I have a handful of credit cards, all of which I keep for different reasons. There’s the one I use for my favorite airline, the one I use to rack up travel points, the one I got in college and keep for mostly sentimental reasons ... the list goes on. Read more...
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The best cash-back credit cards from Citi, Amex, Wells Fargo, and more — with input from 4 top experts
The best cash-back credit cards in 2020: Best overall: Citi® Double Cash Card Best for bonus...The best cash-back credit cards in 2020: Best overall: Citi® Double Cash Card Best for bonus categories: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card Best for intro APR offer: Chase Freedom Unlimited® Best for cash back on dining: Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card Best for families: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Highest cash back — if you work for it: Chase Freedom® Best for lower credit scores: Discover it® Secured Want an in-depth answer? Check out our cash-back credit card guide below. Travel rewards credit cards can be incredibly lucrative — you can use them to earn enough points to book a first-class flight or a luxury hotel stay. But not everyone wants to travel, and there are a lot of hoops to jump through if you want to maximize your rewards to get the best travel redemptions. That's why there's a great case to be made for cash-back credit cards. Even if the 3 points per dollar you earn from the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can score a higher redemption value, cash is simpler, more flexible, and offers real, immediate value, rather than the perceived value you can get redeeming points for a flight you'd never, ever actually pay for with money. With cash-back cards, 1% back will always be 1 cent back, no matter what. Best of all, many cash-back credit cards don't charge annual fees, so they can be a great way to put money back in your wallet while minimizing your out-of-pocket expenses. The experts on cash-back credit cards We consulted top credit card, travel, and financial experts to weigh in on this list of the top credit cards for earning cash back and to provide their tips for finding the best cash-back card for you. You'll find the full transcript of our expert interviews at the bottom of this article. Best overall: Citi® Double Cash Card Welcome bonus: None Cash back: 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you make the purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill Annual fee: $0 In terms of spending rewards, the Citi® Double Cash Card is the best single cash-back card, with 1% back as spend, and 1% back as you pay your bill. Since you should be paying your bill in full each month, you should earn 2% back on purchases each billing cycle. However, there are a few potential downsides. First, there's no sign-up bonus. Second, while it offers a 0% introductory APR for 18 months, that's only on balance transfers, not purchases, so you can't use it to fund a major expense without interest. After those 18 months, it's a variable 13.99% - 23.99% APR. Note that the Citi® Double Cash Card has a minimum redemption amount of $25, and if you don't have any account activity for 12 months, unredeemed rewards can expire. Still, 2% across the board is a good earning rate, and the $0 annual fee is attractive, if not uncommon. Whether that's worth passing on a sign-up bonus is up to you. What the experts love: "Getting 2% cash back is a strong rate, and there are no bonus spending categories to keep track of, so it's perfect for those who love simplicity," says Sarah Silbert, credit cards editor at Personal Finance Insider. What the experts don't love: Other cards offer more cash back, but usually only for specific spending categories. Rathner also points out that the Citi® Double Cash Card doesn't offer a sign-up bonus, while most other cash-back cards do. Citi Citi® Double Cash Card Best for bonus categories: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card Welcome bonus: 20,000 Go Far points, worth $200, after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening Cash back: 3x points (essentially 3% cash back) on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else) Annual fee: $0 This card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you'll find from a no-annual-fee card. While it's marketed as earning "points," those points are worth 1¢ each and can be redeemed for cash, essentially making it a cash-back card. The $200 welcome bonus, combined with the high 3% earning rate on popular spend categories including all dining and travel (and 1% on everything else), as well as the $0 annual fee, makes this a stellar option for a cash-back card. If you're solely interested in earning cash back, not travel rewards, this card would make a good go-to. What the experts love: Sara Rathner, a travel and credit card expert at NerdWallet, notes that the Wells Fargo Propel has high earning rates, especially for a no-annual-fee card. What the experts don't love: "This card lacks the benefits of other travel cards with an annual fee, like reimbursement for Global Entry or the ability to transfer points to airline or hotel partners," Rathner points out. Best for 0% intro APR: Chase Freedom Unlimited® Welcome bonus: $150 (15,000 points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening Cash back: 1.5% back on all purchases Annual fee: $0 The card has no annual fee and often has 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, there's a 14.99%–23.74% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful. While Chase markets the Chase Freedom Unlimited® as "cash back," it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = 1 cent). That means that if you also have a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can pool your points from the two cards. Then, you'll be able to transfer the whole body of points to partnering frequent flyer programs or use them