Credit card companies have raised the bar on rewards over the years. You can earn airline miles, points to put toward purchases or travel, or you could even get your rewards in cash. Just using a specific card could help you get priority seating at events or access to VIP lounges in airports.
Before you can start racking up points, miles, or cash back, you'll have to find a credit card, or even multiple cards, that offer the rewards you want.
How to find the best rewards credit card for you
Check your credit score. The first consideration starts with you—your credit score. Banks offer their best deals to consumers with the best credit scores. Don't give up if your credit could be better; there are rewards cards for a range of credit scores. In general, "good" credit scores are considered to be over 690.1 So find out where you stand and then take steps to find the cards that would work for you.
You may want to consider fees. Some high-end rewards cards charge high-end fees. Even some less-than-luxurious cards can charge fees. Be aware of how much you're paying and make sure the rewards and perks of the card are worth the cost.
Some cards offer perks beyond points, miles, or cash. Things like access to airport lounges, purchase protection, or car rental insurance may sway you to reach for one credit card over another. If you already have a couple of cards, you may be entitled to some perks you aren't yet taking advantage of.
Consider sign-up bonuses. You may get a windfall of rewards just for signing up for a credit card. But some cards attach a hefty spending requirement to the initial bonus. Make sure you have enough expenses to reach the threshold; otherwise there may be more appropriate cards out there.
Some reward cards are more generous than others. When looking for cash-back cards, consider those that pay at least 2% in 1 or 2 categories, or better yet, on every purchase. Ideally, a card would pay at least 1.5% on every purchase—1% is the industry standard. Some cards pay as much as 5% in limited spending categories or they rotate the spending categories that pay off.
"When selecting a rewards card, look at how their rewards are structured and factor the decision into your spending habits to ensure you're choosing a card right for you," says Stefan Ross, vice president of credit card products at Fidelity.
5 tips for maximizing credit card rewards
Get rewarded for spending
There are some impressive reward-maximizers out there who have found ways to work the system to their benefit.2 You don't have to take it to an extreme, though, to make it worth your while. Consider using a rewards card for daily spending and use it to pay bills and recurring expenses. If you pay off your bill each month, you can turn the tables on credit card companies. Instead of paying them to borrow money, they can pay you for spending on their card.
Next steps to consider
Pay bills, track spending, and get ATM fee reimbursements.
Use cash-back rewards to help achieve your savings goals.
Make credit cards work for you by maximizing rewards while avoiding debt.