Credit Card Rewards

Get cashback, points & more

credit card rewards

Spend on one of these cards and it pays you – either in pure cashback or points that can be converted into vouchers for shops, airlines, hotels etc. If you're debt-free and pay off your card every month, you can earn goodies worth £100s each year. Plus our Rewards Eligibility Calculator will show credit cards you've the best odds of getting.

How do reward credit cards work?

Reward cards can be a great way of earning £100s' worth of bonuses/cashback, just for doing your everyday spending. It sounds great – everyone loves something for nothing. But unless you're careful, cards will actually deliver nothing for something, as there are a couple of major holes to watch for. We take you through the top cards and the potential pitfalls below.

The nine need-to-knows

Get it wrong, and you could actually be left out of pocket, so here's all you need to know to get the best from reward credit cards...

  • Getting charged interest almost always scuppers even the very best reward schemes, so quite simply…

    If you want rewards, always set up a direct debit to repay the card in full each month, so there's NO interest.

    By doing this, you've effectively made your credit card a debit card, but one that pays you every time you spend on it. Just make sure you stay within the credit limit or you'll pay charges.

    Sadly, some card providers deliberately miss the 'repay in full' option off their direct debit forms. If so, just write 'pay off in full' and send it in. It should be honoured, but call and check to be safe.

    If you're not sure you can always repay the card in full, DON'T pick a card for rewards. Focus on a card with a lower interest rate instead – see our 0% Credit Cards for Purchases guide.

  • Once you've set up a credit card, every time you use it you get paid. While this isn't an excuse to spend more, it does mean from now on…

    Use the rewards card for ALL normal spending, replacing cash, cheques and other debit, credit and charge cards.

    For those who have work expenses they need to reclaim, this can be a powerful way to earn more, at no cost to you, provided you can cope with paying the bill in full each month.

    Do check it's fine with your employer though, as there's a chance it could be seen as a taxable benefit (you'll still be up even if it is).

    Quick questions

  • Some schemes are focused on making people think they're earning large, when actually payouts are pretty paltry, so go through our best buys below meticulously to check which you'll actually get value from. To what extent depends on the type of scheme.

    • Cashback

      This is the most straightforward type of scheme – for every pound spent, you get a certain amount back, eg, 1%. But watch out for tricky terms: cashback tends to be paid annually as credit to your statement, and some cards have a minimum spend requirement to get any cashback.
    • Rewards schemes

      Here you earn days out, flights, holidays and more by getting points – and that's where the problems start, as Martin points out...

    Martin: 'Always ask what the points are actually worth'

    "For a TV programme stunt I was once asked to design a credit card that looked good, but contained hidden, abysmally anti-consumer traps. Many signed up to my fake MACS card (SCAM backwards), which promised TWELVE points per pound spent.

    "Most people didn't ask what the points were worth. In fact, they were worth 0.0001p. In other words, nothing. And 12 nothings… is nothing.

    "It's this lack of transparency that allows reward schemes to create a magical 'something for nothing' mystique. For example, a Sainsbury's Nectar point is worth 0.5p in store compared to a Tesco Clubcard point worth 1p.

    "That's what this guide focuses on: a mathematical evaluation of every scheme to pick the real winners."

  • Usually, the only way to know if you'll be accepted for a card is to apply, but each application marks your credit file. But our Reward Credit Card Eligibility Calculator quickly shows your odds of getting almost every top reward card so you can find the ones most likely to accept you, thus minimising applications.

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

    It uses a 'soft search', which is one you will see on your credit file but lenders usually don't (and where they do they can't use the info), to give us an indication of your credit score. We then match this against lenders' criteria for acceptance so we can show you the odds of getting each card.

    Once you have this knowledge, it will allow you to make a smarter application. Say you have a much better chance of getting a card that's just one month shorter at 0%, you may want to go for that. Therefore, you're less likely to be rejected and less likely to need to apply elsewhere, which would add another mark on your credit file.

    Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check

    The MSE Credit Club is a game-changer. For years the credit market has been shrouded in mystery, but our revolutionary tool brings together the key components to give you the full picture, and crucially, what it means for your acceptance chances and how to boost your creditworthiness.

    A credit score alone isn't enough to borrow, as there are other factors at play (it's why many with perfect scores still get rejected). Credit Club shows your Free Experian Credit Report and Credit Score, your Affordability Score, you Credit Hit Rate and much more.

  • boost the value of your points

    By correctly targeting the right rewards to redeem your points on, it's possible to substantially increase the amount. To find out how to do this for all schemes and specific info for Avios, Nectar and Tesco, read our Boost Your Loyalty Points and Avios Boosting Tricks guides.

  • You'll save more by keeping your debts cheap instead of going for reward cards. Every card application has a credit score impact, so make sure your debts are sorted before applying for reward cards (see Best Balance Transfers for help cutting the cost of debt).

