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The best rewards credit cards of July 2020

We analyzed 111 rewards credit cards using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits.

Picking the right credit card may feel overwhelming. There are so many different options that it's hard to know which is best for you.

To relieve some of the stress, we analyzed 111 popular rewards cards using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

You don't have to be an aggressive points optimizer to enjoy the perks that come with a good rewards credit card. With the right card and good financial habits (paying your balance off on time and in full each month), you can earn $2,000 or more in rewards over five years (and that's after the annual fee). That breaks down to roughly $400 to $500 a year (a little higher the first year if you take advantage of a welcome bonus), and it's money you can use to buy more groceries, book airline travel, or splurge on a new iPad.

Many of these cards also provide additional perks, such as discounts at select retailers, travel insurance, annual statement credits and more that make using a rewards card truly worthwhile.

Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top rewards credit cards:

Best Overall

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card
On American Express's secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See rates and fees

  • Balance transfer fee

    See rates and fees

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned on dining worldwide and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Up to $100 credit in airline fees, up to $120 in dining credits at participating partners and up to $100 hotel credit
  • 35,000 Membership Rewards® points welcome bonus after you spend $4,000 within first 3 months
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • This is a charge card, which means you have to pay off your balance in full each billing cycle
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $824
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,719

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If you love food, the American Express® Gold Card could be the ideal rewards card for you. Whether you dine out or cook at home, this card earns a competitive 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Plus, travelers can benefit from the 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com.

The value of Membership Rewards® points varies depending on how cardholders redeem them. You can use them in a variety of ways, from paying with points at checkout at retailers like Amazon to redeeming for gift cards or a statement credit to booking travel. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)

Cardholders also receive an annual dining credit of up to $120 ($10 a month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations (activation required). Travelers can take advantage of an annual $100 airline fee credit to cover the cost of in-flight food and beverages, seat upgrades and baggage fees. There are also no foreign transaction fees.

This card does have a $250 annual fee, but it can easily be offset if you take advantage of all the added card benefits. Just using the $120 dining credit and $100 airline fee credit each year effectively reduces the fee to $30. Then, the rewards you earn help further "pay" for the card.

Gold Card members can also participate in Amex Offers, where you can earn statement credits or bonus Membership Rewards® points at select retailers. For example, an offer for Wine.com states: "Spend $50 or more, get $10 back." These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.

Runner-up

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Information about the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    17.24% to 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every 4 years

Cons

  • No introductory APR
  • There’s a $95 annual fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $966
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,431

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers the best rewards rate on select hotel purchases: Earn 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠ , which is a great flat rate. Plus earn 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase.

While Venture does come with a $95 annual fee, it's low compared to some other rewards cards, with some annual fees up to $550.

In addition to rewards, every four years cardholders receive a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, up to $100. If you travel often, this is a great perk that can save you time and money.

This card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a bunch of additional travel perks, such as travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services and an auto rental collision damage waiver.

Best for Cash Back

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card
Information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $99, waived the first year

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Regular APR

    12.24% to 22.24% variable

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
  • Annual fee is waived the first year
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn’t require activation or spending caps
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $99 annual fee after the first year
  • No welcome bonus
  • No special financing offers
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $553
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,370

Who's this for? The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card, our top cash-back card with an industry-leading 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle), is ideal for anyone looking for an easy-to-use rewards card. There are no bonus categories or activation required, so this card is a simple way to maximize cash back on everyday spending.

This card doesn't have many of the bells and whistles that other cards on this list have, but it does offer a competitive 12.24% to 22.24% variable APR. Compared to other rewards cards, this is in the low range, which may be helpful if you happen to carry a balance month-to-month. (We recommend you always pay on time and in full.)

While this card has a strong cash-back program, it does come with a $99 annual fee (though it's waived the first year). It's not the highest when compared to other rewards cards, but you can find a range of cash-back cards with no annual fees.

You also have to become a member of Alliant Credit Union and open an account in order to qualify for this card. The easiest way to become a member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. You don't need to pay the charity directly — Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union. Membership is also open to family members of current members, employees of partner organizations or those who live or work in qualifying towns and communities near Chicago's O'Hare International airport.

Overall, the numbers indicate that it's worth it to overcome these relatively minor obstacles in order to get the card's generous cash-back rate on all your purchases. If you don't want to make that trade off, though, there are a number of other strong cash-back options that don't require you to join a credit union.

Best for Luxury Travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®
On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    16.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Relatively high balance transfer fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,231
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,755

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If you're a frequent traveler looking to make your flights and hotel stays more luxurious, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® should be on your radar. This card is geared toward frequent travelers with 3X points on dining and travel worldwide and no foreign transaction fees.

