The Best Cash Back Credit Cards for Your Lifestyle

If you want your earnings simplified, and the flexibility to use them on anything, cash back credit cards might be for you.
man holding credit card sitting on couch with laptop

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What are travel credit cards, and how do they work?

Travel credit cards are financial products that offer various rewards and benefits geared towards frequent travelers. They typically earn you points or miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. These rewards can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and other travel-related expenses. Travel credit cards may also include perks like travel insurance, airport lounge access, and no foreign transaction fees.

How do I choose the best travel credit card for my needs?

Choosing the best travel credit card depends on your travel habits, spending patterns, and preferences. Consider factors like the type of rewards offered (points, miles, or cash back), the card’s annual fee, sign-up bonuses, earning rates, redemption options, and additional travel perks. Analyzing these features will help you find a card that aligns with your lifestyle and offers the most value.

What are the benefits of using a travel credit card over other types of credit cards?

Travel credit cards provide unique advantages for travelers, such as earning rewards specifically tailored to travel expenses. Additionally, many travel credit cards offer travel-related perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and travel insurance. Some cards also waive foreign transaction fees, making them ideal for international travelers.

What is a sign-up bonus, and how can I qualify for it?

A sign-up bonus is a promotional offer provided by the credit card issuer to entice new cardholders. To qualify for a sign-up bonus, you usually need to meet specific spending requirements within a certain timeframe after opening the account. The bonus can be in the form of points, miles, or cash back, and it’s a great way to jump-start your rewards earning.

Do travel credit cards charge foreign transaction fees?

Not all travel credit cards charge foreign transaction fees. Many of the top-tier travel cards waive these fees, making them ideal for international travel. However, it’s essential to read the card’s terms and conditions to confirm this before using it abroad.

How can I maximize the rewards earned with my travel credit card?

To maximize rewards, use your travel credit card for everyday expenses and large purchases. Take advantage of bonus categories and special promotions to earn more points or miles. Consider combining your travel credit card with loyalty programs to stack rewards and get even more value out of your purchases.

Credit cards are a fantastic tool to have in your wallet. Despite the negativity surrounding their irresponsible use, simple logic shows how valuable they can be to anyone.

Think about it: if you pay for a flight costing $500 in cash, you only get the flight. If you pay for the same flight with a credit card offering 3% cash back, you get $15 back. It might not seem like much, but after an extended period, those little redemptions can become a substantial chunk of savings, helping you out when you need it most.

Generally, it’s a good idea to stick to travel rewards credit cards, as you can receive outweighed value for your points, but the best cash back cards have an essential role to play and fit certain lifestyles better than miles do.

If you don’t travel too often, want your earnings simplified, and the flexibility to use them on anything, a cash back card might be for you. To help you get started, we’ve found some of the best cash back cards around.

Best all-around cash back card: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • Best for: Simple earning with strong travel categories
  • Earning rate: 5% cash back on travel through Chase Travel, 3% cash back at restaurants and drug stores, 1.5% on everything else
  • Notables: Flat rate spending is strong, and it is possible to turn cash back to points to maximize value
  • Intro bonus: An additional 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year), worth up to $300 cash back
  • Cons: Foreign transaction fee

The rundown: The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is one of the best cash back cards available thanks to its strong flat-rate earning, high-value spending categories, and the ability to pool with premium travel cards. With its 5% cash back on travel through Chase Travel and 3% on restaurants backed up by a 1.5% flat rate, you can be sure you’re earning as much as possible.

The Freedom Unlimited’s real genius comes with its flexibility. If you already have a Chase travel card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can turn your cash back into points and transfer to a partner, drastically increasing your points’ value.

Best card for all-around earning: Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

  • Best for: Simple flat rate earning and a great bonus
  • Earning rate: 2% flat rate on all spending
  • Notables: No annual fee, 0% APR on purchases and transfers for 15 months
  • Intro bonus: $200 after spending $500 within three months of opening the card
  • Cons: Foreign transaction fee and no higher spending categories

The rundown: You won’t beat the flat 2% cash back rate the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers. In fact, only one card in our list matches it—and that one doesn’t come with an outstanding bonus of $200 after spending $500.

Earning is simple, requires no registration, and isn’t burdened by caps, while its lack of annual fee is made more impressive by a few perks not found in this sector. The 0% APR for 15 months, cell phone protection, and access to the Visa concierge service all add up to a free card punching well above its weight.

Navigator Tip

While cash back cards are great for earning rewards on everyday spending, don’t forget to use them for essential bills and expenses. Set up automatic payments for utilities, groceries, and other recurring bills on your cash back card. This way, you’ll earn cash back on these necessities, allowing your rewards to accumulate faster over time. It’s an easy way to make your card work for you and maximize your savings without any additional effort. Plus, those little cash back amounts can add up significantly, helping you save even more in the long run.

Best for day-to-day spending: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

  • Best for: Regular spending
  • Earning rate: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back on transit and U.S. gas stations, 1% on everything else
  • Notables: $0 intro annual fee the first year
  • Intro bonus: $250 back after spending $3,000 within six months
  • Cons: $95 annual fee after year 1, U.S. supermarkets earning capped at $6,000, then 1% (See rates and fees)

Terms apply.

