The best rewards credit cards of December 2019
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At TPG, we talk a lot about points and miles and the cards you can get to earn them. But the world of rewards credit cards goes beyond just points and miles. Today, we’ll walk through our best consumer rewards credit cards of the year and how each can add value, along with points and miles, to your wallet. With the right card, you can save on holiday shopping, get a jumpstart on your 2020 vacation fund and more.
There are dozens of rewards credit cards to choose from, but I’ve narrowed them down to the top 10. Some of these are travel rewards cards that earn transferable points currencies, some are cash-back cards and a couple of cards earn rewards for a specific loyalty program.
Best rewards credit cards of 2019
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Best for travel rewards
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card – Best for hotel.com rewards
- American Express® Gold Card – Best for U.S. supermarkets and worldwide dining rewards
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card – Best for cash back on entertainment
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – Best for commuters
- Chase Freedom Unlimited – Best for pairing with other Chase cards
- Chase Freedom – Best for rotating categories
- Citi® Double Cash Card – Best for everyday expenses
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card – Best for Marriott rewards
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card – Best for gas rewards
Comparing the best rewards credit cards
|Rewards credit card||Rewards type||Bonus value**||Earning rate||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Transferable points||$1,200||Earn 2x on dining and travel; 1x on everything else||$95|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Transferable points||$700||Earn 2x on every purchase; 10x on hotels.com/venture (ends Jan. 31, 2020)||$95*|
|American Express Gold Card||Transferable points||$700||Earn 4x on restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then 1x); 3x on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com; 1x on everything else||$250
(see rates and fees)
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||Cash back||$300||Earn 4% on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores; 1% on everything else||$95*|
|Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||Cash back||$250||Earn 6% at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year) and select U.S. streaming services; 3% on transit and U.S. gas stations; 1% on everything else||$95 (see rates and fees)|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Cash back||$150 ($300, if paired with an Ultimate Rewards card)||Earn an unlimited 1.5% on all purchases||$0|
|Chase Freedom||Cash back||$150 ($300, if paired with an Ultimate Rewards card)||Earn 5% cash back on purchases up to $1,500 spent on quarterly rotating categories||$0|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Cash back||N/A||Earn 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill||$0|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||Hotel||$600||Earn 6x on eligible Bonvoy purchases; 2x on everything else||$95|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Fixed-value||$300||Earn 3x on dining, gas, transit, travel and streaming services||$0|
Best rewards credit cards
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 2x on travel and dining; 1x on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $95
Who should apply: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best beginner travel cards available. You’re getting an excellent sign-up bonus worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations. Its rewards structure is simple, but broad enough to earn points on a large number of purchases. The points currency you’re earning is among the highest-value transferable currencies out there. You can redeem points for 1.25 cents each through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or you can transfer points to one of Chase’s 10 airline or three hotel partners. Plus, you’re only paying a $95 annual fee. What’s not to love? For travelers who want a card with a bit more firepower, the card also has an older sibling, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with a higher 3x rewards rate and perks like a $300 annual travel credit.
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred
Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 2x miles on every purchase; 10x miles when booked and paid via hotels.com/venture (ends Jan. 31, 2020)
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Who should apply: The Venture has long been a crowd favorite for travel rewards because of its simplicity. You know you’re getting 2x on every purchase (and an amazing 10x on eligible hotel.com purchases), which takes a lot of the guessing game out of earning rewards. Those miles earned can then be used as a statement credit to “erase” eligible travel purchases, or they can be transferred to one of Capital One’s transfer partners. As an added perk, you’ll also get a statement credit of up to $100 for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, which isn’t a benefit commonly found on low-fee cards. This card is often marketed as a beginner card, but anyone can take advantage of the card’s rewards structure and benefits. Beginners will enjoy the simplicity of using the Venture, but experts can utilize it as a great card to pick up hotels.com purchases and non-bonus spending, landing the Venture an uncontested spot on our TPG list of best credit cards.
Official application link: Capital One Venture Credit Card
Welcome bonus: Earn 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (although you might be targeted for a higher offer through CardMatch; offer subject to change at any time).
Rewards rate: Earn 4x at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each year, then 1x); 3x on flights booked directly through airlines or on amextravel.com; 1x on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Who should apply: With the Amex Gold, you’re getting a great 8% return on restaurant and supermarket spending and a solid 6% return on airfare. The Gold is a nice middle ground between the top-tier Amex Platinum and a lower-value beginner card, such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. You’re getting perks, such as a $120 dining credit each year and a $100 airline fee credit, plus a rewards structure that focuses on common spending categories besides just travel — all without that massive $550 annual fee. If you want an Amex that makes it easy to earn Membership Rewards on everyday expenses such as dining and groceries, this is definitely a card to consider. Again, the CardMatch tool may have a better offer for you.
