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For 2022, is a cash back or travel rewards credit card going to let you maximize your spending? The answer depends on your lifestyle. We’ll help you decide which credit card is your best option.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Cash Back vs Travel Rewards Credit Cards

While both cash back vs travel rewards credit cards have their perks and benefits, choosing the wrong one will put a damper on your rewards. Do you travel (or plan to travel) in the coming months? Or do you prefer getting cash back?

Each card is different. You may find one that really speaks to your financial goals and needs. So, even if you’re leaning towards a cash back card, it’s helpful to look at different options to get an overall picture.

Travel Credit Cards

If you take several trips per year, a travel credit card can be the better option. Below are a few reasons travel credit cards can be better.

Tiered Purchase Rewards

Most travel credit cards offer tiered rewards. You can earn between 1 and 5 points per $1 spent for most credit cards. Co-brand hotel credit cards, such as some of these best hotel credit card options, may award more points for hotel loyalty purchases. As travel-related expenses tend to be a large portion of your monthly budget, you might be able to earn more points than a flat-rate cash back credit card, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, that earns the same number of points on every purchase.

Note that there are flat-rate travel rewards cards and tiered rewards cash back credit cards as well.

Above-Average Redemption Value

The main reason why is that travel rewards tend to be more valuable than cash rewards. Most credit card points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash rewards, gift cards, or travel statement credits.

Your points can be worth as much as 6 cents each when redeeming for first-class or business class award flights on select airlines. Only select cards offering 1:1 transfer ratios let you redeem your points for maximum value.

Complimentary Travel Perks

Another reason travel credit cards are also more likely to offer additional benefits is to save money on travel. Some examples of the perks you can get include:

These benefits will vary by card. Generally, the more perks a credit card has, the higher the annual fee. Even so, there are no annual fee options available (more on that below).

Learn more: Best miles credit cards

Signup/Welcome Bonuses

Most travel credit cards offer a one-time signup/welcome bonus for new card members. Most bonuses require you to spend between $1,000 and $5,000 within the first 3 months. Higher spending requirements usually signify a more valuable bonus between $300 and $1,000.

Most cash back bonus offers are worth around $150 but only require you to spend $500 in the first 3 months.

Learn more: Best credit card offers

No Foreign Transaction Fee

Travel credit cards are more likely to charge an annual fee than cash back cards. Though there are several travel credit cards without an annual fee, you can expect to pay an annual fee between $95 and $450 for most cards. However, using the card perks and maximizing your point redemptions can exceed or offset the annual fee cost.

While you’re more likely to pay an annual fee, travel credit cards are less likely to charge a foreign transaction fee. This is something to keep in mind if you make international purchases.

Learn more: Best no annual fee travel credit cards

Best Travel Credit Cards

Below are some of the best travel credit cards that you should consider first. These cards do a great job of making it easy to earn rewards points, redeem points for award travel, and offer benefits worth more than the annual fee.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an excellent option for one of the best overall travel credit cards. Key reasons include:

  • Earn 2x miles on all purchases
  • Redeem miles for travel statement credits, upcoming travel, or transfer to airlines and hotels
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, up to $100
  • The annual fee is $95
  • No foreign transaction fee

However, if you are wanting to earn a few more miles on travel, good news—earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Plus, Venture cardholders will earn 5x miles when booking through the Turo app or on Turo.com (through May 16, 2023). 

New Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card cardholders can earn 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. This is equal to $750 in travel. 

Learn more: Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is another budget-conscious travel credit card with flexible redemption options. Your points are worth 1.25 cents each when booking award travel. Or, you can transfer points to travel partners including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and World of Hyatt.

Also, enjoy Chase Sapphire benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x points on dining, and 2x points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

Other benefits include:

  • Points are worth 25% more when booking any award travel through Chase
  • Transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to airlines and hotels
  • Trip cancellation insurance of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip
  • Primary rental car insurance benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees

New Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

There is a $95 annual fee.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Platinum Card from American Express

One of the best premium credit cards for frequent travelers is The Platinum Card® from American Express. While this card has a hefty $695 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), the value from these Amex Platinum benefits are worth the annual fee:

  • 1:1 airline point transfers
  • Airport lounge access (includes Centurion, Priority Pass (enrollment required), Delta Sky Club, and others)
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite loyalty status (enrollment required)
  • Terms apply

Cardholders earn 5x Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, and earn 5x Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Cardholders can get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, with American Express Travel when paying with their Platinum Card®.

Also, get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.

Plus, American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.

Terms apply. Enrollment may be required.

Other Platinum Card from American Express Benefits

There’s also a new digital entertainment credit. Cardholders can get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with The Platinum Card® from American Express at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.

In addition to enjoying TSA PreCheck or Global Entry access, cardholders can also enjoy CLEAR perks. Cardholders can use their Card and get up to $189 back per year on their CLEAR® membership. Terms apply.

Another exciting new benefit is the ability for cardholders to enjoy up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. This amounts to up to $300 annually. Enrollment required. 

