Best Rewards Credit Cards of January 2020: Compare Top Sign-Up Bonuses, Rewards and Annual Fees

Get more cash back, points or miles out of every swipe with these top credit cards.

At Slickdeals, we work hard to help you find the best deals. To do this, some of the products featured here are from our partners, who may provide us with compensation. However, this doesn’t influence our opinions. Our views are our own.

Whether you’re looking for cash back, points or miles, the best rewards credit cards give you the most bang for your buck every time you use them. There’s no single best credit card out there, though, so it’s essential to pick one based on your spending habits and preferences.

There are thousands of credit cards in the U.S., which can get overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. To help you narrow down your selection, here are our top choices to consider and how to determine if they’re the right fit for you.

Most Popular Rewards Credit Cards of January 2020

To make things a little easier on you, we’ve put together a list of rewards cards based on what they’re best known for. Depending on what you’re looking for, these categories can help you find the best card for you.

Review the methodology Slickdeals’ credit card experts use to evaluate and determine the best credit products in various categories.

Jump to the most frequently asked questions about rewards credit cards.

1. Best Premium Travel Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

man swims in a pool
Credit: Twenty20

If you’re looking to elevate your travel experience, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you first get approved, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months — that’s worth $750 in travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.

Apply Today

Rewards Rate: 3x points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. With a 50% bonus when you use points to book travel through Chase, that gives you a base rewards rate of 1.5%.

Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Why We Like This Card: The card’s rewards program isn’t the only thing that shines, though. The card is chock-full of premium travel perks, including:

  • A $300 annual travel credit
  • Complimentary access to more than 1,000 Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide
  • Special rental car privileges, including upgrades, discounts and more, with National, Avis and Silvercar
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Special benefits with The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection and Relais & Châteaux
  • Several trip protections, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary rental car insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, emergency evacuation and transportation, and more.

Who Should Use This Card? Regular travelers

Annual Fee: $450 (But the annual travel credit effectively drops that cost to $150 if you’re going to spend that money anyway.)

RELATED: Why I Helped My Mom Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

2. Best General Travel Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

smiling woman laughs
Credit: Twenty20

If you’re not sure you can stomach a steep annual fee, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred instead. It doesn’t offer any luxury travel benefits, but you’ll still get the benefit of the versatile Ultimate Rewards program.

Apply Today

Rewards Rate: 2x points per dollar on travel and dining and 1x point per dollar everywhere else.

Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, which is worth $750 in travel with the card’s 25% bonus on bookings made through Chase.

Why We Like This Card: On the surface, this card’s rewards setup might not look as valuable as, say, earning 2 miles per dollar on everything with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. But the real value lies in Chase’s transfer partners, which includes major airlines and hotel brands. Depending on where you transfer your points and how you use them, you could get far more value than simply redeeming them through Chase’s travel portal.

While you won’t get airport lounge access or an annual travel credit, the card does offer several travel insurance protections. That includes trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary rental car insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance.

Who Should Use This Card? Casual and regular travelers

Annual Fee: $95

3. Best Rotating Category Cash-Back Credit Card: Chase Freedom®

couple cheers
Credit: Twenty20

If you spend a lot in different categories and like the idea of maximizing your rewards, the Chase Freedom should be on your radar.

Rewards Rate: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, and 1% back on everything else.

To give you an idea of what to expect for 5% categories, the ones for 2019 include gas stations, tolls, drugstores, grocery stores, home improvement stores, gas stations, select streaming services, department stores and purchases made using PayPal and Chase Pay.

Sign-Up Bonus: $200 cash bonus when you spend $500 in the first three months (this offer is valid only if you apply through Chase). Also, you’ll get an introductory 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, which can result in incredible interest savings, depending on how you use the benefit. Also, note that the card doesn’t charge an annual fee, so you don’t have to worry about making up for one.

Why We Like This Card: One way to maximize the value of your Chase Freedom rewards is to pair the card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can transfer points earned with the Chase Freedom to your rewards account with one of the other cards and gain access to their bonuses on travel bookings and transfer partners.

Who Should Use This Card? Rewards maximizers

Annual Fee: $0

4. Best Flat-Rate Cash-Back Credit Card: Citi® Double Cash Card

man shops for food
Credit: Twenty20

Maximizing rewards with your top spending categories can be nice, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you’d rather have a simple cash-back rewards program with no hassle, consider the Citi Double Cash Card. You’ll earn 2% cash back on every purchase you make — that’s 1% back when you make a purchase than another 1% back when you pay it off.

