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When it comes to bonus categories, two of the most popular ones among TPG readers are travel and dining. That’s because many people utilize those two categories more than any others, making it important to know which credit card will maximize your rewards when making travel and dining purchases.

But it’s not as easy as just looking at the earning rate on a card and deciding that 3x on travel or dining is better than 2x in those categories. The value of the points or miles you’re earning is also an important part of the calculation, as it could mean that earning 2 points per dollar on one card is actually better than 3 points on another.

So rather than having to slog through each card in your wallet, we’ve done the math for you. For each category and card, we calculated the bonus multiplier, the value of the points earned based on TPG’s most recent monthly point valuations, the annual fee and added any special notes about that card. Using that information, we determined the best credit cards to use in each category and compiled them into these easy-to-reference charts, so you can see at a glance exactly which card to pull out of your wallet when you’re ready to complete a purchase.

In This Post

Travel — Airlines

Here are the top earning cards when it comes to booking airline tickets, with bonus multipliers, point valuations and annual fees.

Category Bonus Value of the Points Total Earned per Dollar Spent Annual Fee Notes
Platinum Card from American Express 5x 1.9 cents 9.5 cents $550 Must book directly with airline or via Amex Travel.
Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN 5x 1.9 cents 9.5 cents $450 Must book via Amex Travel.
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $450
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $95 Up to $150,000 per year.
Premier Rewards Gold from American Express 3x 1.9 cents 5.7 cents $195 (waived the first year) Must book directly with airline or via Amex Travel.
Business Gold Rewards from American Express 3x 1.9 cents 5.7 cents $175 (waived the first year) Must choose “airline” as 3x category and book directly with airline.
Citi Prestige 3x 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $450
Citi ThankYou Premier 3x 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x 2.2 cents 4.4 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Honors Rewards) 3.5x 1 cent 3.5 cents $95 Must have at least $100,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Rewards) 3x 1 cent 3 cents $95 Must have at least $50,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

The top card on the list, with a return of nearly 10 cents per dollar spent on airfare, is the Platinum Card from American Express. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is also the most expensive card on the list, with an annual fee of $550. Of course, that annual fee gets you a lot more than just the category bonus — the Platinum cards come with high-end perks such as a $200 airline fee credit, a $200 Uber credit, access to Amex Centurion lounges, elite status with Starwood and Hilton and much more. But on top of all that, the personal Platinum also gets the most value in points for booking airfare across all credit cards, so long as you book directly with the airline itself or via Amex Travel.

The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN is tied with its sister card, but there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that the business version of the Platinum is only $450 per year, a $100 savings (though it doesn’t come with the $200 annual Uber credit). But the bad news is that to get the 5x points per dollar spent on airfare using the Business Platinum, you have to book through Amex Travel. That’s usually not onerous when it comes to booking flights, but it’s an extra step that might be annoying.

United 738 737-800 view of economy from the back
The Amex Platinum cards lead the way with 5x points on airline tickets, though you can’t book with Orbitz or Expedia and still get the extra points.

Coming in after the Platinum cards is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, another premium card with a $450 annual fee but also lots of travel benefits as well. If you’re not interested in all the perks and own a business, then the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card might be an excellent choice, since you’ll get the same 6.6-cent return per dollar spent on airfare as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but with a significantly lower $95 annual fee. Just keep in mind that the card comes with a $150,000 annual cap across all its bonus categories.

The two flavors of Amex Gold come in tied at 5.7 cents per dollar each, and the pair of ThankYou cards — the Citi Prestige and the Citi ThankYou Premier — take the next two spots at 4.5 cents each. The old trusty Chase Sapphire Preferred is just a nose behind the Citi cards at 4.4 cents, and finally the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card with Platinum Honors or Platinum Rewards slide in at 3.5 cents and 3 cents each, respectively (though you can redeem those points directly for statement credits, which might be attractive if you’re not interested in chasing award space).

Travel — Hotels

Next, let’s take a look at the top earning cards when it comes to booking hotel rooms.

Category Bonus Value of the Points Total Earned per Dollar Spent Annual Fee Notes
Platinum Card from American Express 5x 1.9 cents 9.5 cents $550 Must book prepaid hotels at Amex Travel.
Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN 5x 1.9 cents 9.5 cents $450 Must book prepaid hotels at Amex Travel.
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $450
Ink Business Preferred 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $95 Up to $150,000 per year.
Citi Prestige 3x 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $450
Citi ThankYou Premier 3x 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x 2.2 cents 4.4 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Honors Rewards) 3.5x 1 cent 3.5 cents $95 Must have at least $100,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Rewards) 3x 1 cent 3 cents $95 Must have at least $50,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

This hotel list is similar to the airlines list, but with two major caveats right at the top. Both the Amex Business Platinum and Personal Platinum cards only earn 5x per dollar on hotel purchases when you book a prepaid rate at Amex Travel. That’s a potentially huge disadvantage, as prepaid hotel reservations are often non-refundable and non-changeable. While you might get a better price for a prepaid reservation, you’ll lose a lot of flexibility in the process. You also won’t earn hotel elite credit or have any existing elite benefits honored when booking through Amex Travel.

