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HomeBonus OffersBest Credit Cards Deals in September 2021: Cash Bonuses and Free Flights

Best Credit Cards Deals in September 2021: Cash Bonuses and Free Flights

Get more cash back, points or miles out of every swipe with these top credit cards.

Advertiser Disclosure: At Slickdeals, we work hard to find the best deals. Some products in our articles are from partners who may provide us with compensation, but this doesn’t change our opinions.

Rewards Credit Card Deals

Rewards Credit Cards Bonus Bonus Offer Annual Fee
Chase Freedom Flex℠ Card $200 Spend $500 during the first 3 months of account opening. $0
Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card $200 Spend $500 during the first 3 months of account opening. $0
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 100,000 Points Spend $4,000 during the first 3 months of account opening. $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card 60,000 Points Spend $4,000 during the first 3 months of account opening. $550
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card $200 Spend $1,000 during the first 90 days of account opening. $0
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card 25,000 Points Spend $1,000 during the first 90 days of account opening. $0
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card 50,000 Points Spend $3,000 during the first 90 days of account opening. $95
The Platinum Card® from American Express 75,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. $550
American Express® Gold Card 60,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. $250
American Express® Green Card 30,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. $150
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express $300 Earn a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $95
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express $150 Earn a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $0
American Express Cash Magnet® Card $150 Earn a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $0
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card 20,000 Miles Spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. $0
Capital One® Quicksilver® Credit Card $200 Spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. $0
Capital One® Savor® Rewards Credit Card $300 Spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. $95
Capital One® SavorOne® Rewards Credit Card $200 Spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. $0

Airline and Hotel Credit Card Deals

Airline and Hotel Cards Bonus Bonus Offer Annual Fee
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card 40,000 points Spend $1,000 on purchases during the first 3 months of account opening. $69
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card 40,000 points Spend $1,000 on purchases during the first 3 months of account opening. $99
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card 40,000 points Spend $1,000 on purchases during the first 3 months of account opening. $149
United℠ Explorer Card 40,000 miles Spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening $95*
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card 150,000 points Spend 3,000 during the first 3 months of account opening. $89
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Credit Card 10,000 bonus miles Spend $500 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $0
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Credit Card 35,000 bonus miles Spend $1,000 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $99
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Credit Card 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) Spend $2,000 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $250
Delta SkyMiles Reserve® American Express Credit Card Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) Spend $5,000 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $550
Hilton Honors Card from American Express 100,000 Hilton Honors points Spend $1,000 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $0
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card 150,000 Hilton Honors points Spend $3,000 in purchases in  first 3 months of card membership. $95

* Annual fee waived for the first 12 months.

Business Credit Card Deals

Business Cards Bonus Bonus Offer Annual Fee
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card $750 Spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. $0
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card $750 Spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. $0
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card 100,000 Points Spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. $95
United℠ Business Card 75,000 Miles Spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99†
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card 80,000 Points Spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $199

†Annual fee waived for the first 12 months.

>>Review the methodology Slickdeals’ credit card experts use to evaluate and determine the best credit products in various categories.

*Jump to most frequently asked question about credit card deals.

Credit Card Deals of September 2021

Whether you’re looking for cash back, points or miles, the best rewards credit cards give you the most bang for your buck every time you use them. There’s no single best rewards credit card out there, though, so it’s essential to pick one based on your spending habits and preferences.

There are thousands of rewards credit cards in the U.S., which can get overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. To help you narrow down your selection, here are our top choices to consider and how to determine if they’re the right fit for you. To make things a little easier on you, we’ve put together a list of rewards cards based on what they’re best known for. Depending on what you’re looking for, these categories can help you find the best card for you.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Card

The Chase Freedom Flex® card is an excellent cash-back credit card for people who are looking to maximize rewards. Cardholders can take advantage of 5% cash back on rotating categories when you activate (up to $1,500 each quarter), 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining, including takeout and delivery, 3% back at drugstores and 1% back on other purchases.

New cardholders can also take advantage of an interest-free introductory 0% APR offer on purchases for the first 15 months with the card. Additionally,  you’ll also earn a $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months. You’ll also get 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Read our full review.


Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card is a great all-around card with no annual fee. New cardholders can take advantage of its big $200 sign-up bonus and an introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 15 months. Read our full review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card.

