We researched over 500 credit cards to find the best credit cards for rewards. With so many cards offering points, miles and other perks to choose from comparing cards can be very difficult. The best credit cards reward program will also depend upon your personal or business spending habits. To help you out we've compiled our list of the best rewards cards of 2014 as well as some tips and tools to help you compare all your rewards credit card options.

Our Top Rewards Credit Cards

We focused on credit cards with rewards that would be best for everyday use. If you could have only one rewards card these are the cards we think you should choose from. Our rankings account for bonuses that you'll earn with the cards as well as spending rewards. If you don't care about bonuses then consider one of the cash back cards.

Card Rewards Rewards Rate Rating
Barclaycard Arrival Plus Wold Elite MasterCard All Travel  2.2% 95
Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express Hotel 2.2% 94
Citi Double Cash Credit Card Cash Back 2% 90
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Back 1.5% 85
Chase Sapphire Preferred All Travel 1.25 - 3.75% 83
Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard All Travel 1.1 - 2.2% 80

Barclaycard Arrival Plus: Best All Around Travel Rewards 

For rewards credit cards that you can use everyday, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is hands down the best. If you travel just once a year, or even once every two years, the lucrative yet simple rewards from this credit card are too good to pass up. The standout feature of the card is the 2.2% rewards rate you'll receive on all your spending, when used as a statement credit on any travel expense. With many other cards you could only come close to these rewards if you spent on specific categories, or used the awards at a single chain of airlines or hotels. With the Arrival, you can spend your money anywhere and redeem the rewards for any travel purchase.

Putting the card over the top is also one of the largest signing bonuses available. At 40,000 miles, worth $400 dollars, new cardholders are offered a fantastic promotion for getting the Barclaycard. When Barclaycard rebranded the Arrival Plus earlier this year, they expanded the categories of expenses that fall under travel. This added Taxis, Buses, Limousines, Tourist Attractions, Timeshares and Campgrounds to the mix. This vastly increases the number of day to day expenses that the miles could be used for.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is our best rewards card for someone that spends more than $1000 a month, and has sufficient travel expenses each year. This will allow you to satisfy all the spending requirements necessary to qualify for the signing bonus, as well as make the cards rewards more worthwhile when compared to a no annual fee option. It also ensures that you have actual uses for the miles earned with the card.

Additional Travel Rewards Credit Cards Resources

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express: Best Hotel Rewards

When it comes to the best hotel credit cards, consumers should really consider the Starwood Preferred Guest first. With both the personal and business versions of this American Express offering, cardholders can enjoy one of the highest average dollar per point values of any loyalty program. Starpoints from the SPG program are worth an astounding 2.3 cents per point. On general spending alone the card rewards you with 2.3% on your spending, double that if it is used at a Starwood affiliated resort or hotel. With over 1100 properties worldwide, including familiar brands such as the Westin, Sheraton and W hotels, travelers can find a redemption option in nearly every corner of the world.

As an additional benefit, Starpoints earned through the credit card and the SPG loyalty program can be exchanged for loyalty rewards at most major airlines. With most airlines accepting these transfers at a 1:1 ratio, you can use Starpoints to top off an awards travel booking, adding just a little more flexibility in your rewards use. New cardholders also qualify for a 25,000 point signing bonus, worth nearly 500 dollars in hotel stays.

Highlights

  • One of the highest dollar value per reward of all credit cards we surveyed.
  • Rewards are usable at nearly 1000 properties and 32 airlines through the points transfer program.
  • Signing Bonus: 30,000 point bonus worth at as much as $600 for new card members
  • Rewards Rate: 2.2%

Additional Resources For Hotel Credit Cards

Citi Double Cash Card: Best Flat Rate Cash Back Rewards

The Citi Double Cash is the new entrant in flat rate cash back rewards and it bests just about everything we've seen offered thus far. With an effective 2% cash back on all your spending, it's one of the best rewards offerings we've seen in a long time. The lack of a bonus makes it less worthwhile than some of the other cards in the short term, since those hundreds of dollars of extra rewards can be pretty valuable right now. With no annual fee and 1% cash back immediately when you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay off your bill the Double Cash Card is otherwise quite hard to beat. Citi is also currently offering an introductory purchase and balance transfer APR. It's just begging you to make the switch.

Highlights

  • Rewards Rate: 2% Cash back on all spending
  • No annual fee

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards: Best Cash Back with Bonus

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a little more flexibility at the cost of some overall value. All else being equal cash back is our favorite rewards mechanism, and that's just want the Quicksilver gives you. With 1.5% cash back on all spending, the Quicksilver offers a relatively good return without many hoops to jump through. Best of all, with no annual fee it is a rewards card with nearly no financial burdens.  New card members qualify for a one time $100 bonus if they spend $500 dollars on purchases within the first 3 months. The signing promo is one of the smaller bonuses available, but also among the easiest to achieve in the cards we've surveyed. 

