If you’re doing the bulk of your daily spending on a credit card, you should be looking to maximize the value of your purchases by using a rewards credit card in 2023.
Rewards credit cards can give you perks — such as cash back, travel miles or points — simply for buying things you already planned to get. Some cards come with rewards that are worth up to 5% of your purchase total and without the hassle of an annual fee.
But with so many options in the rewards credit card market, you may be having a hard time deciding which rewards program is right for you. Team Clark has set out to simplify your decision-making process by highlighting the best rewards cards for different spending circumstances.
Money expert Clark Howard carries a handful of rewards cards in his personal wallet. We’ll dive into his strategy for using them as well.
Table of Contents
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
- Clark Howard’s Strategy for Credit Cards
- Clark’s Picks for Rewards Credit Cards
The Best Rewards Credit Cards to Apply for Right Now
|Best For||Credit Card||Annual Fee||Rewards Perk|
|Everyday Purchases||Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer||$0||Unlimited 2% cash back|
|High-Volume Spenders||Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card||$0||2.5% cash back with no category restrictions|
|Rotating Cash Back Bonuses||Chase Freedom Flex℠||$0||5% rotating bonus categories, 3% on restaurants|
|One-Time Cash Back Bonus||Discover it® Cash Back||$0||Full cash back match on spending for first year|
|Investment Rewards||Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature®||$0||Unlimited 2% cash back|
|Online Shopping||Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card||$0||5% cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases|
|Supermarkets and Streaming TV||Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||$0/$95||6% cash back at select U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year on purchases) and on select U.S. streaming services. Terms apply|
|Superstore Shopping||Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card||$0||5% cash back on Walmart.com purchases|
|Wholesale Club Shopping||Costco Anywhere Visa®Card by Citi||$0||2% off Costco.com and in-store purchases|
|Dining and Entertainment||Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||$95||Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment|
|General Travel||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||$95||2x miles on every dollar spent|
|Airline Rewards||Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier||$99||2x points on local transit and commuting|
|Hotel Rewards||Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card||$95||17x points on every $1 spent with Marriott|
|Gas Purchases||Citi Custom Cash Card||$0||5% cash back on gas purchases|
Team Clark spent hours reviewing the market for these cards and put them under the scrutiny of the guidelines for usage set by Clark himself. In addition to rewards programs, we considered factors like annual fees, welcome bonuses, introductory APR and bonus categories when assembling the list.
Clark believes credit cards with exorbitant annual fees are a bad idea for most consumers. So, for the purposes of these rankings, we eliminated from consideration any card with an annual fee of more than $100.
You can read more on our methodology for determining the best rewards credit cards here.
Best for Cash Back Rewards
Cash back is the most straightforward of all the credit card rewards programs out there. And in this case, Team Clark is of the mindset that predictability is a good thing.
“My favorite reward cards are ones that actually pay you money,” Clark says.
“I want cash, because nobody can tell you when you can or can’t spend your cash.”
If you like cash as much as Clark does, we’ve picked out a few of the best cash back rewards cards here.
You can use 2% cash back on all purchases as the benchmark for a good everyday spending card. If you are a high-volume spender, you may be able to secure a higher rewards rate than that in exchange for an annual fee.
You can read more about our top picks for cash back rewards credit cards.
Best for Everyday Purchases: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
Why We Like It: It’s incredibly simple. There are no limits to the amount of 2% cash back you can earn with this card, so you can spend it anywhere Mastercard is accepted and know exactly what you’ll get in rewards each time. This no-annual-fee card is in Clark’s wallet, so it has his stamp of approval.
Best for High-Volume Spenders: Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
Tier 1 rewards members receive 2.5% cash back on all purchases up to $10,000 in spending per billing cycle. After that, they’ll receive 1.5% back for the remainder of the billing cycle. Tier 2 rewards members receive 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Why We Like It: It brings all the simplicity of the Citi Double Cash, but it gives you an extra half-percent on your cash back returns. There are some hoops to jump through, though. They include signing up for a checking account and maintaining a “Tier One” status to receive the 2.5% rewards. This card is on our list for best cash back credit cards.
Best for Rotating Cash Back Bonuses: Chase Freedom FlexSM
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Program Details: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter! Plus, earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
Why We Like It: This card checks a lot of boxes. Not only do you get the rotating 5% cash back categories, but you also get a steady 3% on restaurants and drug stores. It also has grocery, ride-sharing and food delivery perks. An easy welcome bonus is the cherry on top. This card is on our list for best credit cards with no annual fee.
