Best Category Bonuses

Note: American Express is a Frequent Miler advertiser

Category Bonus Index

 

Overview

One way to increase credit card rewards to to use the right cards for the right purposes.  It’s possible to routinely earn 5X (e.g. 5 points per dollar) by using cards that offer the best bonuses for each type of spend.  For example, some cards offer bonuses at grocery stores, some at office supply stores, some at gas stations, etc.  Below is a roundup, by category, of the best credit card category bonuses.  Since there are multiple fee-free cards that offer 2% returns for all spend, I’ve only included cards that offer better than 2% returns within categories.

For cards that earn points instead of cash back, I’ve listed the “X” which is the number of points per dollar earned in that category.  For example, “5X” means that the card earns 5 points per dollar in the given category.

Wherever possible, within each category, cards are sorted by the value of the rebate in descending order based on my Fair Trading Prices point valuations.

For a list of cards with great earning potential everywhere (not just within bonus categories), please see: Best rewards for everyday spend.

For a list of cards that earn bonuses for high spend, please see: Best Big Spend Bonuses.


Transferable Points

Cards that earn points transferable to airline and hotel programs are called out with a short code next to the indicated bonus amount as follows:

DC = Diner’s Club
MR = Membership Rewards Points
TY = ThankYou Points
UR = Ultimate Rewards Points

To see which airlines and hotels each of these programs transfer to, please see my Transfer Partner Master List.

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Bookstores (including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

Example Visa merchant codes: 5942 – BOOK STORES

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
SallieMae World MasterCard 5% 5% $750 per month
Barnes & Noble MasterCard 5% (Barnes & Noble) 5%
Chase Amazon.com Rewards 3X (Amazon) 3%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Car Rental

Example Visa merchant codes: Rental car companies each have their own individual merchant code, e.g. 3357 – HERTZ RENT-A-CAR

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.12%
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (3) 2X UR 2.8%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Charities

Example Visa merchant codes: 8398 – CHARITABLE/SOC SERVICE ORGS

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 3X 4.6%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Department Stores

Example Visa merchant code: DEPARTMENT STORES – 5912,5532,5311

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
Amex Blue Cash Preferred 3% 3%
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Drug Stores

Example Visa merchant code: 5912 – DRUG STORES

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back Card (8) 5% 5% First 6 months
Amex Blue Cash (old version) (5) 1%, 5% 1%, 5% 1% for first $6500 annual spend, then 5%
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 4.5%
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Gas

Example Visa merchant codes:
5541 – SERVICE STATIONS
5542 – AUTOMATED FUEL DISPENSERS (e.g. pay at the pump)

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back Card (8) 5% 5% First 6 months
Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum 5% 5%
SallieMae World MasterCard 5% 5% $250 per month
Amex Blue Cash (old version) 1%, 5% 1%, 5% 1% for first $6500 spend, then 5%
Sam’s Club MasterCard 5% 5% $6K per year
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 4.5%
Amex True Earnings Business Card from Costco 4% 4% $7K per year
Amex EveryDay Preferred (9) 2X to 3X MR 2.6% to 3.9%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.1%
PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards 3% 3%
Chase AARP 3% 3%
Amex Blue Cash Preferred 3% 3%
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%  
Amex SimplyCash (6) 3% 3% $25K per year
Santander Bravo 3X 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
BOA Cash Rewards for Business 3% 3% $250K per year
BOA Americard Cash Rewards (7) 3% 3% $1500 per quarter
Chase Ink Bold, Ink Plus 2X UR 2.76% $50K per year
Chase Ink Classic, Ink Cash (4) 2X UR 2.76% $25K per year
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.76%
Amex Premier Rewards Gold 2X MR 2.58%
Amex Business Gold Rewards 2X MR 2.58%
Paypal Extas MasterCard 3X 2.5%
EBay MasterCard 3X 2.5%
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Grocery Stores

Example Visa merchant code: 5411 – GROCERY STORES/SUPERMARKETS

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Amex Blue Cash Preferred 6% 6% $6K per year
Amex EveryDay Preferred (9) 3X to 4.5X MR 3.8% to 5.8% $6K per year
Wells Fargo Cash Back Card (8) 5% 5% First 6 months
SallieMae World MasterCard 5% 5% $250 per month
Amex Blue Cash (old version) (5) 1%, 5% 1%, 5% 1% for first $6500 spend, then 5%
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 4.5%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.1%
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%  
Santander Bravo 3X 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Amex Blue Cash Everyday 3% 3% $6K per year
Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate 3% 3% ~$200K (max $6K rebate)
Amex Premier Rewards Gold 2X MR 2.58%
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Hotels

