Earning transferrable points is one of the best ways to earn free or discounted travel. However, cash back also has its place. There are a plethora of travel expenses that cannot be covered with transferrable points. Plus, many people are switching over to cash back credit cards in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Travel cash back” cards, like the Capital One Venture or the Discover It Miles, are not included in this post. Those cards earn “miles” that act as cash back by erasing travel purchases via statement credit. The cards featured in this post can work the same for travelers. Cardholders can choose to redeem their cash back via statement credit and apply their rewards against travel expenses. Having the option to redeem via statement credit is the difference between cash back and “travel cash back” cards.
Bonus Category Cards
American Express Blue Cash Preferred
The American Express Blue Cash Preferred is one of the most generous cash back cards in the industry. It earns a whopping 6% cash back at grocery stores and for select streaming services. It also earns 3% at gas stations and on local commuter transit as well as 1% on non-bonus spend.
However, such rich rewards are countered by a $95 annual fee (NOT waived the first year). The breakeven point for the 6% categories is $3,166.67 per year. In other words, cardholders must spend $3,166.67 within the 6% categories every year to earn $95 in cash back. This assumes that the Blue Cash Preferred is only used for the 6% categories. Otherwise, the breakeven point is less.
Plus, Amex is offering a public sign-up bonus worth $250 for the Blue Cash Preferred Card. Cardholders must spend $1,000 within the first three months to earn the bonus. This bonus is like getting a 25% return on the first $1,000 in purchases.
Chase Ink Business Cash
The Chase Ink Business Cash is one of my favorite business credit cards. It is also a great option for those who want to earn cash back while maintaining the option to travel in the future. This is because points are transferrable to a Chase Sapphire card or Chase Ink Business Preferred if you decide to open any of them later. In turn, such transferring lets you take advantage of Chase’s transfer partners and travel portal. You can’t transfer your points directly from this card. However, cardholders can still cash out their points at a value of 1 CPP (cent per point). In fact, cardholders who do not also have a premium Chase credit card are limited to cash back redemptions.
Furthermore, the Ink Business Cash Card is a powerful earner, especially because it has no annual fee. It earns 5x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points (or 5% cash back) on the following categories:
- Cable, Internet, & TV Services
- Office Supply Stores
- Phone Bills
Plus, it earns 2x UR points (or 2% cash back) at restaurants and at gas stations, as well as one point (or 1% cash back) for non-bonus spend.
Furthermore, Chase is offering a sign-up bonus worth 75,000 UR points (or $750) for the Ink Business Cash. Cardholders must spend $7,500 to earn this bonus, the highest minimum spend of any card featured in this post. The bonus can be viewed in two ways. Cash back lovers can view this bonus as a 10% return on the first $7,500 in expenses. Otherwise, travelers could view it as a fantastic start to getting free or discounted travel.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Alternatively, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is another option for those interested in earning cash back but you want to eventually earn travel rewards. Its redemption options and rules are the same as those of the Chase Ink Business Cash Card. But this card is better for those who cannot get a small business credit card or do not value the Ink Card’s 5% categories.
This card earns 1.5x UR points (or 1.5% cash back) on all purchases with no spend limits. It also earns 5x (5%) on Travel from the Chase Travel Portal as well as 3x (3%) on Dining and Pharmacy purchases.
Plus, Chase is offering a sign-up bonus worth 20,000 UR points (or $200) for the Freedom Unlimited. It can be earned after spending $500 in the first three months. This is a great bonus that’s easy to hit and valuable.
Bank of America Cash Rewards
The Bank of America (BOFA) Cash Rewards Card comes with a more flexible earning structure than most bonus category cards. The flexibility comes from choosing a 3% category, which can make the BOFA Cash Rewards Card fit nicely with other cards. This card also earns 2% cash back at grocery stores and at wholesale clubs.
