Photo: Tom Barrett

The credit card market is, basically, a rewards market. With the exception of beginner cards for building or rebuilding credit, each card tries to knock the others off of the podium with its best rewards program. These rewards come in various forms—cash back, points and miles—but they all do the same thing: give something back for spending money with that credit card. Though they're similar in effect, they're very different in whom they benefit. Choosing the right card means understanding your own spending habits and what rewards will benefit you the most.


Miles and points cards operate in the same way. You'll accumulate a balance of miles or points at a certain rate that you'll eventually redeem for rewards. And while true cash back cards automatically apply your cash back as statement credit, some actually behave like a points card. If a card offers 1 point for every $100 spent, that point is worth $1 and it will stay in your account until you accumulate enough to redeem them.

The main difference between points cards and miles cards is in the rewards offered. Points cards tend to be more flexible because a miles card is typically sponsored by one airline. A United Airlines Explorer card will earn United rewards: flight discounts, free upgrades, free bags, etc. A Chase Ultimate Rewards card, on the other hand, offers 1¢ per dollar spent to use on shopping sites like Amazon.

Here, it is important to understand your spending habits. Many points cards let you redeem points on specific rewards, or partner websites. Meanwhile, some cash back cards, even those that are basically points cards, give higher cash back value for certain categories, such as restaurants or gas. What you buy and what you want to receive for your points or miles will signal which card is best.

If you travel frequently, the rewards of a miles card will probably justify being locked into one airline. If you're paying off student loans, Citi ThankYou Points offers rebates to help. If you love to try new restaurants, the Uber Visa card will give 4% back on dining purchases. One surprising study showed that hotel-affiliated rewards cards actually offered better rewards rates than airline cards or cash back programs, even when used on everyday purchases. The average rewards rate for hotel cards was 2.5%, higher than many other points- or miles-earning cards.

The other important factor to consider is the sign-up bonus that might be offered by one card and not another. For example, the Uber Visa card earns a $100 bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. The Citi ThankYou card earns 15,000 points after $1,000 spent in 3 months. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card gives you 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in 3 months. This card's points can become miles—50,000 points becomes $625 towards airfare. It also offers double the points earned for travel purchases and dining, so it's a good example of how cards can cross over into other categories regardless of whether they earn "points" or "miles."

While shopping for a card with high rewards, be careful of annual fees. After the first year, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card charges $95 per year. Depending on the amount you spend, this fee (and the similar fees on other cards) could start to cancel out some of the rewards you earn. The Uber Visa card, on the other hand, has no annual fee. Read the details of any credit card agreement carefully because an annual fee might start (or increase) only after the first year.

The credit card market is full of great rewards through various partnerships with airlines, hotels, websites and other companies. Though it takes time and patience to sort through the fine print of dozens of cards, your work will pay off for years, whether it's in cash back, points or miles.

Tom Twardzik is a personal finance writer for Paypath. He also covers music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust, social issues and current events for The Liberty Project and travel for The Journiest. Read more on his page and follow him on Twitter

PayPath
Follow Us on

No Santa to bail you out this year, it's all you

via Cleo

Ah yes, 'tis finally the giving season!

Keep reading Show less

Cleo budgeting app

Sticking to a budget is super important for everyone, no matter how much you're making or how much money you're trying to save... But it's often incredibly tricky.

Here are five easy ways to stick to a budget.

Keep reading Show less

Afghan women

NBC

Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.