Do You Know Which Cards to Use to Maximize Your Category Bonuses?

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Do you know which credit cards are the best to use for each spending category? 

Some credit cards earn extra miles and points when you spend in certain categories, like travel, restaurants, office supply stores, or gas stations.  And other cards have category bonuses that rotate every quarter.  It can be hard to keep track if you have a lot of cards!

Do You Know Which Cards To Use To Maximize Your Category Bonuses

Are You Using the Right Credit Card When You Dine Out, Travel, Buy Gas, or Shop at Office Supply Stores?

Here are some of the most common bonus categories and some of the best cards to make the most of them!  These aren’t all the cards that earn bonus points in each category.  I’ve only listed my 3 or 4 favorite cards per category that earn miles and points to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Index

  1. Restaurants
  2. Travel
  3. Gas Stations
  4. Grocery Stores
  5. Office Supplies, Phone, Cellular, and Internet
  6. Rotating Category Bonuses


1.   Restaurants

Emily and I love to try new restaurants and sample different cuisines.   And there are lots of credit cards that earn a bonus when you spend at restaurants.  Here are a few:

1.   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card always earns 2 points per $1 you spend at restaurants.

Plus, on the 1st Friday of every month you’ll earn 3 points per $1 you spend at restaurants.  And if you’ve registered your Chase Sapphire Preferred card with Rewards Network, and dine at a participating location, you’ll earn even more points.

You’ll get a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the 1st year.

2.   SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express

Link:   SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express

The SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express business card can get you 3% cash back at US restaurants, if you select that as a bonus category.  You can change the category once per year depending on where you do the most spending for your business.

If you apply before September 21, 2015 January 25, 2016 April 27, 2016, you’ll get a $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 6 months.

Here’s my review of the card.  There’s currently no annual fee.

3.   American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass

Link:   Possible 60,000 Point Bonus Offer for American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass

You’ll earn 6 Hilton points for every $1 you spend at US restaurants with the Hilton HHonors Surpass card.

This isn’t my link, but it’s the best offer I know of for this card.  You’ll get 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee is $75 and it’s not waived for the 1st year.

Hilton points aren’t nearly as valuable as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but 6X points is still a pretty good deal!

4.  American Express Hilton HHonors

Link:   Possible 60,000 Point Bonus Offer for American Express Hilton HHonors

The American Express Hilton HHonors card earns 5 points for every $1 you spend at US restaurants.

This isn’t my link either.  There’s currently no annual fee on this card, and you’ll get 60,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the 1st 3 months.

2.   Travel

There are lots of cards that give bonus points on travel, but each defines travel differently.

1.   Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Link:   Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Link:   My Review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard earns 2 points for every $1 you spend on everything.  But when you redeem those points for travel, you’ll earn 2.1% cash back.

Barclays defines travel as:

Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, tourist attractions, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, and ferries as defined by the merchant category code.

You’ll earn 40,000 miles when you sign-up for this card and spend $3,000 in the 1st 3 months.

2.   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

As with restaurants, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card always earns 2 points per $1 you spend on travel.

Chase defines travel as:

Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges, and highways, and parking lots and garages.

The sign-up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the 1st 3 months, and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the 1st year.

3.   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Link:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Link:   My Review of the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

You’ll earn 3 points per $1 you spend on flights booked directly with airlines.  This doesn’t include flights booked through online travel agencies or discount websites.

When you sign-up, you’ll get 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the 1st 3 months.  And the annual fee of $175 is currently waived for the 1st year.

4.   The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Link:   The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN card also gives you 3 points per $1 you spend on airfare purchased directly from airlines.

You’ll get 25,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 3 months.  The $175 annual fee is currently waived for the 1st year.

3.   Gas Stations

I love credit cards that have gas stations as a bonus spending category!

1.  SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express

Link:   SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express

If you select gas stations as your bonus spending category, the SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express will give you 3% cash back at US gas stations.  If you don’t choose a category, the card will default to 3% cash back at gas stations.