  • They're a tool to get you rewards by using them like a debit card and clearing them each month, and we rate them based on that. If you need to borrow as well, you're far better off focusing on getting the lowest interest rates – that'll save you much more money. See 0% Credit Cards for Spending and Best Balance Transfers for more info.

    And when it comes to withdrawing cash the rule is simple – never, ever, ever use these cards for cash withdrawals as you'll often be charged a fee and interest, even if you pay the card off in full.

  • Multiple applications on your credit file can damage your chances of getting future credit so you need to weigh up whether getting one now is going to harm other more important credit applications you may have on the horizon.

    A single application may not kibosh your chance but together with other negatives, may well do. See Credit Score Boosting for more tips.

  • Many of the Amex cards below offer big welcome bonuses if you can hit a minimum spend trigger within a specified period after getting the card. Until very recently, this used to be three months (eg, spend £3,000 on the Amex Nectar card in the first three months and get 20,000 bonus Nectar points).

    But now Amex has extended the length of time newbies have to meet any spending criteria to six months – making the welcome bonuses on its cards easier to get.

    And this applies to existing Amex customers too. So if you just got an Amex card and you're still within your original three-month period, this should have been extended by an additional three months (eg, if you got your card on 1 April, you should now have until 1 October to meet the spending criteria for your bonus). You should see the change reflected in your online account.

Top cashback credit cards

pound sign

Currently, the top cashback cards are from Amex – they have big intro bonuses and pay good ongoing rates. Visa/Mastercard cashback cards are accepted in more places but the handful currently on the market pay very little. If you're looking for a non-Amex card, you can earn more with a supermarket card

Highest payer with no fee, giving up to 5%. Best if you'll spend less than £10,000 a year – if you'll spend more, it's beaten by the Amex below

The Amex Platinum Everyday (check eligibility / apply*) is the top fee-free card, especially if you've big spending to do in the next few months. It gives 5% back on your first £2,000 of spending in the first six months (max £100 cashback), then up to 1% after.

Important: You need to spend at least £3,000/yr to earn any cashback.

Note: As it's an Amex, it's not accepted everywhere and you won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 22.2% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Cashback: 5% in first six months (max £100), then 0.5% on up to £5,000/yr, 1% above £5,000/yr
Annual fee: None
Min income: N/A

  • The card gives you 5% back on your first £2,000 of spending in the first six months (max £100 cashback).

    After the first six months, you'll get 0.5% cashback if you spend £5,000/yr, and 1% on any spending above this.

    Important: You need to spend at least £3,000/yr to earn any cashback.

    Cashback is paid to your account annually – in the month after your card anniversary date.

  • To qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases.

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Top payer overall – but charges annual fee. Beats the Everyday above if you'll spend more than £10,000 a year

The American Express Platinum Cashback (check eligibility / apply*) charges a £25 annual fee, but has an intro 5% cashback rate on up to £2,500 of spending in the first six months (max £125 cashback).

After that, it gives 1% back on up to £10,000/yr and 1.25% above this – making this card a winner for bigger spenders.

Again, as it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 27.3% APR incl fee (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Cashback: 5% in first six months (max £125), then up to 1.25% after (see FAQs)
Annual fee: £25
Min income: N/A

  • The card gives you 5% back on your first £2,500 of spending in the first six months (max £125 cashback).

    After the first six months, you'll get 1% cashback if you spend £10,000/yr, and 1.25% on any spending above this.

    Cashback is paid to your account annually – in the month after your card anniversary date.

  • To qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases.

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Top 'close to cashback' deals

Some reward cards give you points on all of your spending. These can come close to cashback cards as they offer the ability to spend the points you earn in a wide variety of places.

Get 24,000 Nectar points, worth £120 at Sainsbury's/Argos/eBay, plus ongoing rewards

Spend £2,000 on the Amex Nectar card (check eligibility / apply*) within the first six months, and you'll get 20,000 bonus Nectar points, on top of the usual two Nectar points per £1 spent you get with this card. So hit the spending trigger and you'll end up with at least 24,000 points, worth £120 at Nectar retailers such as Sainsbury's and Argos.

Just do your normal spending on it to get the bonus (it's an Amex, so may not be accepted everywhere), and remember to cancel after one year if you want to avoid the £25 annual fee that kicks in from year two.

Note: You won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 27.3% APR incl fee (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: Free in year one, then £25
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: One year if you don't collect or spend any points

  • Usually one Nectar point is worth 0.5p, but occasionally some retailers give better offers (see Loyalty Schemes for more info).

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases.

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Get £50 M&S/Amazon voucher or 13,000 Avios/air miles

The Amex Preferred Rewards Gold credit card (check eligibility / apply*) gives an intro bonus of 10,000 reward points if you spend £3,000 in the first six months (on top of the usual one point per £1 spent). You can redeem the points for £50 in high street vouchers or 13,000 frequent flyer miles (eg, Avios).

