New List of Best Rewards Cards for Each Kind of Spending

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If you want to earn the most points for your spending — beyond just earning a big signup bonus — you need to pay attention to what you spend the most money on and which cards give you the best juice for that specific spending.

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. Since I travel a lot it’s air, hotel, and dining. Some cards are great for multiple categories.

I’ve been a big fan and user of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for many years which gives you double points for both travel and dining. It’s the best all-around card for people getting started seriously collecting miles and points with a $0 annual fee the first year (then $95), though the $450 annual fee Sapphire Reserve Card earns triple points on travel and dining. Sapphire Reserve can be tough to get approved for so getting Chase Sapphire Preferred, waiting a year, and then product changing may be the best strategy to get it.)

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

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, 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. Ummm, what about Citi Double Cash for general purchases? It’s not a restrictive business card, has no annual fee & is a MC vs AmEx (so accepted at way more places).

  2. Amex everyday Preferred earns 4.5 points (with the 505 bonus) on grocery v 4 for gold card, as look as you hit their 30 purchase a month threshold.

  3. CNB Crystal Infinite Visa earns 3 pts/$ on rental cars and has primary insurance. I value Chase points more, but if you don’t have it, CNB is a good alternative. If used on flights, CNB averages 1.3 cpp, so 3.9%.The Chase Ink Preferred is 3 pts/$ and has primary insurance for “business use.”

  4. For hotels, I like the Capital One Venture card best: get 10 miles per night by booking through, then transfer it to airlines at a 2:1.5 ratio. This means you get 7.5 miles on your favorite airline per Dollar spent on your favorite hotel. Miles transfer to airlines is pretty fast. Unlike Chase UR, Venture points transfer to Qantas. This is important because Qantas is the only airline which lets you book award tickets on El Al. A business class ticket from LAX to TLV is 104,000 Qantas points, which equals $13,867 spent on hotels. Not bad for one of the world’s longest flight, on the brand new all-aisle-access 787! If planned well in advance, El Al is very generous with their biz class awards.

  5. Always interesting but not terribly useful as most people (particularly spouses, ahem) don’t want to carry 10 cards in their wallet. Nor do they want 10 annual fees. And few have legit businesses.

    Of course I’m not writing the blog but more practical advice might address:

    *Which consumer card should I use for general non-category spend?
    *Which 3 cards should my spouse carry in their wallet? (assume one for groceries)
    *Which should be my primary card for travel spend? (consider travel insurance benefits)
    *Which card for online purchases?
    *Which card for recurring payments (you want to designate a card that is used nowhere else, because it’s a pain to quickly change all your recurring payments)

    Also there is no consideration of annual fees which eat away at your returns, particularly when the benefits on many premium cards (e.g. Priority Pass) are overlapping. Most people are not going to pay high AFs to Citi, Amex and Chase for largely overlapping benefits (and certainly not multiple cards from the same issuer).

    For example Gary lists 2 grocery cards with annual fees; but one could easily get 3% cash on BofA card or 2 AA miles per $1 on Citibank AA Mileup card with $0 annual fees. The BofA card also offers the option of 3% for online purchases instead. Even Amex has a free Blue card with 3% cash back on groceries.

    So I guess this is maybe a good list of what Gary does, but maybe not the best choice for everyone else.

  6. Gary, I’m guessing you take into account as you value the various cards’ “currencies,” how long it takes to transfer the points to the airline FF or hotel loyalty programs. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer essentially instantly to most programs (SQ, Marriott, and IHG take a couple of days). How long do Citi, AmEx Membership Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy points take to transfer?

  7. I’d give an honorable mention to the Amex EveryDay Preferred for combined gas, groceries, bills, and general shopping not online. Surely you can get up to the 30-transaction threshold with those, earning 4.5X on groceries, 3X on gas, 1.5X on everything else. That’s more than the Amex Gold’s 4X on groceries, same as the Citi Premier’s 3X on gas (more if you value MR>TYP), and more than the Double Cash’s 2% on everything else, all for $95/year. Add the fee-free BofA card and a checking account for 3.3% on online shopping. Add the Citi Premier for 3X TYP on travel and 2X on dining for only $95/year more. Don’t travel at all, but dine out a ton? If you value MR=TYP=$0.015, Amex Gold is worth the $155 premium over the Citi Premier at a spending level of $431/mo on restaurants (less if you value MR>TYP). If you travel AND dine out, do the math and see if getting both is worth it; remember to account for both the 3X and the 2X on the Premier, AND the $100 fee credit on the Amex Gold.

  8. Boraxo — I wholeheartedly agree. it seems the blog-o-sphere these days is more about getting people excited about the shiny new card (and hence referral fees)*, than about getting something that works reasonably well and doesn’t cost an (annual) arm & leg. Oh well, the smart thing consumer can do is just keep reading these articles and before long they’ll form their own ideas.

    Herewith my take-with cards for my wife:
    FIDEL (2% everything); PenFed (5X gas); Freedom (quarterly 5X). Anything more complex than that goes in my wallet; eg I carry the Chase Reserve for travel expenses, but usually my wife is with me, so she doesn’t need to carry one of her own.

    * proof of the pudding — all the blather about the new Amex Bonvoy card — how many articles prominently mention that gift cards are not counted towards the $5K min spend?

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