Credit Card Rewards Report: How Much Are Consumers Getting?

Banks have been spending an exuberant amount of money on credit card rewards over the last several years. This trend has had a positive impact on consumers who are in the market for a new payment card. We took a dive into the data behind the credit card rewards market to develop a better understanding of how it's evolving and how much consumers are benefiting from this trend.

How Much In Rewards Have Consumers Collected from Banks?

American Express, Discover and Capital One—some of the largest credit card issuers in the country—spent a combined $12.9 billion on credit card rewards in 2017. This marks a 59% increase over 2011, and it speaks to the increasing rewards war that has been raging among card issuers this decade. However, this is just a small part of the money spent on rewards throughout the industry. Other large issuers, like Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, do not disclose how much they are spending on rewards per year. But in a recent SEC filing, Chase did disclose its total rewards liability—that is, how much its cardmembers have accumulated in rewards and are waiting to redeem. As of 2017, Chase users have a combined worth of $4.9 billion in unredeemed credit card points.

A graph showing the total annual spending on credit card rewards from 2011 to 2017, among the major card issuers.

Our analysis also included a look at spending per cardmember. Last year, the banks we examined above spent, on average, $78 per active account. American Express lead the pack, with an annual cardmember spend of $121 per account, while Discover put up just $41 per account. While this shows a positive gain for card users, it is presently unclear whether consumers are being charged more in interest and card fees than they are gaining.

Cities With the Most and Least Credit Card Rewards Participation

Nationally, 69% of households are estimated to participate in at least one credit card rewards program. This can encompass any credit card account that provides a sign-up bonus, ongoing rewards or promotions to its cardholders. Select parts of the country have far more households participating in credit card rewards than others. We examined data for 318 cities across the U.S. where the population was above 100,000. Californians seemed the most rewards-obsessed. For example, more than 70% of households in Fremont, San Mateo and Santa Clarita enrolled in at least one credit card rewards program.

For the most part, cities in southern states like Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi saw lower participation. However, a few northern cities also saw low participation—namely, Detroit along with a few cities in Ohio. Detroit placed last, with just 43% of households using rewards.

