How to pick the right credit card to maximize rewards where you spend the most
- Beyond earning points, miles, or cash back through a credit card sign-up bonus, one of the easiest ways to rack up rewards is to use a credit card that offers bonus rewards for your most frequent purchases.
- For example, if you spend a lot on dining, you'll want a card that earns bonus points when you eat out, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the American Express® Gold Card.
- We'll walk you through the best credit cards for earning rewards dining, groceries, gas, and travel, as well as the best cards for maximizing purchases that don't fall under a popular bonus category.
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When you're working to earn credit card rewards, it's important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.Read more: The best credit card sign-up bonuses available now
With the average American spending $3,424 on dining between 2017 and 2018, this is a category most people will want to maximize. Luckily, lots of cards offer generous rewards on dining.The Citi Prestige® Card offers the highest return on dining spending, with 5x points on these purchases. You may notice that some cards, like the Hilton cards below, offer more than 5x points - but keep in mind that the points multiplier is only half of the equation.You also need to know how much each point is worth. We recommend using The Points Guy's valuations to get a sense of how many cents you'll get in value with different loyalty currencies. These valuations are based on all the different ways you can use a given type of points or miles, from redeeming them as statement credits to transferring them to a travel partner to book a flight.
Below, we'll rank the best credit cards for dining in order of highest to lowest return based on how many rewards you earn per dollar spent, and the value of those rewards based on TPG's estimations.
Credit cards with the best bonuses for dining
- Citi Prestige: 5 points per dollar spent (points worth 1.7 cents apiece; 8.5% return on spending)
- American Express® Gold Card: 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide (points worth 2 cents apiece; 8% return on spending)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on dining (points worth 2 cents apiece; 6% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: 7 points per dollar spent at US restaurants (points worth 0.6 cents apiece; 4.2% return on spending)
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% cash back on dining (4% return on spending)
- Uber Visa Credit Card: 4% back on restaurants, takeout, and bars, including Uber Eats (4% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants (3.6% return on spending)
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 3% back on dining worldwide (3% return on spending)
If you have a car, gas is a big spending category - and it's one that many cash-back cards pay out big rewards on.
- American Express® Business Gold Card: 4 points per dollar spent at the two categories where you spend the most each month, including US gas stations, on up to $150,000 per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar (8% return on spending)
- Citi Premier℠ Card: 3 points per dollar spent on travel, including gas stations (5.2% return on spending)
- Costco Anywhere Visa: 4% gas stations on the first $7,000 spent per year, then 1% (4% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card: 6 points per dollar spent at US gas stations (3.6% return on spending)
However, if you're saving up your Hilton points for a high-end resort in the Maldives, it could be worth channeling gas spending toward the Hilton Honors Surpass card.Read more: Amex Business Gold card review
- American Express Gold Card: 4x points at US supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year (then 1x point; 1%-8% return on spending)
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% cash back at supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1%; 1%-6% return on spending)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card: 6 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (3.6% return on spending)
- Blue Cash Everyday® Credit Card from American Express: 3% cash back at supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year (then 1%; 1%-3% return on spending)
With 4x points on the first $25,000 spent each year at US supermarkets, the Amex Gold card offers the most generous payout on grocery spending. Considering the average US household spends $4,445 on groceries per year, these limits shouldn't be problematic for most consumers.Earning 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent, the Blue Cash Preferred card is a good option if you prefer cash back to rewards points. When maxed out, the 6% back equates to $360 cash back, which is enough for most people to book at least a couple of hotel nights or a round-trip transcontinental flight.Read more: What a year of grocery spending could earn you with 3 popular credit cards
Flights and other travel
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with amextravel.com, 5 Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com (10% return on spending)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3 points per dollar spent on travel (6% return on spending)
- American Express Gold card: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (6% return on spending)
- Citi Prestige: 5 points on air travel, 3 points on hotels and cruise lines (5.1%-8.5% return on spending)
- Citi Premier card: 3 points on travel including gas stations (5.1% return on spending)
- Uber Visa card: 3% cash back back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
- Costco Anywhere Visa: 3% cash back on travel worldwide
If you're looking for lots of rewards for flights, the Amex Platinum card is a great choice. The card earns 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines and one amextravel.com. Prepaid hotel bookings made with American Express also earn 5 points. One reason I'd recommend this card over the Citi Prestige is that the Amex Platinum will soon gain valuable travel protections like trip delay insurance, while Citi has mostly done away with these on its cards. The Platinum card also has no foreign transaction fees, meaning you can use it to earn cash back abroad without paying a 3% fee.
While the American Express Platinum is a great option, not everyone will get enough value out of the 5x bonus categories to justify the $550 annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great alternative. While it earns a lower 3 points per dollar spent, this bonus applies to all travel purchases, not just flights. Plus, the card's $450 annual fee is largely offset by the $300 travel credit. Unlike American Express, Chase doesn't restrict its travel credit to a specific airline. The credit automatically applies to any purchases coded as travel. That's why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is such a popular card for earning and redeeming travel rewards.
All other spending
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: 1.5% cash back on everything, can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value (1.5%-3%)
- Chase Freedom: 1% cash back, 5% rotating quarterly category bonuses for up to $1,500 in combined spending (requires activation), can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to boost your value (1.5%-3%) (1%-10% return on spending)
- Discover it® Miles: 1.5 miles per dollar spent, and Discover will match all your cash back at the end of the first year (3% return on spending)
- Discover it® Cash Back: 1% cash back, 5% category bonuses when you activate (1-5% return on spending)
- Citi® Double Cash Card: 1% when you make purchases, 1% as you pay (2%-3.4% return on spending)
- Uber Visa card: 2% back on online purchases (1-2% return on spending)
For those looking to maximize long-term earnings, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is another great option. It earns 1.5% cash back on everything. If you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your Freedom Unlimited cash back to Ultimate Rewards points. Essentially, you could earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on everything, which equals a very solid 3% return on every dollar you spend.
If you want the flexibility of earning occasional category bonuses, the Chase Freedom and Discover it Cash Back are worth considering. Both cards earn 1% cash back along with 5% on select category bonuses. Bonus categories rotate every quarter and cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 worth of spending when they activate the bonus each quarter. Be sure to check the cash back bonus calendar for both Discover and Chase for a better idea of where you can expect to earn more points.Read more: Current Chase Freedom quarterly 5% bonuses
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.
Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.
Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.
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