Example Visa merchant codes: 7011 – HOTELS/MOTELS/RESORTS
Note: Many hotel chains have their own individual merchant code

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Citi Prestige 3X TY 3.7%
Amex SimplyCash (6) 3% 3% $25K per year
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (3) 2X UR 2.8%
Chase Ink Bold, Ink Plus 2X UR 2.8% $50K per year
Citi ThankYou Premier 2X TY 2.5%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Office Supply Stores

Example Visa merchant codes: OFFICE SUPPLIES / STATIONERY – 5943, 5111

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Chase Ink Plus 5X UR 6.9% $50K per year
Chase Ink Cash (4) 5X UR 6.9% $25K per year
Amex Simply Cash (6) 5% 5% $25K per year
Discover Business Card 5% 5% $2K per year
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.12%
BOA Cash Rewards for Business 3% 3% $250K per year
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Lowe’s Business Rewards 3X 3%
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.62%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Online Portal Purchases

Example Visa merchant codes: Not relevant to this category

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

uPromise World MasterCard 5% via uPromise portal 5%
SavingStar American Express 5% via SavingStar portal 5%
Ebates Cash Back Visa 3% via Ebates portal 3%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Phone, cellular, internet

Example Visa merchant codes: 4814 – TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Chase Ink Bold, Ink Plus 5X UR 6.9% $50K per year
Chase Ink Classic, Ink Cash (4) 5X UR 6.9% $25K per year
Amex SimplyCash (6) 5% 5% $25K per year
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.12%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.1%
Lowe’s Business Rewards 3X 3%?
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.76%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Restaurants

Example Visa merchant codes: RESTAURANTS / BARS – 5812, 5814

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% fast food only $2000 per quarter
Citi ThankYou Premier 3X TY 3.7%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards AMEX (2) 2X 3.1%
Chase AARP 3% 3%
Sam’s Club MasterCard 3% 3%
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%  
Lowe’s Business Rewards 3X 3%  
Amex SimplyCash (6) 3% 3% $25K per year
Santander Bravo 3X 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (3) 2X UR 2.8%
Chase Sapphire (4) 2X UR 2.8%
Chase Ink Cash (4) 2X UR 2.8% $25K per year
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.8%
Paypal Extas MasterCard 3X 2.5%
EBay MasterCard 3X 2.5%
Citi Prestige 2X TY 2.5%
Citi ThankYou Preferred 2X TY 2.5%
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4%
Barclaycard Arrival 2X 2.2%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Rotating Categories

Example Visa merchant codes: Varies

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

Chase Freedom (4) 5X UR 6.9% $1500 per quarter
Discover It 5% 5% $1500 per quarter
Citi dividend Platinum Select 5% 5% $6K per year

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


Travel / Airlines

Example Visa merchant codes: 4511 – AIRLINES, AIR CARRIERS, 4722 – TRAVEL AGENCIES
Note that a number of cards below give bonuses only for direct airline transactions, and not for travel agencies

Card

Category Bonus

Estimated Value

Spend limit for category bonus

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards 5X 4.25%
Amex Premier Rewards Gold 3X MR 3.87% 3X only when booked directly w/ airline
Amex Business Gold Rewards 3X MR 3.87% 3X only when booked directly w/ airline
Citi Prestige 3X TY 3.7%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.1%
AAA Member Rewards 3X 3%
Union Bank Graphite Amex 3% 3%
Sam’s Club MasterCard 3% 3%
Amex SimplyCash (6) 3% 3% $25K per year
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (3) 2X UR 2.8%
Citi ThankYou Premier 2X TY 2.5%
Barclaycard Arrival 2X 2.2%

Jump to –> Bookstores, Car, Charities, Department, Drug, Gas, Grocery, Hotels, Office, Online, Phone, Restaurants, Rotating, Travel  


FOOTNOTES

Sign-up links for most of the cards listed above can be found on my Best credit card offers page.

