Sunday Reader Question: How Do You Value Your Credit Card Points and What Are Best Cashback Credit Cards?

by on December 4, 2011 · 48 comments

in American Express, Capital One, Cash Back Rewards, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, Sunday Reader Questions

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: SimplyCash Business Card from American Express

I have advice featured in the NY Times travel section today and at one point I talk about how I value American Express Membership Rewards points at about 2 cents a piece.  NYT reader Roger emailed me questioning my valuation of American Express points:

“I just wanted to point something that was mentioned in the article that is a mistake. In the article it mentions that 1,000 points on the Amex Gold is more or less equivalent to $20. I signed up for the Amex Premier Rewards Gold last January only after Amex kept sending me offers of more and more signing bonus points. When it got to 50,000 points I signed up. The other reason was the 3x points on travel and 2x points on groceries and gas. I redeemed the 50k bonus for airfare which was the equivalent of $500. We then proceeded to spend about 20k on the card and when I came to redeem the points for gift card, as you cannot redeem for cold hard $, the point to dollar equivalent was not 1 to 1. For example, a $100 Amex gift card requires anywhere between 15k to 20k points. The only reward category where 10k points would equate to $100 is when you redeem for airfare. I was very surprised by this and called Amex who confirmed that this was indeed the case. Hence, why I completely disagree when you say that 1000 points equates to roughly $20. The most 1000 points would equate to is $10 and only when redeeming for airfare.”

My response (sent from my iPhone while I was walking down the street so please excuse the brevity).
“Hi Roger- never redeem for gift cards- its a terrible value. The 2 cent valuation comes from the airline transfer partners.

For example you can transfer 100k to delta (you get 30k points back with their current promotion)
So for 70k Amex points you can get a business class round trip flight from the US to Europe. Those tickets can often be over $3,000 to purchase.
That’s just one example, but in general you should look more into the airline transfer partners – that’s where you get the most bang for your point.”

So basically, you will get the most value out of your Amex (and Chase Ultimate Rewards) points by transferring to airlines – especially when they have transfer bonuses, like British Airways’ current 30% bonus. If you teach yourself the ins and outs of booking airline awards, it’s not hard to get 5+ cents per point in value back from your points.

However, Roger emailed me back and said that he is most interested in cashback rewards, in which case American Express Premier Rewards Gold probably isn’t your best bet. When the $175 annual fee kicks in after the first year that will take a toll on the maximum value he gets back from those points. There are other cards with lower or no annual fees that also give category bonuses.

Here is my rundown of major credit cards with category bonuses and cash back type rewards. Please feel free to comment, since I’m sure I missed some.

American Express
American Express Premier Rewards Gold- Earn triple points on airfare, double points on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, double points at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets and single points on other purchases. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
American Express Business Gold Rewards- Triple points per dollar on airfare (on all scheduled U.S. and international passenger airlines), double points on advertising with select media (graphic design, tradeshows and advertising services), gas (from stand-alone U.S. gas and commercial fuel stations) and shipping (in the U.S. for courier, postal, and freight services) and single points on everything else. $175 annual fee, waived for the first year.
American Express Blue Cash Preferred- 6% cash back at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets up to $6,000 in purchases per year, 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores; 1% cash back on other purchases.
American Express Blue Cash Everyday- 3% cash back at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets up to $6,000 in purchases per year, 2% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores; 1% cash back on other purchases. No annual fee.
American Express TrueEarnings Costco- Update: The terms of the True Earnings Card from Costco have changed. View the current offer here. Earn 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, including at Costco, for purchases up to $4,000 per year (1% thereafter), 2% cash back at U.S. restaurants, 2% cash back on eligible travel purchases, and 1% cash back on other purchases, including at Costco.
American Express SimplyCash Business- 5% cash back at U.S. office supply stores,  U.S. wireless telephone service providers and 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations up to $25,000 in purchases per year, 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
American Express Co-Branded Fidelity Cards (Require Fidelity accounts)- 2x on everything. No annual fee.

