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Comparing Credit Card Rewards

Last Updated: December 22, 2021
4 min read

How do I compare different credit card rewards programs?

Looking for the best credit card rewards program for your needs can be like comparing apples to oranges. There are so many different types of credit card rewards — cash rewards, miles, airline travel, points, gift cards, discounts on products and services, etc.

So where to begin?

First, take a close look at where you are spending the most.

That’s where your best opportunity is for earning the best rewards. Analyze your spending to see where you might be able to earn sizeable cash back rewards, rebates, discounts, miles or points.

If you’re traveling frequently and staying in certain hotel brands or flying with certain airlines often, you may benefit most from a travel rewards credit card. On the other hand, if you’re looking to score free airline tickets, but your spending habits don’t fit into the earning categories of the travel card you want to apply for, then spending enough to earn those tickets will be difficult.

Likewise, if you find yourself driving often, or you frequently plan a cross-country road trip, you might be interested in a gas credit card, like the Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurants card.

Or you might be interested in a card that gives you cash back as a percentage of your spending at everyday spots, in which case a typical cash back credit card is your best bet to earn rewards.

There are a lot of different types of credit card rewards programs—once you determine your spending patterns you can narrow your search to find the best rewards program for you.

Ideally you would choose a rewards program where you earn rewards at places where you already spend.

Look for credit card rewards programs that allow you to redeem cash, travel or hotel credit, and for things you could use—including gift cards to your favorite restaurants, clothing stores, entertainment, and more.

Understand the different types of rewards

Travel miles. With airline or miles credit cards you can earn miles when you make purchases and then decide the best redemption option. Branded airline and hotel credit cards often only offer redemption options at their specific airline or hotel. Check to see if there are restrictions on travel, blackout dates or seat restrictions. Many travel miles cards include an expiration date on the credit card rewards.

Points. When you choose to earn points for your purchases, for example, you may earn 1 point for every $1 you spend, with more points awarded for purchases in specific categories or with specific merchants. You can usually redeem your rewards later for brand name gift cards and merchandise. With some credit card programs you can accumulate points and use them towards a rebate or cash off your next car purchase or hotel stay. Be sure to check to see if there is an expiration date for when your points must be redeemed and how often you have to use your credit card.

Cash Back Rewards. With this type of rewards program, you can earn cash back on your purchases, and then redeem the cash back you’ve earned for things such as statement credits, direct deposits to a bank account, and gift cards, to name a few. Similar to points, you may also be able to earn additional cash back in different places.

Next, crunch the numbers.

You’ve figured out your top spending categories and decided what type of rewards program you want—but if you don’t have a great credit card offer with a low interest rate, or a no annual fee card, you may not actually be coming out ahead.

Compare the various credit card offers. Is there a low APR offer? Is there an intro balance transfer offer? Will you have a low interest rate after the intro APR expires? Does the card charge an annual fee or is it a no annual fee card? What other fees are involved?

Consider the many ways in which you can earn rewards—as well as the various costs and fees that may be involved. If you’re charged a fee every time you make a same-day payment, for instance, you may not be getting the best value out of your credit card.

By understanding the different types of credit card rewards programs available you can find the credit card program that gives you rewards your way—as well as the best terms and interest rate.

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