Best Card for Grocery, Gas, Drugstores, Travel, Dining, More…

One way to increase credit card rewards is to use the best card for each purchase. It’s possible to routinely earn 5X (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 card for each type of spend (AKA best 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.

Best Card For…

Details

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 Reasonable Redemption Values (RRVs) or by their fixed redemption value with cash back cards.

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

Best Card for Bookstores (including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble)

Example Visa merchant codes: 5942 – BOOK STORES

Bookstores
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 bookstores only) 5%
Amazon Prime Rewards 5% (Amazon purchases only) 5% Requires Amazon Prime membership.
Amazon Store Card 5% (Amazon only) 5% Requires Amazon Prime membership.

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

Best Card for Car Rentals

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

Car Rental
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (4) 3X UR 5.46%
Citi ThankYou Premier 3X TY 5.46%
Citi Prestige 3X TY 5.46% 3X only for car rentals booked through travel agency
US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (4) 2X UR 3.64%
Morgan Stanley Amex 2X MR 3.64% Select car rental companies (found here)
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.46%
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

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

Best Card for Charities

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

Charities
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 3X 5.4%

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

Best Card for Department Stores

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

Department Stores
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Citi AT&T Access More 3X TY 5.46% Only online retail purchases earn 3X
US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% $2000 per quarter
Morgan Stanley Amex 2X MR 3.64% Select US department stores (found here)
Amex Blue Cash Preferred 3% 3%  US only
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

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

Best Card for Drugstores

Example Visa merchant code: 5912 – DRUG STORES

Drugstores
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 5.46%
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% capped at $50K spend per year. US only
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

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

Best Card for Gas

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

Gas
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Citi ThankYou Premier 3X TY 5.46%
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 5.46%
Amex EveryDay Preferred with Platinum (9) 2X to 3X MR 3.64% to 5.46% US only
BOA Americard Cash Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards (7) 5.25% 5.25% $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
Wells Fargo Cash Back Card(8) 5% 5% First 6 months
PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Plus 5% 5% 5% specific to gas purchases paid at pump
Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum 5% 5%
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% capped at $50K spend per year. US only
Sam’s Club MasterCard 5% 5% $6K per year
Costco Anywhere Visa 4% 4% $7K per year
BOA Americard Cash Rewards with Gold Preferred Rewards (7) 4.5% 3.75% $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
Chase Ink Ink Plus 2X UR 3.64% $50K per year
Chase Ink Cash (4) 2X UR 3.64% $25K per year
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express 2X MR 3.64% US only
Amex Business Gold Rewards 2X MR 3.64% US only
US Bank FlexPerks Gold Amex 2X 3.6%
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
US Bank FlexPerks Business Edge Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards 3% 3%
Chase AARP 3% 3%
Amex Blue Cash Preferred 3% 3%  US only
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%
Bellco VISA Platinum Rewards 3X 3%
UMB Simply Rewards VISA 3X 3%
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card 3X 3%
Amex SimplyCash Plus (6) 3% 3% $50K per year
Santander Bravo 3% 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3% 3% $2K per quarter
BOA Cash Rewards for Business 3% 3% $250K per year
BOA Americard Cash Rewards (7) 3% 3% $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.8%
Paypal Extas MasterCard, EBay MasterCard 3X 2.5%
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4% US only

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

Best Card for Grocery Stores

Example Visa merchant code: 5411 – GROCERY STORES/SUPERMARKETS

Grocery Stores
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Amex EveryDay Preferred (9) 3X to 4.5X MR 5.46% to 8.19% $6K per year, US only
Amex Blue Cash Preferred 6% 6% $6K per year, US only
Diner’s Club Card Elite 3X DC 5.46%
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% capped at $50K spend per year. US only
Amex EveryDay (9) 2X to 2.4X MR 3.64% to 4.37%% $6K per year, US only
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express 2X MR 3.64% US only
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%
Bellco VISA Platinum Rewards 3X 3%
UMB Simply Rewards VISA 3X 3%
Santander Bravo 3X 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
BOA Americard Cash Rewards with Platinum Preferred Rewards (7) 3% 3% $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
Amex Blue Cash Everyday 3% 3% $6K per year, US only
Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate 3% 3% $6K per year beginning Jan 1 2016
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4% US only

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

Best Card for Hotels

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

Hotels
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (4) 3X UR 5.46%
Citi Prestige 3X TY 5.46%
Citi ThankYou Premier 3X TY 5.46%
Citi AT&T Access More 3X TY 5.46% Online travel purchases only
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (3) 2X UR 3.64%
Chase Ink Plus 2X UR 3.64% $50K per year
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
Amex SimplyCash Plus (6) 3% 3% $50K per year
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

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

Best Card for Office Supply Stores

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

Office Supply Stores
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Ink Plus 5X UR 9.1% $50K per year
Chase Ink Cash (4) 5X UR 9.1% $25K per year
Amex Simply Cash Plus (6) 5% 5% $50K per year. US only
Discover Business Card 5% 5% $2K per year
US Bank FlexPerks Business Edge Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.46%
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 2.8%

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

Best Card for Online Shopping

Example Visa merchant codes: Not relevant to this category

Online Shopping / Portal Purchases
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Citi AT&T Access More 3X TY 5.46% 3X for all online retail purchases (will stack with portal rewards)
uPromise World MasterCard 5% via uPromise portal 5%
Amazon Prime Rewards 5% (Amazon purchases only) 5% Requires Amazon Prime membership.
Amazon Store Card 5% (Amazon purchases only) 5% Requires Amazon Prime membership.
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