Bank of America

BankAmericard Cash Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% on groceries, and 3% on gas (Quarterly maximum applies to bonus rewards on grocery and gas purchases). Plus earn a 10% customer bonus when you redeem into a Bank of America® checking or savings account. Get a $50 cash rewards bonus after you make at least $100 in purchases within 60 days of account opening. $0 annual fee.

Capital One
Capital One Venture- 2x on everything. $59 annual fee, waived for the first year.
Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers- 2x on travel- great for people looking to build their credit and earn rewards while doing it. No annual fee.
Capital One MTV- 5x on entertainment and 2x on restaurants. No annual fee.
Capital One LSU- 2x on gas and groceries. No annual fee.

Chase Ink Business- 5x wireless/telecommunications services (excluding equipment such as phones and fax machines), cable and satellite television and radio services, office supply stores and wholesale distributors of office supplies. 2x on airfare and hotel. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Chase Ink Classic- 5x office supplies, wireless and land-line phone and cable (incl internet), 2x on fuel and lodging. No annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Preferred- 2x on travel and dining. $95 annual fee, waived for the first year.
Chase Freedom: $300 cashback offer after $500 spend in the first 3 months. 5x rotating categories on up to $1,500 spend: currently dining, department stores, movie theaters and charitable organizations. No annual fee. (Update: current offer is 10,000 points or $100 in cashback).
Chase AARP Card: 1% cashback on all purchases up to an annual total of $600 cashback, and for now, 5% cashback on all purchases in the first six months.

Citi AT&T Universal Business Card- 5x on AT&T Products and services purchased directly from AT&T and 3x on gas station and certain office supplies and professional services. No annual fee.
Citi Thank You Preferred- 2x points on purchases for dining and entertainment, and 1 ThankYou point for every dollar you spend on other purchases. No annual fee.
Citi ThankYou Premier- 1.2x at gas stations, supermarkets, drugstores, commuter transportation and parking merchants. $125 annual fee, waived the first year.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union:
Visa Platinum Gas/Cash Rewards 5% cash back on gas. No annual fee.
Premium Travel Rewards American Express. 5% cash back on airfare. No annual fee.

Debit Card:
PerkStreet Financial: 2% cashback on everything. 5% on special monthly categories.


Discover More Card: $150 cashback bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Up to 1% cashback on all purchases, 5% Cashback Bonus on a rotating selection of merchants (Oct-Dec is restaurants and fashion, Jan-Mar is gas and entertainment), 5-20% cashback bonuses on purchases through ShopDiscover portal. $0 annual fee.

Discover Open Road Card: Up to 1% cashback on purchases, 2% bonus on the first $250 each month at restaurants and gas stations. $0 annual fee.

Discover Student More Card: Up to 1% cashback on everyday purchases, 5% bonus on rotating categories. $0 annual fee.

Discover Student Open Road Card: 2% cashback bonus on your first $250 in purchases at gas stations and restaurants each month, plus up to 1% cashback on your other purchases. $0 annual fee.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Dan

    What airlines can you transfer Amex points to? I know Delta, British Airways, Virgin America are options. Any other popular domestic airlines? Trying to find a good option to transfer Amex points and book a round-trip flight from MSP to LAS. I would have already jumped on the Delta 30% bonus, but I only have 41,000 Amex points…

  • Redriver16

    A post about cashback cards with no mention of Discover?

  • Rudy2828

    NYT reader Roger is wrong about the gift cards. Except for Amex GCs, all other GCs (Home Depot, etc) , are exchanged one point = one cent. I went that route until I became points focused. Amex GCs are an awful use of points.

  • BothofUs2

    Surprised as well not to see Discover on the list

  • Anonymous

    Good call. I just added four of Discover’s cards into the mix. I personally don’t have any Discover cards, but I would love to hear which ones you carry and why.

  • Bohemiana

    I recently booked 2 tickets on American via Travelocity using Chase Sapphire points. I never considered transferring the points to American first, then getting the tickets. It cost me 52,688 points but it would of only cost 50,000 American miles. Are Sapphire points transferrable to airlines?