You earn 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back at drugstores, 3% back on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, and a flat-rate 1.5% back on other purchases. There are no rotating categories to track, caps on how much you can earn or excluded purchase categories. Plus, the Freedom Unlimited earns 5% cash back per dollar spent on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 during the first year of card membership. Note that big box retailers like Target and Walmart are not considered grocery stores and therefore are not eligible for this bonus category.

This card has no annual fee; so it’s possible to use it with no costs at all as long as you pay off the balance in full by the due date and avoid certain fee-bearing activity.


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the gold standards for earning travel rewards. New cardmembers can earn 100,000 bonus points after using their card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. This is worth $1,250 in travel reservations booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, but potentially more when transferred to airline and hotel partners. Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Additionally, Chase recently made updates to the Sapphire Preferred which give the card even more value than before. Cardholders now enjoy new perks like a $50 annual hotel credit, 10% anniversary point boost and new bonus categories like online groceries (excluding Walmart and Target) and select streaming services.

Sapphire Preferred also allows cardmembers to take advantage of some really strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt.


Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® sign-up bonus rewards new cardholders with 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after they spend $4,000 during the first three months of opening the account. The Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus is worth $900 in travel redemptions when booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Right off the bat, this card features a $300 annual travel credit. That means the card’s hefty $550 annual fee is effectively just $250 per year for frequent travelers. You also get free access to more than 1,300 Priority Pass lounges and restaurant options around the world. Those lounges usually give you free food and drinks, cleaner bathrooms, fast internet and a comfortable place to sit outside of the ruckus of an airport terminal. Throw in perks like a complimentary DashPass from DoorDash, an annual statement credit, no foreign transaction fees and 24/7 customer service through a secure website and it’s easy to see why so many consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve to be a high-value card.


Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card is among the most popular credit cards for people who want a cash-back card without all the bells and whistles of the more complicated premium cards. Not only does it reward you generously with 3% and 2% cash-back options, it doesn’t have an annual fee and even offers a $200 sign-up bonus once you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of your account opening. If you use this card to make most of your budgeted purchases during that time, there’s a good chance you’ll easily be able to meet that requirement. Read our full review of the Cash Rewards credit card.

One of the primary reasons many folks choose a Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card is the ability to earn cash on regular purchases. You’ll earn 3% cash back in one of the following categories of your choosing: gas stations, online shopping, travel, dining, drug stores and home improvement/ furnishings.Review your spending to see which category takes the biggest chunk of your budget, and choose that as your 3% category. You’ll also get a flat-rate 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. This is a great benefit since many other cash back cards don’t offer a higher cash back tier for wholesale clubs. If you buy in bulk, this card could really help maximize your rewards. You’ll earn the 3% and 2% cash rewards on the first $2,500 in combined spending each quarter. All other purchases earn a flat-rate 1% back.


Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

With the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, you can earn 1.5 points per dollar you spend on the card. You don’t have to worry about rotating categories or purchase limits. Each time you swipe, you earn points that can be redeemed for future travel. And once new cardholders spend $1,000 with their new cards during the first 90 days of account opening, they earn 25,000 bonus points—good for $250 worth of travel expenses. Read our full review of the Travel Rewards credit card.

One of our favorite benefits of the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is the fact that you can easily redeem your points for different travel experiences. You don’t have to worry about blackout dates or special conditions. There’s no need to worry about loyalty to a particular brand, either. Your points are used for a statement credit to pay for travel expenses, including hotels, flights, cruises, vacation packages and rental cars. You can even redeem your points to pay for baggage fees.


Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Premium credit cards with large annual fees often require a lot of spending to justify paying so much money. The Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card has a reasonable $95 annual fee that offers valuable benefits to cardholders. You’ll receive a large 50,000 point sign-up bonus (a $500 value) and earn an unlimited 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases. Plus, earn 2 points for every dollar spent on grocery store purchases, now through December 31, 2021. Additionally, the card awards 1.5 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Plus, if you become a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means you could earn up to 3.5 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases. Read our full review of the Premium Rewards card.


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card is the entry level card for aspiring Rapid Rewards point earners. Above all, for a modest $69 annual fee, the Rapid Rewards Plus credit card helps you rack up points as cheaply as possible. Additionally, our favorite ongoing Rapid Rewards Plus perk is the 3,000 bonus points that are awarded to cardholders on the anniversary of your account opening. It’s an added incentive to retain the card after you’ve earned the one-time sign-up bonus.


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

In addition to perks like no foreign transaction fees and being able to earn A-list flight status, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card also offers a generous 6,000 bonus points every cardholder anniversary, which can often be enough to cover the cost of a one-way domestic flight. It’s these types of benefits that help round out the value of the $99 annual fee. Visit our offer page to learn more about this sign-up bonus.


