bronze Medal: Costco Anywhere Visa

  • Website: www.citi.com
  • Interest rate: 15.24%
  • Annual fee: None, but you must be a Costco member (memberships start at $60 annually)
  • Typical annual rebate: $463

Members of Costco Wholesale can take advantage of a desirable set of rebates with this card. You get 4% cash back on up to $7,000 spent on gas per year (1% thereafter), 3% on restaurant and travel spending, 2% on Costco and Costco.com purchases, and 1% on other spending. After your February billing statement closes each year, you’ll receive the cash back you earned the previous year as a reward certificate, which you can redeem for cash or merchandise in a single transaction at Costco. You have until December 31 the year your certificate is issued to redeem it.

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Best Shopping Rewards Cards (Store-Restricted)

Burbank CA USA: November 27 2017: Target Store Exterior view of a Target retail store. Target Corporation is an American retailing company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the s

Gold Medal: Target RedCard

  • Website: www.target.com
  • Interest rate: 22.9%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)

You can use this card only at Target’s stores or website, but Target fans will appreciate the 5% rebate on in-store and online purchases. The discount extends to clearance prices and in-store Starbucks purchases, but prescription drugs, Target Optical eye exams, and certain other items and services are not eligible. Cardholders get free shipping on most deliveries from Target.com and an additional 30 days to make returns or exchanges. 

Silver Medal: Lowe’s Advantage

  • Website: www.lowes.com
  • Interest rate: 26.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 20% off a purchase upon opening and using the card ($100 maximum discount)
  • Typical annual rebate: $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)

With the Lowe’s Advantage card, you get a 5% discount on every purchase. Alternatively, you can choose to get six months of no-interest payments on a purchase of at least $299 (a 26.99% interest rate is charged retroactively to the purchase date if you don’t pay the full balance within six months) or 84 fixed monthly payments at a reduced 7.99% interest rate on a minimum $2,000 purchase. 

Bronze Medal: TJX Rewards Credit Card

  • Website: www.tjmaxx.com
  • Interest rate: 26.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: 10% off your first purchase
  • Typical annual rebate: 4,000 points, worth $40 (assuming $800 spent annually)

Earn five points per dollar spent at stores in the TJX family, including HomeGoods, Homesense, Marshalls, T.J.Maxx and Sierra. For every 1,000 points you earn, you get a $10 rewards certificate, which expires two years after its issue date. Note that TJX also offers a version of the card that is usable anywhere Mastercard is accepted, but its only other rebate category is one point per dollar on purchases outside of TJX stores. 

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Best Rewards Credit Cards for Students

Photo of college student

Gold Medal: Discover It Chrome for Students

  • Website: www.discover.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for six months, then 12.99% to 21.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: A match of cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards
  • Typical annual rebate: $48 (assuming $225 spent monthly)

This card comes with several student-friendly features. To start, its rewards scheme is simple and sensible for the student lifestyle, offering 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% back on other spending. Cash back is redeemable in any amount for statement credits, bank account deposits, charitable donations or direct payments to select merchants; gift card redemptions come with a $20 minimum. After the first year, Discover matches the cash back you’ve earned, so students don’t have to meet a spending minimum to secure an initial bonus. 

Each school year a student has a grade point average of at least 3.0 (for up to five years) earns him or her a $20 statement credit. And when it comes to interest and penalties, Discover’s policies are forgiving for young people who are learning the ropes of managing a credit card: It never charges a penalty interest rate after a late payment, and it waives the late fee for the first missed payment. 

Silver Medal: Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students Visa

  • Website: www.bankofamerica.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 15 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%
  • Annual fee: None 
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and get $200 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $56 (assuming $225 spent monthly)

Choose one category that earns 3% cash back. The options are gas, online shopping, restaurants, travel, drugstores, and home improvement and furnishings (you can change the category each calendar month). You also get 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. Each quarter, a combined $2,500 spending cap applies to the 3% and 2% categories—after that, purchases in those categories earn 1% back, and all other spending gets 1% back, too. Redeem rewards in any amount for a statement credit or deposit into a Bank of America checking or savings account; certain other redemptions, such as receiving a check, require a $25 minimum 

Bronze Medal: Capital One Journey Student Mastercard

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 26.99%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Typical annual rebate: $34 (assuming $225 spent monthly)

Consider this card if you prefer a basic, flat-rate structure for cash back and would appreciate a little extra encouragement to pay your bills on time. Each month that you make timely payments, the card provides a 1.25% payback (otherwise, you get 1% back) and a $5 statement credit toward eligible music- and video-streaming service subscriptions charged to the card (limited to $60 in credits within the first 18 months of card membership). Cash back is redeemable in any amount for a statement credit or check. Capital One charges no foreign-transaction fees, and Mastercard is widely accepted worldwide, so this card is a good one for students to keep in their pockets for studying abroad.

