The vast majority of US consumers prefer cash back rewards over travel rewards. And while I’m obviously a huge fan of travel rewards credit cards, I think that many people should highly consider going the cash back route before they go all-in with travel rewards. Here are my top cash back credit cards and why you might want to think more about cash back cards.
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Why you should consider cash back credit cards
Cash back rewards are simple
One of the drawbacks to travel rewards is that they can be much more complicated and time-consuming to deal with.
You have to learn about the different transfer partners, how to utilize those partners, and then you have to find availability for awards and sometimes go through complicated or time-consuming booking processes.
Cash back has the advantage of being simple.
Your points simply go right back to you in the form of cash back and you’re free to do whatever you’d like with them whenever you’d like (for the most part). There is little to no time required to learn about the redemption processes and so cash back rewards are much easier to manage.
Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!
Travel rewards are difficult to accurately value
Travel rewards do allow you the option for outsized value on premium cabin redemptions like business class and first class flights, though. On these redemptions, you can earn ridiculous value for your points.
But that’s part of the problem.
These redemption possibilities make it difficult to put a set value on miles and points. It can become easy to get “lost” or at least misled in the value of your points, which can make it more difficult to make the best economic decisions for yourself.
At best you can project your normal travel expenses for a given year and try to make valuations based on those, but that’s difficult for many to follow through with because having huge point balances can make you feel obligated to travel much more than you usually would.
This is problematic because once you’ve started to travel more than you normally would, you’re not always truly “saving” money on travel because that’s money that you would not normally have spent on travel (but-for your credit card points).
There are other ways to think about the issue of “what constitutes savings” but the point is just that travel rewards can be difficult to value and that can lead to fuzzy outcomes with respect to “savings.”
More travel also inevitably means more spending especially with all of the hidden costs of travel, so travel rewards cards aren’t always the best for people truly interested in using their credit cards to save them real money.
Cash back savings are more definite
With cash back, you know the exact % you’re getting back on each purchase. So while you lose the ability for outsized value, it’s much easier to know the exact value of your savings.
Your rewards also aren’t limited to travel so you don’t feel obligated to travel to make use of your rewards.
You still have to be careful with cash back savings because it’s easy to be tempted to use those cash back savings to buy extra things you wouldn’t normally buy.
But I think the potential for “mishandling” your rewards is much lower with cash back credit cards since it’s easier to realize the actual value of your points and you can use them for anything.
Ultimately, I think it’s possible to go after both travel rewards and cash back rewards (which is what I do).
However, I also think that a lot of people might be better served by giving cash back cards more consideration, especially if they are trying to focus on putting more money back into their pockets.
Top cash back credit cards
Below are some of my top cash back credit cards. They all offer different types of bonus categories perfect for purchases like:
- Department stores
- Mobile wallet purchases
- Everyday purchases
Blue Cash Preferred
The Blue Cash Preferred is my favorite cash back credit card for groceries. The Blue Cash Preferred comes with a welcome offer of $300 after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 6 months (higher targeted offers do go out).
But what I really like about it is that It earns a whopping 6% back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 in annual spend and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
If you spent $6,000 on groceries you’d get $360 in cash back which wipes out the annual fee of $95 — and that’s without factoring what you’d get back with gas and department stores.
If you spend around $6,000 a year on groceries, the Blue Cash Preferred can be one of your best options.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a solid $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 within the first three months.
The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% back on all purchases but one feature that doesn’t get talked about a lot is that the Freedom Unlimited has 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases.
The Freedom Unlimited will also get you access to the Chase Shopping portal where you can earn even more cash back and offers referrals of up to $100 for each approved person, so there’s additional ways to capitalize on cash back earnings with this card.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise
The Wells Fargo Cash Wise is a very strong cash back credit card. With the Wells Fargo Cash Wise you can earn $150 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months.
Like the Freedom Unlimited, you’ll earn 1.5% back on purchases but the Cash Wise also offers another special way to earn cash back. It offers an additional 20% bonus on mobile wallet transactions for a total of 1.8% cash rewards during the first 12 months from the date the account is opened.
So if you use things like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay then you could earn 1.8% back on all of those purchases for a year.
The Cash Wise also gives you 0% APR on the first 15 months and the Wells Fargo Cash Wise comes with built-in cell phone protection. All you have to do is pay your monthly cell phone bill with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise and you’ll get up to $600 protection for damage or theft of a cell phone.
Reimbursement is limited to the repair or replacement of your original cell phone, less a $25 deductible with a maximum benefit limit of $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12 month period. That’s a lower deductible than the Chase Ink Preferred!
With the Cash Wise, you’ll also get access to the Wells Fargo shopping portal, where you can further maximize cash back earnings.
Uber credit card
The Uber credit card comes with a $100 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days. That’s an okay bonus but the Uber card shines with its bonus categories.
You can earn:
- 4% back on restaurants, takeout and bars, including UberEATS
- 3% back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
- 2% back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, and video and music streaming services
- 1% back on all other purchases
Both the 4% back on dining and the 3% back on airfare and hotels are very good earning rates.
You also can get up to $50 credit for online subscription services after spending $5,000 on the card per year and get up to $600 mobile phone insurance for damage and theft when the card is used to pay the monthly mobile phone bill.
The Uber credit card also comes with no foreign transaction fees.
When it comes to a cash back credit card for dining, it’s hard not to go with the Uber card as the top option. You can find out more details about the card here.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
The Savor is one of the new Capital One credit cards and it’s a solid dining credit card. It comes with a $200 early spend bonus once you spend $500 within 3 months from account opening and 0% intro APR for 15 months. The card earns 3% back on dining, 2% on groceries, and 1% on all other purchases. It also has no foreign transaction fees.
If you prefer Capital One or don’t think you’ll get approved for the Uber credit card since Barclays can’t be difficult to get approval from for some people, I think the Savor card is a great option for earning cash back for dining.
Amex Blue Business Cash
The Blue Business Cash (previously the Simplycash Plus) is one of the most underrated cash back cards in my opinion. It’s a small business credit card so you’ll need to qualify for it with some type of business (read about tips for getting small business credit cards here).
Note that the 2% apply to the first $50,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1% applies thereafter.
Citi Double Cash
The Citi Double Cash earns 2% back on all purchases but there is a catch. You get 1% back just for making the purchase but only get the additional 1% back when you pay the minimum due.
Getting 2% back on purchases is very good. For anyone who spends a substantial amount each year and just wants a simply straight forward way to earn cash back the Citi Double Cash is a great option.
But if you have a lot of assets and do quite a bit of spending then you can look into the Bank of America Preferred Rewards Program which offers a tiered earning structure where you can earn more cash back based on the assets you have with them.
Also, the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card offers 3% back the first year and 2.5% back after that, though it does come with an annual fee. (This card does require you join the Alliant Credit Union but you can join for free and just about anybody can join.)
These are some of the most valuable cash back credit cards in my opinion. But there are others out there as well. Some other cards require certain affiliations to the US government, military, or regional memberships to credit unions but those cards can be very valuable, too.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.