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Compare Credit Cards With the Highest Levels of Cash Back Rewards

Published December 1, 2023
6 min read

Key points about: credit cards with the highest cash back rewards

  1. From travel expenses to groceries, making purchases with the right rewards credit card lets you earn more cash back rewards.

  2. Knowing your rewards rate and type can help you strategize to get more cash back rewards.

  3. A credit card with complicated cash back rewards redemption rules can make it hard to maximize your rewards.

A cash back rewards credit card can come in handy, allowing you to earn rewards on purchases you have to make anyway. And if you have the right card, your cash back rewards can really stack up, whether purchasing big-ticket items like electronics or smaller items like office supplies. But not all reward programs are created equal; rates, rules, and maximums may apply. Let's explore what you need to know to choose the best cash back rewards card for getting the most cash rewards.

What determines how many cash back rewards you can get from a cash back rewards credit card?

Depending on the kind of cash rewards credit card, several factors may influence the amount of cash back rewards you can earn and redeem.

To maximize your cash back rewards, you might want to learn about the different types of rewards a credit card may offer, including flat-rate rewards, tiered rewards, and rotating category rewards. You can also compare different credit cards for their introductory promotions, cash back rewards maximums, and fees.

Flat-rate rewards

A flat-rate cash rewards credit card offers a set percentage back on all purchases, no matter what you buy. Flat rates are generally lower than the percentages earned through bonus category rewards. But, on the plus side, there may not be a limit to the amount of cash back rewards you can earn with this kind of rewards credit card.

You might consider this card if you prefer convenience. With flat-rate cash back rewards cards, you don't have to track which category currently offers the most bonus rewards. It may also be helpful if you have less than predictable spending habits, ensuring you earn cash back rewards with a single reward rate that applies to any purchase at any time of the year.

Tiered rewards

Another category of cash back rewards organizes awards into tiers. Some cash back rewards cards offer flat-rate rewards for everyday spending and a higher cash back rewards percentage for specific category spending. For example, with the Discover it® Chrome Credit Card, you can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically.1 This type of rewards card may benefit you most if you regularly make eligible purchases in specific categories.

Rotating category rewards

Some cash back rewards credit cards offer rotating bonus category rewards with a higher rewards rate for each eligible purchase in a selected category. 

For example, you may be eligible for 5% back on your gym membership in one quarter and 5% back on gas in another quarter. If you spend a lot in specific categories and are willing to keep track of category rotations to maximize your rewards, a credit card with rotating categories may give you the highest level of cash back rewards.

The Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card lets you earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Introductory bonuses

Along with low intro APRs (annual percentage rates), some credit card issuers offer introductory rewards, allowing cardmembers to earn more rewards during the promotional period specified in their card agreement.

Take Discover Cashback Match, for example. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. There is no limit to how much we’ll match.2 

Cash back rewards maximums

Some rewards credit cards might limit the number of rewards you can earn over a particular time period or in a certain bonus category. For example, you might be able to earn cash back rewards on up to a maximum of $1,500 in purchases in a specific category.  

Maximums may influence what card you choose to get the highest cash rewards. When using your credit card for most of your spending (especially in specific categories like gas and restaurants), a high rewards rate with a low maximum might not give you as many cash back rewards as a card with a lower rate but no limit on what you can earn.

Consider fees when choosing a cash back rewards credit card

Some credit cards may require an annual fee or charge foreign transaction fees. Discover has no annual fee on any of our cards.

When considering a rewards credit card that charges an annual fee, you may want to think about whether those fees could offset any cash rewards you might earn.

How easy is it to redeem your cash back rewards?

The methods of redeeming your rewards can vary depending on the credit card company and the type of cash back rewards card you choose. Because certain restrictions can limit your cash back rewards potential, it’s a good idea to check redemption rules when shopping for a credit card that will give you the most cash back rewards.

Did you know?

Some rewards expire, which reduces the amount of cash back rewards you can get if you fail to redeem before the deadline. And there may be a required minimum balance of money spent or rewards earned before you can redeem your cash back rewards. With Discover, rewards never expire.3 That means there’s no risk of losing any of your cash back rewards. And Discover has no minimum. You can redeem any amount, any time.3

Some common ways to redeem credit card rewards include trading your rewards for a gift card, statement credit, or for certain travel expenses. You might even have the option to use your rewards for an eligible purchase online or to make a charitable donation.

How to get the highest level of cash back rewards from your credit card

There are a few things to remember if you want to get the highest amount of cash back rewards from your credit card. With terms that offer unlimited cash back rewards, it can help to use your card for all your purchases because the more you use it, the more you'll earn. For rotating rewards and bonus rewards, you’ll want to ensure you’re using your card for the specific bonus category at the correct time and monitoring your spending up to any limits.

Not all rewards offer the same value. Depending on your needs and spending habits, you may want to compare the value of your cash back rewards based on how you’re cashing them in. For example, the cash amount for a statement credit might not be as high as a gift card. On the other hand, the statement credit may help you avoid interest payments by paying down your balance—saving you more in the long run than using a gift card.

Will you qualify for the card with the highest level of cash back rewards?

Some credit cards with high levels of cash back rewards require a good credit score to qualify. But you may still qualify for a cash back rewards credit card with little to no credit, like a secured credit card.

For example, there’s no credit score required to apply for a Discover it® Secured credit card.4 To open a secured credit card, if approved, you’ll provide a deposit in the amount the card issuer approves you for. This deposit is used as collateral for your credit limit.

Opportunities abound to get cash back credit card rewards on your usual spending. While collecting and redeeming rewards may seem complicated, understanding how different rewards programs work will help you choose the best cash back rewards card for your situation and get the most out of every cent.

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  1. 2% Cash Back at gas and restaurants: You earn a full 2% Cashback Bonus® on your first $1000 in combined purchases at Gas Stations (stand-alone), and Restaurants each calendar quarter. Calendar quarters begin January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1. Purchases at Gas Stations and Restaurants over the quarterly cap, and all other purchases, earn 1% cash back. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station, and some public electric vehicle charging stations. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Purchases must be made with merchants in the U.S. To qualify for 2%, the purchase transaction date must be before or on the last day of the offer or promotion. For online purchases, the transaction date from the merchant may be the date when the item ships. Rewards are added to your account within two billing periods. Even if a purchase appears to fit in a 2% category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in that category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not earn 2% if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. Learn more at Discover.com/digitalwallets. See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for more information.

  2. Discover Match®: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods. You’ve earned cash back rewards only when they’re processed, which may be after the transaction date. We will not match: rewards that are processed after your match period ends; statement credits; rewards transfers from Discover checking or other deposit accounts; or rewards for accounts that are closed. This promotional offer may not be available in the future and is exclusively for new cardmembers. No purchase minimums.
  3. Rewards Redemption: Rewards never expire. We reserve the right to determine the method to disburse your rewards balance. We will credit your Account or send you a check with your rewards balance if your Account is closed or if you have not used it within 18 months.

  4. No Credit Score Required (Secured Card): Based on 2022 Discover it Secured credit card application data, applicants without a credit score may qualify. You must meet other applicable underwriting criteria. When we evaluate your creditworthiness, we consider all the information you provide on your application, your credit report, and other information. If you have a credit score, we may use that in our evaluation.

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.