  • Disgusted

    This is nothing but a list of credit cards which pay you a commision (until someone mentioned Discover) to take advantage of the traffic from the New York Times.

    Talk about a new low!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t get commission on all of these cards and the post is advising the reader to save money and get a card with a cheaper annual fee and better bonus categories. If you have any additions to the list I’d be happy to add them!

  • Tina

    Discover More Card earns me several hundred dollars per year, when I take cash. This can easily be doubled, if I use my cash for a reward through Discover travel. For example, when I book a cruise, I can cash in $80 cash for $160 cash credit off the booking. Not the most knowledgeable agents, IMO; however, the rates are the same as booking elsewhere. So, I do my own research, then contact them when I am ready to book.

  • Anonymous

    Sapphire points transfer to united, continental, British airways, Korean, Hyatt, Marriott, priority club and amtrak

  • Anonymous

    Depending on the route and award availability you may have even able to book the same flight by transferring to British airways and booking the AA flight since they are oneworld partners

  • SoCal traveler

    Tons of travel bloggers do this, but I hate it nonetheless.

    The majority of us out there would never pay the list price for anything in front of coach class.
    There’s a reason its called business class- your business/employer is paying for it, not you). Frequently a fare that costs $1000 coach can easily cost $3000 biz and $5000+ for 1st. Sure, it’s nicer, but is it worth the extra $2,000 v the price of coach? Most people would say no. A more reasonable and realistic valuation would prob be 30-50% higher than coach fare, not 200% higher.

    When you then take a more realistic valuation of what biz class is really worth, and then compare it to the miles spent, the great advantage of miles/pts over cash closes significantly.

    I also agree with an earlier poster, and am starting to feel like your blog is pushing credit cards too much. You fully deserve the right to make a commission off of your work, but today’s post has gone way too far.

  • Bhe5533

    don’t forget Chase AARP card gives 5% cash back for the first six months.

  • David Lichtman

    Hard to argue with the Fidelity Amex — unlimited 2% cashback on everything under the sun is pretty darn good.

  • Mwwalk

    So let me get this straight. You’re pissed because a blogger put up credit card links on his blog. Somebody emailed thepointsguy and asked him about how he evaluates credit card rewards. Then he makes a list for people interested in cash back cards rather than rewards. Some he gets a commission on, but some he doesn’t. (If he’s making a list anyway, why wouldn’t he use links that give him a little something back.) Exactly what is wrong with this? I didn’t see him trying to convince everybody to go get these credit cards and use his links. He’s merely answering a question and giving us something to think about when it comes time for the next churn.

  • TravelandCredit

    Are you certain you get 3x airfare on the Amex BUSINESS gold? I have both the personal and business versions. I called Amex after getting the biz card to clarify 3x airfare and they confirmed. I then purchased a $1,000 flight to Europe for a friend and never received the 3x bonus. I secure messaged and they said only the personal card receives 3x… To which I disagreed and complained and they credited me the points as a goodwill gesture but said I should use the personal premier rewards gold card for future flights.. Interesting huh?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tip, I just added a mention of this card and links to the application in.

  • Travelandcredit

    It’s a breakdown of credit cards and what they offer – which he clearly stated before the list. The site is about earning points and traveling, and as I’m sure you have learned – credit cards are usually the best route for that.

  • Anonymous

    Valuation is different for every person. I’m 6’7 and I put a premium on business class that is apparently worth more than yours.

    I am not an expert on cashback cards, and almost all the content about credit cards on my site is about those that earn you points or miles, and then maximizing those. I am not “pushing” these credit cards. The bottom line is that credit cards are the single most lucrative way to accrue points and miles these days, and anyone who deals with points on a regular basis would tell you the same thing.

    This list does contain referral links, but it also contains a lot of links that go directly to the credit cards’ or banks’ sites, regardless of whether I get a referral fee. This is just a list of the major cashback cards out there, and I asked readers to comment and add ones they felt I left off. It’s meant to be a discussion, and I want to hear from readers who have cashback cards, and what they like about them.

