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.
There’s a $95 annual fee for Blue Cash Preferred after the first year, which I’m able to easily offset with the grocery spending. However, a no-annual-fee version called Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is also available. See rates and fees.
2. Chase Freedom Flex
The best thing about the new and improved Chase Freedom Flex 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. It used to be called just Chase Freedom. 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.
Most purchases outside of the 5% bonus categories only earn 1% cash back, so I don’t use this card for everyday purchases. However, Freedom Flex does offer bonus cash back on select travel, dining and drugstore purchases.
Chase Freedom Flex has no annual fee and typically offers a competitive welcome bonus.
3. 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 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.
4. 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.
Do you have a favorite rewards credit card that you think I should know about? Add your review to the comments below!