Plus, BOFA is offering a sign-up bonus worth $200 for the Cash Rewards Card. Cardholders only have to spend $500 to earn it. That’s like getting a whopping 40% return on the first $500 spent on this card. This bonus is much easier to earn than the other two cash back options presented in this post so far.
All non-co-branded BOFA cards are eligible for access to the bank’s Preferred Rewards Program. This one is no exception. You are in the program automatically if you have both the card and a BOFA or Merrill Lynch bank account. The lowest level earns 10% extra cash back for all purchases. This means that you will be earning 3.3% back on the bonus category of your choice. Furthermore, the percentage of extra cash back increases with more money in your BOFA or Merrill Lynch account.
5% Rotating Cards
Chase Freedom Flex
The Chase Freedom Flex is another great card for those who want to earn cash back while maintaining the option to travel in the future. Its redemption options and rules are the same as those of the Chase Ink Business Cash and Freedom Unlimited Cards. But this card is better for those who cannot get a small business credit card or do not value the Ink Card’s 5% categories.
Moreover, the Freedom Flex has no annual fee and earns 5x UR points (or 5% cash back) on rotating quarterly categories and travel from the Chase Travel Portal. There is a spend limit of $1,500 per quarter for the categories. But that’s not all! The Freedom Flex also earns 3x UR points (3%) on dining and pharmacy purchases and one point (1%) per dollar on non-bonus expenses.
Plus, Chase is currently offering a sign-up bonus worth 20,000 UR points (or $200). It can be earned after spending $500 within the first three months. For cash back lovers, $200 is like getting 40% back on the first $500 spent on this card. However, travelers can view the 20,000 points as a good amount to get traveling for less.
The Discover It is my recommendation for those who are rebuilding as well as beginners. It also earns 5% cash back in rotating categories like the Chase Freedom Flex. But it does not have the potential to earn travel rewards. The Discover It is a straightforward cash back credit card.
Plus, Discover is offering a unique sign-up bonus for their flagship credit card. Discover will double all cash back earned after 12 months of holding the card. The notion of doubled rewards is nice, especially when for those who spend heavily within the 5% categories.
Flat Rate Cards
Alliant Visa Signature Card
The Alliant Visa Signature Card is a lesser-known option among travelers, but it’s a favorite among cash back lovers. This card earns cash back at the highest flat rate in the industry. Cardholders will earn 3% for all purchases for the first year and then 2.5% thereafter. Such rich rewards come with a $99 annual fee (waived the first year).
This card is a great option for heavy spenders who do not travel often. The breakeven point for this card is $3,960. In other words, cardholders must spend $3,960 within one year to earn $99 in cash back to justify the card’s annual fee. This does not apply to the first year because the annual fee is waived.
Citi Double Cash
The Citi Double Cash is a simple card with a high and flat earning structure. Plus, its one of the best ways to earn transferrable Citi Thank You (TY) points. Like the Chase Freedom Flex and Ink Business Cash, you can convert cash rewards into TY points at a 1:1 ratio. But many cash back lovers will opt to redeem their rewards as cash.
Furthermore, the Double Cash’s earning structure comes in two parts. First, cardholders earn one TY point per dollar (1% cash back) upon making a purchase. And then, they earn another TY point per dollar (another 1% cash back) upon paying their bill. That’s a total of 2x TY points (or 2% cash back).
Citi is not offering a sign-up bonus or providing any travel benefits for the Double Cash. It’s best suited as a high-earning flat rate card.
These are some of the best credit cards for earning cash back. Travelers can and should have at least one cash back card in their portfolio for many reasons. Unorthodox travel expenses, credit history, and average age of accounts are just three of them.
However, many non-travelers prefer to earn cash back in lieu of points and miles. Using some of the credit cards featured here in tandem is an excellent idea for maximizing earnings.
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card
- Chase Ink Business Cash
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Bank of America Cash Rewards Card
- Discover It
- Alliant Visa Signature
- Citi Double Cash