to book travel through Chase with a bonus. What the experts love: The ability to convert your cash back into Ultimate Rewards points if you have another Chase card What the experts don't love: If you don't pair this card with another Chase card, you'd do better with another cash-back card that earns more than 1.5% back. Chase Chase Freedom Unlimited® Best for cash back on dining: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card Welcome bonus: $300 after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening Cash back: Unlimited 4% cash back on all dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. Annual fee: $95 If dining and cooking are your thing, the Capital One Savor is the winner. The Savor makes it easy to earn cash back quickly, but the downside is that it has a $95 annual fee —at least it's waived the first year. The earning rate may make up for the fee in some cases, though. What the experts love: Rathner and Silbert both applaud the card's strong earning rate for dining and entertainment, as well as the relatively generous sign-up bonus for a cash-back card. What the experts don't love: Silbert notes that unlike many cash-back cards, the Savor has an annual fee, while Rathner points out that the 2% cash-back rate for groceries isn't the best for this category of spending. Click here to learn more about the Capital One Savor card » Best for families: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Welcome bonus: $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening Cash back: 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (and 1% after that), 6% cash back on select US streaming services and 3% back on all transit, 3% back at US gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else. Annual fee: $95 If you're looking for an American Express cash-back card, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the best option. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months, before switching to a variable 12.99%-23.99% APR. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express comes with a handful of travel and purchase protections as well. Cash back comes in the form of a statement credit, so effectively you can use it to "erase" purchases. What the experts love: "6% cash back at supermarkets is the highest rewards rate around for grocery spending," says Rathner. "I also love that you get 3% cash back on not just gas, but also public transit. You can get rewarded for all the ways you commute to work!" What the experts don't love: "There's a $6,000 annual spending cap on getting 6% cash back on groceries — you'll only earn 1% cash back after that. Any household with high grocery bills might want to keep that in mind and switch to another card that earns more than 1% after hitting that threshold," Rathner says. American Express Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Highest cash back, if you work for it: Chase Freedom® Welcome bonus: $200 cash back (15,000 points) after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening Cash back: 5% cash back each quarter you activate on a few different categories that change quarterly, on the first $1,500 of purchases. The card earns 1% on all other purchases, and on those bonus categories after you pass $1,500. Annual fee: $0 The Chase Freedom® is the older sibling of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and is essentially the same exact card except for how it earns cash back. Sometimes there's just one major category per quarter, while other times there can be a few different ones. Past categories have included gas stations, local commuter transportation, department stores, grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and event Amazon. This quarter, Q2 2020, the Chase Freedom®'s 5% categories are grocery stores and fitness clubs. The usefulness of the categories varies each quarter, with some being better than others. If I had to choose one, I'd stick with the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. However, there's no denying the potential value of the bonus categories, and fortunately, Chase lets you hold both cards. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, the regular Chase Freedom®has no annual fee, offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months (and a 14.99%–23.74% variable APR after), and cash back can be combined with points earned from other Chase cards. What the experts love: "You can earn the equivalent of 5 points per dollar on the rotating quarterly bonus categories if you also have a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points," says Silbert. What the experts don't love: Rathner notes that "there's a $1,500 spending cap on earning 5% back, and after that you'll only earn 1%." Chase Chase Freedom® Best for lower credit scores: Discover it® Secured Welcome bonus: None Cash back: 2% back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 each quarter, 1% back on everything else Annual fee: See Terms If you have a lower credit score or a limited credit history, you may not be approved for some of the cash-back credit card options outlined above. In that case, the Discover it Secured could make the most sense. Since it's a secured credit card (meaning you put down money as a refundable deposit to "secure" your account), it's easier to get approved for this card. Plus, even though it's a secured card, you can earn bonus cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 each quarter — and Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. What the experts love: There's no annual fee (beyond your initial security deposit). Also, as Rathner notes, Discover reports your activity to the three major credit bureaus, and you can earn cash-back rewards. What the experts don't love: "There are two potential barriers for consumers seeking a secured card: a $200 minimum deposit and the requirement to fund that deposit from a bank account," Rathner says. And if you can get approved for a