And until February 24, 2015, September 21, 2015 January 25, 2016you’ll get a $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 6 months.

The card currently has no annual fee.  Here’s my review of the card.

2.   Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus

Link:   Chase Ink Plus

Both the Chase Ink Bold (no longer available) and Chase Ink Plus cards earn points for every $1 you spend at gas stations.

These are among my favorite cards because they earn bonus points in other categories, too.  And with the Chase Ink Plus, you’ll get a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the 1st year.

3.   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Link:   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred card gives you 3% cash back at US gas stations.

When you sign-up and spend $1,000 in the 1st 3 months, you’ll get a $100 statement credit and a free year of Amazon Prime.  The annual fee of $75 is NOT waived for the 1st year.

4.   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Link:   The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Link:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Both The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express cards earn points per $1 you spend at US gas stations.

The American Express Premier Rewards Gold has a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the 1st 3 months.

The $175 annual fee on both cards is currently waived for the 1st year.

5.   AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Link:   AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

You’ll earn 2 points per $1 you spend on the American Express EveryDay Preferred card at US gas stations.  But if you use your card at least 30 times on purchases in a billing period, you’ll get 50% bonus points on those purchases, less returns and credits.

So you’d get 3 points per $1 you spend at gas stations (2 points x 150%).

The sign-up bonus on the card is 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee of $95 is not waived.

4.   Grocery Stores

Groceries can be a big part of your budget, especially if you have a large family.  Here’s how to make the most of your spending!

1.   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Link:   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express gives you 6% cash back at US supermarkets.  Note that superstores and warehouse clubs, like Costco or Sam’s Club, are NOT considered supermarkets.  You’ll get the 6% cash back on your 1st $6,000 in supermarket purchases each year (you’ll get 1% cash back beyond that).  That’s $360!

After you sign-up and spend $1,000 in the 1st 3 months, you’ll get a $100 statement credit, plus a year of free Amazon Prime membership.  The $75 annual fee is NOT waived for the 1st year.

2.   Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Link:   Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

You’ll get 3% cash back at US supermarkets on the 1st $6,000 you spend per year.  Like other American Express cards, superstores and warehouse clubs aren’t considered supermarkets.

This card has a sign-up bonus of $50, which you get as a statement credit, and a year of Amazon Prime membership after you spend $1,000 in the 1st 3 months.  It currently has no annual fee.

3.   AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Link:   AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

You’ll earn 3 points per $1 you spend on the American Express EveryDay Preferred card at US supermarkets, up to $6,000 in purchases per year.  But you’ll earn more if you use your card at least 30 times on purchases in a billing period.  Because you’ll get 50% bonus points on those purchases (less returns and credits)!

So you’d get 4.5 points per $1 you spend at supermarkets (3 points x 150%).

The sign-up bonus on the card is 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee of $95 is not waived.

4.   AMEX EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   AMEX EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

The AMEX EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express earns 2 points per $1 you spend at US supermarkets, up to $6,000 in purchases per year (then 1 point per $1 you spend after that).  And if you use your card more than 20 times in a billing period, you’ll get 20% more points on your purchases.  This means that you’d get 2.4 points per $1 you spend at supermarkets (2 points x 120%).

The sign-up bonus on the card is 10,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the 1st 3 months.  And there’s currently no annual fee.

5.   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Link:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

This card gives you 2 points per $1 you spend at US supermarkets, not including superstores and warehouse clubs.

The sign-up bonus is 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the 1st 3 months.  Currently, the annual fee of $175 is waived for the 1st year.

5.   Office Supplies, Phone, Cellular, and Internet

If you have a lot of telecom expenses, or shop at office supply stores frequently, you can earn lots of extra points with these cards!