1) US Bank Cash+ Cardholders must pick one 2% cash back category and two 5% categories each quarter.

2) US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards card earns 2X at either airlines, grocery stores, or gas stations, whichever is highest in spend each month.  This card also earns 2X for cell phone charges.  Only the American Express version of this card earns 2X at restaurants.

3) Chase no longer offers a 7% annual dividend to new cardholders.  Those who applied for the card while the 7% dividend was still in place will continue to earn the dividend for points earned through the end of 2015. 

4) Ink Cash, Ink Classic, Sapphire, and Freedom cards earn Ultimate Rewards points (even though Chase advertises these cards as cash back cards). When paired with a premium card such as the Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Plus, points can be transferred to the premium card and then to airline and hotel programs. 

5) The “old” Amex Blue Cash card is still available.  Read this post to find out how to get it.

6) Amex SimplyCash cardholders must pick a single 3% cash back category.  Additionally, all cardholders get 5% cash back at US office supply stores and wireless phone providers.

7) Get an extra 10% bonus when redeeming cash rewards to an eligible BOA checking or savings account.  e.g. 1% rewards become 1.1%.

8) 5% cash back offer for first 6 months for the Wells Fargo card can be found here.

9) Amex EveryDay Preferred earns a 50% bonus on points earned when you use the card 30 or more times per billing period.


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Pingbacks

  1. […] Many stores offer their own rewards programs in which you earn points as a percentage of each purchase.  Grocery stores, in particular, tend to offer fuel rewards (points that can be used for gas station discounts).  Even better, they often run promotions for double or quadruple points for the purchase of merchant gift cards.  And, as you’ll see on the list above, many grocery stores now sell eBay gift cards.  Optimize your purchase by buying at a grocery store offering fuel rewards and pay with a credit card that has a great grocery store category bonus. […]

Comments

  1. @ Themanwhocan and/or FM

    PayPal Extras MasterCard and eBay Mastercard 3X is not 3% unfortunately.

    Terms say 6,000 points can be redeemed for $50 cashback

    $50 divided into $2,000 3x category spend (2K x 3 = 6K pts) equals 2.5% cashback.

  2. FM:

    Did not get my 3X from US Bank for a charitable donation made to my church. Was told by the rep that since Visa classified it as a “religious organization” and not a “charitable” organization, it did not qualify, even though clearly a church is a charity under the IRS code. Strongly suspect the same holds true for all US Bank products. Tell readers to check Visa merchant classification before make contribution. I am appealing the decision and will let you know what happens.

    • Sorry to hear that. That’s a problem with all category bonuses. You only get the bonus if the organization you pay is coded a certain way for credit card processing. Sometimes, though, that can work in your favor. For example, some 7-11 stores are coded as gas stations (even when they are not) and so it is possible to get gas station bonuses there.

  3. I think the Fair Trading Value for the American Express Blue Cash Preferred in the Grocery category should be set at 4.75%, since that is the best you can hope to earn. It is capped at $6000 and has a u annual fee, so if you hit exactly $6000 in groceries you end up with 4.75%, and if you are more or less from $6000 the earnings percentage is less due to the fixed $75 fee. So the card should drop a few spots on the list.

    Any other cards with annual fees should be adjusted as well.

    So the Sallie Mae has the best cash back percentage, its only weakness is a low monthly cap.

    • That makes sense, but not for all cards. Often people will pay the annual fee for a card for its perks and so it wouldn’t be right to count that against the category bonus values. Plus, it sounds like a lot of work! :)

    • @Themanwhocan I agree completely that for those that think on the margin the Amex BCP has a marginal/incremental reward of 4.75% for each dollar spent from $1 to $6000 at grocery stores. For me, I view the Amex BCP as no longer having any further use once I would hit the $6000 cap, but of course other people may view the gas rewards or other benefits as worthwhile enough to justify the $75 AF and thus view the AF as a “sunk cost” rather than thinking on the margin.

  4. Just got an invite for the AAA Member Rewards card issued by BOA. No annual fee, 3x for travel and AAA related purchases, 2x for gas, grocery and drug stores, & 1x for everything else. Do not see where there are maximum cash back limits on spending. Does anyone have experience on how the CVS vanilla reloads are categorized with this card.

