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If you’re a foodie as well as a travel junkie, rewards credit cards can be the holy grail: You earn points for dining out, and those points can be accumulated and redeemed for travel.
However, the situation is often more complicated than it looks. Category bonuses vary from one card to another. All points are not created equal, so double points on one card may be more valuable than triple points on another.
It’s also important to factor in the net cost of carrying the card in your wallet; many reward cards have high annual fees, but those are sometimes offset by annual travel or airline credits. You’ll also want to make sure points transfer into your favorite airline and hotel programs, and that the restaurant purchases you make count as dining according to the issuer’s definitions.
In this post, we’ll look at the top rewards cards for dining and assess their points’ value according to TPG’s most recent valuations. Cash-back cards may be more useful for some readers, and we’ll examine those as well. Here are the best options for the truly dedicated foodie:
This is the clear winner in the universe of dining rewards. It combines high earning potential, significant point value and a reasonable net cost. On top of that, Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the most valuable points around.
Earning and Point Value: You earn triple Ultimate Rewards points at a value of 2.1 cents each, yielding 6.3 cents per dollar spent.
What Counts as Dining: Dining is defined as “merchants in the restaurant category…whose primary business is sit-down or eat-in dining, including fast food restaurants as well as fine dining establishments.”
Annual Fee: $450, with a $300 travel credit (deducted automatically), for an effective net cost of $150.
Transfer Partners: Points transfer to nine airline and four hotel programs. You can also redeem them at the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center for 1.5 cents each, or claim a cash-back value of 1 cent per point.
Alternative Card: The Chase Sapphire Preferred gives double points for dining, for a yield of 4.2 cents per dollar spent. The $95 annual fee.
Premier Rewards Gold Card From American Express
Earning and Point Value: The Premier Rewards Gold Card earns 2 points per dollar at US restaurants, making it the strongest dining option in the Amex lineup. Membership Rewards points are worth 1.9 cents each, for a total value of 3.8 cents per dollar spent.
What Counts as Dining: Amex defines dining broadly as “restaurants located in the US” (foreign restaurants are excluded, as well as branches of restaurants owned by American companies but located outside the country).
Annual Fee: $195, waived the first year; there’s an annual credit of $100 at the airline of your choice (available each calendar year, so you have the possibility of receiving $200 during your first membership year).
Transfer Partners: Membership Rewards points transfer to 16 airlines and three hotel programs. Points may be redeemed directly with American Express Travel at 1 cent per point, or 0.75-0.85 cents per point for rental cars, hotels and cruises.
Earning and Point Value: The Premium Rewards card offers tiered dining bonuses keyed to the amount in your deposit account with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, ranging from 2x to 3.5x points on dining. Points are worth 1 cent apiece.
Annual Fee: $95, with a $100 airline incidental statement credit each year
What Counts as Dining: Dining is defined as “restaurants, fast food restaurants, bars, taverns, cocktail lounges, nightclubs and discotheques.”
Transfer Partners: None. You can redeem your points for travel directly with them at 1 cent per dollar, or receive a statement credit.
Earning and Point Value: The Citi Prestige earns 2 points per dollar on dining out; TPG currently values those points at 1.7 cents each, for a yield of 3.4 cents per dollar.
What Counts as Dining: Citi defines restaurants as including “cafes, bars, lounges and fast food restaurants.”
Annual Fee: $450, with a $250 air travel credit, for a net effective cost of $200.
Transfer Partners: Citi ThankYou points transfer to 15 airlines. You can also redeem at the Citi ThankYou Travel Center at a flat rate of 1.25 cents per dollar for airfare and at a rate of 1 cent per point for hotels, car rentals and cruises.
If you don’t want to bother keeping track of accumulated point balances and transferring those points to airlines or hotel programs, cash-back cards put the rewards directly into your pocket. Here are the best cards currently on the market, none of which charge an annual fee:
Uber Visa: Barclay’s introduced the Uber Visa in 2018 with a strong 4% cash back on dining, and the response has been enthusiastic. The rebate applies to purchases at restaurants, fast food chains and bars as well as Uber Eats. After you spend $500 on account purchases in the first 90 days, you receive 10,000 bonus points which you can redeem for $100 in statement credits, gift cards or Uber credits. When you spend $5,000 or more in total net purchases during an anniversary year, you earn a $50 credit which can be applied to subscription shopping services, video or eligible digital music.
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: In addition to offering 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, the Savor card expands the definition of eating out from restaurants and fast food destinations to include food trucks, bakeries and Starbucks. There’s a one-time bonus of $300 when you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.
AARP Visa from Chase: No, you don’t have to be 50 or over; anyone can apply. The card gives 3% cash back on unlimited purchases, including fast food as well as fine dining.
Marvel Mastercard: Synchrony Bank encourages you to “unlock your super powers” with this card. Whether or not you’re successful, you’ll receive 3% cash back on dining (not defined), as well as a $25 statement credit after your first purchase.
This post is mostly focused on the cards that offer you the best return on dining spending, but let’s take a minute to look at some options that can unlock super-special experiences such as a private dinner with your favorite chef.
Through the SPG Moments program, you can bid Starpoints for culinary experience packages such as a meal at French Laundry in Napa, a ten-course dinner and tour at Per Se and dinner with wine pairings at DANIEL. Most of these auctions start at 25,000 to 40,000 Starpoints, though the winning bids will no doubt be significantly higher.
You can earn Starpoints with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. There’s also the new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card, which is offering a 100,000-point bonus. You can transfer Marriott points to SPG at a 1:3 ratio.
Beyond the daily accumulation of points for dining rewards, there are times when you might need help obtaining a table in a sought-after restaurant. Some high-end cards come with a concierge service that members can call for assistance with reservations. Examples are The Platinum Card® from American Express and Centurion cards, as well as Visa Signature (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards), Visa Infinite (Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card) and World Elite Mastercards (Citi Prestige). Some readers report positive experiences with the concierge in obtaining hard-to-get restaurant reservations, while others have been disappointed.
If you’re a dedicated foodie, the one card you want to have in your wallet is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It offers an unbeatable combination of a strong earning rate on dining purchases, a high point value and a reasonable net effective annual cost. Other attractive options include the Premier Rewards Gold Card from Amex, the Citi Prestige and the Bank of America Premium Rewards card. There are also worthwhile cash-back cards for those who don’t want to collect and redeem points, most notably the Uber Visa.
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TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,000
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on all travel and dining, $300 annual travel credit, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 50,000 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®
- Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 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✓®