The card usually has a £140 annual fee, but is fee-free in the first year, so to avoid it, remember to cancel before year two starts.

Note: As it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 56.6% APR incl fee (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: No fee in year one, but £140 from year two onwards
Standard points earned (excl bonus): One per £1 on day-to-day spending, two points per £1 spent directly with airlines or in a foreign currency
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: N/A

  • You get two free visits to airport lounges (see affiliated lounges), which you can use for yourself twice on two separate visits, or yourself and one guest for one visit.

  • You can convert points into vouchers for Amazon, M&S and more. Alternatively, you can convert them to frequent flyer or hotel scheme points and add them to your current stash (transfers can take up to five working days). For full options, see the Membership Rewards site.

    Note: Bonus points can take a month to hit your account, but we've seen them applied on the day you hit the trigger.

  • You get a 10,000-point bonus on the anniversary of taking out the card if you've spent more than £15,000. Remember, if you keep the card into a second year, you'll pay the £140 annual fee, though if you cancel it before the year is up you'll get a pro-rata refund.

    You can also boost your points by getting a supplementary card (for a partner/friend), whose spending will then earn points. The first card is provided free, though any more will cost £45.

    Plus if you have a friend who has the card, get them to recommend you, and they'll get 6,000 bonus points and you'll get 2,000 extra points – as long as you spend £3,000 within three months.

  • Yes, but you'll receive slightly less than you'd get exchanging for vouchers. 1,000 points gives £4.50 'cashback' vs £5 in vouchers – so it's not the best use of them.

  • Yes – additional guests or visits cost £20 charged to your Amex.

  • Gift cards are sent by post (within 10 working days) or email.

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases.

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Get £25 M&S/Amazon voucher or 7,000 Avios/air miles

If you won't hit the spending trigger on the Gold card above, or you want a card that's fee-free all the time, this could suit you better. Spend £2,000 on the Amex Rewards credit card (check eligibility / apply*) in the first six months and you'll get 5,000 bonus points (on top of the usual one point per £1 spent). You can redeem these for £25 of vouchers at retailers such as Amazon and M&S, or convert them into frequent flyer points (eg, Avios).

Note: As it's an Amex, it's not accepted everywhere and you won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 22.2% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): One per £1 spent
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: N/A

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Top supermarket and stores' loyalty cards

Some cards give boosted rewards, vouchers or cash for certain retailers or when spending in a particular store. They can be useful if you're a creature of habit, and like to do your weekly shop at the same place every week.

Get £25 in M&S vchs, plus earn points for spending

Accepted new M&S Bank card-holders (apply via our eligibility calculator) can get a free £25 to spend in its stores on almost anything (incl clothes and food) if you follow the steps below. It's split into two parts...

  • £20 in M&S pts. Awarded the first time you use the card anywhere for any amount within 90 days.
  • £5 M&S vch. You're sent a coupon with the card. Swipe it or use online with your card to buy most things at M&S for any amount and you get another £5 of points.

Important: M&S Bank has asked we direct people to our eligibility calculator, so only those more likely to be accepted will actually apply, reducing demand and enquiry calls, as it's already over capacity and needs to prioritise coronavirus help for vulnerable people.

Representative APR (variable): 19.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay in full before end of 6mth 0% period to avoid interest (always pay at least monthly minimum), then clear IN FULL every month if you continue spending on it
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent in M&S in first year (then one per £1), one point per £5 spent elsewhere
Value of one point: 1p
Points' expiry: Two years

  • Points-related vouchers are credited to your account within 30 days of your first purchase and will be sent in your next available quarterly reward mailing.

  • You can't get the card if you're an existing M&S Credit Card-holder or if you've held a credit card with M&S Bank within the past 12 months.

  • There's a six-month 0% period on spending with the card, a nice bonus, but don't feel you need to use it. If 0% spending is what you're looking for, see our 0% Spending guide.

  • You won't get the £5 (500 bonus points) if you use your voucher to spend on tailoring alterations, 'Made to Measure' shirts, 'Your School Uniform' service, name tapes, personalised cards, Lunch to you, Wine Club, restaurants, deli bars, M&S Café or branded food goods.

Nectar members only. Nectar points on all spending, incl possible £37.50 bonus, and 0% interest on purchases for up to 20 months – but you CAN'T get it if you're self-employed

The Sainsbury's Bank Dual Offer card (check eligibility / apply*) is a good deal for Sainsbury's shoppers. You'll only be able to apply if you've had a Nectar card for six months or more and sadly Sainsbury's won't currently accept you if you're self-employed, 

If accepted, you'll get Nectar points on all spending plus 750 bonus Nectar points worth £3.75 each time you spend £35+ in store or online at Sainsbury's (excl petrol) in the first two months (max 7,500 points, worth £37.50). Doing a big shop? Split it into £35 chunks to max bonus.