The previously mentioned travel rewards cards are more generous overall, so if you travel at all it's a better financial decision to go with one of those. If however you're for a no hassle rewards card for your primary credit card, there is no substitute for the Quicksilver.  While other rewards cards, including some other cash back cards can offer you a higher rate, it will usually come at the cost of increased hassle. This may include higher percentages only if you make purchases in specific categories, or through featured categories that rotate every 3 months. If you want just one card to depend on, go with Capital One's offering.

Highlights

  • Rewards Rate: 1.5% Cash Back on all spending
  • Signing Bonus: $100 bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months
  • No Annual Fee

Related Resources

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best Airline Miles Rewards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is best suited for cardholders that are willing to go the extra mile to get more out of their spending. If you're the type of person that enjoys figuring out how to get the most bang for your buck, the Sapphire Preferred is one of your best options. While the cards we've already mentioned will have better overall rate on general spending categories, the Chase Sapphire Preferred performs much better if you tie yourself to their Ultimate Rewards program. In doing so you can earn as much as 3.75% of your total spending in rewards. An additional benefit of the Sapphire Preferred over some of the generic travel cards is the ability to use Ultimate Rewards points as cash back at a penny a piece. Most generic rewards cards like those in the American Express or Citi ThankYou programs force you to take a significant discount when using points for cash back rewards.

Highlights

  • Rewards Rate: 1.25 - 3.75%+
  • Signing Bonus: 40,000 bonus points worth 400-500 dollars on travel or cash back
  • Double on travel and dining. Earn an additional point on travel when airfare or hotel arrangements are made through Chase Ultimate Rewards for a total of 3 points per dollar spent
  • Points can be transferred directly to a number of hotel and airline partners at a 1:1 ratio for use in their loyalty programs
  • Rewards are usable as cash back as well as statement credits

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard: Best No Fee Travel Rewards 

If you're looking for to choose among the best rewards credit cards for travel but don't want an annual fee, begin with the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. It has nearly all the travel rewards benefits of its premium counterpart the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, but without the annual membership cost. With double miles on travel expenses and dining and the miles accrued still work 1 cent each, it still offers top tier results for travel expenses. Where it's a little weaker is in only providing 1 mile per dollar spent on all other expenses. So if you're looking for a hassle free travel miles card with no fee to concern yourself with, this card is our pick.

Highlights

  • Double rewards on travel expenses and dining
  • No Annual Fee
  • 25,000 mile signing bonus if you spend $1000 in the first 3 months

Which Credit Card Rewards Program Is Best?

Beyond simply looking at individual credit cards, we thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the larger credit card rewards programs. While many credit card will offer rewards that based on that individual card, many cards by the larger issuers give you points or miles that are a part of a broader rewards program.

Such programs include American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points among others. Each of these rewards programs encompass a suite of card offerings, with the points you earn accumulated into the programs account. If you have multiple cards earning these points, you can spend them in aggregate as well. This is noteworthy because cards within the same program can actually have different redemption options and rates. The premium fee-based cards will often allow you to use your awards at a better rate.

One example is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which shares the Ultimate Rewards program with the Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom. Preferred card holders receive a 20% discount when redeeming their points for hotels or airlines through Ultimate Rewards receive a a perk not not offered on the standard Sapphire and Freedom.  As a result it may make sense for someone to hold two different cards in the same program, especially if they have two different earnings structures.

For many consumers, the premium cards in these awards programs may be initially out of reach because of spending or your credit. Even if you start with one of the cheaper or no-fee cards in these programs, your accumulated rewards may become more valuable later once you're approved for the higher tier cards. It is with this in mind that we take a look at the major awards programs to see how they fare. We also look at some interesting card combinations that may make sense 

American Express Membership Rewards

Credit cards that offer points in the Membership Rewards (MR) program include the company's suite of personal charge cards: The Green card, Premier Rewards Gold, Gold Card and Platinum Card. It also includes the recent credit card offerings the Amex EveryDay and Amex EveryDay Preferred.

The shining feature of the Membership Rewards program is the expansive list of airline and hotel partners where your rewards can be transferred to. Among the three programs the Amex program has the most partners from which to choose from. For a list of partners see our in-depth break down of the MR program. Another competitive option for the points is using them to book flights through Membership Rewards portal which will yield you 1 cent per point, our suggested minimum for redeeming most rewards. The one knock on Amex's program is that in nearly all other redemption scenarios, the value of American Express points drops quite significantly. Used for statement credits, cash back or nearly any other form of shopping will cost you a 20-30% haircut on the value of your awards.

In American Express's program, there were no differences between the cards when it came to how the points could be redeemed. The cards themselves are mostly differentiated based upon how points are earned and the ancillary benefits/features that come with each card. 

Chase Ultimate Rewards

The Ultimate Rewards (UR) program, includes the aforementioned personal cards: the Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom as well as the suite of Ink Business Cards. Unlike the American Express program, Ultimate Rewards makes redemption options one of the clear benefits for it's more expensive premium cards the Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus. 

Consumers in possession of one of these three cards receive 20% off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when redeeming points through Ultimate Rewards and can transfer the points to partner travel loyalty programs. Overall the selection of travel partners in the Chase program is slightly more narrow than you will find with American Express. See here for a list of partners.

