What’s the difference between “grocery store” and “supermarket” bonus categories?

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One of the most important factors in choosing the right credit card is comparing bonus categories to see what fits your spending habits. This process can be super-confusing, though, when 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 unique definitions of what exactly falls under the category, which can make figuring out exactly what purchases will earn rewards with each card a guessing game.

Especially with holiday meals around the corner, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re earning rewards on your various grocery purchases. So today, let’s walk through some of the definitions and differences in the grocery bonus category.

American Express: U.S. supermarkets

American Express has a number of cards that earn rewards on grocery shopping, but 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:

  • 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 (like Target and Walmart) and warehouse clubs (like Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club).

Shoppers browse the produce section at Whole Foods Market grocery store in Dublin, California, June 16, 2017, June 16, 2017. On June 16, 2017, Amazon.com 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 certainly isn’t exhaustive. I’ve used my Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and 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 the ones on the Amex list, you’ll 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, 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.

Capital One: grocery stores

Capital One has only two cards that offer grocery stores as a specific bonus category and the qualifications are different from Amex. According to Capital One, the grocery stores category includes the following:

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

Exclusion explicitly mentioned on Capital One’s website are superstores and warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club are also excluded from this category.

Big box stores like Sams or Costco might not be included in these benetifs. (Photo by jmoor17/Getty Images)
Big box stores like Sam’s Club or Costco 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. My Capital One Savor® Rewards Card, though, does count it as a grocery store for bonus rewards.

Capital One cards that offer rewards at grocery stores: 

Bank of America: grocery stores

Bank of America classifies grocery stores much like Capital One, but with some notable additions to the list. 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 wholesale clubs in its grocery rewards category. Wholesale clubs typically sell far more than just typical groceries, which means you could easily score bonus rewards from Bank of America on things like clothing, furniture or even computers and tablets.

Allergy-friendly treats at Disney Springs Erin McKenna
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.)

Exclusions listed by Bank of America include superstores and smaller stores like drug stores and convenience stores. Bank of America has another card that offers a specific category for drug store purchases.

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

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’s shop I frequent 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. Worst case scenario, you don’t earn bonus rewards on your $30 grocery bill and you’ll know to use a different credit card next time. Best case scenario, you’ll add another name to the list of places you earn bonus rewards with your card.

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American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at restaurants worldwide, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
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