Official application link: American Express Gold Card
Welcome bonus: Earn $300 after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment; 2% cash back at grocery stores; 1% on all other purchases
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Who should apply: Anyone who spends a good chunk of change on dining and entertainment should seriously consider this card. Capital One defines both of those categories broadly, meaning you’ll earn 4% back for sit-down restaurants, take-out, coffee shops and bakeries, concert tickets, movies, sporting events and even tourist attractions. If you buy tickets through Vivid Seats, you’ll also get 8% back through May 2020. This is a great tiered earning structure for rewards-card beginners because you don’t have to juggle changing categories, but it can be an excellent value-add for veterans of the rewards game. With no foreign transaction fees, this is the perfect card to use on entertainment purchases while you’re traveling.
Official application link: Capital One Savor Card
Welcome bonus: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 annually; then 1%) and select U.S. streaming services; 3% on transit and at U.S. gas stations; 1% on everything else.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)
Who should apply: The Blue Cash Preferred got a much-needed facelift in 2019, adding valuable bonus categories to keep up with changing purchasing habits. With a new streaming service being launched every other day, earning 6% is a great bonus category that only a few cards recognize. This card is also a commuter’s dream, with unlimited 3% cash back on gas and transit (which includes taxis, ride-shares, tolls, trains, buses and more). Although this card does not earn Membership Rewards points, it remains a simple way to earn rewards on common everyday spending categories.
Official application link: Blue Cash Preferred Card
Welcome bonus: Earn $150 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Annual fee: $0
Who should apply: Everyone needs a card that earns rewards on those purchases that don’t fall under any other bonus categories. That’s where a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited shines. The card is especially valuable for existing Chase Ultimate Rewards cardholders. If you also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you’re actually earning Ultimate Rewards points with the Freedom Unlimited that can be redeemed at an elevated rate through the Chase portal or transferred to travel partners. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, which doubles the value of your rewards.
Official application link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Welcome bonus: Earn $150 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in purchases spent on quarterly rotating categories (activation required); 1% on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Who should apply: If you’re willing to keep up with spending categories that change every three months, you can get a lot out of a rewards card like the Chase Freedom. The categories are often easy to maximize. For example, the fourth-quarter 2019 categories are department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay — which are perfect for holiday shopping. If you maximize the bonus categories each quarter, you’ll earn $300 in bonus category rewards each year. Just like the Freedom Unlimited, you can also pair this card with a Chase Ultimate Rewards card and earn valuable Chase points rather than just cash back. Then you’ll be earning 5x back on bonus category spending — and getting a nice $600 in rewards value each year.
Official application link: Chase Freedom
Welcome bonus: N/A
Rewards rate: Earn 2% on every purchase — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill.
Annual fee: $0
Who should apply: Two percent cash back on every purchase is a great offer for non-bonus spending. Although Citi did recently strip important purchase protections from this card, the issuer also added the ability to convert your Double Cash rewards to ThankYou points via a linked ThankYou account. ThankYou points are valued at 1.7 cents each at TPG, in part because of Citi’s solid list of transfer partners. The ability to convert points means you’re getting a 3.4% return on every purchase for no annual fee. If you’re in the market for a simple card that earns flexible rewards, it doesn’t get much better than the Citi Double Cash.
Official application link: Citi Double Cash Card
Welcome bonus: 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 6x points on eligible Marriott Bonvoy purchases; 2x points on everything else.
Annual fee: $95
Who should apply: The Boundless is a good option if you are a traveler who is loyal to the Marriott brand but doesn’t want to pay a high annual fee. Right now, the card comes with a 75,000-point sign-up bonus that is worth $600, according to TPG valuations. You’ll also get perks like an additional free-night award (up to 35,000 points) every year, complimentary Silver Elite status with a path to Gold, and more. Silver Elite status gets you a 10% point bonus on stays, which means you’re earning 17 points per dollar spent on eligible Bonvoy stays (10 base points + 1 bonus point + 6 card points). Those who aren’t loyal to a specific brand may be better off with a more flexible rewards card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred (a Marriott Bonvoy transfer partner) when booking stays, but if you are frequently staying at Marriott properties throughout the year, this card is worth it.
Official application link: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card
Welcome bonus: Earn 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x on dining, gas, transit, travel and streaming services; 1x on everything else
Annual fee: $0
Who should apply: The Wells Fargo Propel offers a low-cost way to earn fixed-value points on everyday spending categories. Earning 3x on such a wide array of categories is unique for a no-fee card, which makes this a great option for beginners just diving into the rewards game. If you also have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature (another no-fee card), your points could be worth 1.5 cents each. While this isn’t a great rewards card for travel experts due to its lack of transfer partners, beginners can get a lot out of the Propel.
