Michael Saves has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Michael Saves and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Maximizing credit card rewards for the most cash back is easy if you make a game plan.
Readers email me from time to time to ask for recommendations about the best rewards credit cards. I’ve put together this list to tell you about my favorites…
Maximize Credit Card Rewards the Michael Saves Way!
Before I reveal the list of the cards in my wallet, here are my personal rules for responsible credit card use:
- Do not apply for multiple credit cards at once
- Never pay interest by paying off credit card balances in full every month
- Do not overspend to earn rewards or hit sign-up bonuses
My Credit Card Rewards Strategy
My credit score is 805, which has allowed me to gradually apply for more credit cards over the years. I only carry three or four of them at any given time. That’s really all you need!
My general strategy is to earn the most cash back, though I have a couple of travel credit cards for free flights and hotel stays.
To maximize the rewards that I earn from credit cards, I use a note-taking app on my smartphone to keep a cheat sheet of the best cards for specific categories like groceries, restaurants, gas, etc.
Before I make a purchase, I can pull up the list on my phone if I’m unsure which card will offer the most rewards.
Best Rewards Credit Cards: Michael’s Picks
Now that I’ve outlined my general credit card rewards strategy, let’s get to my recommendations.
As you read through my list, you may notice that I’ve left out details like the interest rate and 0% APR offers. That’s because I pay off my credit cards every month. Those factors don’t matter to me.
1. Blue Cash Preferred Card From American Express
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card is my go-to credit card for groceries and gas. It offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and 3% cash back at gas stations.
This is also the card that I use to pay for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. It offers 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
I also like to take advantage of “Amex Offers” to get even more cash back. Here are some of my favorite deals from the past:
- Lyft: Spend $75, get $15 back
- Sherwin-Williams: Spend $100, get $25 back
- Hulu: Spend $5, get $5 back
Finally, I have this card for the complimentary ShopRunner membership that offers free shipping and returns at online retailers. This is especially useful during the holiday season.
2. Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card
This is the newest credit card in my wallet and I use it for one specific reason. The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card has a unique cell phone protection benefit.
When I pay my monthly cell phone bill with this credit card, I get up to $600 in protection if my phone is damaged or stolen, after a $25 deductible.
More than a dozen credit cards offer free mobile phone insurance, but Wells Fargo’s cards offer the most protection with the lowest deductible.
Since I have a credit card with this benefit, I don’t pay for cell phone protection from my wireless provider. That saves me about $10 to $15 per month.
Aside from the free mobile phone insurance, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is the credit card I use for restaurants and travel. You earn 3x points on those purchases and more.
There’s also a generous welcome bonus for new members that’s worth $200. Learn more about this card here.
3. Chase Freedom
The best thing about the Chase Freedom card is the 5% cash back categories, which change every quarter and must be activated from your account.
I’ve had this credit card for a long time. Year after year, bonus cash back categories include grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and department stores.
Chase will send you reminders about the bonus cash back categories when it’s time to activate them, so I make a plan for how I use this card on a quarterly basis as those categories are announced.
Purchases outside of the 5% bonus categories only earn 1% cash back, so I don’t use this card for everyday purchases.
4. IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card features a free hotel stay after each account anniversary, which can offset the $89 annual fee entirely.
You should probably enjoy staying at IHG properties if you decide to apply for this card. For me, that’s their Kimpton Hotels brand. I book with Kimpton whenever I’m traveling with my dog because pets stay free. Other IHG brands include Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental.
If you’re looking for a travel rewards card, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One® Venture® Rewards (learn more) may be better options for most people. They offer some of the best welcome bonuses and more flexible point redemption options compared to the IHG card.
5. Citi Double Cash
The Citi Double Cash card is a simple credit card that gives you 1% back as you buy and 1% as you pay, for a total of 2% cash back on all purchases. There are no bonus categories.
The other credit cards in my wallet offer a higher rate of cash back for groceries, gas, restaurants and travel. However, I use Citi Double Cash when the other cards offer no bonus opportunities.
Even though this isn’t the first card that I turn to for many expense categories, I always keep it in my wallet because it comes in handy a lot more than you might think. Compare the best cash back credit cards here.
Do you have a favorite rewards credit card that you think I should know about? Add your review to the comments below!
Michael Saves has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Michael Saves and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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