Best Card for Phone, cellular, internet

Example Visa merchant codes: 4814 – TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES

Phone, Cellular, Internet
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Ink Plus 5X UR 9.1% $50K per year
Ink Cash (4) 5X UR 9.1% $25K per year
Chase Ink Business Preferred 3X UR 5.46% $150K per year
Amex SimplyCash (6) 5% 5% $50K per year. US wireless telephone services only.
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
US Bank FlexPerks Business Edge Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6%
Citi CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard 2X 3.46%
Lowe’s Business Rewards 3X 3%
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.8%

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

Best Card for Restaurants

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

Restaurants
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (4) 3X UR 5.46%
US Bank FlexPerks Gold Amex 3X 5.4%
US Bank Cash+ (1) 5% 5% fast food only $2000 per quarter
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (3) 2X UR 3.64%
Chase Sapphire (4) 2X UR 3.64%
Morgan Stanley Amex 2X MR 3.64% US only
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express 2X MR 3.64% US only
Citi Prestige 2X TY 3.64%
Citi ThankYou Premier 2X TY 3.64%
Citi ThankYou Preferred 2X TY 3.64%
Chase Ink Cash (4) 2X UR 3.64% $25K per year
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards AMEX (2) 2X 3.6%
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
Costco Anywhere Visa 3% 3%
Chase AARP 3% 3%
Sam’s Club MasterCard 3% 3%
Golden1 Platinum Rewards Visa 3% 3%
UMB Simply Rewards VISA 3X 3%
Lowe’s Business Rewards 3X 3%
Amex SimplyCash Plus (6) 3% 3% $50K per year. US only
Santander Bravo 3X 3% $5K per quarter
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter
Chase MileagePlus Explorer for Business 2X 2.8%
Paypal Extas MasterCard 3X 2.5%
EBay MasterCard 3X 2.5%
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 6X 2.4% US only

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

Best Card for Rotating Categories

Example Visa merchant codes: Varies

Rotating Categories
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Chase Freedom (4) 5X UR 9.1% $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

Best Card for 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

Travel / Airlines
Card Category Bonus Estimated Value Spend limit for category bonus
Amex Platinum (Personal Cards Only) 5X 9.1% 5X only when booked directly with airline
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card 3X UR 5.46%
Chase Ink Business Preferred 3X UR 5.46% $150K per year
Citi Prestige 3X TY 5.46% 3X for airlines, hotels, and travel agencies
Citi ThankYou Premier 3X TY 5.46% 3X for all travel
Citi AT&T Access More 3X TY 5.46% 3X for online travel purchases only
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express 3X MR 5.46% 3X only when booked directly w/ airline
Amex Business Gold Rewards 3X MR 5.46% 3X only when booked directly w/ airline
PenFed Premium Travel Rewards 5X 4.25%
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (3) 2X UR 3.64%
Morgan Stanley Amex 2X MR 3.64% 2X only when booked directly w/ airline
US Bank FlexPerks Gold Amex 2X 3.6% Airlines
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards (2) 2X 3.6% Airlines
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X 3.54%
FNBO TraveElite Credit Card 3X 3%
Costco Anywhere Visa 3% 3%
AAA Member Rewards 3X 3%
TD First Class Visa Signature 3X 3%
Union Bank Graphite Amex 3% 3%
Sam’s Club MasterCard 3% 3%
Amex SimplyCash Plus (6) 3% 3% $50K per year
Huntington Voice 3X 3% $2K per quarter

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. Similarly, the US Bank FlexPerks Business Edge Travel Rewards card earns 2X at either airlines, office supply stores, or gas stations, whichever is highest in spend each month. Both cards earn 2X for cell phone charges, and 3X for charities. The American Express version of this card (Flexperks Gold) earns 3X at restaurants, 2X gas stations, and 2X airlines.

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 Reserve Card, Sapphire Preferred Card, or Ink Business Preferred, 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. 3% and 5% categories are capped at $50K in spending per year.

7) BankAmericard has multiple bonuses available for a select list of personal credit cards:

  • Get an extra 10% bonus when redeeming cash rewards to an eligible BOA checking or savings account. e.g. 1% rewards become 1.1%.
  • Via Bank of America Preferred Rewards, get:
    • 25% bonus with Gold status (requires $20K in savings / investments)
    • 50% bonus with Platinum status (requires $50K in savings/ investments)
    • 75% bonus with Platinum Honors status (requires $100K in savings/ investments)

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.  Amex EveryDay earns a 20% bonus on points earned when you use the card 20 or more times per billing period.

Comments

  1. Many of these categories require purchases made in the USA (e.g., groceries, gas). Would it be feasible to indicate which cards’ categories are geographically limited? As someone who’s almost never in the states, the current list doesn’t provide enough information to choose a card.

  2. Chase Freedom’s 5% bonus alternating categories should be added. grocery for next quarter starting on april the 1st

  3. Thanks for the suggestions!
    Added Amex Everyday for grocery
    Added Flexperks Business Edge
    Added “US only” to many entries (I can’t promise that I’ve caught all of them yet, but working on it)

    Will add Chase Freedom 5% and Discover It 5% calendars, but haven’t gotten to that yet.

  4. Great timing Greg, I was just going to start compiling a list as my number of cards has grown recently. I appreciate all the good info you put out.

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