  5. This is a great page. so hard to find and keep track of category-specific rewards, esp. since they change every quarter for cards like Chase Freedom. Does anyone know of a page like this that is kept up to date? I’ve found this app to be useful for convenience since I tend to carry many rewards cards at once: http://www.rewardscardpicker.com/ but love to see the fair trading price rebate figures.

  6. You might want to add the Barnes & Noble MasterCard to the Books category. It provides 5% cash back via statement credit for anything (except gift cards) purchased at Barnes & Noble stores or via bn.com. It earns 1% elsewhere via points that convert to gift cards in 25 increments (2500 points). It has a $0 annual fee and a sign up bonus of a $25 B&N gift card upon 1st purchase.

  7. The Barclay Arrival (non-Plus) is not listed here at all. It has 2X cashback on dining and travel purchases with no annual fee.

  8. You might need a new category, for online purchases. There are starting to be a lot of combination shopping portals with corresponding credit cards that often give 10% or more combined cash back at select online merchants.

    Ebates.com/Ebates VISA, Upromise.com/Upromise MasterCard, Savingstar.com/SavingStar American Express, are just three that immediately come to mind. I guess Discover IT and Chase Freedom are also in this category.

  9. Elan has 2 new credit cards based on American Express network.

    A “Cash Rewards American Express” that gives 3% Gas, 2% Supermarket, 1% everything else. Gas bonus limited to $6000 spend per year. No annual fee.

    And a “Travel Rewards American Express” 3X Airlines, 2X Restaurant and Hotel, 1X everything else with $95 annual fee and $75 cash back after first card use.

    • Great question. I took out cards that don’t offer better than 2% and since my fair trading prices chart has Hyatt at just under a penny per point, that card’s 2X categories didn’t make the cut.

  10. Great tool. Kudos. You likely explained it elsewhere but I cannot find how the 3x bonus for charities for the US Bank Flexperks becomes 4.6%…

    • In my Fair Trading Prices chart, I have FlexPerks at 1.54 cents per point so I simply calculated 1.54 X 3 = 4.62. Keep in mind that FlexPerks points are worth up to 2 cents each when used for travel.

  11. Great job consolidating all this info in 1 page. 1 question though, I don’t see the a way to apply for the Chase AARP travel card anymore, only the gas/restaurant card. Am I missing something?

    • Thanks for that info. I see what you mean now. I think I’ll remove the travel version from this list for now since it doesn’t seem to be available to new applicants. I can put it back later if we find a working link.

    • Yeah, I used to have that one listed, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to apply for it anymore, so I took it out. On the page you linked to, if you select “Not a cardmember, Click here” it takes you to the application for the other version of the card.

  12. US Bank Cash+ will lose Restaurants as a 5% category and gain it as a 2% category. Fast Food is still a 5% category.

    Coldwater Creek MasterCard 3X Gas, Grocery. Dunno the redemption value of the X…

    Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards. 3% cash rebate Gas, Grocery, Restaurant.

    Security Service Power Travel Rewards. 3X Gas, Travel, Dining. +10% annual bonus on points earned. No statement credit option, but Amazon.com gift cards available at 1 point = 1 cent.

    New Mexico Educators Cash Rewards card. 5% rotating categories. Warning: the bank seems to have a huge number of potential fees, such as $5 PER DAY if your account is over drafted, and there are fees for not using your bank account, fees if the us mail they send you ever bounced back as undeliverable, etc, etc. even fees for setting up another bank so you can transfer money, and then fees for actually allowing the money to transfer…

    http://www.nmefcu.org/home/loans-and-credit/credit-cards

  13. Citi has not been offering new accounts for the Dividend World MasterCard for at least two months now. Therefore, I suggest it not be listed as a 5% rotating category card above. Citi also has a Forward card (no annual fee) that gives me 5% off of all restaurants, movie theaters and brick and mortar bookstores (ecludes amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com). You previously listed that card, but took it off once Citi stopped offering new accounts on it.

    • I left the Dividend card on this page because I believe it is still possible to get the card by downgrading other Citi cards. I removed the Forward card because you can’t get one at all if you don’t already have it.

  14. Just a heads up Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa is only for CA residents.

    Given that I am in a bordering state I took a chance and successfully applied for deposit accounts followed by a credit card app. My credit card app was declined and told on reconsideration that no unsecured credit was granted outside of CA.

    Hopefully this helps someone else avoid a hard pull.

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