(The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)
How we choose the best rewards cards
I looked at multiple factors when choosing our top 10 rewards cards — with welcome bonuses, rewards rates and annual fees obviously topping my list. But I also assessed the flexibility of each rewards card, the type of rewards each card earned, the simplicity of the redemption process and any perks that come with each card. Finally, for each card I chose, I named a competing card that could also appeal to that audience.
These are my top picks, but I recognize that every cardholder has different wants and needs out of a credit card. At the end of the day, choosing the cards to fill your wallet is about finding options that allow you to earn more than 1% or 1x points on every single purchase.
Types of rewards
All of these cards earn some type of rewards, but the kind of rewards differ from card to card:
Transferable points — These are the issuers’ points currencies that can be transferred to certain partners to maximize value. For example, a number of Chase cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed for a number of different things through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal but can also be transferred to one of Chase’s 13 partners, including United or Marriott. Generally speaking, this type of rewards card is the most valuable because of its redemption flexibility.
Cash back — This is the most straightforward type of reward. You’re earning a percentage of each purchase that you can redeem at a later date. Although cash back is always redeemed at a fixed value, it can be highly useful for both beginner and seasoned travelers. Points and miles are best redeemed for airfare or hotel bookings, but cash back has more flexibility without compromising its value. You can use cash back to save up for the day-to-day expenses of your travel or you can simply use it to save money on your statements each month.
Hybrid — A new crop of hybrid cards has popped up in recent years. These are cards that earn cash back on their own but can be paired with other cards to convert that cash to more valuable points currencies. A prime example of this type of rewards card is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. While you’re earning cash back on purchases, those rewards are converted to Ultimate Rewards points when you pair the Unlimited with another eligible Chase card. The Citi Double Cash Card also recently joined the ranks of hybrid cash-back cards.
Loyalty program — These are cards that earn points or miles for a specific loyalty program, typically for an airline or hotel. Most of the time, these cards also come with brand-specific benefits like complimentary elite status (for hotel cards) or priority boarding (for airline cards). These currencies aren’t as flexible as transferable currencies but they can still be highly valuable.
Popular rewards programs
There are more than a dozen rewards programs out there, from airline and hotel loyalty programs to issuer programs. Each month, TPG publishes our monthly rewards valuations that outline how much each point or mile currency is worth in our eyes, but each program has its advantages and disadvantages. The three largest (and most valuable) issuer rewards programs offer flexible points, a wide range of credit card options to earn points and a solid list of transfer partners.
Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the top rewards programs for good reason. TPG values points at 2 cents each, and you can redeem points through Chase’s portal (with a redemption bonus depending on which Chase cards you hold) and transfer points to partners like United and Hyatt.
Top cards that earn Ultimate Rewards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – full card review
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – full card review
- Ink Business Preferred – full card review
The other top rewards program is Amex Membership Rewards, where points are also valued at 2 cents each. Amex has the most extensive network of airline and hotel transfer partners — 22 — of the top issuer programs, and you can often find transfer bonuses. Of course, you can also redeem points through Amex’s travel portal.
Top cards that earn Membership Rewards:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – full card review
- American Express® Gold Card – full card review
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express – full card review
Citi ThankYou Points aren’t considered quite as valuable in the eyes of TPG (we value the points at 1.7 cents each), but there is still a lot to like about this program. There are some great transfer partners available through Citi ThankYou Points, including Avianca LifeMiles, Etihad Guest and Virgin Atlantic. Just keep in mind that Citi recently stripped most of its travel and purchase protections across its cards, which devalues this program slightly.
Top cards that earn ThankYou Points:
- Citi Prestige® Card – full card review
- Citi Premier℠ Card – full card review
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card – full card review
Choosing the right rewards card for you
There is no one-size-fits-all credit card. Choosing the right card for you is all about your individual spending habits and financial goals.
First, make sure you pick a card that earns rewards in the categories you spend in most frequently. If you spend a lot on entertainment each month, get a card (like the Savor) that caters to that. If you fly the same airline multiple times a month, grab a cobranded airline card that earns bonus rewards and offers perks for those flights.
Also look at your goals for your rewards. Are you looking to save up for airfare or hotel stays? A travel card that earns points and miles should be at the top of your list. Do you want to save money on everyday purchases? A cash-back card might be a better fit. Need to build credit before applying for a top-tier card? Look at flat-rate cards that are easy to get approved for.
There is no one “best rewards card.” You can’t go wrong with any of the options on this list. The world of rewards credit cards is your oyster. Find the card (or cards) that make your life easier and your travel experiences better!
Related credit cards guides
- Best travel credit cards of 2019
- Best cash-back cards of 2019
- Best airline credit cards of 2019
- Best hotel credit cards of 2019
- Best gas credit cards
- Best credit cards for groceries
- Best credit cards for entertainment spending
- Best credit cards for everyday spending
- Best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees of 2019
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel