Best Rewards Credit Cards: Top Picks for 2021

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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.

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


The Best Rewards Credit Cards to Apply for Right Now

Best ForCredit CardAnnual FeeRewards Perk
Everyday PurchasesCiti® Double Cash Card$0Unlimited 2% cash back
High-Volume SpendersAlliant Visa Signature Card$99, first year waived2.5% cash back with no category restrictions
Rotating Cash Back BonusesChase Freedom Flex$05% rotating bonus categories, 3% on restaurants
One-Time Cash Back BonusDiscover it® Cash Back$0Full cash back match on spending for first year
Investment RewardsFidelity® Rewards Visa Signature®$0Unlimited 2% cash back
Online ShoppingAmazon Prime Rewards Visa Card$05% cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases
Supermarkets and Streaming TVBlue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express$956% cash back at select U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year on purchases) and on select U.S. streaming services
Superstore ShoppingCapital One® Walmart Rewards® Card$05% cash back on Walmart.com purchases
Wholesale Club ShoppingCostco Anywhere Visa®Card by Citi$02% off Costco.com and in-store purchases
Dining and EntertainmentSavor Rewards from Capital One$95Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment
General TravelVenture Rewards from Capital One$952x miles on every dollar spent
Airline RewardsSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Premier$992x points on select airfare, hotel and car rentals
Hotel RewardsMarriott Bonvoy Boundless™$9517x points on every $1 spent with Marriott
Gas PurchasesSam’s Club Mastercard$05% 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.

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You can read more about our top picks for cash back rewards credit cards here.


Best for Everyday Purchases: Citi® Double Cash Card

Citi Double Cash Card - Citi's Best Cash Back Credit Card

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Earn unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your bill).
  • Introductory Offers: 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months of card membership
  • Top Perks: $0 fraud liability and access to the Citi Entertainment portal
  • Team Clark Card Review

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 Visa Signature Card

Alliant Visa Signature Card offers 2.5% cash back.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 2.5% cash back on all purchases for up to $10,000 in spending per billing cycle
  • Introductory Offers: Alliant will waive the $99 annual for the first year of card membership.
  • Top Perks: No foreign transaction fees, and you may qualify for a lower-than-average APR thanks to the credit union affiliation.
  • Team Clark Card Review

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. If you spend more than $1,500 per month on your everyday credit card, it is worth paying the $99 annual fee to upgrade to the 2.5% cash back from this card. This card is on our list for best cash back credit cards.


Best for Rotating Cash Back Bonuses: Chase Freedom Flex

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Rotating 5% cash back on quarterly spending categories, 5% cash back on travel bought through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% cash back at restaurants and drug stores
  • Introductory Offers: 0% APR on purchases for the first 15 months of the account opening, $200 welcome bonus on $500 in spending and 5% cash back on groceries for the first year of card membership, up to $12,000 (excludes Walmart and Target)
  • Top Perks: 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022 and no delivery fee charges for DoorDash
  • Team Clark Card Review

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 and the 0% APR period are the cherries on top. This card is on our list for best credit cards with no annual fee.

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Best for One-Time Cash Back Bonus: Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back gives a cash back match on all first year spending.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Rotating 5% cash back categories with a massive cash back match bonus at the end of Year 1
  • Introductory Offers: 0% APR on new purchases for 14 months
  • Top Perks: Discover will give you a dollar-for-dollar match on all cash back earned during the first year of card membership.
  • Team Clark Card Review

Why We Like It: Much like the Chase Freedom Flex, 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®

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Unlimited 2% cash back awarded as $50 credit to your Fidelity account for every $2,500 in spending
  • Top Perks: No rewards cap, limits or expiration, and flexibility to redeem for travel, merchandise, gift cards or statement credit
  • Team Clark Card Review

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.

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Best for Online Shopping: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card offers 5% cash back on Amazon purchases.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 5% cash back on purchases at Amazon.com (with Prime subscription) or Whole Foods; 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores
  • Introductory Offers: $100 Amazon gift card
  • Top Perks: Up to 20% of some Amazon products with exclusive deals; no foreign transaction fees
  • Team Clark Card Review

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

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express gives 6% back on groceries and streaming TV.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first year
  • (see rates and fees)
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 6% cash back at select U.S. supermarkets (read: not Walmart or Target) and on select U.S. streaming services as well as 3% cash back on U.S. gas and transit purchases.
  • Introductory Offers: Get a $150 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months. Plus, get 20% back on Amazon purchases in the first six months of card membership, up to $200 back.
  • Top Perks: Amex Offers and a ShopRunner subscription are included with this card for additional retail savings (enrollment required).
  • Team Clark Card Review

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% on gas 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.


Best for Superstore Shopping: Capital One® Walmart Rewards® Card

Walmart's Capital One credit card can save you as much as 5%.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 5% cash back on purchases made at Walmart.com (including pickup and delivery), 2% on in-store Walmart and fuel purchases, 2% on restaurants and travel
  • Introductory Offers: Walmart will boost in-store cash back from 2% to 5% for the first year if you use Walmart Pay to make the purchases.
  • Top Perks: Rewards are redeemable as cash but also can be used to make in-store purchases or claim gift cards and travel rewards.
  • Team Clark Card Review

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. 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

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi offers 2% on in-store purchases.

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What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: None but Costco membership is required
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 4% cash back on gas, 3% cash back on restaurants and travel and 2% cash back on anything purchased at Costco or on Costco.com
  • Top Perks: No foreign transaction fees
  • Team Clark Card Review

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: Savor Rewards from Capital One

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, 2% cash back at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target)
  • Introductory Offers: $300 welcome bonus if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of card membership
  • Top Perks: A limited-time offer is awarding 5% back on UberEats purchases.
  • Team Clark Card Review

Why We Like It: This card has pretty broad definitions for dining and entertainment, so you can cast a pretty wide net on that 4% cash back spending. If you are unsure about paying an annual fee for this type of reward, the SavorOne Rewards from Capital One offers 3% cash back on dining and entertainment and does not carry an 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 those 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 here.


Best for General Travel: Venture Rewards from Capital One

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What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Unlimited 2x miles on every purchase that you make
  • Introductory Offers: Earn either 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
  • Top Perks: $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck when you pay with the card; no foreign transaction fees
  • Team Clark Card Review

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. Also, the simplified points structure allows you to earn miles on everyday purchases.


Best for Airline Rewards: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier

Clickable card art links to Southwest Rapid Rewards(Registered Trademark) Premier Credit Card product page

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Rewards Program Highlights: You get two points for every dollar spent on all Southwest purchases and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Introductory Offers: Get 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, you can earn 3x point on dining out, takeout and eligible delivery services in the first year of card membership.

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™

MARRIOTT BONVOY BOUNDLESS Credit Card. Contactless icon. VISA Signature.

What to Know About This Card

  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Rewards Program Highlights: Up to 17x points for every dollar spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy, 2x points for all other purchases
  • Introductory Offers: Get 3 Free Nights after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus 10X total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores in the first six months
  • Top Perks: Free reward night each year, automatic Silver Elite status and 15 Elite night credits per calendar year

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. The free reward night each year should cancel out the $95 annual fee on this card. Oh, and you get the free premium WiFi during your Marriott stays (it’s the little things, right?).


Best for Gasoline Purchases: Sam’s Club Mastercard

Sams Club Mastercard Credit Card rewards 5% cash back on gas purchases.

What to Know About This Card

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  • Annual Fee: None
  • Rewards Program Highlights: 5% cash back on gas purchases and 3% back on dining and travel
  • Top Perks: No foreign transaction fees
  • Team Clark Card Review

Why We Like It: If you’re a Sam’s Club member, you may find that getting this credit card is the easiest way to save the most on gas purchases. It also has competitive perks on dining and travel. However, the most disappointing part about this card is that it’s good for only 1% cash back at Sam’s Club itself.


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 which 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:

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“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


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