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

When you look at benefits like a $75 annual travel credit, four upgraded boardings each year, free checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority is probably the most affordable of all the Southwest credit cards. Similarly, the 7,500 bonus points each cardmember anniversary really pack on the value and offset this card’s $149 annual fee. Our offer page has all of the details on this limited-time offer.


United℠ Explorer Card

The best airline credit card for you is likely the card offered by the airline you fly with most. For total value, the United℠ Explorer Card is tough to beat. It offers 40,000 bonus United MileagePlus Miles. You’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. United MileagePlus Miles can be used for United flights, as well as with partner airlines, upgrades, hotel accommodations, car rentals, gift cards and more. Read our full review of the United Explorer Card.

Perks like free checked bags and lounge passes can more than compensate for its $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year. The cardholder and a companion can get one free checked bag each way. Use that once per calendar year for a roundtrip flight and you’ve already saved $140 with the card, more than the annual cost.  Additionally, the United Explorer Card awards 2X miles per dollar spent on United purchases, at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, DoorDash, Seamless and Caviar. You’ll also earn 2X miles per dollar spent on hotel accommodations when booked directly through the hotel and 1X miles on all other purchases.


IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card comes with an attractive offer. For new cardholders, you can earn a valuable 150,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months from card opening.  A sign-up bonus like this can go a long way towards free reward nights at participating IHG hotels around the world, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Kimpton, Even Hotels, Indigo Hotels and Holiday Inn. Read our full review of the IHG Rewards Club Premier.

This IHG card is a traveler’s dream, especially if you’re already a loyal IHG customer. The perks accompanying this Chase credit card co-brand are worth way more than the $89 annual fee that comes with it. Rewards earning is incredible for IHG purchases, with 25X points per dollar spent at IHG hotels. You’ll also earn 2X points for fuel, dining and grocery purchases and 1X points for other purchases. The IHG card comes with Platinum Elite Status, a free anniversary night every year and a free rewards night for reward stays four nights or longer. It’s great for international travel because there are no foreign transaction fees.


Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

The Ink Business Cash Card is a great option for entrepreneurs of all types. Earn an impressive 5% cash back on select business purchases. These include the first $25,000 you spend each account anniversary year at office supply stores and on phone, cable and internet services. The card also offers 2% cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases at restaurants and gas stations. You’ll earn 1% cash back on virtually everything else you buy. As a new cardholder, get $750 in bonus cash back when you make $7,500 worth of purchases within the first three months your account is open.


Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card

Here’s a card that you can use to earn a strong rate of return on all of your business purchases.  The card has no annual fee but offers an incredible $750 cash bonus after you spend $7,500 in the first three months. You’ll also earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The Ink Business Unlimited also doesn’t allow point transfers by itself, but the points can be combined with rewards from other Chase accounts that do allow transfers. It also has travel benefits including an auto rental collision damage waiver, travel and emergency assistance and roadside dispatch.


Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

If you’re a business owner who travels a lot for work or pleasure, the Ink Business Preferred is an ideal choice. It offers a whopping 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months. Additionally, with the card’s 25% bonus on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, that’s worth $1,250. It awards 3x points on your first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines on each account’s anniversary year. Plus, 1x point per dollar spent on all other purchases.


United℠ Business Card

The United Business Card℠ comes with a sign-up bonus of 75,000 MileagePlus miles. Earn 75,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. Beyond the generous bonus, cardmembers will also receive a $100 annual United travel credit after seven United flight purchases of $100 or more. Earning this extra bonus will make up for the $99 annual fee attached to the card. However, this annual fee is waived for the first year to give you time to decide if the card aligns with your spending and traveling needs. Another perk to highlight is a 5,000 bonus miles each anniversary if you have both this new United Business Card and a personal United card. These new benefits, along with a list of other valuable travel perks, make the United Business Card a near-perfect business credit card for those who travel regularly on United.