Where the UR program is superior is the value in making travel arrangements through Ultimate Rewards. There just isn't much of a price difference based on where you book your travel arrangement these days, so receiving a 20% haircut on your awards means that the points are significantly more valuable overall. 

The best feature of UR however is actually the minimum value that your points are worth. With Chase Ultimate Rewards, the lowest you can expect your points to be worth is 1 cent each when used for cash back. Since receiving cash for your points is the most flexible option for any credit card rewards you know you'll never have to redeem them for anything worse.

How To Find The Best Rewards Credit Card

If you want to look at more options than the ones we've listed, here are some considerations we think you should make in your quest to find the best rewards card. Use this guide as a framework for evaluating any credit card offers you come across to help you compare how each card might fit into your personal spending decisions.

Your Personal Habits Matter

Consumers shopping for a rewards credit card often just want a single answer to "What is the best rewards card?" Unfortunately the answer is "It depends." Which rewards card will be the best for you will depend entirely on your personal spending, travel and credit habits. Before researching cards take a moment to consider your personal preferences, it will go a long way in helping you find the best rewards card.

Do You Keep A Balance On Your Credit Card?

In exchange for giving you bonuses and rewards, rewards credit cards will generally have a significantly higher interest rate. If you're unable to pay off the entirety of your monthly charges, you'll easily pay more in additional interest than you could earn from rewards. Rewards card are only a good option for consumers that keep very low to no credit card debt on a monthly basis. If you are having difficulty zeroing out your balance, consider a low interest credit card first. You're much better off reducing your interest payments than trying to get a percentage point or two in rewards.

Be Honest To Yourself About How You Use Rewards

Cards that give you a large amount of rewards are great, if you use them. Americans rack up millions of dollars of frequent flyer miles, hotel loyalty points and credit card rewards that are never used. For those consumers these rewards might as well be worth 0. Take inventory of how much you travel or how much you spend in different categories since it will make a large impact in what rewards can make sense.

You might also consider whether you're the type to save up towards one big redemption or want to be able to benefit from rewards as frequently as possible. Many loyalty program affiliated cards can require you to rack up thousands in points and miles before you can actually use them. Lastly, think about how much do you value flexibility. Aggressive consumers can get a much better dollar value out of their rewards, but it will usually limit their choices for rewards redemption. 

How Much Are You Going To Spend On A New Card?

Cards with the highest rewards rates often come with an annual fee. With many no-fee rewards credit card options available, the decision to pay an annual fee will depend on the amount you will spend on the card. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to spend at least $1,000 a month for a fee-based rewards card to be viable. 

What To Look For In A Rewards Card

In examining the different rewards credit cards we looked at different factors that come into play when choosing the best. Understanding all these different aspects can help you figure out just how good a card really is.

Take A Look At How The Rewards Work

While most cards use the same set of terms (points, miles, cash back), the ways these rewards work will vary tremendously. Look to see if rewards can be applied as statement credits, cash back or solely through an award redemption. Statement credits and cash back are our favorite options when available. Some cards allow you to transfer your rewards to other loyalty programs giving you another way to use what you've earned.

Rewards Rate

If your rewards card is going to be your primary card then the rewards rate for general spending is very important. For everyday spending you can expect to earn  to 2.5% of what you spend as rewards. The more flexible the type of reward you get from the card, the lower the rewards rate you can expect. Travel rewards cards will generally have among the highest rewards rates.

Signing Bonuses Matter 

The promotions offered to new card holders are a major portion of the value you can get from a new rewards card. Earning these bonuses will require you to either make a purchase on the card or spend a certain amount within a set time limit. With the value of signing bonuses ranging from $50 - $500 making sure you can fulfill the qualifications can change the value of a card tremendously. Be sure to make sure you are eligible. You may not qualify for the signing bonus if you already have a similar credit card with the same issuer. 

Compare The Best Rewards Credit Cards

If you'd like to see how the credit cards we've discussed perform for you, use our embedded tool to see what you can earn from rewards. By changing your spending patterns you can see how each card performs for you.

Rewards
Graph by Card:
Rewards
The total value of the card at the end of the period by card. The card value accounts for the dollar value of the rewards as well as any fees associated with the card.
Rewards Rate
The dollar value of rewards as a percentage of total spending by card.
APR
The minimum APR for each card.
Annual Fee
The annual fee for each card.
Bonus Value
The dollar value of signing and continuing bonuses by card.
Graph by Month:
Rewards
The dollar value of each card by month
Rewards Rate
The value of each card as a percentage of total spending by month…
Based on a cardholder that spends $1000 a month, over 2 years

Credit Cards + ValuePenguin
About Our Credit Card Research

The ValuePenguin team independently researches the features of each credit card we come across to provide unbiased analysis. Using the information we collect, we build a separate computer model for each card to determine how the card performs and how it compares to other options. We make each of our models available to you so you can see how the various cards work for your specific circumstances.

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