Best for One-Time Cash Back Bonus: Discover it® Cash Back
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1% Cash Back
Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Unlimited Cashback Match:
With Cashback Match, get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
Why We Like It: Much like the Chase Freedom FlexSM, this card offers 5% cash back on a rotating bonus category each quarter. But the real win here is the first-year bonus you get with the cash back match. For example, if you earn $700 in cash back rewards during your first 12 months with the card, Discover will award you an additional $700 at the end of that year — free and clear. This card is on our list for best 0% credit cards.
Best for Investment Rewards: Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature®
Annual Fee: $0.00
Rewards Program Details:
This card can be an unlimited 2% card if you use your rewards to contribute to a Fidelity investment or retirement account. Every eligible net $1 spent equals 2 Reward Points, and those rewards points can be automatically deposited into a Fidelity account like an IRA or 401K.
Why We Like It: Much like the Citi Double Cash, this card offers a simple and straightforward path to 2% cash back on every dollar you spend. And since we’re big proponents of making sure you stay on top of your retirement savings, having this reward dump straight into your Fidelity investment account is a stress-free way to add to your long-term savings. This card is on our list of best credit cards for savings and investments.
Best Rewards Cards for Shopping
We all have different shopping habits, so picking a credit card that best serves your personal spending may require some personal reflection and a hard look at your recent bank statements.
Clark says that most people will benefit from the simplicity of rewards programs that don’t focus on categorical spending, but there are some exceptions to that for people who could consistently beat 2% cash back with a card that rewards their specific spending patterns.
For example, many store-branded cards offer as much as 5% cash back for shopping there. And other cards may match that level of return for spending in one category such as dining or grocery shopping.
We have assembled a group of credit cards that should give you top rewards based on your type of spending.
Best for Online Shopping: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card
Why We Like It: If you need to buy something online, there’s a good chance that Amazon has it and will deliver it to your front door tomorrow-ish. So if you had to pick just one card for your online shopping, getting 5% off everything you buy from Amazon and Whole Foods seems like a sound strategy. This card is on our list of best credit cards with no annual fee.
Best for Grocery Shopping and Streaming TV: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Rewards Program Details: 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more). 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
Why We Like It: The 6% cash back for spending at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. streaming services is the best in the market. 3% at U.S. gas stations is competitive as well. If you view the welcome bonus as a way to cover your annual fee for the first few years of card membership, you could really see some good returns with this card. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees.
Best for Superstore Shopping: Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card
Why We Like It: Much like Amazon, Walmart is a “catch-all” retail experience that could include groceries, clothes and a tire rotation all in the same shopping trip. And with Walmart+ now on the market, that same type of shopping can be done at home. Being able to snag up to 5% on your purchases here has the potential to be a big win. If you’re not a Walmart person, you may be better served by the Target RedCard which also awards 5% cash back.
Best for Wholesale Club Shopping: Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Program Details: 4% cash back on eligible gas and EV charging purchases for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter; 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com; 1% cash back on all other purchases
Why We Like It: Being the Costco fanatic that he is, Clark has this card in his wallet. This card doesn’t offer much in the way of welcome bonuses or introductory APRs, but it does offer a strong list of spending categories to earn rewards. And while it may be disappointing that Costco purchases themselves are worth only 2% cash back, at least that rate holds consistent whether you’re shopping online or in the store. This card is on our list of best cards with no annual fee.
Best for Dining and Entertainment: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Program Details: 3% Cash Back on dining and entertainment. 3% Cash Back on popular streaming services. 3% Cash Back at grocery stores. 1% Cash Back on all other purchases. Earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases
Why We Like It: This card has pretty broad definitions for dining and entertainment, so you can cast a pretty wide net on that 3% cash back spending. If you are willing to pay an annual fee for this type of reward, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards offers 4% Cash Back on dining and entertainment for a $95 annual fee. Team Clark compared the two cards to help you decide. This card is on our list of best cash back cards.
Best Rewards Cards for Travel
Are you a travel enthusiast who wants a credit card that rewards you specifically for your trips?
Before you make a move, you should examine the amount of travel you log per year to see if it’s worth it. Clark says that these types of cards are “aspirational” for people who like travel, but you need to travel at least twice a month to make a travel card worth more than a different type of rewards card.
