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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, Citi Prestige Card

Despite all of the advanced techniques for generating travel rewards, people are still surprised to hear that daily spending on credit cards is the most reliable way to earn points and miles. The key is to use cards that earn the most rewards for each particular spending category.

In today’s post, I want to look at the the best card for each of the major spending categories. First, here’s a summary. And then you’ll find additional details below:

In This Post

Dining — Chase Sapphire Reserve

Return: 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all travel and dining. Points are worth 2.1 cents apiece according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, so you’re getting a return of 6.3% when you eat out.

Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. However, higher offers may be available in-branch.

Benefits: This card made a huge splash when it was released last year. Since it earns you 3x points at restaurants (and on travel), it’s an unbeatable option for dining out. The Ultimate Rewards program offers you the ability to transfer points to 11 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest and United. And Sapphire Reserve cardholders can receive 1.5 cents per point when they redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, which opens up several interesting possibilities. The card also offers a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and a $300 annual travel statement credit, and it waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $450

For more information on the card and the Ultimate Rewards program, see these posts:

In addition to earning 3x points on hotel stays, the Citi Prestige can save you thousands at expensive hotels through its 4th Night Free benefit. Image courtesy of Amanpulo.

Hotels — Citi Prestige Card

Return: This card offers 3x ThankYou points on hotels and air travel. According to TPG’s valuations, these points are worth 1.6 cents each, which equates to a 4.8% return for your hotel spending. But beyond points, you can receive your fourth night free when you use Citi’s travel agency to book four consecutive nights at a participating hotel. Though Citi recently tweaked the way this benefit is calculated, the amount you can save is uncapped — so you can easily get thousands of dollars in value from this perk alone.

Current Bonus: 40,000 bonus points after new cardholders spend $4,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. 

Benefits: You can transfer points to 12 airline programs as well as Hilton and Sears. Beyond that and the 4th Night Free benefit, perks include a Priority Pass Select lounge membership and a $250 annual air travel credit. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $450

For more information about the Citi Prestige Card, see these posts:

Airfare — Platinum Card® from American Express

Return: As of late 2016, this card offers an outstanding 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with the airline or with American Express Travel. These points are worth 1.9 cents each, giving you rewards worth 9.5% of your purchase. Additionally, as of March 30, 2017, you’ll also earn 5 points per dollar spent on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com when paying with The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN.

Current Bonus: 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: This card offers a variety of airport lounge access options, including to American Express Centurion lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (the latter only when you’re flying Delta) plus Priority Pass Select lounge membership. You also get a $200 annual air travel fee credit and Gold status with Starwood (and therefore Marriott) and Hilton hotels. Membership Rewards points transfer to 17 different airline partners along with Hilton and Starwood Preferred Guest. This card waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $550

For more information on this card, see these posts:

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is an ideal pick for travel spending, such as a stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.

General Travel — Chase Sapphire Reserve

Return: 3 points per dollar on all travel (and dining), equal to a return of 6.3% when you use this card to pay for airlines, hotels, rental cars and other purchases that Chase counts as travel.

Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. However, higher offers may be available in-branch.

Benefits: 3x points on all travel purchases is a huge benefit, made even better by the Ultimate Rewards program’s solid selection of 1:1 transfer partners. As mentioned above, Sapphire Reserve cardholders can also redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, and the card offers an $300 annual travel statement credit that applies to a wide variety of purchases.

Annual Fee: $450

For more information on this card, see these posts:

The Amex EveryDay Preferred Card gets you 3x points at US supermarkets. Image courtesy of Justin Sullivan via Getty Images.

Groceries — Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express

Return: 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 each year, plus a 50% points bonus each statement period that you make 30 or more transactions, for a total of up to 4.5x points. At a value of 1.9 cents per point, these rewards could be worth 8.55% of your purchases. 

Current Bonus: 15,000 bonus points when you use your card to spend $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: 2x points at US gas stations and a 50% bonus on all points received when you make 30 or more transactions in a statement period. You can transfer points to 17 different airlines that partner with the Membership Rewards program. Note that this card does charge a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so you won’t want to use it for purchases abroad (but the 3x category is only good for US supermarkets, anyway).

Annual Fee: $95

Earn 3x points on gas with the Citi ThankYou Premier Card. Image courtesy of Wendy Yanez via Getty Images.

Gas — Citi ThankYou Premier Card

Return: 3x points on all travel including gas. These points are worth 1.6 cents each, which equals a 4.8% return for your gas purchases.

Current Bonus: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Benefits: 2x points on dining out and entertainment. Transfer points to miles with several airline programs as well as Hilton and Sears. Points are also worth 1.25 cents each toward airfare booked through the ThankYou Travel Center. This card also waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

For more information on this card, see these posts:

The Ink Business Cash Card gets you a solid 5x points on purchases at office supply stores. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Office Supplies — Ink Business Cash Credit Card

Return: 5% back (or 5x Ultimate Rewards points) on purchases from office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV service. The 5%/5x rewards are limited to your first $25,000 in combined spending each account anniversary year. If you also hold a premium, Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you can combine your rewards from the Ink Business Cash Credit Card and transfer them to travel partners. Since TPG values these points at 2.1 cents apiece, you can get up to a 10.5% return on office supply purchases.

Current Bonus: $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: 2% cash back/2x rewards on the first $25,000 spent at gas and restaurants each account anniversary year. Now that the Ink Plus Business Card is no longer offered to new applicants (it’s been replaced with the Ink Business Preferred Card), this card is the only way to earn 5x transferable rewards points on office supplies. Note that this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Annual Fee: $0

For more information on this card, see these posts:

Based on TPG’s valuation, the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card offers an outstanding 3.15% return on all purchases, with no annual fee.

Non-Bonus Spending — Chase Freedom Unlimited

Return: 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points) on all purchases, with no limits. While this is technically a cash-back card, if you have another Chase card that offers transfers to Ultimate Rewards partners, you can combine your rewards and redeem them as points. Since these points are worth 2.1 cents each, you’re looking at a return of up to 3.15%.

Current Bonus: $150 bonus after spending $500 on new purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: This card come with a basic benefits package including purchase protection and price protection. Don’t use it for non-bonus spending outside of the US, since it does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Annual Fee: $0

For more information on this card, see these posts:

Bottom Line

As you can see, the best credit card for any given purchase depends on whether you have the opportunity to earn bonus points or miles on the spending category. You don’t necessarily need all of these cards in your wallet; if you rarely make purchases at office supply stores, for example, you can probably skip the Ink Business Cash Credit Card. To help you determine the best card to use for a purchase based on the merchant and the options you currently hold, make sure to download the TPG To Go app.

Featured image courtesy of Le Meridien Bora Bora.

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.