On top of this, you could get up to 20 months 0% on spending (some poorer credit scorers will get 16 or 12 months 0%), but only use this if you're disciplined and can fully repay by the end of the 0% period.

It's also worth taking a look at the Amex Nectar card, which offers a hefty 20,000 Nectar point intro bonus and ongoing points, as it could be a better option.

Representative APR (variable): 20.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay in full before end of 0% period to avoid interest (always pay at least monthly minimum) then clear IN FULL every month if you continue spending on it
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent in Sainsbury's, one per £5 elsewhere
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: None unless account is closed

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

Or just go straight to the lender

Apply*

Don't shop at any of the stores above? More reward cards

If you don't shop at one of the supermarkets or stores above, here are some quick details of other cards to consider.

CARD (REP APR†) POINTS PER £100 + SIGN-UP BONUS VALUE OF ONE POINT

Amazon (21.9%)
 

Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc)

75 at Amazon, 25 elsewhere
+ £10 Amazon gift card on approval
1p

John Lewis/Waitrose (18.9%)
 

Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc)

Until 3 Sep: 100 at John Lewis/Waitrose, 50 elsewhere
From 4 Sep: 125 at John Lewis/Waitrose, 25 elsewhere  
1p
Tesco (19.9%)

Apply direct to lender (not in eligibility calc)
25 at Tesco, 12 elsewhere 1-3p (See how to boost points)

†If not repaid. Representative variable APR, your interest may be different.

Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account. 

For full help to take advantage of this and the pros and cons, see our Top Cashback Sites guide.

Coronavirus help if you're struggling

If you're struggling to pay an existing credit card due to coronavirus, your provider should give you a payment holiday of up to three months, or offer an alternative way to help. 

DON'T just stop paying – you must arrange a break with your lender first (you've until 31 October to request it). Provided you've agreed it with your lender, these payment holidays then can't hurt your creditworthiness and won't come with any penalties or charges.

You'll still be charged interest during the payment holiday though, so will likely pay more overall. It's therefore best to only do this if you need to – if you can afford to pay, it's better to keep doing so. 

See our full lender-by-lender credit card help for the latest updates, full information and how to apply.

Reward cards Q&A

  • It depends. You should always concentrate on repaying your debts, but if they're at 0% (in the form of, for example, a 0% spending or balance transfer card) then it's less of a problem – as long as you're certain you can repay them by the end of the 0% period.

    The golden rule for reward cards (hopefully it's large enough at the top of this guide) is always pay the card off in full at the end of the month. So if you have one card for rewards you do that with, and a separate card for your debts you should be OK.

  • There's another big bonus to using a rewards card. You actually have far more consumer protection. This all comes about due to what's called Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. It means that if you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000, here or abroad, and pay on a credit card, the card issuer's equally liable if something goes wrong.

    Now, this protection only applies to credit cards, not debit cards or any other plastic, and it's hugely important. If a retailer were to go kaput, you'd still be able to claim your money back from the card company.

    But, be aware of using PayPal to pay on a credit card, as you'll lose this valuable Section 75 protection. Read the full guides to Section 75 refunds and using PayPal to pay on a credit card.

  • Sometimes, but there's little point in doing so – you don't earn points on balance transfers.

    Many reward credit cards try to tempt you with competitive balance transfer offers – they want you to spend and shift debts to them. It'll end up costing you as you're unlikely to be able to afford to repay the card in full. Instead use a separate card for balance transfers.

  • The second source of income for card companies is the retailer. When you pay on a credit card, the card company gets between 0.1% and 0.3% of what you spend from the shop/restaurant and this will often cover the cashback.

    Therefore, in a way, all you're doing is getting back the extra that's been factored in to pricing for all customers to cover credit card costs.

    Generally, the bigger the retailer the less it pays, as it has more negotiating power with Visa or Mastercard. Also it's worth noting Amex tends to charge retailers more, one of the reasons some smaller companies don't accept it.

  • As many as you're accepted for – there's no limit. Though of course, every card application has a small impact on your credit score. So the more you have, the less likely you are to be accepted for more cards.

    Don't apply for lots if you may need credit for something important such as a mortgage or a balance transfer card. Full info in our Credit Rating guide.

  • If you spend a substantial amount of money in a store then it certainly is worthwhile. But don't let this blind you for the rest of your spending: make sure you maximise what you get elsewhere too (it may be worth having two cards).

    Also remember that lots of cards use a 'double earn' promise, so it looks like you get more points using your credit card in the linked store, but actually you would've got the same just using its normal loyalty card. See our Loyalty Points guide for a full explanation.

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