Apply Today

The Citi Double Cash Card does not have an annual fee, which makes it a solid fit for people wanting to save as much as possible.

Rewards Rate: 2% cash back on all purchases.

Sign-Up Bonus: None

Why We Like This Card: The card also offers an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months, giving you plenty of time to pay off high-interest debt from another credit card. The only drawback is that the card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. If you’re interested in a sign-up bonus and don’t care about a lower ongoing rewards rate, consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers 1.5% cash back on everything and a $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Who Should Use This Card? Cash-back fans who prioritize simplicity.

Annual Fee: $0

5. Best Tiered Cash-Back Credit Card: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

a couple rest on the beach
Credit: Twenty20

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a rare cash-back card that charges an annual fee ($95), but its high-octane rewards program is more than enough to make up for it. When you first get approved, you’ll earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

Apply Today

Also, note that the card only allows you to redeem your rewards for statement credits and gift cards. If you want money directly deposited into your checking account, you won’t get it.

Rewards Rate:

  • 6% back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year (then 1%)
  • 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, including Netflix, Spotify, Kindle Unlimited, Audible and more
  • 3% back on transit, including taxies, rideshares, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more
  • 3% back on gas at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% back on everything else

Sign-Up Bonus: $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

Why We Like This Card: If you can max out the 6% bonus on U.S. supermarkets every year (that’s $500 spent each month), you’ll earn a whopping $360 in cash back from that category alone. Just keep in mind that superstores like Walmart and Target and warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club don’t count.

Who Should Use This Card? Families that spend a lot on groceries and gas.

Annual Fee: $95

6. Best Branded Airline Credit Card: United℠ Explorer Card

man travels in an airplane
Credit: Twenty20

The best airline credit card for you is likely the card offered by the airline you fly with most. For total value, the United Explorer Card is tough to beat. It offers up to 65,000 bonus miles when you’re first approved — that’s 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend a total of $10,000 in the first six months.

Rewards Rate: 2x miles per dollar at restaurants, on hotel stays booked directly with the hotel and on purchases with United, plus 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Sign-Up Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles once you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and an additional 25,000 bonus miles after spending a total of $10,000 in the first six months.

Why We Like This Card: The card’s benefits are what makes it really stand out from the crowd, though. Here’s what you’ll get:

  • One free checked bag for you and one other person on your reservation
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases
  • Two United Club airport lounge passes every year
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Several trip protections, including primary rental car insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and trip delay reimbursement

The card’s annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95 after that, which will give you some time to confirm that it’s a good fit before the fee hits.

Who Should Use This Card? United loyalists who want to earn free and discounted airfare.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived for the first 12 months)

7. Best Branded Hotel Credit Card: World of Hyatt Credit Card

man sits outside
Credit: Twenty20

What makes the World of Hyatt Credit Card stand out is the value you’ll get with Hyatt points — they’re worth far more than points earned with other top hotel programs like Marriott, Hilton and IHG.

Rewards Rate: 4x points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels, 2x points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting, as well as fitness club and gym memberships, and 1x point per dollar spent everywhere else.

Sign-Up Bonus: 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 during the initial three months. Plus, it also offers an additional 25,000 points after you spend $6,000 in total in the first six months.

Why We Like This Card: Even though this card has a $95 annual fee, you can get that much back and more with a free anniversary stay at any category 1-4 property. You’ll earn a second anniversary stay when you spend $15,000 in a year. Just like with airline credit cards, though, think about getting the card that your favorite hotel brand offers.

Who Should Use This Card? Hyatt loyalists who want free and discounted lodging.

Annual Fee: $95

8. Best Business Travel Credit Card: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

happy woman looks out a train window
Credit: Twenty20

If you’re a business owner who travels a lot for work or pleasure, the Ink Business Preferred is a solid choice.

Apply Today

Rewards Rate: 3X points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each anniversary year on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. All other purchases will net you 1 point per dollar.

Sign-Up Bonus: 80,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Why We Like This Card: The card offers a whopping 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months — with the card’s 25% bonus on travel booked through Chase, that’s worth $1,000. But you could potentially get more through one of the bank’s transfer partners.

Who Should Use This Card? Travel-minded small business owners

Annual Fee: $95. (But employee cards are free)

9. Best Business Cash-Back Credit Card: Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card

a woman selects a gift card
Credit: Twenty20

If you want cash back that you can drive back into your business or use for personal expenses, the Ink Business Unlimited could be a great option. The card has no annual fee but offers an incredible $500 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You’ll also earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make.