There is also a $155 Walmart+ credit to enjoy. This covers the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.

Get the full details and learn more in our in-depth The Platinum Card from American Express review.

The annual fee is $695 (See Rates & Fees) but can be offset with the perks, which are valued at over $1,400. 

Welcome Bonus Offer

New The Platinum Card® from American Express cardmembers can earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after spending $6,000 on purchases on the Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership. Plus, new cardholders can choose new Platinum Card designs! Select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu. Terms apply.

Learn more: Johnny Jet Recommended Credit Cards  

Cash Back Credit Cards

Cash back credit cards can be the better option if you enjoy the flexibility of cash rewards. It’s possible to redeem your rewards for cash statement credits, bank account deposits, or gift cards.

Some travel credit cards let you redeem points for recent travel purchases. But if you don’t travel often, it can be several months between redemptions. If you don’t travel regularly, the more valuable redemption options or additional travel perks may not help you save money. After all, you have to patronize a participating airline or hotel to use the benefits.

The best cash back credit cards are also less likely to charge an annual fee. Travel credit cards with the most benefits tend to charge higher annual fees.

Most, but not all, cash back credit cards give you flat-rate rewards programs. On average, you can expect to earn 1.5% or 2% back on purchases. The best cash back credit cards award up to 5% back on select purchases.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Here are some cash back credit cards to consider first.

Citi Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card earns up to 2% back on all purchases. Cardholders earn unlimited 1% cash back when they make a purchase, plus an additional 1% back when they pay for those purchases. To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.

There is no annual fee but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Learn more: Citi Double Cash Review

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase. However, earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. It doesn’t have an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee. There is no minimum balance requirement when redeeming your cash rewards.

This card also has a signup bonus of $200 bonus cash after spending $500 in the first 3 months of account opening.

Learn more: Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card review

Chase Freedom Flex

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ takes a unique approach to offering tiered rewards. You get 5% back on the first $1,500 spent in rotating bonus categories, once activated.

Cardholders earn:

  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1% back)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1% on all other purchases

There isn’t an annual fee.

New Chase Freedom Flex℠ cardholders can earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

The bonus categories can range from gas stations and public transit to grocery stores and digital wallet purchases.

There isn’t an annual fee but the foreign transaction fee is 3%. If you happen to own either Chase Sapphire card, the points you own with the Chase Freedom Flex can be worth more when redeeming for travel by first transferring them to your Sapphire account. Otherwise, they are worth 1 cent each for cash and travel rewards when redeemed directly through your Freedom account.

The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers the following rewards:

  • 3% back at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% back)
  • 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
  • 1% back for everything else

Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits. There isn’t an annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

The welcome bonus is the ability to earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Cardholders can also enjoy $0 plan fees when using Plan It® to split up large purchases into monthly installments. Pay $0 plan fees on plans created during the first 15 months after account opening. Plans created after that will have a plan fee up to 1.33% of each purchase amount moved into a plan based on the plan duration, the APR that would otherwise apply to the purchase, and other factors.

Related: 20 reasons to have the Blue Cash Everyday Card

Summary

Travel credit cards tend to offer more valuable redemption options and additional card benefits than cash back cards. However, cash back cards are better when you don’t travel or prefer the flexibility that comes with cash. Between cash back vs travel rewards, which do you prefer?

FAQs

Are travel cards better than cash back?

Travel cards tend to offer higher redemption values for credit card points. They also tend to offer more valuable travel perks like airline lounge access, travel fee credits, and travel insurance.

However, cash back cards are better if you can’t maximize the travel rewards or additional benefits.

For example, you might be able to earn more rewards with the Citi Double Cash that earns up to 2% back on every purchase (1% when making the purchase, then 1% when paying for the purchase). Since the Double Cash doesn’t have an annual fee, you don’t lose the first portion of your rewards like most travel credit cards with a $95+ annual fee.

Is it worth getting a cash back credit card?

A cash back credit card can be worth it when you can’t maximize the redemption options or additional benefits of a travel credit card. Some exceptions can be a hotel credit card with a free anniversary night or an airline credit card with free checked bags. These benefits can exceed the annual fee.

Otherwise, a cash back card is a better option. Most cash back cards don’t charge an annual fee. They can also make it easier to earn bonus points on your daily spending. Since you can redeem your rewards for cash statement credits or bank account deposits, your cash rewards are less likely to expire than travel miles.

Which travel credit card is best?

The best travel credit card depends on your travel habits and the annual fee you’re willing to pay.

Which credit card is best for cash back?

The best overall cash back credit card is the Citi® Double Cash Card. It earns an unlimited 2% back and doesn’t have an annual fee. However, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

In that case, go with the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card which earns 1.5% back on the U.S. and global purchases with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee.

For tiered rewards, consider one of these cards depending on your largest expense category:

  • American Express Blue Cash Everyday: Up to 3% back at U.S. supermarkets
  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% back on dining, entertainment, and select streaming services
  • Chase Freedom Flex: Up to 5% back on rotating bonus categories

The information for the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Johnny Jet. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
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