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

New account holders can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 during the first three months of account opening. This credit card is perfect for small business owners who have employees who travel (employee credit cards at no additional cost). It also offers the most generous point rewards structure of any of the Southwest cards: 3x points per dollar spent with Southwest. Let’s not forget the 9,000 cardmember anniversary points you can receive. Plus, you’ll get other benefits like four upgraded boardings per year, free inflight WiFi credits, no foreign transaction fees and credit toward a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application. In other words, these can help you have a much smoother flight, which is helpful if you’re on an important business trip.

man looks at mountain
Credit: Twenty20

American Express Credit Card Deals

Dollar-for-dollar, many consider American Express to offer the most exciting rewards credit cards on the market. American Express deals come in the form of high-value Membership Rewards Points earnings, valuable purchase protections and travel benefits, cash statement credits and third-party partnerships with vendors like Uber and Grubhub. Whether you’re looking to enjoy travel credits with their flagship Platinum Card or earn accelerated cash-back earnings at U.S. supermarkets, American Express offers some of the best credit card deals.

Credit Card Welcome Bonus Welcome Bonus Details Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee
The Platinum Card® from American Express 75,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. $550 No
American Express® Gold Card 60,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. $250 No
American Express® Green Card 30,000 Membership Rewards Points Make $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. $150 No
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express $300 Earn a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $95 Yes
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express $150 Earn a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $0 Yes
American Express Cash Magnet® Card $150 Earn a $150 statement credit after spending $1,000 on your new Card in your first 6 months. $0 Yes

*Slickdeals updates American Express credit card offers periodically. These details are accurate as of Sep. 14, 2020.

While American Express offers many co-branded airline and hotel credit cards, its travel rewards and cash back credit cards offer some of the best value you can get. In fact, two of Amex’s flagship credit cards don’t charge an annual fee — that’s the Cash Magnet and the Blue Cash Everyday — and the annual fees for the other cards range from $95 to $550. Of course, you can get enough value from each card to make up for its annual fee.

Similar to the Citi® Double Cash Card, American Express cash rewards credit cards don’t make you fuss with quarterly bonus categories. Instead Amex cards offer accelerated earnings on popular household spending categories like U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations.

  • The Platinum Card: Earn 5x points per dollar spent on flights and pre-paid hotels booked through Amex Travel. Also, it offers 1x point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • The Gold Card: Earn 4x points per dollar on all restaurant purchases worldwide with no limit, 4x points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in annual purchases) and 1x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • The Green Card: Earn 3X points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and on travel, which includes flights, hotels, transit, subway swipes, taxis and ridesharing services. This card also offers 1x point per dollar on all other eligible spending.
  • Blue Cash Preferred: Get 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%), unlimited 6% back on select U.S. streaming services, 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit and 1% back on other purchases.
  • Blue Cash Everyday: Earn 3% cash back on the first $6,000 spent per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% back on other purchases.
  • Cash Magnet: Get a flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make.

Capital One Credit Card Deals

Credit Card Bonus Bonus Offer Details Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Card 20,000 bonus miles Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. $0 No
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card $200 Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. $0 No
Capital One® Savor® Rewards Card $300 Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. $95 No
Capital One® SavorOne® Rewards Card $200 Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. $0 No

Methodology: How We Chose the Best Rewards Credit Cards

We chose our best rewards credit cards based on the total value they offer to cardholders through ongoing rewards, sign-up bonuses, 0% APR promotions and other perks. We also broke the cards down into clear categories that highlight features that credit card users are typically interested in — for example, premium travel vs. general travel, flat rewards vs. tiered rewards, and so on.

While some cards charge annual fees, we only picked ones that make it easy to make up for them with the value they provide. Before you apply, though, take some time to compare these cards with other top credit card offers to make sure you get the best fit for you.

happy mom and child
Credit: iStock.com/ Drazen Zigic

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Rewards Credit Card?

A rewards credit card is one that gives users incentives when they make qualifying purchases. Rewards vary by card issuer and a card user’s spending habits. Some cards reward you more for spending in specific categories. Many rewards credit cards come with a special sign-up bonus offer after users hit the stated spending limit.

How Cash-Back Rewards Work

Many rewards credit cards offer special rewards bonuses on specific types of purchases. These vary by card, so it is smart to look for one that will reward you the most for your spending habits. Cash-back cards offer rewards in three different ways:

  • Flat-rate
  • Tiered
  • Rotating

Flat-rate cards have a set rate, usually 1% or 1.5%. You earn this flat-rate on virtually all of your purchases, from groceries to gas to airline tickets. This type of credit card earning simplifies the process, but it also leaves a lot of rewards on the table when compared to other cards.

Tiered rewards cards offer both a flat-rate spending rate of 1% or 1.5% on some categories and a higher reward rate for select categories, such as 2% back on dining or 4% back on gas purchases. These cards are extremely beneficial for maximizing certain areas of your spending. One downside with these cards is that if you apply for a card that offers higher cash back in a category you don’t spend a lot of money in, such as travel, you aren’t going to see a huge difference over a flat-rate reward card.