non-secured card, you could get more cash back with another option. Frequently asked questions How did we choose the best cash-back credit cards? We narrowed down the dozens of cash-back credit cards currently available to new applicants by looking at a few factors: Ease of use — Are there any hoops to jump through, like needing to be a member of a specific bank? Cash-back earning potential — How much cash back can you earn with this card, and how broad are the bonus categories? Annual fee — Many cash-back cards waive an annual fee, but for the few that do charge a fee, is it justified based on the card's rewards? Options for various types of consumers — We wanted our top cash-back card picks to reflect different types of users, from families looking to maximize grocery spending to those looking to rebuild their credit score. What are the different types of cash-back cards? Flat rate — These cards earn the same rate of cash back on all purchases. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% back on all spending. Select bonus categories — Many other cash-back cards offer bonus cash back (more than 1%) on select spending categories. For example, with the Capital One Savor card, you'll earn 4% back on dining and entertainment, and 2% back at grocery stores. Rotating categories — A few cards, including the Chase Freedom®, offer bonus cash back on a selection of spending categories that changes every quarter of the year. These cards have a cap on how much bonus cash back you can earn each quarter — with the Freedom, you'll earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter. All purchases above that cap will earn just 1% back. Some cards are starting to offer yet a fourth format for delivering cash-back rewards: pick your own bonus categories from a list of options. These cards include the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card and the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. What credit card offers the most cash back? If you don't want to overthink it, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card is a good go-to. It offers 3% back on a wide variety of categories, including travel and eating out. That's not to say you couldn't earn more cash back with another card, though. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% back on the first $6,000 you spend each year at US supermarkets (then 1% back), and 6% back on select US streaming services, for example, and the Capital One Savor is the most rewarding pick for dining out with 4% back. How does earning cash back work? Cash-back credit cards earn you a percentage of cash back — usually at least 1%— on every dollar you spend (or more with cards that have bonus cash-back categories). You can transfer the cash back you earn from these cards to a bank account or use them to wipe charges from your credit card statement. Credit card issuers also allow you to redeem the cash back you earn for gift cards and merchandise. If you're trying to put money back in your wallet, our top recommendations are to transfer your cash back to a banking account or use it to reduce the amount owed on your credit card statement. Do cash-back cards actually give you cash? Cash-back credit cards do give cash, but that's not to say you'll necessarily see the physical cash. You're typically awarded cash back as a credit that you can use to cancel out purchases from your credit card statement, or to redeem for gift cards or merchandise online. Should I earn cash back or points? It depends on what you want to do with your rewards. If you want to put money back in your bank account, a cash-back credit card will help you accomplish just that — and you usually won't have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all. On the other hand, if you're hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all three of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for things like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency "miles," they aren't miles with a given airline program.) If you're willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there's value in having both cash-back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you're willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation. The experts' advice on choosing the best cash-back card for you We asked credit card and travel experts, along with a certified financial planner, for their best advice on choosing a good cash-back credit card. Generally, what features make a cash-back card good? Sara Rathner, travel and credit cards expert at NerdWallet: Much like travel cards, you want to find a cash-back card that rewards you more where you spend the most. Redemptions should be easy, too. Most cash-back cards grant you a statement credit, but some will mail a check or deposit your cash back into your bank account. Luis Rosa, certified financial planner: Cards that offer an additional category in addition to the standard categories like gas, groceries or restaurants are very appealing. If you're loyal to a specific brand for example and use it often, a cash-back that offers additional cash back at that specific brand is a good option. Summer Hull, director of travel at The Points Guy: More cash is better than less cash. Look for those cards that award the most back in the categories you spend money in most frequently. 