NextAdvisor surveyWhen it comes to credit cards, do you really understand how your rewards work? The results of our recent survey* found that most people don’t understand credit cards rewards, specifically travel rewards. Fifty-four percent of Americans find frequent flyer programs confusing and 47% found hotel loyalty programs confusing, while 45% are confused about credit card rewards in general. In fact, consumers don’t even know how may rewards miles or points they currently have — 47% don’t know their hotel loyalty point total and 35% don’t know how many frequent flyer miles they have. To make matters worse, 24% of Americans don’t know how to redeem their rewards in general, which means they’re leaving money on the table. To help consumers find out how they can learn more about their credit card’s rewards, we’re detailing what consumers are doing wrong and explaining why this confusion may be a sign that they aren’t using the right credit card.

What are consumers doing wrong?

While consumers are definitely out of the loop when it comes to their rewards credit cards, they aren’t the only ones to blame. Since credit card issuers are in control of their cards’ rewards and redemption opportunities, it’s clear that some issuers are also failing to educate their cardholders. So what can you do? If you already have a rewards credit card, pick up the phone and call customer service to get the details on how you can redeem your rewards and what you can redeem them for, as they should be able to explain that all for you. Additionally, your credit card’s online portal should have some sort of “rewards” section, where you can not only see how many rewards you have, but also find out what you need to do to redeem them. You can also find your credit card in our credit card reviews, as all of our reviews list what cardholders can redeem their rewards for — we dig through the terms and conditions for you. On top of that, because it can be hard to convert your travel card’s points or miles to actual monetary values, we’ve created an analysis to do exactly that. Check out our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis to see how much your points are worth on average per $100 spent.

After you learn more about your credit card’s rewards program, you may realize that your current credit card isn’t a good fit for you. For example, your card may only allow you to redeem rewards for tickets with an airline you never fly. If that’s the case, it’s time to start shopping for a new credit card.

What should consumers look for in a new credit card?

When you’re looking into a credit card, it’s easy to find information on the card’s intro bonus opportunity, great ongoing rewards or both, but those features really don’t matter if you don’t ever redeem your rewards. As such, you’ll want to look past the enticing intro bonuses and other perks and dig into the details to see what the rewards can be used for. If you’re a frequent traveler, a travel rewards credit card with an easy redemption process, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which allows you to purchase travel how you’d like, then redeem your rewards for travel statement credit, may be a great fit for you. On the other hand, if you don’t travel too often and you just want a credit card that makes earning rewards simple, you’re probably better off picking a card that allows you to earn rewards that can be redeemed for cash, statement credit and more, like the Citi Double Cash Card (a NextAdvisor advertiser). Although this method of finding a card takes a bit more work, it’s worth it in the long run, as you won’t be wasting your hard-earned rewards.

Straightforward travel rewards credit cards

Those who are looking for a straightforward travel rewards credit card should consider one of the following cards.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

NextAdvisor SurveyThe Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is perfect for anyone who wants a card that makes redeeming rewards for travel easy. Cardholders can redeem rewards in 2 ways: you can either use your card to book travel however you’d like, then redeem your miles for travel statement credit, or you can use your earned miles to redeem travel through Capital One. When it comes to earning rewards, you’ll get 10X miles per $1 spent on bookings made with Hotels.com/Venture (note that this offer expires on Jan. 31, 2020) as well as 2X miles per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles — that’s equal to $500 in travel — to cardholders who spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. This card also comes with a number of Visa Signature benefits, including complimentary concierge service, road assist service, travel and emergency service and an extended warranty protection on items purchased with the card. Rounding out the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card are no foreign transaction fees and a $0 intro annual fee for the first year (after that, it’s $95/year). It should also be noted that the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is available to those with good to excellent credit (usually considered a credit score of 700 or higher).

