How to Get the Most Rewards for YOUR Spending: Best Cards That Bonus How You Spend

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).

‘Which credit card is best’ is going to vary based on what you spend money on because different card products reward different kinds of spending differently.

It’s been more than four months since I’ve looked at credit card spending category earning. It will be review for some readers, and at the same time the number of unique visitors reading this blog has about doubled year-over-year so for many it will be new.

As you read this post, consider what you spend the most on? If you drive a ton you want a card that maximizes gas spend. If you eat out a lot, there are cards that bonus restaurant spend. Some cards are great for multiple categories.

If you’re a business traveler for whom spend means travel and dining, it’s hard to go wrong with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which gives you double points for both.

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

  • Best for gas: Amex Everyday Preferred you earn 2 points per dollar on gas, but if you make 30 purchases a month on the card then you get a 50% bonus — which translates to 3 points per dollar on gas. Starting April 19, Citi ThankYou Premier will earn 3 points per dollar on gas.

  • Best for groceries: Amex Everyday Preferred 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on your first $6000 spend in a year, plus each month you make 30 swipes on the card you earn a 50% bonus so the yield is actually 4.5 points per dollar.

  • Best for dining: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. The first Friday of each month it earns 3 points per dollar.

  • Best for airline tickets: American Express Premier Rewards Gold 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar, although for purchases from non-US airlines use Chase Sapphire Preferred® because it avoids foreign currency conversion fees and still earns 2 points per dollar. Starting April 19, Citi ThankYou Premier will earn 3 points per dollar on travel.

  • Best for Car Rentals: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar and the card now also offers primary collision when you rent with it.

  • Best for hotels: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, although domestic Starwood properties the Starwood Amex makes most sense and for domestic Hyatts, American Express OPEN gives a 5% rebate plus points, so either the Starwood Business Amex or Business Gold Rewards is best. Starting April 19, Citi ThankYou Premier will earn 3 points per dollar on hotels. Outside the U.S. Sapphire Preferred is best for the waived foreign transaction fees.

  • Best credit card for foreign transactions: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

  • General purchases:

    Amex Everyday Preferred

      The card offers 1.5 points per dollar on all spending if you use it 30 times in a billing cycle. Amex Membership Rewards points are one of the three most valuable currencies, transferring to a variety of frequent flyer programs.

    Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

      You get an effective rebate towards travel of 2.2% since you earn 2 points per dollar on all spend (each worth a penny towards travel) and you get a 10% rebate on points used when redeeming for travel. This is the best card if you value paid domestic coach travel that earns miles and where you face no blackout dates or capacity restrictions.

    Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express.

In the recommendations above I’m focused on airline and hotel points programs, or points that can be transferred to airlines and hotels. That said, PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa Card has a ‘Plus’ version which earns 5% back on gas paid at the pump.

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 InsideFlyer.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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Comments

  1. My list:

    general purchases: bank of america travel rewards (if you have 100k+ in bofa or merril lynch) this card pays out 2.7% cash back

    gas: old blue cash pays 5%

    groceries: old blue cash pays 5%

    pharmacy: old blue cash pays 5%

    travel: barclays travelocity card pays 10% + 2% portal bonus. Must purchase on TL though but this is vastly superior to amex PRG.

    Dining: US Bank Cash+ almost always has this as a 5% category

    With the above, Chase Sapphire is rendered mostly useless and the above have much lower/no annual fees.

  2. Discover is giving 5% CASH BACK on gas this quarter and Chase Freedom is giving 5% CASH BACK at supermarkets this quarter. Cash has way more transfer partners than miles.

  3. So, Omar, if I am not mistaken, you are recommending that we apply for one card that requires tying up $100K, two cards that are no longer offered, and one for dining, where dining just dropped from 5% to 2%? I don’t see how this information is helpful.

  4. All of those cards are still offered if you know where to look/apply.

    And many people have $100k+ in investments, 401k or IRA so it’s not tying up anything for many people. If you don’t have that money then you’re right it’s not the best card.

    You are right that cash+ is only 2% this quarter but it has been 5% for the last 2 years before that.

  5. “Brian L said,

    @Omar-Cash back is useless for,international F/J awards.”

    Brian-

    In many cases, so are AAdvatage miles.

  6. JCB Marukai – 3% cash back, $25 annual fee. No worries about bonus registration or quarterly specials. No redemption hassles.

    Sure it’s fun to play the game, but most people don’t play it well, and the airlines keep changing the rules.

    CSP and Amex both have high annual fees that require significant spend to offset. Of course, they also pay referral commissions…

  7. @Sam – “In many cases, so are AAdvatage miles.”

    Depends exactly what you want to use them for, and whether or not you’re willing to pay YQ.

    @Borazo – “but most people don’t play it well, and the airlines keep changing the rules. ”

    If you’re smart, you can easily play it well, and you can also stay on top of airline rule changes if you’re smart and play the game well.

    “CSP and Amex both have high annual fees that require significant spend to offset.”

    $95 isn’t all that high, considering the benefits and point-earning potential.

    “Of course, they also pay referral commissions…”

    They’re also better cards.

  8. @Brian

    It is hard to see how CSP and Amex are better cards when Gary’s most recent point valuation chart values all points < 3 cents and most < 2 cents.

    No doubt Gary does better than 3 cpp on his redemptions but many people don't.

    Most people accrue (free) points from paid flights and hotel rooms, so there will always be a place for programs that reward travelers. However the value of points generated by actual credit card spend have a tangible cost – specifically the cash back alternative that you passed up for points. And that's where the actual redemption value is a key factor in deciding which program is best for an individual.

  9. @Boraxo – “It is hard to see how CSP and Amex are better cards when Gary’s most recent point valuation chart values all points < 3 cents and most < 2 cents."

    Value is almost entirely subjective when you're talking about FF miles, isn't it? Personally, I value miles/points that get me closer to an F/J award to LHR a hell of a lot more than 3% (or even 5%) cash back.

    "No doubt Gary does better than 3 cpp on his redemptions but many people don't."

    That's more their own fault than anything else. As I said above, people can play the game very well, provided they're willing to put in the time and effort.

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