    As with any card, a consumer should do their research and apply for the best one for their specific circumstances.

  • Ny2sfx28

    This is a travel blog — send the cash back guy elsewhere. Thanks for the link farm spam in my RSS.

  • Redriver16

    I carry the Discover More card. Starting in 2012, they are matching Chase with 5% cashback in the quarterly categories up to $1500 in spend (up from $300). Also, along with Chase, I’d say they have the best online rewards portal with an extra 5%-20% cashback at many retailers (you aren’t going to have to chase them down for your cashback a la Cartera).

    In my opinion, it’s a good card to have if for nothing else than to use your cashback to pay the taxes on those longhaul premium cabin redemptions to truly fly for free.

  • Lark

    Discover just gave me 5% cashback (up to $500 spend) in my birthday month…

    Points and miles are great, if you know how to use them wisely.

    For most people, I think cash back is the best option. And Discover leads the pack.

  • Scott

    Does Capital One give different values for their points/miles depending on which card you have? For example, is a point/mile earned on the Capital One Venture Card worth the same as a point earned on the Capital One LSU credit card?

  • Dan

    There are truly some ridiculously dumb people that must log on and read this blog. Seriously, it’s a FREE service that TPG offers – how are you going to b@#$% and moan about what is being posted?

  • Jimmy Dean Sausage

    ain’t nothin’ buy a SAUSAGE LINK FARM!!!

  • Anonymous

    RIP the Schwab cc
    Still waiting for a replacement, anybody…..

  • Anonymous
  • BothofUs2

    Add another Discover card to the list…there’s a Miles by Discover card, provides Double Miles on your first $3,000 in travel and restaurant purchases each year, plus 1 Mile for every $1 on all other purchases. There’s no annual fee for this card. One other Discover card is the “Escape” card, 2 miles per dollar spent in any category, but it has a $60 annual fee.

  • BothofUs2

    Sorry I meant add two to the list…

  • Bohemiana

    Personally, I love the credit card evaluations because they are based on how much travel you can get for dollars spent, etc. I don’t travel for business so all my travel is on my own dime and this blog helps me get more for my money. Since finding this blog I am able to travel far more than I would have been able to before. I learn something new here every day. Keep it up TPG!

  • PJ

    “I gain well more than 5 points on ave for my dollar spent with SIGNON offers but each point DOES NOT save me more than 2 cents “I dont think credit card points is worth more than 2 cents net saving the way I used to fly. A CO far east r/t costs about $1000 ( more miles) verus 65K (no miles)+$83 fees and tax I redeem CO 25 K for EWR-SNA run if ticket costs more than 375 You can certainly argue the Avios points worth a lot they TPE-HKG RT only takes away 9K ( ~7K MR+ 30 % bonus)=7K+$50 can fly r/t
    while the r/t ticket can cost close to $500

    I was a bit surprised when Chase Freedom started the 5% quarterly rebate items very similarly to Discover card but outgunned the spend to 1500 (6000 MAX) instead of 800, 400+200Grocery, 300, 300 =2000 MAX. Now Discover has upped the quarterly spend to 1500 while Chase moved away to well different categories..Check them out yourself. I was joking with a CHase rep: I am going to buy 3000 gift cards ( MC and Visa I have) for my grandchildren’s AMAZON diaper formula express etc..

    our better days should be: what ever you are buying you can get 5% off be they from Chase or Discover Citi or Amex or BofA NOT all of them offerring 5 % on same items at the same time..