Rotating credit cards offer rotating bonus percentage on specific categories during specific times of the year. These cards usually come with a standard 1% rewards rate and a 5% reward rate on the quarter’s special category. This could look like 5% back on gas January through March and then 5% back on groceries April through June. These rewards are also capped at a certain purchase amount, such as $1,500.

What Determines Bonus Rewards?

Bonus rewards are typically set by the issuer, though some cards allow users to select between two or three bonus category choices. Rewards credit cards that are branded under a specific airline or hotel chain typically give the most bonus rewards for purchases made through them. Additionally, many credit cards offer promotional bonus offers for spending at a specific retailer.

How to Redeem Cash-Back Rewards

Cash back gives card users the most flexibility and most cards offer this option. Of course, if a point- or mile-based card offers the chance for you to trade in your points/miles for cash, you will probably see a lower monetary value over using the points/miles towards travel. Card issuers make it easy to get your cash-back rewards.

Here are a few options they allow:

  • Statement credit
  • Cash transfer directly into your bank account
  • Some cases a check mailed to your home (this might require special contact or an additional fee)
  • The ability to use your cash reward on popular retailers, like Amazon, once you link your card

How Travel Rewards Work

With a travel rewards credit card, you’ll earn points or miles with every purchase, which can then be redeemed for your future travel plans. General travel cards will earn points or miles back on virtually every purchase, regardless of the airline or hotel chain.

Co-branded travel cards, the ones that align with a specific airline or hotel, will reward users with more points for loyalty spending. This is beneficial if you are loyal to one airline or hotel chain or if you want to reap the additional benefits these co-branded cards bring, such as free checked bags or a free hotel stay on your card anniversary.

Travel reward cards are best for those who travel frequently because they will earn more points on trip expenditures and have an easier time redeeming earned points for their desired destinations. If you love the idea of using your points to travel more but don’t actually travel much yet, stick with a popular rewards card instead to rack up the points faster.

What Is a Point or Mile Worth?

Generally, points and miles are worth one cent. Therefore, you will need to spend $1,000 to earn $10 in rewards. However, using your points or miles wisely can help you redeem them for two to three cents per point.

For example, choose a last-minute flight or a flight during the holidays, and your points could be worth less than one cent each. On the other hand, redeem your points for a less popular flight during off-season and your points can be worth three cents. Always calculate the flight you want to book to make sure you are getting the maximum worth for your points.

How to Redeem Travel Rewards

Many rewards credit cards will allow you to redeem your travel rewards one of three ways:

  • Cash back/statement credit
  • Travel purchased through the card
  • Transfer points to partner hotel or airline

These three methods are what distinguish the card users who get a few hundred dollars back in cash each year with those who go on trips for free. If you request your travel rewards as cash, you aren’t going to see the best return on your points. Travel purchased through your card issuer’s portal can result in great travel deals, but take time to research the current transfer partners.

Some rewards credit cards offer one-to-one transfers on travel partners, which means you can move all of your points over to an airline. Booking a flight directly through the airline using airline points could cost you fewer points than booking the same flight through your card’s travel booking site. Transferring points to partners is also a great way to pool together points.

Say you already had points on your Hilton Rewards program from staying there earlier this year. You don’t have enough points to earn a free room, and you don’t want the Hilton-branded credit card to get that free room either. If your travel rewards card offered one-to-one transfers to your Hilton Rewards program, you can then combine your points for that free room.

How to Choose the Rewards Credit Card That Is Right for You

With so many different reward cards and travel rewards cards out there, how do you know which is right for you? The easiest way to know which rewards credit card is best is to evaluate your spending.

Where do you spend the most money? Once you know where your money is going, you can choose a card that will reward you the most in that category of spending.

It is also a good idea to consider how much time you want to invest in your reward card. Do you want to keep up with rotating category bonuses and make sure you are getting the best flight deals for your points? Or would you rather something easier like a card that earns 1% cash back on every purchase?

There is no wrong answer, but you need to know these answers to understand which card will best benefit your lifestyle.

Reward Credit Card Risks

Earning rewards for spending money you were already going to spend — what could go wrong? While rewards credit card perks are an amazing way to stretch your spending power, it is also easy to go overboard with buying.