Apply Today

Rewards Rate: 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Sign-Up Bonus: $500 after spending $3,000 during the first three months of account ownership.

Why We Like This Card: If you have some purchases coming up and need some time to pay them off, the card’s 0% APR on purchases for 12 months can help you save a lot on interest. And if you need employee cards, you can get them at no additional charge.

Who Should Use This Card? Small business cash-back enthusiasts

Annual Fee: $0

man looks at mountain
Credit: Twenty20

Methodology: How We Chose the Best Rewards Credit Cards

We chose our best rewards credit cards based on the total value they offer to cardholders through ongoing rewards, sign-up bonuses, 0% APR promotions and other perks. We also broke the cards down into clear categories that highlight features that credit card users are typically interested in — for example, premium travel vs. general travel, flat rewards vs. tiered rewards, and so on.

While some cards charge annual fees, we only picked ones that make it easy to make up for them with the value they provide. Before you apply, though, take some time to compare these cards with other top credit card offers to make sure you get the best fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click the links to quickly navigate the topics covered in the frequently asked questions section.

Table of Contents
What Is a Rewards Credit Card?
How Cash-Back Rewards Work
What Determines Bonus Rewards?
How to Redeem Cash-Back Rewards
How Travel Rewards Work
What Is a Point or Mile Worth?
How To Redeem Travel Rewards
How To Choose the Reward Card That Is Right for You
Reward Credit Card Risks
How To Compare Rewards Credit Cards

What Is a Rewards Credit Card?

A rewards credit card is one that gives users incentives when they make qualifying purchases. Rewards vary by card issuer and a card user’s spending habits. Some cards reward you more for spending in specific categories. Many rewards credit cards come with a special sign-up bonus offer after users hit the stated spending limit.

How Cash-Back Rewards Work

Many cards offer special rewards bonuses on specific types of purchases. These vary by card, so it is smart to look for one that will reward you the most for your spending habits. Cash-back cards offer rewards in three different ways:

  • Flat-rate
  • Tiered
  • Rotating

Flat-rate cards have a set rate, usually 1% or 1.5%. You earn this flat-rate on virtually all of your purchases, from groceries to gas to airline tickets. This type of credit card earning simplifies the process, but it also leaves a lot of rewards on the table when compared to other cards.

Tiered rewards cards offer both a flat-rate spending rate of 1% or 1.5% on some categories and a higher reward rate for select categories, such as 2% back on dining or 4% back on gas purchases. These cards are extremely beneficial for maximizing certain areas of your spending. One downside with these cards is that if you apply for a card that offers higher cash back in a category you don’t spend a lot of money in, such as travel, you aren’t going to see a huge difference over a flat-rate reward card.

Rotating credit cards offer rotating bonus percentage on specific categories during specific times of the year. These cards usually come with a standard 1% rewards rate and a 5% reward rate on the quarter’s special category. This could look like 5% back on gas January through March and then 5% back on groceries April through June. These rewards are also capped at a certain purchase amount, such as $1,500.

EARN: The Best Cash-Back Credit Cards: Compare Top Offers, Sign-Up Bonuses and Rewards

Father and son fish at a lake
Credit: Twenty20

What Determines Bonus Rewards?

Bonus rewards are typically set by the issuer, though some cards allow users to select between two or three bonus category choices. Rewards credit cards that are branded under a specific airline or hotel chain typically give the most bonus rewards for purchases made through them. Additionally, many credit cards offer promotional bonus offers for spending at a specific retailer.

How to Redeem Cash-Back Rewards

Cash back gives card users the most flexibility and most cards offer this option. Of course, if a point- or mile-based card offers the chance for you to trade in your points/miles for cash, you will probably see a lower monetary value over using the points/miles towards travel. Card issuers make it easy to get your cash-back rewards.

Here are a few options they allow:

  • Statement credit
  • Cash transfer directly into your bank account
  • Some cases a check mailed to your home (this might require special contact or an additional fee)
  • The ability to use your cash reward on popular retailers, like Amazon, once you link your card

How Travel Rewards Work

With a travel rewards credit card, you’ll earn points or miles with every purchase, which can then be redeemed for your future travel plans. General travel cards will earn points or miles back on virtually every purchase, regardless of the airline or hotel chain.

NEXT: The Best Travel Credit Cards: Compare Top Sign-Up Bonuses, Rewards and Annual Fees

Co-branded travel cards, the ones that align with a specific airline or hotel, will reward users with more points for loyalty spending. This is beneficial if you are loyal to one airline or hotel chain or if you want to reap the additional benefits these co-branded cards bring, such as free checked bags or a free hotel stay on your card anniversary.

