Are Credit Card Rewards Worth It?

Quick Answer

Rewards credit cards can be tempting, and they might be worth it if you can earn rewards and get cardholder benefits that save you money. However, they may lead to overspending, and the cards could have high interest rates and annual fees.

Smiling young woman, covered in her blanket, checking out her new rewards credit card.

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A rewards credit card might be worth it if you can use the card to earn rewards on purchases you were going to make anyway and pay off your balance in full to avoid accruing interest. Otherwise, you might save money if you use a debit card or prepaid card instead or if you opt for a credit card with a lower interest rate.

What Is a Rewards Credit Card?

A rewards credit card is a credit card that offers you rewards when you use the card for purchases.

Rewards cards work the same as non-rewards credit cards. Your transactions are added together at the end of each billing cycle, and you can pay off the statement balance in full to avoid accruing interest. Or, you can pay less than the full amount and revolve part of your balance. But the revolved portion and your new purchases start to accrue interest.

Types of Credit Card Rewards

Rewards credit cards can be categorized in different ways. There are three basic types of rewards that you can earn from using your card: cash back, points and miles. Additionally, there are four common ways that card issuers structure a card's rewards rates.

Cash Back

A cash back credit card lets you accrue cash back rewards from your purchases. You might be able to redeem your cash back rewards for a statement credit to offset credit card purchases, a check or a direct deposit into a bank account.


Many card issuers use points as the currency for their rewards program. Some card issuers even have cash back credit cards that give you points that are worth 1 cent each. Additionally, you might earn points with a hotel card, store card or certain airline cards. Depending on the card and program, you might be able to redeem your points for different types of rewards, such as travel, cash back, gift cards or merchandise.


Rewards miles are the same as points, but airline credit cards and a few card issuers' rewards programs use "miles" as their rewards program's currency. With airline rewards cards, your miles get added to your airline loyalty program and you can redeem them based on that program's rules.

Learn more >> Cash Back vs Points: Which Rewards Credit Card Is Better?

4 Common Rewards Structures

Many rewards cards structure their rewards program in one of four ways:

  • Flat-rate rewards: You earn the same amount of rewards on all your purchases. For example, 2 points, miles or cents per dollar you spend.
  • Tiered rewards: You earn bonus rewards when you make purchases from certain merchants or within specific categories, such as dining or travel.
  • Rotating bonus rewards: Earn a high bonus rewards rate, such as 5 points per dollar, on specific categories that the card issuer changes throughout the year. There may be a limit on the bonus rewards you can earn each quarter.
  • Dynamic bonus rewards: Earn bonus rewards on purchases in specific categories that you can choose and change throughout the year. Alternatively, the categories might automatically adjust based on your spending.

You'll still earn rewards on eligible purchases in non-bonus categories if your card has a tiered, rotating or dynamic rewards structure. However, you often only earn 1 point per dollar you spend on non-bonus-category purchases.

Learn more >> Transactions That Don't Earn Credit Card Rewards

Advantages of Credit Card Rewards

Although the specifics will depend on the type of rewards card you use, most rewards credit cards offer several benefits.

Rewards on Everyday Purchases

Earning rewards on purchases you were going to make anyway is one of the main benefits that rewards credit cards offer. Depending on the card, its bonus categories and how you redeem your rewards, you might get 1% to over 5% back on your purchases.

Intro Bonuses and Interest Rate Offers

Many rewards cards offer an intro bonus to new cardholders who meet certain requirements, such as spending a minimum amount of money during their first few months with the card. You also might receive a low or 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR) on purchases and/or balance transfers during an introductory period, such as 15 or 21 months.

Purchase-Related Benefits

Many rewards cards also offer additional purchase protections and benefits. For example, your rewards card might offer complimentary travel insurance, return protection and extended warranties on eligible purchases. Some premium rewards cards also offer primary rental car insurance when you use the card to pay for your rental. Similar coverage might cost you up to $45 a day if you purchase it from the rental car agency.

Additional Cardholder Benefits

You might get a lot of value from the other benefits that a rewards card offers. These can vary widely, but the best benefits include things like monthly or annual statement credits that can cover or offset certain purchases. Many airline, hotel and store rewards cards also have brand-specific benefits, such as free checked bags, annual room vouchers and status in a loyalty program.

Disadvantages of Credit Card Rewards

Consider the cons before you apply for a new rewards credit card.

May Have a High Interest Rates

Rewards cards may have a higher APR than non-rewards cards. You can avoid accruing interest on your purchases if you pay off your balance in full each month. But once you start carrying a balance, the revolved balance and new purchases could accrue interest daily. If you don't tend to pay your bill in full, a low-interest credit card could be a better alternative.

Could Lead to Overspending

It can be easier to justify a purchase if you're earning rewards, and overspending can lead to revolving a balance and paying interest. If you struggle with compulsive shopping or tend to max out your credit cards, it might be best to avoid rewards cards—or credit cards altogether.

Top Cards Require Good Credit

The top rewards cards tend to require good to excellent credit scores, and they won't be options for everyone. Rewards cards that only require poor or fair credit are available, but they tend to offer lower rewards rates and fewer benefits, and may have higher APRs. You could use one of these to help build your credit and then apply for a premium card once you're ready.

Unexpected Devaluations or Lost Rewards

Points and miles rewards programs can experience unexpected devaluation, such as when an airline changes a redemption requirement from 20,000 to 25,000 miles for a flight. Some rewards can also expire. Even if your rewards don't expire, credit card issuers can take back rewards if they decide you're gaming their rewards program or when they close your card.

Learn more >> Credit Card Hacks to Avoid

Do Rewards Cards Build Credit?

Rewards credit cards can affect your credit scores the same as other types of credit cards.

Paying your monthly bill on time and only using a small portion of your available credit can help you build credit. If you use a large portion of your credit limit, paying down the balance before the end of your statement period might help you maintain a low credit utilization rate, which can help your scores.

Missing payments and having a high credit utilization rate—even if you pay your monthly bill in full—can hurt your credit scores. You may also see a small credit score drop when you open a card because applying can lead to a hard inquiry, and the new account will lower the average age of your credit accounts. But, if you manage your accounts well, your scores will tend to improve over time.

Should You Get a Rewards Credit Card?

Although rewards cards aren't a good fit for everyone, you could consider getting a rewards credit card if:

  • You'll use the card for everyday purchases that you were going to make anyway.
  • You can generally afford to pay off your credit card bill in full each month.
  • You only get a rewards card with an annual fee if the benefits outweigh the cost.
  • You learn to understand how the program works, what transactions earn rewards, when rewards might expire and the best redemption options.

If you don't want to get a credit card that's OK too. You can still build your credit without a credit card and try to get a personal loan if you need to borrow money for an emergency.

What to Look for in a Rewards Credit Card

Card issuers often offer multiple types of rewards credit cards with different fees and rewards structures. If it seems like a rewards card is a good fit, the real question may be which rewards card to get.

You can compare the options to see which might work best based on where you'll use the card, how much you'll spend, what types of rewards you want and how much time you want to spend researching the rewards program.

Additionally, rewards cards with the highest rewards and most benefits usually have an annual fee. Consider whether a higher rewards rate or extra cardholder benefits are worth the cost, or if you'd prefer a rewards card with no annual fee instead.

Learn more >> How to Choose a Credit Card in 4 Steps

Monitor Your Credit and Compare Card Offers

Narrowing down the list of potential credit cards to find the best options can be tough, especially if you're not sure which cards you'll likely get based on your credit score. You can check your credit report and FICO® Score for free from Experian and get matched with rewards card offers based on your credit profile.