1.   Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus

Link:   Chase Ink Plus

Both the Chase Ink Bold (no longer available) and Chase Ink Plus cards earn 5 points for every $1 you spend at office supply stores and on phone (mobile and landline), internet, and cable TV service, for the 1st $50,000 you spend in this category (combined).

And with the Chase Ink Plus, you’ll get a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 3 months.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the 1st year.

2.   Chase Ink Cash

Link:   Chase Ink Cash 

The Chase Ink Cash card earns 5% cash back for spending up to $25,000 each year at office supply stores and on phone (mobile and landline), internet, and cable TV service.

The sign-up bonus is $300 after you spend $3,000 in the 1st 3 months.  And there’s no annual fee.

3.   American Express SimplyCash

Link:   American Express SimplyCash

The American Express SimplyCash card always give you 5% cash back at US office supply stores and on wireless telephone services, up to $25,000 in spending per year.

Until February 24, 2015, September 21, 2015 January 25, 2016you’ll get a $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 in the 1st 6 months.

Currently, the card has no annual fee.

4.   CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard

Link:   CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®

You’ll earn 2 miles per $1 you spend at office supply stores and on telecommunications.  And at the end of each year, you’ll get a 5% bonus on points you’ve earned, so you’re actually getting 2.1 miles per $1 you spend.

This card also gets you a free checked bag and priority boarding on American Airlines.  The sign-up bonus is 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the 1st 3 months, plus 2 American Airlines Admirals Club day passes.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the 1st year.

6.   What About Rotating Category Bonuses?

Link:   Chase Freedom

You may have noticed I didn’t mention the Chase Freedom, even though it’s 1 of my favorite cards!  That’s because it earns 5 points per $1 you spend (5% cash back) on categories that rotate every quarter.  You’ll earn the 5X points on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter.

Through December 31, 2014, this card gets you 5X points at Amazon, Zappos, and select department stores.   But other categories this year have included restaurants, Lowe’s home improvement stores, Starbucks, and movie theaters.

Remember, with this card, you have to activate the bonus.  It doesn’t happen automatically.

The sign-up bonus on this card is currently 20,000 points ($200 cash back) after you spend $500 in the 1st 3 months, plus another 2,500 points ($25) when you add an authorized user.  There is no annual fee.

Bottom Line

Different credit cards earn bonus points for spending in certain categories.  You could earn lots of extra miles and points just by using the right credit card for the right purchase!

Do you have a favorite credit card for bonus spending?  Why?

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8 responses to “Do You Know Which Cards to Use to Maximize Your Category Bonuses?

  1. The Citi ThankYou line of cards is a pretty glaring omission here.

  2. I would also add Sams Club MasterCard to your list. Even though it requires you to keep the club membership, 5 percent back on gas and 3 percent on travel and dining is a pretty good deal.

  3. Curious why you didn’t include either the Citi Premier (3X on dining and entertainment; 2X on travel) or the Presige (3X on airfaire/hotels; 2X on dining/entertainment). Now with their ability to transfer to partners’ loyalty programs, they seem like they would be in the discussion?

  4. D-nice review–but don’t forget about Amex Everyday preferred bonus at gas stations! 2x points plus 50% bonus on 30 or more transactions make this a potentially 3x point earning card for gas stations (and as you indicated, “other” items that can be purchased at said locales), making this among the best cards with no annual cap. Add this to 4.5x for groceries and membership rewards transfers–not too shabby!

  5. I would suggest to check the Wallaby app. It does all the work for you.

  6. Darius, hit that gym at the fancy hotels you stay at! It sucks when your wife has bigger guns than you 🙂

  7. What is the best method to earn points/miles if I have a large spend coming along from various vendors under the “home repair” category – But Not from Home depot or Lowes.
    ..Thanks much for all you do.

    • @Clark Wayne @Giles – We’ll add that!

      @Doug – I’m working on it!

      @ SM – Depends on the vendor, but if they take the Home Improvement gift card, you could buy that from an Office Supply store with a card which earns a bonus there.