Travel reward cards are best for those who travel frequently because they will earn more points on trip expenditures and have an easier time redeeming earned points for their desired destinations. If you love the idea of using your points to travel more but don’t actually travel much yet, stick with a popular rewards card instead to rack up the points faster.

woman meditates outdoors
Credit: Twenty20

What Is a Point or Mile Worth?

Generally, points and miles are worth one cent. Therefore, you will need to spend $1,000 to earn $10 in rewards. However, using your points or miles wisely can help you redeem them for two to three cents per point.

SAVE: The 4 Top Mistakes People Make With Points and Miles

For example, choose a last-minute flight or a flight during the holidays, and your points could be worth less than one cent each. On the other hand, redeem your points for a less popular flight during off-season and your points can be worth three cents. Always calculate the flight you want to book to make sure you are getting the maximum worth for your points.

How To Redeem Travel Rewards

Many cards will allow you to redeem your travel rewards one of three ways:

  • Cash back/statement credit
  • Travel purchased through the card
  • Transfer points to partner hotel or airline

These three methods are what distinguish the card users who get a few hundred dollars back in cash each year with those who go on trips for free. If you request your travel rewards as cash, you aren’t going to see the best return on your points. Travel purchased through your card issuer’s portal can result in great travel deals, but take time to research the current transfer partners.

MORE: I Have 20 Credit Cards—Here’s How I Constantly Maximize Value

Some cards offer one-to-one transfers on travel partners, which means you can move all of your points over to an airline. Booking a flight directly through the airline using airline points could cost you fewer points than booking the same flight through your card’s travel booking site. Transferring points to partners is also a great way to pool together points.

Say you already had points on your Hilton Rewards program from staying there earlier this year. You don’t have enough points to earn a free room, and you don’t want the Hilton-branded credit card to get that free room either. If your travel rewards card offered one-to-one transfers to your Hilton Rewards program, you can then combine your points for that free room.

traveler walks among ruins
Credit: Twenty20

How To Choose the Reward Card That Is Right for You

With so many different reward cards and travel rewards cards out there, how do you know which is right for you? The easiest way to know which card is best is to evaluate your spending.

Where do you spend the most money? Once you know where your money is going, you can choose a card that will reward you the most in that category of spending.

It is also a good idea to consider how much time you want to invest in your reward card. Do you want to keep up with rotating category bonuses and make sure you are getting the best flight deals for your points? Or would you rather something easier like a card that earns 1% cash back on every purchase?

There is no wrong answer, but you need to know these answers to understand which card will best benefit your lifestyle.

Reward Credit Card Risks

Earning rewards for spending money you were already going to spend — what could go wrong? While credit card perks are an amazing way to stretch your spending power, it is also easy to go overboard with buying.

If your reward credit card is going to put you into debt, there is a good chance the interest paid on the debt will negate any rewards. This pressure to spend is multiplied when you are trying to meet a spending limit for a sign-up bonus. Dropping $5,000 in three months on purchases you wouldn’t have made otherwise can create more financial stress. You might have earned $500 worth of free travel, but is it worth scrambling to pay off $5,000 of debt? Consider if you are in a healthy place financial to complete sign-up bonuses before committing to a card.

MORE: I Have a Dozen Credit Cards—Here’s How I Maintain a Credit Score Over 800

Whichever rewards credit card you apply for, make sure it is the right one for your spending habits. Not sure which card to apply for? Take a look at our Credit Card Hub for more ideas and reviewers.

mother and daughter celebrate on a ferry
Credit: Twenty20

How To Compare Rewards Credit Cards

Still not sure about which rewards cards are right for you? We get it. Choosing a credit card that meets your needs is important, which is why Slickdeals’ Credit Card Hub helps you compare the benefits of different cards, search credit cards by rewards categories and explore cards by their issuers — all to find the best fit for your wallet.

Compare Credit Card Offers

NEXT: Pay Debt Faster With the Best Balance Transfer Cards: Compare Offers, APR, and Rewards

We want to make sure you get the best deal! Our editors strive to ensure that the information in this article is accurate as of the date published, but please keep in mind that offers can change. We encourage you to verify all terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply. Also, please remember this content wasn’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any company mentioned in this article.

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and credit card expert. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and worked in financial planning, banking and auto finance before writing full-time for NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero. Ben is now a full-time freelance writer and enjoys traveling and spending time with his two kids. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, Success and Slickdeals.

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close