RankCityRewards ParticipationHouseholds with RewardsAverage Card Debt
1Fremont, CA80%62,35811,931
2San Mateo, CA78%32,53510,512
3Honolulu, HI77%105,0115,619
4Daly City, CA76%25,1189,787
5Santa Clarita, CA76%47,78011,731
6Highlands Ranch, CO76%29,4269,994
7Naperville, IL75%39,0477,855
8Huntington Beach, CA75%58,52010,482
9Concord, CA75%35,1309,274
10Centennial, CO74%31,0688,082
11Thousand Oaks, CA74%35,1318,293
12Antioch, CA74%26,0659,502
13San Francisco, CA74%281,86810,273
14Irvine, CA73%68,41712,219
15Torrance, CA73%42,72710,555
16Simi Valley, CA73%31,3128,787
17Orange, CA73%33,13210,931
18Arlington, VA73%82,2688,593
19Hayward, CA72%36,9049,400
20Sunnyvale, CA72%42,34310,298
21West Covina, CA72%23,80010,287
22Carlsbad, CA72%33,1459,163
23Pembroke Pines, FL72%44,52710,156
24Elk Grove, CA72%37,9619,921
25Berkeley, CA72%35,9198,805
26Gilbert town, AZ71%58,5608,846
27Roseville, CA71%35,8829,416
28Miramar, FL71%30,00011,558
29Pearland, TX71%27,2188,660
30Santa Clara, CA71%33,45510,292
31Bellevue, WA71%39,8576,731
32Frisco, TX71%37,66513,172
33Fullerton, CA70%33,69310,111
34Columbia, MD70%29,7709,005
35Davie, FL70%26,52110,298
36Alexandria, VA70%54,5317,613
37Scottsdale, AZ70%78,8876,469
38Coral Springs, FL70%31,57410,539
39San Jose, CA70%232,8939,322
40Pasadena, CA70%40,73210,143
41Norwalk, CA70%19,36710,412
42Allen, TX70%23,05512,101
43League City, TX70%24,5827,819
44The Woodlands, TX69%29,9137,199
45Arvada, CO69%32,9827,333
46West Jordan, UT69%22,8308,626
47Richmond, CA69%26,7177,920
48Costa Mesa, CA69%29,23310,439
49Burbank, CA69%30,16910,345
50Surprise, AZ69%35,4176,495
51Oakland, CA68%116,7768,347
52Chandler, AZ68%66,5527,877
53Peoria, AZ68%44,4086,842
54Stamford, CT68%33,9137,853
55Thornton, CO68%32,2568,361
56Joliet, IL67%33,0227,127
57Anaheim, CA67%70,55710,242
58Garden Grove, CA67%32,3679,816
59Downey, CA67%23,6309,775
60Elgin, IL67%24,8596,719
61Westminster, CO67%31,8267,544
62Anchorage, AK67%74,51810,475
63Aurora, IL67%43,5157,230
64Cambridge, MA67%32,1196,153
65Oceanside, CA67%42,7957,882
66Palmdale, CA67%31,43110,012
67Cary town, NC67%40,8098,368
68San Diego, CA67%348,3218,665
69McKinney, TX67%38,30011,570
70San Buenaventura, CA67%27,9687,159
71Clovis, CA67%24,4117,961
72Enterprise, NV66%33,0448,281
73Henderson, NV66%74,8576,721
74Chula Vista, CA66%54,9469,108
75Olathe, KS66%32,2498,094
76Overland Park, KS66%51,6917,062
77Yonkers, NY66%50,9307,546
78Fort Lauderdale, FL66%53,5018,301
79Temecula, CA65%22,8839,552
80Plano, TX65%73,2959,761
81Virginia Beach, VA65%114,2437,444
82Washington, DC65%202,9387,175
83Glendale, CA65%48,8799,159
84Hillsboro, OR65%25,2607,586
85Murrieta, CA65%22,6028,870
86Hollywood, FL65%40,7438,502
87Seattle, WA65%207,6666,153
88Long Beach, CA65%110,2459,320
89Lancaster, CA65%33,1499,417
90Oxnard, CA65%34,1147,701
91Chesapeake, VA65%55,8467,407
92Pomona, CA65%26,1069,030
93Rancho Cucamonga, CA65%37,0178,872
94Fairfield, CA64%24,5349,767
95Renton, WA64%26,2806,083
96Lakewood, CO64%44,2146,647
97Santa Ana, CA64%49,6819,516
98Jersey City, NJ64%68,7498,802
99West Palm Beach, FL64%30,3998,082
100Corona, CA64%29,9659,321
101Bakersfield, CA64%75,6297,899
102Pompano Beach, FL64%29,2177,204
103Santa Rosa, CA63%43,1098,504
104Round Rock, TX63%26,7136,872
105Rochester, MN63%29,4447,310
106West Valley City, UT63%25,4146,968
107Los Angeles, CA63%876,2829,161
