The Most Rewarding Credit Cards for Different Kinds of Spending

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

The general advice about which credit card is best is going to vary somewhat by individual circumstances.

What do you happen to spend the most on? If you drive a ton you want a card that maximizing gas spend. If you eat out a lot, there are cards that bonus restaurant spend. If you buy office supplies (or gift cards at office supply stores, including from online office supply stores through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall ::cough::), you want an Ink Bold Charge Card card that offers 5 points per dollar on those charges.

So I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best card for several spend:

  • Best for gas: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, American Express Premier Rewards Gold 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for groceries: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar, American Express Blue Cash Preferred 6% back.

  • Best for dining: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, Citi Forward Card 5 Thank You points per dollar

  • Best for airline tickets: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for Car Rentals: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (but I use Diners Club and some will use United Explorer for the primary collision damage waiver)

  • Best for hotels: Chase Sapphire Preferred 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, although domestic Starwood properties the Starwood Amex makes most sense and domestic Hiltons the Hilton American Express Surpass card earned 9 HHonors points per dollar.

  • Best credit card for online travel purchases: Travelocity American Express can earn up to 10% cash back on purchases made at Travelocity.com.

  • Best for office supplies: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar

  • Best for telecommunications: Ink Bold Charge Card small business card earns 5 points per dollar on land lines, cell phones, internet, and cable television

  • Best credit card for small purchases: Chase Freedom earns 1 point per dollar (more in bonused categories which change each quarter) plus a 10% bonus and an extra 10 points per transaction if you also have a Chase checking account. (Every $1 purchase earns 12 points.) And if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold Charge Card small business card you can transfer the points earned over to those card programs and the points become transferrable to airline miles and hotel points.

  • Best credit card for foreign transactions: Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 1.07 points per dollar and doesn’t add a foreign transaction fee.

  • General purchases: Starwood American Express has a transfer bonus of 5000 miles whenever moving 20,000 miles into an airline program, effectively earning 1.25 miles per dollar, so for everything not bonused by another card this has the highest earn.

For the purpose of ‘best’ in each category I’m ignoring limited-time promotions like Chase Freedom quarterly bonuses and other cards’ 6 or 12 month limited-time category bonuses. I’m asking the question of which card’s fundamental features are best.

I welcome vigorous challenge, so please let me know in the comments where you disagree with my list, it will help me build an even better list going forward or at least help to flesh out the reasons behind our disagreements which will help readers to figure out what works best for their own circumstances.

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My plan for is Amex Blue Pref for groceries (6%); Gas 3%; and Department Stores (3%). I would suggest this belongs on the gas list.

    Combined with Citi Forward 5 TYP for dining, entertainment and amazon (qualifies as a bookstore).

    The rest (excluding travel) goes on whatever card I am trying to hit spend on.

    Travel goes on branded cards, or the the old AARP card (3%).

  2. Thanks @oneeyejack. For cashback; my preferred way of spend is AMEX Blue Preferred. ~4.8% cashback on anything (by buying $500 visa cards from grocery store) and 6% on grocery purchase

  3. Cant believe how many people are pumping 2% CCs here. Sure if you are a normal person 2% sounds great but for us FF’s 2% is weak. I dont use a card in my wallet that only gets 2%. Capital One is worthless and so are the other piker 2% cards.

  4. Agree on Penn Fed for gas. Some other ok gas cards are BP (3% if you can get close to 20 gallons in your tank), Exxon is 15 cents/gallon, and Chevron card is up to 20 cents/gallon. The last two are 4-6% at today’s prices.

  5. Amex Business Gold gives 3 x for hotels.
    Amex Hilton Surpass gives 6 x for drugstores and Grocery stores

  6. Hi Gary, Lucky mentioned last week that you can book airfare on Travelocity via the Ultimate Rewards mall and receive 4.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (2.14 on the card, plus 2 points for booking via Travelocity)

  7. @Brian – the thing is though that you do not need to use a Chase card when booking through the Ultimate Rewards mall to get those additional Ultimate Rewards points. In other words, book through the Ultimate Rewards mall with Travelocity and you get 2 Ultimate Rewards points. Pay Travelocity for airfare with Amex Premier Rewards Gold and get 3 Membership Rewards points. Two separate things entirely. And take it a step further, you can get 2 Ultimate Rewards poitns and pay with a Travelocity Amex for up to 10% cash back…

  8. Capital One No Hassle rewards/miles is great for both accruing points and redeeming them. You can even apply them retroactively, meaning you can purchase an airline ticket, hotel, etc, with your credit card as normal and then go in and apply your points to that purchase, getting you a credit on your next statement. Couldn’t recommend them more!

  9. I received the 50,000 bonus mile offer for the Amex Premier Rewards gold card. The card expires in 2/14 and I do not want to pay the $175 annual fee. I do not think I will be able to put my miles to good use by then. Can I receive the Amex Green card offer for $0 annual fee for the first year if I apply in early 2014 or does having the gold card preclude this?

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