The rundown: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is an excellent card to have in your wallet for day-to-day expenses. While it’s capped at $6,000 annually, the 6x points per dollar on groceries is an exceptional rate. If you hit the intro bonus and the maximum grocery limit, you’ll have over $600 in cash back ready for whatever you need. It also grants access to Amex Offers, allowing you to maximize your spending on different categories. Always check the portal before making any significant purchases.

Best for foodies: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Best for: Users with high food expenses
  • Earning rate: Unlimited 3% cash back on dining and groceries, 8% on Capital One Entertainment, 10% on UberEats (statement credits through 11/14/2024), 5% on travel and hotels booked on Capital One Travel
  • Notables: UberOne Membership, unlimited earnings, no annual fee
  • Intro bonus: $200 after spending $500 within three months
  • Cons: Rewards specificity: 1% on everything else

The rundown: The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card represents an excellent opportunity for those with a penchant for culinary delights,. You can earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and grocery stores as well as a whopping 10% on Uber Eats—perfect for take-out fiends.

The downsides come in the form of a 1% flat rate on everything else, so if you’re not utilizing those categories, you’d be better served with another card. However, the $200 cash back on $500 of spending (on a card with no annual fee) is worth looking at regardless of your habits.

Best for rotating spending categories: Discover it® Cash Back Card

  • Best for: Taking advantage of spending categories
  • Earning rate: 5x points per dollar on specific categories every quarter, 1% on everything else
  • Notables: No annual fee and functional spending categories
  • Intro bonus: Cash back match: Discover will match cash back at the end of the first year
  • Cons: Earning outside of chosen categories is nothing special

The rundown: The Discover it® Cash Back Card is among the best cash back cards because of its potential for the cardholder. Every quarter, a bonus spending category is selected to earn 5% cash back. These categories could be groceries, restaurants, Amazon, and more. In short, it’s a card to have ready for specific situations to maximize your points.

You’re limited to 1% cash back outside the chosen category, so this is very much a situational card. Another card should be your go-to. The card has no annual fee, making it a low-risk option. Discover will match any cash back you earn in your first year—the more you earn, the more they give you.

Best for adaptable earning: US Bank Cash+ ® Visa Signature ® Card

  • Best for: Adaptive earning
  • Earning rate: 5x points per dollar on chosen quarterly categories, 2x points per dollar on selected everyday categories, and 1x points per dollar on everything else
  • Notables: Ability to choose earning categories, no annual fee
  • Intro bonus: $200 after spending $1,000 within four months of opening
  • Cons: You have to sign up for spending categories; forgetting means you’re stuck at 1%

The rundown: The US Bank Cash+ ® Visa Signature ® Card is unique among cash back cards because the cardholder chooses their spending categories. Each quarter, you pick two 5% cash back categories and one 2% cash back category. For example, if you’re giving your living room a facelift, you could select furniture stores and electronic stores as your 5% category to earn on a new TV and a sofa. If you commute a lot, you can set your 2% category as gas stations.

Of course, you can change this each quarter, so, like with the Discover it® Cash Back Card, it might not be useful all the time. Still, it’s a free card, so using it if and when it’s helpful is less of a risk than a pricier card.

Best for high earning: Citi Double Cash® Card

  • Best for: Simple high-yield earning
  • Earning rate: 2% cash back on everything: 1% at purchase, 1% when the card is paid off
  • Notables: No annual fee
  • Intro bonus: N/A
  • Cons: No perks or intro bonus—it’s all about the earning rate

The rundown: The Citi Double Cash® Card is a simple product. There are no gimmicks, perks, or even intro bonuses. Its sole purpose is to make earning as simple as possible. With a 2% flat rate on every purchase, it succeeds.

The only mild quirk is the spread-out nature of the cash back. Cardholders receive 1% at the time of purchase and another 1% once the card is paid off. As long as you’re being careful, you’ll have no issues getting the 2%. 

Frequently asked questions

The redemption process varies depending on the credit card issuer. Typically, you can redeem your cash back rewards as a statement credit, a check, a direct deposit into your bank account, or use them for specific purchases or gift cards. Check your card’s terms and conditions to understand your redemption options.

Yes, some people use multiple cash back cards strategically to maximize their rewards. For example, they might use one card for groceries, another for dining, and a third for gas. This approach can help you earn higher cash back rates in specific spending categories. Just be sure to manage multiple cards responsibly and pay attention to any annual fees.

Cash back rewards typically do not expire as long as your credit card account remains open and in good standing. However, it’s essential to check your card’s terms and conditions, as some cards may have specific expiration policies for rewards.

Some cash back credit cards, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited mentioned in the article, allow you to convert your cash back into points that can be used for travel rewards. This can potentially increase the value of your rewards, but it depends on the specific card and redemption options available.

Ask the Navigators: What's the best travel credit card?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. This post contains references to products from one or more of our partners and we may receive compensation when you click on links to those products.

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