The value of Chase rewards points varies depending on how you use them. If you redeem points for cash and gift cards, each point is worth $.01, which means that 100 points equals $1 in redemption value. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)

When you use points through Chase Pay® for a statement credit to cover all or part of a purchase made at participating Chase Pay® merchants (Amazon, for instance), each point is worth $.008, which means that 100 points equals $.80 in redemption value. Redemption values for other reward options may be worth more or less than this.

The value of points increases 50% when you redeem for travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruise reservations when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This is a great way to maximize the value of your rewards and makes this card stand out from the pack.

While this card offers great rewards and benefits, it does come with a hefty $550 annual fee. However, if you take advantage of all the annual credits, you can come out well ahead of the fee. There's an annual $300 travel credit, as well as a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees cardholders can redeem every four years. And the Priority Pass™ Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,000 lounges in 500 cities worldwide, has a value of about $429.

Best for Groceries

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
On American Express's secure site
  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Pros

  • High 6% cash back at U.S. supermarket spending (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%)
  • Unlimited 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
  • Unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit
  • A year of no interest on new purchases

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • 2.7% fee on purchases made abroad
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $679
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,397

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a great choice for anyone who regularly spends big at grocery stores and gas stations. The rewards program is tailored to these purchases and offers some of the best cash-back rates available.

Cardholders who have cut the cord can also take advantage of high cash back on select U.S. streaming services (6%). The list of eligible streaming subscriptions is longer than most, including Audible, Kindle Unlimited, MLB.TV and more.

In addition to cash back, cardholders can earn statement credit at select businesses through Amex Offers. For example, you can spend $75 or more and get $15 back at Jane restaurant in New York City. These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.

While cardholders only earn 1% cash back for travel-related purchases, you can benefit from travel perks, such as car rental loss and damage insurance. However, this card isn't the best choice for traveling outside the U.S., since purchases made abroad incur a 2.7% fee.

Best for No Annual Fee

Citi® Double Cash Card

Citi® Double Cash Card
On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn't require activation or spending caps
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Minimum cash-back redemption of $25
  • 3% fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $437
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,185

Who's this for? The Citi® Double Cash Card is a solid choice if you're looking to maximize your money without having to worry about rotating rewards categories or joining a credit union. Earn 1% cash back on all purchases and 1% when you pay off your bill.

There's no annual fee and an easy-to-use cash-back program with no activation required and no limit to how many points you can earn. Cardholders can redeem cash back for checks or statement credits once they've earned $25 worth of points. Plus, if you forget to pay your card, Citi will waive your first late fee. (Though we always recommend you pay off your card on time and in full each month.)

Although this card doesn't have a welcome bonus, the Citi® Double Cash Card offers cardholders a 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers initiated within four months of opening an account. After the intro period ends, there's a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR.

In addition to the cash-back rewards, there are a number of special cardmember programs, including Citi Entertainment℠, which gives cardholders first access to purchase tickets for thousands of concerts and events. The card also provides access to Citi® Identity Theft Solutions, a service that will help you if you're a victim of identity theft.

Best for No Annual Fee Travel

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.49% to 24.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No blackout dates on air travel when redeemed through Go Far Rewards

Cons

  • Minimum reward redemption amount of 2,500 points
  • Balance transfers incur a 3% fee ($5 minimum)
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $584
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,120

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has a strong rewards program for a no annual fee card: Earn unlimited 3X points on gas, dining out and ordering in; rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services; plus 1X point on all other purchases.

This card is a smart choice for all types of travelers, whether you like to fly, drive or take mass-transit. And this card not only gives you 3X points at gas stations but also on purchases at toll bridges and highways, parking lots and garages. And you earn a competitive 3X points on restaurants and take out, which is great while you're traveling. When you're ready to relax, you can enjoy 3X points on select streaming services.

Wells Fargo makes it easy to redeem points for cash, gift cards or travel. There are no black-out dates when you make reservations through Go Far Rewards, but you can't start redeeming points until you've earned 2,500.

In addition to rewards, this card offers no interest on purchases and balance transfers for a full year (then 14.49% to 24.99% variable APR). If you have large upcoming expenses or debt on a non-Amex card, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card provides a way to finance new and old debt without incurring interest charges. Balance transfers are charged a 3% fee, $5 minimum.

There's also cell phone protection for damage to or theft of your phone up to $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12-month period ($25 deductible applies and you must pay your bill with your Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card).

