10 Rewards Cards Actually Worth Owning - TheStreet

10 Rewards Cards Actually Worth Owning

There are lots of rewards cards out there. These 10 are the best.
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BOSTON (TheStreet) -- There are about a dozen reasons for shopping and hitting sales with a rewards card, and all of them result in getting paid to do so.

It no longer takes a

card

with an airline logo on it to earn a consumer miles, and you don't have to pay off your balance every month just to bank points for merchandise. These days, if they're holding the right cards, shoppers can earn flights, hotel stays, meals and even retirement money through everyday spending.

TheStreet, with help from contributor Bill Hardekopf, picked through a walletful of rewards-card choices and came up with 10 whose rewards actually yielded returns for cash-shy cardholders. Here are a dozen pieces of plastic that can put more paper in your pocket:

1.

Capital One

(COF) - Get Report

Venture

Annual fee: $59

Interest rate: 13.9%

An almost ideal travel card, as the

Visa

(V) - Get Report

-branded Venture gives cardholders 2 miles on any airline for each dollar spent. As part of a sign-up offer, Venture cardholders can receive 10,000 miles if they make more than $1,000 in purchases during the first three months. Also, since it doesn't make much sense to store up all those miles for a trip to Lisbon if the cardholder gets hit with an extra charge the first time he or she purchases a bottle of Porto, the Venture has no foreign-transaction fee. There's a VentureOne version of the card with no annual fee, but with only 1.25 miles accrued for each dollar.

2.

Blue Cash

from

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for six months, 17.2% to 21.2% thereafter

As a cash-back card, Blue Cash starts out as a relative lightweight. Users receive 1% back on gas, grocery and drug-store purchases and 0.5% back on everything else. Once a cardholder beefs up spending, however, the returns get fatter as well. After crossing the $6,500 spending threshold, benefits increase to 5% back on gas station, supermarket and drug-store purchases and 1.25% back everywhere else.

3.

Starwood Preferred

from American Express

Annual fee: None for first year, $45 each following year

Interest rate: 2.9% for six months, 15.2% thereafter

Fans of

Starwood Hotels and Resorts'

(HOT)

940 properties worldwide -- including the Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, Luxury Collection, W Hotel and Le Meridien chains -- earn 1 point for every dollar they spend on this card, or double with every dollar they spend at a Starwood retailer, such as Bliss spa. Cardholders can earn up to 25,000 points -- no small deal when free nights at Starwood hotels start at 2,000. Members can also exchange points for miles in any of 30 frequent-flyer programs.

4.

Fidelity Retirement Rewards Card

from American Express

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 14%

Fidelity Investments offers three options with this card: straight investment, college 529 and retirement. Of the three, the retirement plan is the best deal in the long term. Cardholders receive 2 points for every dollar they spend and, once they reach 5,000 points, they have a decision to make. The points can be redeemed for merchandise, as is the case with any other American Express card, or they can become a $50 tax-deferred contribution to the member's Fidelity retirement plan.

5.

True Earnings Card

from Costco and American Express

Annual fee: None with

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

membership

Interest rate: 0% for six months, 15.24% thereafter

This is one of the better card deals out there, as a Costco membership and an American Express annual fee can be roughly equivalent. New members earn cash back on gas purchases and a $25 credit after their first purchase with the card. Afterward, they'll receive 3% cash back on fuel purchases (up to $3,000, when it drops to 1%) and dining, 2% on travel and 1% everywhere else (including Costco).

6.

Chase Sapphire

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for six months on purchases, 12 months on balance transfers; 12.2% variable thereafter

This is

JP Morgan's

(JPM) - Get Report

answer to the American Express Centurion, Visa Stratus and other luxury cards, but without the annual fee. Applicants with extremely strong credit, income and assets will earn $100, or 10,000 bonus points, worth of rewards after their first purchase. Cardholders have some flexibility with their points, which can be used for travel, gift cards, merchandise or cash back. The point building can be painstakingly slow, with only 1 point per dollar on this "premium" card, but members earn double points on airfare booked through the card's rewards program and have no limit on the number of points they can amass or how long they can keep them.

7.

Chase Freedom

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for six months on purchases, 12 months on balance transfers; 13% to 23% thereafter

It takes some spotless credit and sizeable income to get this

MasterCard

(MA) - Get Report

-branded card, but cardholders reap the benefits immediately with 5% cash back for airline tickets, gas, home-improvement and department-store purchases. Everything else carries a 1% return, but certain merchants offer as much as 20% cash back when Chase Freedom customers order online.

8.

Discover More

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for six months on purchases, 12 months on balance transfers; 12% to 21% thereafter

Discover

(DFS) - Get Report

helped pioneer the cash-back concept and the original recipe still isn't bad, even if it's not accepted in as many places as its bigger competitors. The Discover More gives cardholders 5% cash back from categories in its bonus calendar. New applicants missed out on travel savings from January through March and might just sneak under the wire for April-through-June home-and-fashion discounts, but gas, hotels, movies and restaurants are still on the slate through the end of the year. All other purchases earn cardholders 1% cash back, though shopping at Discover's online store can yield a 20% return.

9.

Miles

by Discover

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for six months on purchases, 12 months on balance transfers; 12% to 20% thereafter

Again, it's a real shame this card isn't more broadly accepted, as the 1,000 bonus miles amassed by cardholders each month they make a purchase within the first year are a nice bonus. Though the accrual rate drops to $1 per mile after that year, cardholders earn double miles on their first $3,000 worth of travel and restaurant purchases each year and through Discover's shopping site. If the miles aren't enough -- though why wouldn't they be for someone who holds a card called Miles -- members have the option to redeem them for gift cards or even cash back.

10.

Citi Cash Returns Card

Annual fee: None

Interest rate: 0% for up to 18 months, 13% or more thereafter

In the world of cash-back cards, it's all about incremental improvement.

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

decided to bypass the standard 1% cash back in favor of 2% while adding cash back on some cash advances and transfers. The more than 400 retailers in Citi's Bonus Cash Center help out as well, earning cardholders 5% cash back on purchases of their products.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.