The lobby of the Renaissance.
If you want to pay when you arrive instead of prepaying for your room, choose a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred.

Aside from that distinction, the only other major difference in this list versus the previous one is the elimination of the two Amex Gold cards, neither of which offer bonus points for hotel bookings. Again, the standout here is the Ink Business Preferred, which offers a great return at a low annual fee if you have a business that makes you eligible for the card. But don’t forget about the terrific 4th Night Free perk of the Citi Prestige, which could save you a bundle of cash worth a lot more than the extra points you’d earn with another card if you’re booking a stay of four nights or more.

Travel — Other

What about travel expenses that don’t fall into either the airline or hotel categories? This list should give you some good information on purchases that don’t involve a flight, a room or a travel agency.

Category Bonus Value of the Points Total Earned per Dollar Spent Annual Fee Notes
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $450
Ink Business Preferred 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $95 Up to $150,000 per year.
Citi ThankYou Premier 3x 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x 2.2 cents 4.4 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Honors Rewards) 3.5x 1 cent 3.5 cents $95 Must have at least $100,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Rewards) 3x 1 cent 3 cents $95 Must have at least $50,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

The Amex Platinum cards have now completely disappeared, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the clear leader when it comes to travel expenses outside the usual planes and hotels. The CSR has a very broad definition of travel, so you can earn its 6.6 cents per dollar spent on a wide range of purchases. Again, if you have a business, the Ink Business Preferred also counts a similar wide range of travel purchases.

csr-mta-chip-feat
The Chase Sapphire Reserve leads the way when it comes to miscellaneous travel purchases.

The Citi ThankYou Premier is also one to note here, as it’s the only card on this list that includes gas as part of its travel category. That means you might want to consider the Citi Premier a strong possibility not just when filling up your rental car before returning it, but when filling up your own car’s gas tank back at home.

Dining

Finally, let’s take a look at the cards that offer the best return when you’re dining out, which usually includes both fast food joints and sit-down restaurants.

Category Bonus Value of the Points Total Earned per Dollar Spent Annual Fee Notes
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x 2.2 cents 6.6 cents $450
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x 2.2 cents 4.4 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Uber Visa Card 4x 1 cent 4.0 cents $0
Premier Rewards Gold from American Express 2x 1.9 cents 3.8 cents $195 (waived the first year) At US restaurants
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Honors Rewards) 3.5x 1 cent 3.5 cents $95 Must have at least $100,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card (with Platinum Rewards) 3x 1 cent 3 cents $95 Must have at least $50,000 with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
Capital One Savor 3x 1 cent 3 cents $0
Citi Prestige 2x 1.5 cents 3 cents $450
Citi ThankYou Premier 2x 1.5 cents 3 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Citi ThankYou Preferred 2x 1.5 cents 3 cents $0

The Citi ThankYou cards drop down on this list since they only offer 2x on dining purchases, and ThankYou points are worth less than Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards. But the silver lining of that group is the Citi ThankYou Preferred, which also gets 3 cents per dollar spent on dining but comes with no annual fee.

Speaking of cards with no annual fee, the new Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a strong contender when it comes to dining. Since it earns 3% on all purchases that involve eating establishments — from restaurants to Starbucks to food trucks — it’s a good one to consider if you’d rather deal with cash back instead of travel rewards.

Dining 1
If you’re interested in cash back, the new Capital One Savor card offers 3% on all dining purchases and no annual fee.

But unsurprisingly, the Chase Sapphire Reserve once again leads the pack, thanks to its 3x multiplier on dining and the high value of Ultimate Rewards points. However, its cheaper sibling, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, is a solid second choice, especially since the Ink Business Preferred has no bonus category on dining. If you’re looking for Membership Rewards, the Premier Rewards Gold is your obvious choice with its 2x bonus for dining expenses. Just note that this card only rewards that bonus for purchases at US restaurants.

Bottom Line

If the Amex Platinum cards didn’t restrict their 5x hotel bonus (and 5x airfare in the case of the business card) to purchases at Amex Travel, they would be head and shoulders above all the other cards on the travel side of the equation. But it’s up to you if it’s worth jumping through hoops to earn extra Amex points.

Otherwise, the Chase Sapphire Reserve lives up to its billing as one of the most valuable cards across both travel and dining categories. If its high annual fee makes sense for you, it can be a great card to have in your wallet. But any of the cards on these lists will get more value on travel and dining purchases than a run-of-the-mill credit card, so make sure you pick the right card before you plan that next trip or night out.

Featured photo by @HOWWLS via Twenty20

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

This is one of the top premium cards out there since you earn 3x on all travel and dining and have access to great perks like a $300 travel credit each year, 50% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and you get elite travel benefits like Global Entry application fee rebate, Priority Pass Select and special rental car privileges.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.