If you fall into that category, we have curated a selection of cards that may be right for you. Keep in mind that many brand-specific cards are similar, so if you prefer a different hotel chain or airline than the ones listed here, it may be worth checking to see if there’s a branded card that matches up to the rewards we’ve highlighted here.
You can read more about our top picks for travel rewards credit cards.
Best for General Travel: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Annual Fee: $95
Rewards Program Details: 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. 5 Miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. 5 Miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023.
Why We Like It: If you’re an avid traveler, you’re likely going to want a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership. Getting one of those for free through this card offsets the $95 annual fee for at least one year. Also, the simplified points structure allows you to earn miles on everyday purchases.
Best for Airline Rewards: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier
Annual Fee: $99
Rewards Program Details: Receive 6,000 anniversary points each year. Enjoy benefits including 3X points on Southwest® purchases, 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare, 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services, and select streaming, 2 EarlyBird Check-In® each year, and more.
Why We Like It: A lot of the perks some other airline cards offer, such as waivers on bag fees or change, are standard for all Southwest Airlines customers. That allows this card to focus on going a little deeper with its promotions, like unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates on redeeming points earned with the card.
Best for Hotel Rewards: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
Why We Like It: If you make frequent hotel stays, you’ve probably figured out that it’s best to pick one of the major brands and stick with it for the rewards perks. The next level to that methodology is to get the branded credit card to earn even more points. There are several options for both Marriott and Hilton, but this one strikes us as the best bang for your buck. You’ll receive a free reward night each year that should cancel out the $95 annual fee on this card. You’ll also get Silver Elite status automatically each year. Oh, and you get the free premium WiFi during your Marriott stays (it’s the little things, right?).
Best for Gasoline Purchases: Citi Custom CashSM Card
Why We Like It: If you’re looking for a credit card to use just for gas purchases, it will end up being your top spending category each month, so you’ll always get the 5% back reward.
Clark Howard’s Strategy for Credit Cards
Clark believes it’s important to have a credit card for the purpose of building and maintaining a solid credit history. That’s to prepare you for big life events like a home purchase or job application that require credit checks.
He also believes that focusing on credit card rewards should be a consideration only for people who pay off their balances each month.
If that’s not your plan, Clark would point you to a credit card with the lowest possible fixed interest rate or advise you to avoid credit cards altogether.
Assuming you’re here because you are in search of the maximum benefits from your credit cards, Clark wants you to think about how you spend your money and how that might best be complemented by the card rewards programs.
“Really think through your charge patterns and whether or not those rewards really give you a bang for your buck.”
Clark carries the Costco Anywhere Visa card in his wallet because he’s a frequent Costco shopper. He also likes the Citi Double Cash card because of the simplicity of the unlimited 2% cash back program.
Clark’s Picks for Rewards Credit Cards
“What would Clark Howard do in my shoes?”
I asked Clark to give his advice to consumers who are struggling to pick between a card that gives rewards for one category over another. While tracking your spending for a few months would be the most financially prudent way to settle this, Clark says that most people probably aren’t going to take the time to do that.
With that in mind, he offers this solution:
“I just follow a simple rule: Carry one no-annual-fee card that is a category card and carry one that is a 2% cash back card,” Clark said.
“That way you know that the 2% card is your default unless you’re spending in a category where you know you’ll get more with the category card.”
Clark carries his Costco Anywhere Visa to get the 4% on gas, 3% on restaurants and travel and 2% on his Costco purchases. He then uses one of his 2% cash back cards, such as the Citi Double Cash or Navy Federal cashRewards card, for everything else.
Methodology for Rewards Credit Card Analysis
For the purposes of determining which rewards cards are “best,” we got input from Clark Howard and sought to find cards that fit his credit card strategy best.
Team Clark spent many hours reviewing the rewards credit cards on the market, assessing them for several factors including:
- Annual fees (Clark recommends avoiding them, so we eliminated all cards with fees over $100 from consideration.)
- Rewards programs
- Welcome bonuses
- Length of Introductory APR periods
- Balance transfer introductory periods
- Additional fees (transaction or otherwise)
- Perks offered to cardholders
We did not factor in non-introductory APR as a part of the evaluation, because interest rates are going to vary based on your financial circumstances. Clark recommends never carrying a balance on credit cards, so the non-introductory interest rate shouldn’t matter for your card anyway.
We also did not include offerings from local or regional banks or credit unions because they’re not available to everyone. Often, local institutions will have desirable cards, so we recommend that you compare your local bank or credit union’s cash back credit cards to the ones that made this list.
To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following links: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees