Here at Go Curry Cracker, we advocate for transferable miles and points that can be transferred to airlines and hotels to reap substantial rewards. But as they saying goes, “cash is king” and in today’s uncertain circumstances there are situations where being able to redeem rewards for real cash can be the most beneficial choice. Today we’ll discuss which cash back credit cards offer the best benefits and return for your everyday spending.

There are lots of ways to consider what “cash back” means in the realm of miles and points, since all transferable currencies can become cash via statement credits (although they are more valuable if transferred to partners). However, there is a category of cards whose benefits are strictly focused on cash back which offer a suitable alternative and can offer returns greater than 1 cent per point. What’s more, these cards generally do not carry an annual fee which makes them ideal for everyday spending in categories that do not offer bonuses.

How best to focus exclusively on “cash back” was a popular question in earlier posts, which fortunately is a simple topic…

Here are four of the best cash back cards currently available:

Citi DoubleCash

 

 

Features:

  • 2% cash back on purchases (1% when making the purchase, 1% when paying them off)
  • No annual caps or categories
  • Foreign transaction fee: 3%
  • $0 Annual Fee

Why it’s great:

The Double Cash is the granddaddy of cash back cards. With a solid 2% cash back rate (assuming you pay your balance on time), it consistently ranks among the highest in payouts. What’s most excellent about this card is that Citi now allows you to transfer DoubleCash rewards to ThankYou points at a rate of 1 cent per point (if you have the Citi Premier or Prestige card as well), meaning you can earn 2 ThankYou points per dollar spent on all purchases. That’s an incredible value for nonbonus spend! Having the flexibility of using the DoubleCash rewards for either a statement credit or ThankYou points makes it incredibly useful. This card occasionally offers a welcome bonus, although it currently is not.

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Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa

 

 

Features:

  • $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases and 1.8% cash rewards on qualified digital wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months
  • Up to $600 protection on your cell phone ($25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly bill with the card
  • Foreign transaction fee: 3%
  • $0 Annual Fee

Why It’s Great:

The two best features of this card are the $150 welcome bonus and the $600 cell phone protection — benefits that are a huge boon for no-fee cards. While the cashback rate of 1.5% (1.8% for the first 12 months on digital wallet purchases) is decent, it’s not as good as the DoubleCash and the earnings are not transferable to any kind of travel partner. Still, this card is worth having for the bonus and cell phone protection.

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Chase Freedom Unlimited

 

 

 

Features:

  • $150 cash back welcome bonus after you spend $500 in 3 months
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Purchase Protection: for up to 120 days after you make a purchase the item will be protected against damage or theft  (limit of $500 per claim and $50,000 per account)
  • Extended Warranty Protection:  extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less
  • Foreign transaction fee: 3%
  • $0 Annual Fee

Why It’s Great:

Much like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise card, where the the Freedom Unlimited lacks (slightly) in everyday earnings it makes up for in benefits. Offering an attractive $150 welcome bonus plus protection and warranty benefits for purchases make this a great choice for most purchases. The best part about this card, however, is that the cash back can be converted to Chase Ultimate Rewards Points if you have a premium Chase card (Sapphire Preferred, Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred). This means that all purchases are earning 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to travel partners for even more value.

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Chase Freedom

Features:

  • $150 (sometimes more) cash back welcome bonus after you spend $500 in 3 months
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (See here for 2020 categories)
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Purchase Protection: for up to 120 days after you make a purchase the item will be protected against damage or theft  (limit of $500 per claim and $50,000 per account)
  • Extended Warranty Protection:  extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less
  • Foreign transaction fee: 3%
  • $0 Annual Fee

Why It’s Great:

The difference between the Freedom and the Freedom Unlimited is that the Freedom gets increased cash back for spending in specific categories which change every three months. If you are able to maximize those opportunities, you can earn $300 in cash back per year plus 1% back on all other purchases. This is fairly easy to do since, for example, you can generally pay ahead on utilities bills or purchase third party gift cards at grocery stores.