Best for Online Shopping

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
Information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market; 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; 1% back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval

  • Annual fee

    $0 (but Prime membership is required)

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    14.24% to 22.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval, with no spending requirements
  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Prime membership is required
  • The 5% back on groceries only applies to groceries bought on Amazon.com or at Whole Foods Market
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $510
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,272

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Frequent shoppers on Amazon and at Whole Foods will want to look into the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. All purchases made by Prime members at Amazon and Whole Foods get a robust 5% cash back. The card also offers a $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval as a one-time bonus.

In addition to the generous 5% cash back at those two retailers, the card gives users 2% back on purchases made at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases.

As the name implies, you must have an eligible Prime membership to apply for this card ($119 for an annual membership and $12.99 for a monthly membership). If you don't, opt for the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card, which doesn't require a Prime membership and still offers 3% cash back at Amazon and Whole Foods.

FAQs

How to choose a rewards credit card

Rewards credit cards come in all shapes and sizes, so it's important to take some time to choose the best card for your needs. You should decide if you're willing to pay an annual fee for a card, since this can help narrow down choices. Rewards cards can have annual fees up to $550, which can be worthwhile, but not for everyone. Make sure you do the math to see if an annual fee is within your budget and if it can be outweighed by the card's benefits.

Don't want to pay your credit card's annual fee? Here's how to ask for a retention offer

Next you should figure out what type of rewards you want to earn and if you want a simple rewards program or one that may require some work. If you want a straightforward card, there are generic rewards cards that offer the same amount of rewards on all purchases, which require little planning. But if you want to maximize rewards in common spending categories, such as travel, dining and gas, consider bonus rewards cards that offer over 5% back on purchases and may require activation.

Here's how credit card issuers classify purchases for bonus rewards

Rewards aside, consider the added card perks, such as annual statement credits, lounge access and 0% APR periods, that can provide enhanced value.

Learn more: How to choose the best credit card in 3 easy steps

Types of rewards credit cards and how rewards work

Rewards credit cards typically provide one of three reward structures: cash back, points or miles. The way you earn and redeem rewards varies based on the type of credit card you open.

  • Cash back: Receive a percentage of spending back, directly related to how much you spent. Spend $100 on a 1% cash-back card, earn $1 in cash back.
  • Points and miles: Earn points or miles on purchases. The value of one point or one mile isn't always equal to one cent. They might be worth more or less than a penny depending on the credit card you have and the way you redeem rewards.

In addition to the value of cash back, points and miles varying, redemption options also fluctuate. You may be able to redeem for a statement credit, travel, gift card, merchandise or more, depending on the card you have.

Making the most of your rewards card

In order to make the most of your rewards card, you should familiarize yourself with the benefits and fees. Take note of any annual fees and the APR associated with your account, as well as the rewards rates and added perks, such as annual statement credits.

Once you're familiar with the terms of your card, you can start to take full advantage of them. That may include setting reminders to use the $100 annual airline fee credit provided by the American Express® Gold Card or submitting a Global Entry application with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card to receive a $100 credit.

If you have multiple credit cards, consider the rewards offered by each card before deciding which to use. Let's say you have the Citi® Double Cash Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Use the Chase Sapphire Reserve® for all your travel and dining expenses to earn 3X points, then use the Citi® Double Cash Card for everything else to earn an effective 2% cash back.

Who should apply for a rewards card?

If you pay for purchases with cash or debit, you're leaving extra money on the table. Using one of the rewards credit cards mentioned above can earn you more than $2,000 in rewards over five years. This is a large amount of money that can help offset the cost of past purchases or fund upcoming expenses.

Rewards credit cards often require good or excellent credit (scores above 670), so check your credit score before applying for one of these cards.

Best rewards credit cards

Category Best Overall Runner-Up Best Cash Back Best for Luxury Travel Best for Grocery Shopping Best for No Annual Fee Best No Annual Fee Travel Best for Online Shopping
Credit CardAmerican Express® Gold CardAmerican Express® Gold CardCapital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardCapital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardAlliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit CardAlliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit CardChase Sapphire Reserve®Chase Sapphire Reserve®Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressBlue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressCiti® Double Cash CardCiti® Double Cash CardWells Fargo Propel American Express® CardWells Fargo Propel American Express® CardAmazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature CardAmazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
Estimated rewards earned after five years$2,719$2,431$2,370$2,755$2,437$2,213$2,120$2,272
See below for our methodology Learn MoreOn American Express's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreOn Chase's secure siteLearn MoreOn American Express's secure siteLearn MoreOn Citi's secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreInformation about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 111 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. that offer rewards programs, from cash back to points and miles. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fees and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.