2% back is the standard these days, but aim for more in categories that are important to you. Sarah Silbert, credit cards editor at Personal Finance Insider: A good cash-back card is one with generous bonus categories, since the goal is to earn as much cash back as possible on your spending. The more bonus categories, the better, and the higher the cash-back rate, the better. How can someone identify whether a cash-back card is good for them? Sara Rathner, NerdWallet: If you want ultimate flexibility when it comes to your credit card rewards, it's hard to beat cold, hard cash. That makes cash-back cards a solid option for consumers who simply want to save money on every purchase, rather than rack up rewards to eventually use on travel. Think of using a cash-back card as using a coupon every time you shop. Luis Rosa, CFP: If you spend a lot in general categories such as groceries, restaurants, and gas, having a cash-back credit card might be beneficial to you. In addition, If you are loyal to a specific brand and the credit offers a higher cash back percentage for shopping with that particular brand, then this provides an even greater incentive to consider a cash-back card. Summer Hull, The Points Guy: Cash is never a bad thing, but if you like to travel, then sometimes travel rewards can be more valuable, but just be realistic with your goals and go with what seems like the best idea at the time. You can always change your mind later. Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider: If you don't want to spend time learning how to maximize travel rewards and transferring your points to travel partners, a cash-back card could be a great option. It allows you to maximize your spending with minimal work, since you don't have to jump through lots of hoops with cash back; you simply use the card and you'll get money back in your account. What should someone consider when selecting a cash-back card? Sara Rathner, NerdWallet: If travel cards aren't of interest to you and you qualify for a rewards card, then you should at least be using a flat-rate cash-back card that earns the same rewards rate on every purchase. If you stick to that no-frills card without rewards, you're literally leaving money on the table. Luis Rosa, CFP: You should really understand how to redeem you cash back. Get familiar with the features. For example, can you apply the cash back toward your balance? Can you use the cash for anything or only in certain predetermined places? Is the cash back a flat rate, is it tiered? Another thing to consider is whether or not you carry a balance. If you do carry a balance, you should also consider the interest that you'll be paying on that balance in order to ensure that you're not paying more in interest than the cash back you're receiving. Summer Hull, The Points Guy: Annual fee, earn rate, whether there are any bonus categories, and how easy is it to cash out your earnings. Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider: Take a look at a card's bonus categories. You'll want to pick a card that earns you more than 1% cash back on the categories where you spend the most, such as dining, groceries, and travel. Or if you don't spend a lot in a specific category, look for a card that offers 1.5% cash back or more on every purchase. And make sure you do your research so you don't miss out on a higher sign-up bonus. If the card has an annual fee, decide whether you will use it enough for it to be worth it. 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There are so many choices when it comes to travel credit cards that it can be...There are so many choices when it comes to travel credit cards that it can be hard to know where to start. And even when you've settled on a card, you may not be sure whether you're maximizing its benefits and rewards. If you're looking for some guidance, you've come to the right place. Keep reading for tips from Business Insider's network of travel and credit card experts. See Business Insider's list of the best rewards credit cards » If you want to earn points and miles to book award flights and hotel stays, your best bet is to sign up for a travel credit card, earn its welcome bonus, and continue accumulating rewards with your everyday spending. There's no one right way to use rewards credit cards, but in this complicated hobby, every little bit of knowledge helps. That's why we've rounded up the best tips for choosing and maximizing credit cards from our network of points and miles experts. Several of them spend more time traveling than they do at home, so they know a thing or two when it comes to maximizing points, miles, and travel card benefits. Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back. 1. You can have lots of credit cards and a high credit score It's a myth that opening new credit cards automatically spells disaster for your credit score. Just ask Holly Johnson, who has 26 credit cards and an excellent credit score in the 800s. Johnson travels with her husband at least four months out of the year and uses cards like the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express to enjoy elite status and annual statement credits. As Johnson explains, the key is to use your cards responsibly. Whether you have one card or more than 30, falling behind on your credit card bills is a surefire way to tank your credit score. 2. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is great for beginners In 2019 contributor Adam Bauer used Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, a benefit of the Platinum Card® from American Express, to score a great deal on a luxury stay in Las Vegas. However, Bauer recommends a different option entirely to those who are new to credit card rewards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred makes for a perfect entry point into the world of using points for travel. It even has a higher sign-up bonus than the Chase Sapphire Reserve (60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months versus 50,000 points with the same spending requirement), and it comes with a great selection of benefits that covers all your bases. You'll earn 2x points on travel and dining, and you get some helpful travel protections like primary rental car insurance and trip delay insurance to cover you if anything goes wrong. When it comes time to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points, you have lots of great options, from using them to book travel through Chase with a 25% bonus to transferring them to airline or hotel partners. Plus, the card has a $95 annual fee, compared to $450 on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you catch the award travel bug and decide you want to upgrade to the Reserve, you can always upgrade after your first year. 3. You can get thousands of dollars in value from credit card sign-up bonuses and benefits Provided you don't sit on your stash of points and miles and you can take advantage of other benefits like annual statement credits, you can come out ahead with premium credit cards. Here are just a few examples: Business Insider's David Slotnick got $2,000 in value from the Amex Platinum in his first year with the card, thanks to the card's welcome bonus and perks like Gold elite status with Marriot and Hilton. Eric Rosen recently shared how using Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve allowed him to book award flights to Cabo San Lucas and save about $4,000 on airfare during a peak travel period. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express has one of the highest annual fees around ($595), but when you add up all its benefits — from annual statement credits with Dell to savings through the Amex International Airline Program — you could get up to $7,000 in value. Again, that's if you put all these benefits to use; if you're not a frequent travel, a cash-back credit card could be a better option. 4. An annual fee isn't always worth it — but it can be Everyone has their own philosophy when it comes to paying annual fees for credit cards — even financial advisers differ on whether it's worth it. If you're on the fence, keep in mind that it comes down to whether or not you can put a credit card's benefits to use. Travel and credit card expert Caroline Lupini pays more than $4,000 in credit card annual fees, but she says it's worth it because she spends about eight months out of the year on the road and has no trouble getting value out of perks like the $300 annual travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the lounge access benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express. 5. The United Explorer Card has a hidden feature that makes it easier to use your miles Contributor Jason Steele uses hotel credit cards to enjoy free nights in Colorado, Hawaii, and more, and he uses an airline card to stretch his miles further for award flights. Steele stumbled across an unsung benefit of the United Explorer card: additional saver-level award availability. If you have the Explorer card or another United credit card, you'll have more opportunities to redeem your miles at the lowest mileage award level than non-United cardholders. You just need to be logged into your United MileagePlus account to see the additional saver-level seats. The difference between the cheapest award prices and the "standard" level of awards can be tens of thousands of miles, so having a United card can help you stretch the value of your miles much further. 6. It pays to have an 'emergency fund' of travel rewards Elizabeth Aldrich, who quit her job to work and travel and now lives in rural Costa Rica, says having various types of travel rewards on hand has helped her save money when she needed to book last-minute travel. Her advice for building your own "emergency fund" of points and miles? It helps to have a few different points and miles currencies so you can be flexible. She focuses on Chase Ultimate Rewards, but also earns hotel points with the World of Hyatt Credit Card and airline miles with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. 7. 'Double-dipping' on credit card rewards helps you earn more points faster The points and miles hobby can be even more rewarding when you have a partner earning rewards alongside you. Contributor Clint Proctor and his wife "double-dip" on credit card rewards by each opening cards like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. This way, they can each earn a sign-up bonus — getting them more points for travel and helping them earn the valuable Southwest Companion Pass, which lets you bring a friend or family member on flights with you for just the cost of taxes and fees. 8. Using the right card for each purchase matters Credit card sign-up bonuses — which earn you a lump sum of points, miles, or cash back after you meet a minimum spending requirement — are the easiest way to quickly acquire rewards. But that's just half of the equation. To maximize his points-earning, Eric Rosenberg not only focuses on earning the most valuable sign-up bonuses, but he also makes sure he's using the best credit card for every single purchase so he can earn as many rewards as possible. Rosenberg's used credit card rewards to book travel including a trip to Israel in business class. Here are his top picks for maximizing recurring expenses: American Express® Gold Card for 4x points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1x) Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x points on travel (excluding a $300 travel credit) Ink Business Cash Credit Card for 5% cash back (5x points) on internet bills (up to the first $25,000 spent each account anniversary year, then 1%/1x) Chase Freedom Unlimited for 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on "everywhere else" purchases Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred » More credit card coverage What's the best airline credit card? The best cash-back credit cards Southwest credit card review Best rewards credit cards Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A 45-year-long study discovered trends in successful hyper-intelligent children
Frequent flyer miles aren't always as valuable as Chase and Amex points, but you should still consider an airline credit card for these 5 reasons
