The Points Guy

The best cash back credit cards of 2019

By Shane Roberts

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Way back in 2014, a new credit card called the Citi Double Cash drew a line in the sand. With a flat 2% return on all spending, with no limit, no annual fee, and no complexity, every card that followed had to earn the equivalent of 2% or more, at least in specific categories, to compete. What’s more, every card that followed had to justify not only its annual fee with earning potential, but also any extra legwork that fell to the end user that was required in order to out earn the Double Cash.

In evaluating cash back and travel rewards credit cards, there are a few fundamental concepts to understand, the most important being that a point is not equal across credit cards. Points from cash back credit cards are worth one cent. Points from travel rewards credit cards vary widely in their face value when redeemed for travel, and can be worth exponentially more when transferred to airlines or hotels and used to book sweet spots in redemption charts. To generalize, travel rewards cards are more valuable, but require more effort, time, and research to get the most out of.

Before I dive into the cards and their bonus earning categories, I want to call out the current offer on the Chase Freedom Unlimited: an incredible 3% on every purchase in your first year of holding the card on up to $20,000 in spending, then 1% after that. I already have this card, and I’d get a second one to take advantage of this promotion if I could.

The Freedom Unlimited, along with the original Freedom (detailed below), are cash back cards, but that cash back comes in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards, one of the most valuable and flexible travel point currencies, in case you decide down the road you want to graduate from cash back to travel points.

Flat Cash Back

Chase Freedom Unlimited | No annual fee

  • 3% back on all purchases in your first year, up to $20,000, then 1% after
  • Cash back can be transferred to a Chase Sapphire card for higher redemption value

Rotating Quarterly 5% Back Categories

Chase Freedom | No annual fee

  • 5% on rotating categories on up to $1,500 in spending in said categories
  • $150 signup bonus after spending $500 in the first three months
  • Cash back can be transferred to a Chase Sapphire card for higher redemption value

Discover it | No annual fee

  • 5% on rotating categories on up to $1,500 in spending in said categories
  • All cash back doubled during the first year of card membership
  • No foreign transaction fees

U.S. Bank Cash Plus | No annual fee

  • 5% back on your first $2,000 in spending each quarter in two categories of your choice
  • 2% back on one everyday of your choice

Dining

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards | $95 annual fee, waived the first year

  • 4% back on Dining
  • 4% back on Entertainment and 2% back at grocery stores
  • One-time $300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
  • No foreign transaction fees

Uber Visa | No annual fee

  • 4% back on Dining
  • 3% back on Hotels and Airfare and 2% back on Uber, Online Shopping, and Streaming Services
  • No foreign transaction fees

Groceries

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express | $95 annual fee

  • 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending per year, then 1%
  • 3% back at Gas Stations
  • $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months

Gas

Wells Fargo Propel Amex | No annual fee

  • 3X points at Gas Stations
  • 3X points on Travel (including Uber), Dining, and Streaming Services
  • 30,000 bonus points ($300 cash redemption value) after spending $3,000 in the first three months

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express | $95 annual fee

  • 3% back at Gas Stations
  • 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending per year, then 1%
  • $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months

Travel

Uber Visa | No annual fee

  • 3% back on Hotels and Airfare
  • 4% back on Dining and 2% back on Uber, Online Shopping, and Streaming Services
  • No foreign transaction fees

Wells Fargo Propel Amex | No annual fee

  • 3X points on Travel including Uber
  • 3X points on Dining, Streaming Services, and Gas Stations
  • 30,000 bonus points ($300 cash redemption value) after spending $3,000 in the first three months

Unless otherwise stated, all cards have foreign transaction fees. All cards offer 1% back on non-bonus categories.

I started this article by saying that cash back cards were less work, but as you can see, to maximize your cash back, you’ll need to choose the right card (or cards) for you, and then remember to use the right one each time you transact. Of course while you’re at it, you should run around and grab all those signup bonuses too.

Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by card issuers.