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Best Rewards Credit Cards for Business

Gold Medal: American Express Blue Business Cash

  • Website: www.americanexpress.com
  • Interest rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.24% to 19.24%
  • Annual fee: None
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $5,000 in the first six months and get $250 back; spend $10,000 in the first year and get an additional $250 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $600 (assuming $30,000 spent annually)

If you like straightforward rewards and redemptions, this card does the job: You earn 2% cash back for every purchase on up to $50,000 spent per calendar year and 1% back thereafter. Cash back is automatically credited to your statement. You can add employee cards to your account, set spending limits and keep an eye on their spending with alerts and reports. Prefer to earn Amex Membership Rewards points instead? The American Express Blue Business Plus card provides two points per dollar on up to $50,000 spent per year and one point per dollar after that. 

Silver Medal: Spark Cash from Capital One

  • Website: www.capitalone.com
  • Interest rate: 20.99%
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
  • Sign-up bonus: Spend $4,500 in the first three months and get $500 back
  • Typical annual rebate: $600

Spark Cash provides an unlimited 2% cash back on all spending, making it a fitting selection for business owners who charge significant sums. Cash back is redeemable in any amount for a statement credit or check. You can add employee cards to your account free, track employee spending and set spending limits for the cards. Spark Cash may be issued on the Mastercard or Visa network. It charges no foreign-transaction fee—a nice perk for international business travelers. 

Bronze Medal: Chase Ink Business Preferred Visa

  • Website: www.chase.com
  • Interest rate: 15.99% to 20.99%
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Sign-up bonus: 100,000 points if you spend $15,000 in the first three months
  • Typical annual rebate: 49,136 points, worth $519 for travel bookings or $396 in cash back after subtracting the annual fee

If you have large expenses coming up and can spend $15,000 in the first three months of card membership, the recent sign-up bonus of an eye-popping 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points—worth $1,250 in travel bookings through Chase or $1,000 in cash back—will make up for the annual fee several times over. The card pays out three points per dollar on up to $150,000 per year in combined spending on shipping purchases; advertising on social media sites and search engines; internet, cable and phone services; and travel. All other spending nets one point per dollar spent. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when you redeem them for travel bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards (minimum redemption amounts may vary) or 1 cent for cash back (no minimum required) and gift cards (minimums may vary). You can also transfer points to participating hotel and airline loyalty programs, including Southwest Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. The card charges no foreign-transaction fee, so business travelers benefit, too. 

Employee cards are free, and you can set spending limits on them. Another helpful feature: You get insurance for cell phones against damage or theft, for both you and employees listed on your phone bill, if you pay the bill with the card (there’s a $100 deductible per claim and a maximum of three claims per year). 

If you like the Chase family of cards but want to avoid an annual fee, check out the Chase Ink Business Cash Visa. It offers five Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on up to $25,000 in combined annual spending at office-supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services; two points per dollar on up to $25,000 in combined annual spending at gas stations and restaurants; and one point per dollar on other spending. Points are worth a penny apiece for cash back, gift cards and travel bookings. 

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Best Low-Rate Credit Cards

Photo of percentage signs

If a low interest rate is more important to you than dazzling rewards, consider these cards. 

Long-term 0% introductory rate: The 0% introductory period on the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum card (www.usbank.com) lasts 20 months for both purchases and balance transfers; after that, the variable rate was recently 14.49% to 24.49%. The balance-transfer fee is the greater of 3% of the amount transferred or $5. 

No-fee balance transfers: If you have access to a Chase bank branch, you can visit it to apply for the Chase Slate Visa card, which provides a 0% introductory rate on balance transfers for 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74%) and charges no fee on transfers made within 60 days of opening the account. Recently, most customers could not apply for the card online. 

Low ongoing rate: The Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa (www.lmcu.org) offers an interest rate as low as 6.25% and charges no balance-transfer fee. Anyone can join the credit union by donating $5 to the ALS Foundation and depositing $5 into a savings account.

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About our Methodology

Several piggy banks

For each card, we’ve calculated a typical annual rebate using spending patterns listed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey and assuming $24,000 charged to the card each year (unless otherwise noted). For cards that do not waive their annual fee the first year, we subtracted the fee from the cash value of the annual rebate. Other criteria play into card placement, too, such as ease and flexibility of earning and redeeming rewards and whether you must be a member of a club or financial institution to apply for a card. Except where noted, rewards do not expire or have caps, and the travel-focused cards do not charge foreign-transaction fees.

We do not include a typical annual rebate for premium travel rewards cards because they also provide considerable value outside of the points they award for everyday spending.

We did not encounter a contender for bronze medalist in the “Flat-Rate Cash Back (Worth the Fee)” category. Additionally, we selected Wells Fargo Propel American Express as the gold medalist among no-fee travel rewards cards. Recently, however, Wells Fargo paused acceptance of applications for the card.