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How to ensure you earn bonus points for grocery purchases

Feb. 16, 2021
10 min read
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One of the most important factors in choosing the right credit card is comparing bonus categories to see which fits your spending habits. This process can be super confusing, since issuers each have their own definitions for what falls under a particular category. For example, take the bonus category of groceries. Some issuers label the category as U.S. supermarkets, while others call it grocery stores. Is there a difference?

Unfortunately, yes. Each issuer with cards that offer this bonus category has its own unique parameters, which can make figuring out exactly which purchases will earn rewards with each card a guessing game. The bonus is typically determined by where you shop, not by what you buy.

Related: The best grocery credit cards for 2020

With consumable purchases way up during the coronavirus pandemic, it's a good idea to make sure you're earning rewards on your various grocery purchases. Today, let's walk through some of the definitions and differences in the grocery bonus category.

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American Express cards

Let's first examine the various Amex cards that have a bonus category for grocery spending.

"U.S. supermarkets"

American Express has several cards that earn rewards on grocery shopping, and the category is listed as "U.S. supermarkets." Amex has a standardized list of what stores generally trigger the bonus category across its cards.

According to Amex, this category encompasses stores that offer "a wide variety of food and household products such as meat, fresh produce, dairy, canned and packaged goods, household cleaners, pharmacy products and pet supplies." Examples of eligible merchants include:

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  • Gristedes
  • Foodtown
  • Meijer
  • ShopRite
  • Stop and Shop
  • Vons
  • Whole Foods
  • Winn-Dixie
  • Online supermarkets such as FreshDirect

Exclusions from this category include specialty stores (such as fish markets and wine shops), superstores (such as Target and Walmart) and warehouse clubs (such as Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club).

However, as we'll explain later, there's still a way to shop at some of these merchants and trigger the bonus for "U.S. supermarkets."

Shoppers browse the produce section at Whole Foods Market grocery store in Dublin, California, June 16, 2017, June 16, 2017. On June 16, 2017, announced that it would acquire the upscale grocery chain. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
Whole Foods counts as a supermarket on Amex cards. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images.)

The list provided by Amex isn't exhaustive. I've used my American Express® Gold Card at my local Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's and it's always coded as a supermarket purchase on both cards. If you shop at a supermarket chain similar to those on the Amex list, you'll still likely score bonus rewards with your eligible Amex card.

Amex cards that offer rewards at U.S. supermarkets:

The information for the Amex EveryDay card and the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Capital One Cards

Capital One has only two cards that offer grocery stores as a specific bonus category and the qualifications are different from Amex. Let's take a look.

"Grocery stores"

According to Capital One, the grocery stores category includes the following:

  • Supermarkets
  • Meat lockers
  • Bakeries
  • Freezers
  • Dairy product stores
  • Specialty markets

An exclusion explicitly mentioned on Capital One's website is superstores and warehouse clubs, such as Sam's Club.

Big box stores like Sams or Costco might not be included in these benetifs. (Photo by jmoor17/Getty Images)
Warehouse club stores like Sam's Club might not earn bonuses on Capital One cards. (Photo by jmoor17/Getty Images.)

Capital One offers a bit more flexibility when it comes to what earns rewards in this category.

Unlike Amex, you'll be able to score cash back on smaller specialty stores. I like to use a local butcher shop, which never codes as a supermarket (predictably) for Amex. The Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card, though, will count it as a grocery store for bonus rewards.

Capital One cards that offer rewards at grocery stores:

The information for the Capital One Savor has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best Capital One credit cards of 2020

Bank of America cards

Bank of America classifies grocery stores much like Capital One, but with some notable additions.

"Grocery stores"

According to Bank of America, the following purchases qualify for its grocery store category:

  • Freezer/meat lockers
  • Candy, nut or confection stores
  • Dairy product stores
  • Bakeries
  • Wholesale clubs

Bonus rewards on your candy cravings? Yes, please.

As for wholesale clubs, Bank of America is the only issuer that includes them in its grocery rewards category.

That's a huge and notable exception, as wholesale clubs typically sell far more than just typical groceries. That means you could easily score bonus rewards from Bank of America on things such as clothing, furniture or even computers and tablets.

Bakeries appear on Bank of America's list for grocery bonuses, but the Capital One Savor card earns 4% on dining, a category that includes bakeries. (Photo by Lindsey Campbell/The Points Guy.)

Bank of America only has one card that offers rewards at grocery stores:

Related: The best Bank of America credit cards of 2020


"Grocery stores"

Chase does not include superstores or warehouse clubs in the “grocery store” bonus category. Chase includes a list of examples of grocers that do qualify. This is what Chase says doesn't count:

  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Larger stores that sell a wide variety of goods and groceries, such as warehouse clubs, discount stores and some smaller merchants such as drugstores, and merchants that specialize in only a few grocery items
  • Purchases made at gas stations operated by merchants who also operate grocery stores
  • Delivery service merchants, unless the merchant has set up such purchases to be classified in the grocery stores category

Chase cards that offer rewards at grocery stores:

Chase doesn't have any cards that have a permanent grocery store bonus category, but there are a couple of ways you can still earn groceries with Chase cards throughout the year:

  • Chase Freedom Flex - 5x on quarterly rotating categories (up to $1,500 per quarter in spending; then 1x), which sometimes includes grocery stores.
  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card - 3x and 2x on grocery stores respectively from Nov. 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021.

Related: Chase Freedom 5x quarterly bonus categories

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Retailers that typically do not code as groceries

  • Walmart (A notable exception is Walmart Neighborhood Markets, which typically do code as groceries.)
  • Target
  • Costco (A notable exception is Bank of America cards.)
  • B.J.'s (A notable exception is Bank of America cards.)
  • Sam's Club (A notable exception is Bank of America cards.)

Grocery delivery services

Card issuers including American Express and Chase code Instacart as groceries/supermarkets. (Denver Post Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon)

There are a handful of grocery delivery services out there that partner with merchants. For instance, Instacart delivers groceries from thousands of local grocery stores. Most issuers, like Amex and Chase, code Instacart orders as groceries/supermarkets. That means even though you're purchasing from a merchant like Costco, which is typically excluded from category bonuses (except for Bank of America), you should still be able to earn a bonus if you go through Instacart or another delivery service.

Likewise, FreshDirect, a more niche grocery delivery company, codes as a grocery purchase for Amex. Recent data points have shown AmazonFresh and Prime Now also code as a grocery delivery purchase. These aren't hard-and-fast rules that the card issuers follow, so this is subject to change.

Related: Your definitive guide to online grocery delivery services

Bottom line

This isn't an exhaustive survey of every card that offers rewards on grocery spending, but it does give you an idea of what the top issuers consider eligible purchases for their food-shopping bonus category.

Of course, issuers do not control how a specific merchant codes individual items, so there is always a chance that a purchase that you would expect to earn bonus rewards does not. For example, even though the butcher shop that I visit uses a merchant code that Amex recognizes under the supermarket rewards category, the shop three miles down the road may not.

It's helpful when issuers publish detailed terms and conditions for what will or won't count toward a certain bonus category, but sometimes it's still a guessing game. If you're not 100% certain a particular merchant will earn rewards with your card, try it out. The worst-case scenario is you don't earn bonus rewards on your $30 grocery bill and you'll know to use a different credit card next time. Under the best-case scenario, you'll add to the list of places where you know you can earn bonus rewards with your card.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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