108Colorado Springs, CO63%118,3646,615
109Beaverton, OR63%26,6706,707
110Carrollton, TX63%30,5119,272
111Sterling Heights, MI63%31,7595,667
112Richardson, TX63%26,7378,956
113Boise City, ID62%58,6236,234
114New York, NY62%2,060,2917,789
115Aurora, CO62%87,3526,834
116Madison, WI62%69,7685,501
117Mesa, AZ62%113,9875,794
118Sandy Springs, GA62%29,7286,849
119Boulder, CO62%28,9128,983
120Sacramento, CA62%114,3637,461
121Brandon, FL62%27,3638,022
122Portland, OR62%169,3166,616
123Denver, CO62%194,1067,202
124Cape Coral, FL62%43,7045,148
125Midland, TX62%31,4199,592
126Vista, CA62%19,4427,188
127Compton, CA62%15,0678,399
128Billings, MT62%29,7008,344
129Escondido, CA62%29,9087,427
130Miami Gardens, FL62%21,3977,627
131Spring Hill, FL62%25,2896,026
132Boston, MA61%172,3525,436
United States Average61%75,678,7106,750
133Fort Collins, CO61%40,8378,720
134Vancouver, WA61%44,3925,922
135Fontana, CA61%31,3239,188
136Vallejo, CA61%26,2788,332
137Broken Arrow, OK61%24,86410,587
138Cedar Rapids, IA61%34,3546,649
139Greeley, CO61%23,3988,383
140North Las Vegas, NV61%45,5256,808
141Albuquerque, NM60%139,8126,213
142Las Vegas, NV60%137,8416,250
143Des Moines, IA60%52,6774,757
144Minneapolis, MN60%107,4845,861
145Lowell, MA60%24,5464,824
146Kent, WA60%22,7865,438
147Wichita, KS60%93,5245,988
148Visalia, CA60%25,9588,782
149Tacoma, WA60%50,2535,114
150Spring Valley, NV60%47,5586,058
151Chicago, IL60%642,9766,103
152Palm Bay, FL60%25,8405,027
153Saint Petersburg, FL60%69,3386,842
154Omaha, NE60%101,6064,717
155Tempe, AZ59%42,9465,842
156Inglewood, CA59%22,6507,819
157Phoenix, AZ59%336,6676,144
158Gresham, OR59%24,9605,824
159Salt Lake City, UT59%48,6106,544
160Clearwater, FL59%30,0976,491
161St. Paul, MN59%70,7105,324
162El Monte, CA59%17,0627,947
163Raleigh, NC59%109,4936,851
164Glendale, AZ59%51,1445,805
165El Cajon, CA59%21,0986,935
166Stockton, CA59%55,7786,760
167Salem, OR58%36,2297,448
168Everett, WA58%26,3845,086
169Sioux Falls, SD58%41,8566,443
170Grand Prairie, TX58%37,9448,812
171Lewisville, TX58%25,4838,877
172Charlotte, NC58%192,9596,937
173Modesto, CA58%42,0847,822
174Hampton, VA58%32,1755,875
175Austin, TX58%221,5565,819
176Odessa, TX58%25,5988,562
177Riverside, CA58%56,0137,493
178Ann Arbor, MI58%28,6006,506
179Charleston, SC58%36,5965,271
180Santa Maria, CA58%16,6828,573
181Jacksonville, FL58%204,0725,589
182Moreno Valley, CA58%31,9587,669
183Spokane, WA58%52,3927,651
184Elizabeth, NJ57%25,0256,548
185Garland, TX57%46,9047,693
186Fresno, CA57%95,8166,401
187Warren, MI57%30,7244,813
188Tampa, FL57%86,8977,610
189Lincoln, NE57%64,4766,161
190Eugene, OR57%40,7247,344
191Arlington, TX57%81,0538,197
192Rialto, CA57%14,5967,513
193Independence, MO57%28,3965,035
194Columbus, OH57%207,3834,270
195Lakeland, FL57%25,0024,705
196Metairie, LA57%34,4894,779
197East Los Angeles, CA57%17,9857,636
198Newport News, VA57%40,7776,089
199Fort Worth, TX57%169,9038,740
200Reno, NV56%55,3097,880
201Springfield, IL56%28,9485,680
202Ontario, CA56%25,9817,587
203Manchester, NH56%26,2906,368
204Paradise, NV56%54,1825,727
205Mesquite, TX56%29,2027,665
206Port St. Lucie, FL56%37,8586,279
207Las Cruces, NM56%23,3947,176
208Salinas, CA56%24,3638,435
209Atlanta, GA56%118,1766,722
210Kansas City, MO56%112,5395,752
211Davenport, IA56%23,7415,832
212Pittsburgh, PA56%77,2594,676