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

NextAdvisor SurveyAnother card that’s perfect for someone who wants a straightforward way to redeem rewards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This card offers a bit more rewards flexibility than the previously mentioned card. That’s because points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card can be redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online portal, which nets you 25% more value, or transferred at a 1:1 value to another rewards program for free, which is great way to make your points work for you. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has an intro bonus that’s worth $625 when it’s redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, but if it’s transferred to the Hyatt Gold Passport rewards program, the value increases to $993, according to our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis. As you can see, there is some value in the 1:1 point transfer if you’re willing to do it. Cardholders can also redeem their points for cash or statement credit — points are worth $0.01 in such cases, so 50,000 bonus miles is equal to $500. In terms of rewards, you’ll earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining as well as 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card holders also earn a 50,000-point bonus after they spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. On top of no foreign transaction fees, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has no annual fee for the first year (after that, it’s $95/year) and it’s available to those with excellent credit (usually considered a credit score of 700 or higher). It also comes with a handful of added perks, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, 24/7 direct access to customer service and more.

Discover it Miles

NextAdvisor SurveyPrefer a travel rewards card with no annual fee? If so, Discover it Miles, which is available to those with average to excellent credit (usually considered a credit score of 670 or higher) is for you. The card earns an unlimited 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases, and miles can be redeemed as an electronic deposit into your bank account or for a statement credit to cover travel purchases made within in last 180 days, making things easy. Discover also offers a unique intro bonus: it will match all of the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder. This means if you earn 30,000 miles in your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match that to give you a total of 60,000 miles back! In addition to paying no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, Discover it Miles offers a 14-month 0% intro APR on purchases (after that, the standard rate applies), which is a rarity for travel credit cards. All Discover cardholders also get access to a number of added perks, including free identity theft alerts, the ability to pick your card design and more.

Is a cash back credit card better for you?

While you may be tempted by the impressive intro bonuses or rewards of a travel credit card, the reality is travel cards aren’t for everyone, as noted above. If you’d prefer a card that you can set and forget, meaning you don’t have to worry about the rewards quite as much, consider on the of the following cash back credit cards.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card

NextAdvisor SurveyThe Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card makes earning cash back a breeze, as it earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Plus, purchases made with qualified mobile wallets, like Apple Pay and Android Pay, earn 1.8% cash back during the first 12 months from account opening. On top of that, cardholders will get a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Wells Fargo banking customers have a bit more flexibility when it comes to redeeming their rewards, as they can redeem via direct deposit to a Wells Fargo savings or checking account, at a Wells Fargo ATM or by physical check, while all cardholders can redeem for gift cards, merchandise and travel. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card, which is available to those with good to excellent credit (often considered a credit score of 700 or higher), has no annual fee and a 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers (with an intro 3% balance transfer fee for 12 months, then it’s 5%). It also provides you with up to $600 cell phone protection against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly phone bill with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card.

Citi Double Cash Card

NextAdvisor SurveyWant a card that offers a unique way to earn cash back? If so, the Citi Double Cash Card is your best bet. That’s because this card earns an effective 2% cash back on all purchases — you’ll get 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay for that purchase. When it’s time to redeem your rewards, you can redeem for a check, statement credit, direct deposit into your bank account or a gift card. The Citi Double Cash Card has no annual fee and an 18-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers (with a 3% balance transfer fee, $5 minimum) — note that there’s no 0% intro APR on purchases. It’s also available to those with good to excellent credit (usually considered a credit score of 700 or higher).

Chase Freedom Unlimited

NextAdvisor SurveyAnother card that you may want to consider is Chase Freedom Unlimited. This card earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases and offers a $150 bonus to cardholder to spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. Redeeming cash back is easy with Chase Freedom Unlimited, as cardholders can redeem for a check, gift card or statement credit. What’s more, cash back earned with this card can also be used to redeem travel, products and services through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. In addition to no annual fee, Chase Freedom Unlimited has a lengthy 15-month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers (with a 5% balance transfer fee, $5 minimum), and it’s available to those with good to excellent credit (often considered a credit score of 700 or higher).

Finding the right card to fit your lifestyle and spending habits is important because doing so will allow you to get the most bang for your hard-earned buck. Not seeing a card that fits your needs? Visit our reviews of the best credit cards to find the perfect option for you.

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2317 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st – 22nd March 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.