    By the way, Discover just gave me the $1 extra rebate for my each of my 20 purchases regardless of the transaction amount. I was joking with the rep: you are getting a few amazon gc from me

  • PJ

    I talk friends into credit card signon bonus offers; thal them out of ” ONE penny= ONE point “concept ; stand ready to buy Amex MR or Chase UR at 1.1 penny each point.. So far NO takers on cash offer but MANY takers on 2 Sapphires+ 2 Freedom cards for hubby and wife to collect more than 170K Chase UR = enough for two round trips plus 3 free Taipei Grand Hyatt nights .. with additional two Hyatt cards the couple will be on the CONTINETAL FAR EAST EXPRESS + 7 Free Hyatt nights

    Hope you have also realized Chase has made your UR fully transferable to anybody with different travel partners; Hope AMex will soon no longer require to know an AU’s SS# a touchy area if you need the let known your SS# to a stranger in order to transfer AMex MRs

    BTW, my friends and family members all sign on Sapphire Preferred here with TPG’s link a good way I thanks TPG for his always hard work tho not pleasing all people all the time

  • Rudy2828

    I have to say I am surprised by the vitriol being spewed towards Brian. This recap was timely as I had just started making of list of bonus categories for the cards I and my wife have or may want to get, in large part thanks to TPG. Heaven forbid someone makes a few dollars for supplying information to the public. We are in a capitalist society, right?

    If you’re not happy here go to a blog that updates maybe twice a month. You’ll be back here real soon.

    Merry Christmas Brian!

  • Anonymous

    The main airline transfer
    Amex points are also transferable to anyone else’s frequent flyer account as well- no need to know a SSN- just link their FF account to your Amex and then transfer

  • Matt

    If you value biz at ~50% higher than coach, there are a lot of award charts that agree with you for certain routes. This is great, because you can get what you’d perhaps never purchase at full price, for around what you value it at.

    Personally, I try to use miles for trips that I likely would not pay cash for even coach tickets. Yes, you can certainly redeem for tickets you would otherwise buy, and that’s the easiest way to communicate the basic value proposition offered, but you can also redeem similar amounts for much more exotic or expensive trips that you might otherwise never even consider.

    My next redemption (120k skymiles each for 2 tickets) involves 20k+ flown miles spanning 3 continents, with 3 separate longhaul overnight flights, and a 4th daytime longhaul. I’ll be seeing destinations I’d never even heard of prior to miles. I’d never dream of booking it in coach – it’d wear me out, and it’d also cost something over 8k per ticket (and I’m going with my wife). The $20k it’d currently cost to buy a business seat is absolutely irrelevant to my situation – as I said even the coach wouldn’t make sense for my budget. Obviously at this point a “realistic” valuation is completely personal – I would not be taking the same trip with cash, regardless of cabin, and I certainly would not be dropping $40k on a couple of tickets in biz class.

    The advantage opens right back up when you maximize routings (assuming that that fits in with your travel style). “Best” valuation is always up to the individual – in terms of dollar value to purchase there’s a definite optimum corner case with most programs for complex itineraries in premium international cabins, but if you’re not interested in that then your best value is somewhere else.

  • Afkabp

    Great post Brian. I used to be big on cash back cards, but since becoming a Grandfather last year travel is more important to me.

    I would have loved this information when I was doing the cash back thing though. I could have ended up with a lot more cash.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Dan

    My valuations change depending on where I’m going. From the Northeast US, the premium for an 8-hour flight to Europe isn’t much to me. I’d easily fly UA and just pay the extra for E+.

    However, when we’re talking about trips to Asia, where we can be looking at close to 20 hours in the air each way, it’s a different story. I’d easily pay 100% more for a J seat than a Y, and, in fact, my wife and I did that by outright buying AS miles for a trip on CX. Well worth it at $2300/pp, round trip. Keep in mind that many carriers offer a flat bed in J, and, well, it’s no comparison to 31″ pitch in coach. Add comfortable lounges and priority check-in, and it’s quite nice.

    But, even your position simplifies things too much. We really have to break down points earned from credit card sign-up bonuses, and points earned from every-day spend. Why? Because lately, cards have been pushing massive sign-up bonuses that can’t generally be turned into cash. I’ve picked up 850,000 miles from credit cards over the last 1/1.5 years. Would I trade them in at $0.02 each? Well, maybe, because we’re talking about $17,000 if I could get it straight cash back. But I can’t get that much. *Maybe* I could get a penny/point from some programs in cash or gift cards, so now we’re talking about $8500. Would I trade them in for that? Probably not.