Much like the Freedom Unlimited card, the cash back from this card can alternatively be converted to Ultimate Rewards Points if you also have a premium (annual-fee-charging) card. 5x Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to airlines for another 2x in value (depending on the redemption) mean you’re really earning about 10% cash back when maxing out these categories. It’s hard to beat that.

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Using Cash Back Rewards

Cash back is the most flexible rewards currency there is. The most common use of these rewards is a statement credit on your card account, which will reduce the amount you owe at the end of the month. The bank will also mail you a check for the amount, if desired.

Alternatively, rewards can be redeemed for gift cards through the bank’s portal (as explained in the last Award Travel Series post) but unless they are being offered at a discount it’s more convenient to take the reward as a statement credit.

The most useful option for award travel enthusiasts, though, is transferring to travel partners. Some no-fee cashback cards such as the Citi DoubleCash, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited, as mentioned, allow the ability to transform cash back earnings to their proprietary transferable currencies which are often redeemable for 1.5-2 cents per point. So, if you earn 2% cash back with the DoubleCash card and transfer that balance to Citi ThankYou Points which you use to book a flight at 2 cents per point, it’s like earning 4% cash back on your purchases. Note that to enable this option, you must have a premium (e.g. annual-fee assessing) credit card with the respective bank.

Example

During COVID19 precautions and beyond, you might plan your spending around particular credit cards that will offer the best bonuses. For example, use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for Dining and Travel to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases as well as travel protections. (Note: Chase has enhanced its earning on Grocery spend for annual-fee carrying cards. From May 1 to June 30th, 2020 you can earn 5x UR on groceries!). 

If you have any spending to do within the Chase Freedom quarterly categories, maximize your 5% (or 5x UR) earnings by paying ahead on bills or buying gift cards for future use.

For all other retail therapy, use your Chase Freedom Unlimited to earn 1.5% (or 1.5x UR) per dollar spent.

When executed efficiently, you can earn multiple percentage points of return on nearly all your spending. What’s best about the aforementioned example is that your rewards can be used as cashback and directly credited to your account, or you can pool them all into Ultimate Rewards points and transfer to airline partners for future travel (best choice for most).

Flying Lufthansa Business Class using United miles transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards, which were partially earned from the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited credit cards.

 

Final Thoughts

Having a good cashback card is an essential piece of your award travel portfolio – especially in times like these where flexible returns are of the utmost importance. The four cashback cards mentioned above represent some of the best options available and are most useful for purchases that don’t fall into regular category bonuses such as travel or dining. Even the best ones tend to not have annual fees but still offer valuable benefits such as cell phone protection and extended warranties. While they are not the ideal option for overseas purchases (most apply a 3% foreign transaction fee), they are hugely beneficial for other spending.

Personally, I use the Citi DoubleCash and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards for my everyday nonbonused spend, as well as the Chase Freedom to max out its quarterly categories. Having the high rate of return and flexibility to transfer the earnings to travel partners is a huge benefit and something I greatly value as part of my reward earning strategy. You can’t go wrong with any of these options, but you are missing out some serious benefits if you’re not earning at least 1.5x rewards on all purchases.

Brandon Chase is a financially independent writer, endurance athlete, and travel hacking enthusiast originally from Maine. He is currently serving out the remainder of his final overseas tour as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State in Islamabad, Pakistan and has previously lived in Cairo, Egypt, and Nicosia, Cyprus. Since getting hooked on “the hobby” in 2013, he and his wife have accumulated and redeemed millions of points and miles for luxury travel, including a $35,000 trip around the world for 97% off retail which he wrote about on his blog Fit For Miles. In addition to travel, he loves to be outdoors and has summited Mr. Kilimanjaro, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and completed ultramarathons at the 50k and 50-mile distances. Brandon is thrilled to share his knowledge of credit cards, award travel, and optimization with the Go Curry Cracker readers and hopes to help people travel more and better than they ever thought possible.

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Editorial Note – Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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