213Fargo, ND56%30,9156,181
214Hialeah, FL56%41,7396,384
215Provo, UT56%19,1417,610
216San Antonio, TX55%297,5885,140
217Waterbury, CT55%23,1655,527
218Louisville/Jefferson, KY55%142,4705,413
219Miami, FL55%98,9557,714
220Denton, TX55%27,2977,837
221Durham, NC55%59,9006,093
222Tucson, AZ55%116,4735,293
223Pasadena, TX55%29,3055,330
224Pueblo, CO55%24,8786,502
225Lehigh Acres, FL55%19,4435,145
226Philadelphia, PA55%342,7765,351
227Murfreesboro, TN55%27,7995,571
228Bridgeport, CT55%29,1475,841
229Orlando, FL55%66,7267,220
230Sunrise Manor, NV55%35,8095,353
231Houston, TX55%483,5235,418
232Topeka, KS55%29,6045,449
233Worcester, MA54%37,9405,258
234Victorville, CA54%19,7227,207
235Peoria, IL54%25,9855,741
236Corpus Christi, TX54%67,4257,348
237Nashville-Davidson, TN54%149,6225,365
238Fort Wayne, IN54%56,9635,522
239Amarillo, TX54%42,0077,269
240El Paso, TX54%124,6804,935
241Norfolk, VA54%47,7596,063
242Richmond, VA54%51,6286,021
243High Point, NC54%23,6155,678
244Norman, OK54%26,4039,216
245Paterson, NJ54%24,3526,244
246Huntsville, AL54%44,7326,583
247Baltimore, MD54%134,9216,296
248McAllen, TX54%24,6565,226
249Greensboro, NC54%65,0815,495
250Irving, TX54%48,8808,198
251Grand Rapids, MI54%41,6304,282
252San Angelo, TX53%21,1886,783
253Oklahoma City, OK53%137,7229,221
254Newark, NJ53%52,5925,944
255Indianapolis, IN53%183,2905,276
256Buffalo, NY53%59,4343,969
257Green Bay, WI53%22,9675,596
258Lexington-Fayette, KY53%70,0377,052
259Lafayette, LA53%28,5577,055
260Abilene, TX53%24,3416,426
261Allentown, PA53%22,7954,202
262Little Rock, AR52%44,5434,792
263Columbia, MO52%24,9155,863
264Milwaukee, WI52%121,7924,395
265Syracuse, NY52%30,1113,934
266New Haven, CT52%25,6685,587
267Dallas, TX52%262,9007,627
268Wichita Falls, TX52%20,2046,401
269Lubbock, TX52%50,5086,821
270Rochester, NY52%45,3863,955
271Kansas City, KS52%28,8784,925
272Columbia, SC51%25,2664,485
273Wilmington, NC51%27,2256,451
274Clarksville, TN51%29,4397,082
275Rockford, IL51%29,6905,113
276Chattanooga, TN51%39,2234,539
277Killeen, TX51%27,7577,421
278Montgomery, AL51%40,0556,372
279South Bend, IN51%20,2755,067
280Tyler, TX51%20,6406,275
281Evansville, IN50%25,6384,835
282Springfield, MA50%28,8504,429
283Akron, OH50%41,7163,622
284Toledo, OH50%58,5203,635
285North Charleston, SC50%21,6844,516
286Tulsa, OK50%85,6428,147
287Providence, RI50%31,3964,967
288St. Louis, MO50%70,9185,003
289Roanoke, VA50%21,8595,917
290Columbus, GA50%39,0586,479
291Baton Rouge, LA50%45,9734,560
292Fayetteville, NC49%40,6126,218
293San Bernardino, CA49%30,0446,162
294Winston-Salem, NC49%48,5456,155
295Mobile, AL49%39,1436,036
296Springfield, MO49%36,5544,709
297Lansing, MI49%24,5194,893
298Augusta-Richmond, GA49%37,4964,076
299Beaumont, TX49%22,7476,262
300Tallahassee, FL49%38,7806,217
301Shreveport, LA48%38,2266,233
302Knoxville, TN48%39,5154,533
303New Orleans, LA48%81,0804,672
304College Station, TX48%18,8576,956
305Memphis, TN48%119,5434,530
306Laredo, TX47%33,7977,283
307Savannah, GA47%27,5775,953
308Cincinnati, OH47%64,3525,052
309Hartford, CT47%21,1304,750
310Gainesville, FL46%25,4755,910
311Waco, TX46%22,8875,873
312Jackson, MS46%29,0284,150
313Cleveland, OH46%75,0313,128
314Dayton, OH46%26,2943,285
315Birmingham, AL45%40,3503,953
316Athens-Clarke County, GA45%21,3195,565
317Brownsville, TX44%23,7646,494
318Detroit, MI43%109,3753,860