When it comes to rewards credit cards, the most valuable options are generally those that earn...When it comes to rewards credit cards, the most valuable options are generally those that earn you bank points, like Amex points with the American Express® Gold Card and Chase points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. However, there are several reasons to consider airline co-branded credit cards as well. Not only do airline cards like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the United Explorer Card earn you miles that you can redeem for a free flight, but they can also offer benefits like priority boarding and a free checked bag. Read more personal finance coverage. When it comes to collecting travel rewards, most experts will tell you to focus on rewards credit cards that earn flexible currencies like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points. These currencies can be transferred to a variety of different airline and hotel rewards programs, giving you lots of redemption flexibility. However, there are still times when airline credit cards come in handy. Here are five instances when you should consider an airline co-branded credit card. Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards. When you're working to earn credit card rewards, it's important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card. 1. You need lots of miles fast Airline co-branded credit cards generally offer pretty big sign-up bonuses, often north of 50,000 miles. If you need lots of miles fast and don't have time to save up, a co-branded airline credit card is a great way to top off your account quickly. Most airline credit cards do have a spending requirement averaging $3,000 within three months. One exception is the Barclay Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard, which simply requires a single purchase in any amount to earn the bonus. 2. You're targeted for an amazing offer Sometime credit card issuers target certain customers with sign-up bonuses that are just too good to pass up. A couple of months ago I received a 75,000-mile sign-up bonus for the Citi® AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and promptly applied for it. There's no telling when these higher bonuses may come around again. If you have a use for the miles, getting in on these bonuses is a no-brainer. To ensure you're targeted for bigger credit card sign-up bonuses in the future, make sure you're opted in to receive marketing materials. Sometimes these offers are sent via email, though most of the time you can expect a flyer in the mail with an offer code. Read more: The best credit card sign-up bonuses available now 3. You travel frequently with one airline, but not enough to earn status Co-branded cards can get you free checked bags, priority boarding, and elite-qualifying miles based on credit card spending. If you travel frequently with one airline but not enough to earn status, these benefits can really come in handy. Premium credit cards like the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express go beyond free checked bags and priority boarding, with luxury perks like airport lounge access and airline fee credits. 4. You're a frequent flyer who wants to get revenue requirements waived for elite status It's not enough to rack up dozens of flights per year — many airlines nowadays require a certain amount spending on airfare to qualify for elite status. Luckily, there are a few airlines that waive revenue requirements based on co-branded credit card spending: American Airlines AAdvantage The Barclays Aviator Silver Card offers $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year or earn $6,000 EQDs by spending $50,000 in a calendar year. The Aviator Red, Blue, and Business cards offer $3,000 EQDs for spending $25,000 in a calendar year. American Airlines requires $3,000 to $15,000 in EQDs for elite status qualification. For most people, being able to complete EQD requirements via credit cards is much more preferable to spending $3,000 to $15,000 on airfare in a year. Delta SkyMiles Delta's Mile Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirements range from $3,000 to $15,000. With the right credit card, you can complete all of these requirements via card spending. The following credit cards will waive the MQD requirement for Silver, Gold, and Platinum status if you spend at least $25,000 on your eligible card. Diamond MQM requirements are waived for those who spend $250,000 per year. The following credit cards qualify for MQM waivers: Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex — Note that the MQD waiver benefit is being removed from this card in 2020. Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card from American Express United Airlines MileagePlus The Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) for United Silver, Gold, and Platinum status are waived for those who manage to spend $25,000 per calendar year on the following cards: United Explorer Card United Explorer Business Card United Club Card United MileagePlus Club Business Card United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card (not open to new applicants) 5. You want recurring benefits and discounted flights Many airline credit cards offer some pretty substantial perks to appeal to cardholders beyond the initial sign-up bonus. The Southwest Companion Pass is perhaps the most prominent example. Earn 110,000 miles on Southwest every year (credit card spending counts) and you can designate a traveling companion who will be able to fly for just the cost of taxes and fees. Other airline credit cards have similar benefits. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card offers a $121 companion fare ($99 plus taxes and fees) every year. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum card issues a $125 Travel Voucher to cardholders who complete $20,000 worth of spending every year. These benefits can far outweigh the annual fees on these credit cards. More credit card coverage What's the best airline credit card? The best cash-back credit cards Southwest credit card review Best rewards credit cards Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What El Chapo is really like, according to the wife of one his closest henchman