If your reward credit card is going to put you into debt, there is a good chance the interest paid on the debt will negate any rewards. This pressure to spend is multiplied when you are trying to meet a spending limit for a sign-up bonus. Dropping $5,000 in three months on purchases you wouldn’t have made otherwise can create more financial stress. You might have earned $500 worth of free travel, but is it worth scrambling to pay off $5,000 of debt? Consider if you are in a healthy place financial to complete sign-up bonuses before committing to a card.

What Is a Statement Credit?

A statement credit is money paid to your account by your card issuer. It essentially works the same as a cash payment to your account. Some rewards card issuers like American Express often offer statement credits as a payout for cash rewards or other point redemption. Statement credit can be used to pay down your card balance or they can remain on your statement as a positive account balance for future purchases.

What Is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is what your credit card issuer — such as Chase or American Express — charges when a transaction you make with your rewards card processes in a foreign currency or passes through a foreign bank. To process these foreign transactions, your card issuer charges you a percentage of the amount of this transaction, typically 3%. You’ll commonly see foreign transaction fees listed on your card statement as a separate charge.

What Are Bonus Categories?

The terms “bonus categories” and “spending categories” are often used interchangeably. But with cash rewards cards, bonus categories refer to any spending category that offers a cardholder accelerated earnings.

While some card issuers offer permanent bonus categories, other rewards credit cards feature rotating bonus categories that often change every quarter. As an example, the the Spark Miles earns 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rentals cars booked through Capital One Travel and unlimited 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases.

What Are Annual Fees?

An annual fee is a set charge that occurs yearly. For cards with annual fees, the charge is applied to your account as soon as you are approved. You will see that same charge on your card anniversary. If you do not pay the annual fee in the billing statement you receive it, you will start to pay interest on it.

Since your annual fee is applied to your charge account automatically, that will affect your credit limit. For example, if you applied for a card with a $5,000 credit limit and the annual fee is $95, your new credit limit will be $4,905 until you pay your bill. Keep this in mind if you are hoping to use your new rewards credit card for a big purchase right after signup.

Annual fees do not count for sign-up bonuses and they do not earn points or cash back. Occasionally, some card issuers refer to no annual fee cards as no-fee cards. However, this isn’t entirely correct as even a no annual fee card will still have fees for late payments and cash advances.

Annual fees vary by card, with most fees starting at $95. Some cards, like the Business Platinum Card from American Express, charge a larger annual fee, but the card also comes with more rewards like annual travel credits.

What Is a Credit Score?

A credit score tells lenders about your creditworthiness (how likely you are to pay back a loan based on your credit history). It is calculated using the information in your credit reports. FICO® Scores and Vantagescore are the standard for credit scores.

Good credit can be a valuable asset. It can help you save money and access affordable financing when you need it. Even if you have a sizable emergency fund, high credit scores can provide you with an extra safety net during times of economic uncertainty. The following tips can help you manage your credit during the current crisis.

Understand what affects your credit history

Certain actions can result in credit score damage — during the COVID-19 pandemic or at any other time. The following credit mistakes might lower your credit score and could make it harder to qualify for financing now and in the future.

  • Late Payments: The majority of your FICO Score (35% to be exact) is based on your payment history. Under normal circumstances, late payments can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years.
  • High Credit Utilization: Another important credit score factor is your credit utilization ratio. Credit utilization is a term that describes the connection between your credit card limits and balances. If your balance-to-limit ratio starts to climb on your credit report, your credit score may go down as a result.
  • Not Monitoring Your Credit: It’s a mistake to sit back and assume that your credit reports contain accurate information. Credit reporting errors are common. If errors appear on your credit report, they might lower your credit score even though you did nothing wrong.

To avoid late payments, don’t overspend and aim for at least the minimum

Whether you pay your bills on time or late is the single biggest factor that influences your FICO Score. So, if you want to keep your credit scores in good shape throughout the pandemic, it’s imperative to keep up with your payments.

Due to financial limitations, you might not have the means to pay off your full credit card balances right now. However, if you can keep up with at least your minimum monthly payments, you can safeguard your credit scores from late payment damage.

Of course, not paying your full balance will likely lead to more money out of your pocket in interest fees. If you want to avoid this extra cost, a balance transfer credit card might be a temporary solution. Just be sure to manage the process carefully and make sure the potential savings will outweigh any balance transfer fees.

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Ben Luthi
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and credit card expert. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and worked in financial planning, banking and auto finance before writing full-time for NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero. Ben is now a full-time freelance writer and enjoys traveling and spending time with his two kids. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, Success and Slickdeals.