We looked at several metrics to determine whether any factors tied these cities together and whether anything could explain the rewards participation, or lack thereof. The biggest correlation was present between rewards participation and median household income. The two had a strong, positive correlation of 0.85. The more affluent a city was, the more likely it is to have a high number of households with rewards cards. Fremont, the city where most households have a at least one rewards card, had the fourth-highest median income on our list.

It should also be noted that high credit card rewards participation correlates to a high level of debt. There was a 0.72 correlation between average credit card debt in a city and its credit card rewards participation rate. However, it should be noted that higher card debt can be a result of many factors, and it isn't necessarily caused by rewards. For example, more affluent cities may spend more in general, which would inflate the total credit card balances for that region.

Consumer Advice: How to Take Advantage of Rewards Credit Cards

Consumers who want to start using credit card rewards should proceed with caution. While there's an opportunity to earn a free vacation or score hundreds of dollars in cash-back rewards, there are some risks involved. First and foremost, consumers should be careful with accruing debt. Avoid charging purchases to a credit card unless you know you can pay them off by the end of the month.

You should also consider a card's annual fee before signing up for a rewards card. Take time to figure out whether it makes sense to pay it. How much you spend on a card typically determines if it’s worth paying an annual fee. Charge less than $12,000 a year on your card? Then you should stick to a credit card with no annual fee. Those who spend more could consider getting a card that offers benefits and charges an annual fee. The following chart explains how annual spending impacts whether an annual fee is worth paying. In this scenario, Card A charges a $50 annual fee and offers 2% cash back, and Card B does not charge an annual fee and offers 1.5% cash back.

Annual SpendingCard A Net RewardsCard B Net RewardsWinner
$5,000(2% x $5,000) - $50 = $50(1.5% x $5,000) = $75Card B
$10,000(2% x $10,000) - $50 = $150(1.5% x $10,000) = $150Tie
$15,000(2% x $15,000) - $50 = $250(1.5% x $15,000) = $225Card A

Finally, consumers need to consider which type of rewards card is best suited for their financial lifestyle. There are three main types of rewards cards: cash back, generic travel and co-branded travel. The last one is only worth considering if you're an avid traveler who is loyal to one particular hotel or airline brand. Generic travel cards excel for consumers who spend a lot on entertainment, travel and restaurants. Cash-back cards typically have no annual fees, and they're best for rewarding everyday purchases, like gas and groceries.

When choosing a card, it's best to focus on specific features and prioritize the ones that are most important to you.

Methodology

Rewards spending by issuer was sourced using balance sheets the companies submit to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We looked through 10-k and 8-k filings for the largest credit card issuers by loan amount. Ultimately, rewards spend was reported only by three of the top six issuers: Discover, American Express and Capital One. To obtain spending per cardmember, we pulled the number of active cardmembers by bank from PaymentSource.com.

For data on credit card rewards participation by city, we turned to estimates provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Participation was obtained by dividing the number of households enrolled in at least one credit card rewards program by the total number of households for that city. We also considered cities where the population was at least 100,000. Median income and debt data were also obtained through the Market Intelligence platform.

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