  • Dan


    Pay no attention to those bashing you for putting up links. You are correct when you say that currently, the most lucrative and efficient way to get miles is from credit cards. There is absolutely, positively, no way in denying that. You can’t avoid them in this discussion, and TBH, even a “link farm” like this provides a concise reference for those who are new. Heck, you’ve shown me things that I don’t know…

    You are up front about telling people that if their interest is in domestic coach tickets, they may as well get a cash back card. The miles game is for those who are interested in hotel stays and premium cabin travel.

    TBH, I don’t even think you’re “pushing” cards. You do a good job of advertising/promoting/bringing awareness to them when they first come out, and reminding us when a promo is about to expire. That’s good. It’s also good to see in depth ways of taking advantage of certain cards (like AmEx.) I can see how those who don’t want to play the game might think that’s too much, but, well, they’re not exactly paying for a service here.

    Over the past year and a half or so, my fictitious business and I are on our way to accruing 900,000+ miles. I can’t turn those in for straight cash. The best I could do is about 1 penny per point in gift cards, but most vendors don’t appeal to me, so they’re not even worth that.

    A year ago, my wife and I took a six-week trip to SE Asia, and we spent a good chunk of money, because I didn’t know if we’d ever have that opportunity again. (I was a bit short on miles at the time, and ended up buying 200,000 miles from AS to redeem on CX J.) It was the trip of a lifetime, and who knows when we would be able to do that again.

    Fast forward a year, and 900,000 points later… we’re looking at 3 more trips of a life time, trips that we would never have been able to consider if it weren’t for the credit card game.

    So thanks.

  • CloveLeaf

    Amex Fidelity Reward credit card is hands down the best cashback credit card. Flat 2 point per dollar on everything. If you have a Fidelity retail account you can redeem for cash at 5,000 points for $50. If you don’t, you have to wait until you have 25,000 points to redeem for $250. And the world points can be transferred to Aeroplan at 1:1. NO ANNUAL FEE!! I don’t know why this card has not been mentioned here. It is a no annual fee 2% cashback card with the ability to transfer points to Aeroplan at 1:1.

  • Bhe5533

    use this link.
    I have gotten more than $600 back so far with 5% within my 6 month window. there is no annual fee for this card.

  • Goaway

    For those places that don’t take Amex, there is a Visa Fidelity Reward card for 1.5% cash back on everything. (5,000 points for $75). No annual fee. My employer has our retirement account managed through them anyway, and I found Fidelity’s aggregation layout of taxable/retirement/cc very easy to deal with.

  • CloveLeaf

    There is also a Priceline Visa card which gives 5 points per dollar on priceline name-your-own-price bid and 2 points on everything else. You can redeem 1 point @ 1 cent for statement credit when you have 2,500 points or more. The purchase you want to redeem credit for needs to be greater than or equal to the points’ worth (for example, redeem 3,000 points on a purchase of $30 or more). The points worth a bit more if you redeem on priceline purchases

  • Striper2

    Dear SoCal traveler,

    You are not required to listen to The Points Guy. Find another site that meets your needs.

    All I can tell you is the I have listened to his advise since August, 2011 and have so far accumulated almost 1,000,000 award points, have booked a trip for two to New Orleans ($700), a trip for two to Panama ($1,400), a trip for one to Arizona ($338), a Starwood hotel in New orleans for 3 nights ($1,000), and a trip for two to Calgary, Canada for two in business/ist class($3,300) AND I still have over 600,000 points left on various cards.

    This is someone that you think has gone too far! Please points Guy, keep up your blog exactly as you have been doing, which allows novices like me to become experts always looking forward to your next piece of news.


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  • 6cazn

    Discover would be the best card to use in China, no FX fees, and is accepted everywhere, also earn the bonus category points for the purchase.

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