How Credit Card Issuers Classify Travel and Dining Purchases

Nov 25, 2018

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit CardCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

When a credit card offers you a spending bonus for “travel” or “dining” expenses, it might not mean what you think it does. Each card issuer applies different criteria to charges that will qualify for these bonuses, and you might not receive the bonus rewards you expected.

Today, I want to look closely at which travel rewards credit cards offer bonuses for travel and dining purchases, and more importantly, which expenses will qualify for those extra points and miles. Then I’ll offer some tips and tricks to help you maximize your rewards.

American Express

Amex cards doesn’t offer any generic bonuses for travel, but all cards that offer Membership Rewards points allow you to earn an extra 2x rewards for travel purchases made on the American Express Travel website, (And note that some Amex cards, like the Platinum Card® from American Express, offer bonus points on flights purchased directly from the airline.)

Included in the definition of “travel” for purchases at Amex Travel are:

  • Airfare
  • Prepaid hotels
  • Vacation packages (flight + hotel packages)
  • Cruise reservations

Excluded are:

  • Car reservations
  • Non-prepaid hotels
  • Anything not charged to an eligible Amex card
  • Any portion of a booking that is paid for by redeeming Membership Rewards points

When it comes to restaurants, several American Express cards do offer bonuses, but the eligible restaurants must be within the United States.

Excluded are:

  • Purchases made at a restaurant owned by a US company but located outside the US (e.g., the Hard Rock Café in Paris)
  • You may not earn additional points for purchases at a restaurant located within another establishment (e.g., a restaurant inside a hotel, casino or event venue). For example, purchases made at a restaurant located within a hotel may be recognized as a purchase at a hotel, not a restaurant.
  • Purchases at nightclubs and convenience stores
  • A purchase may not qualify for additional points if the merchant submits the purchase using a mobile or wireless card reader or if you use a mobile or digital wallet

Amex cards that offer bonuses at US restaurants include:


The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard allows you to redeem miles for statement credits toward qualifying travel expenses. However, as TPG once discovered, Barclay’s definition of a travel expense did not cover Disney World park tickets, which it considered to be a “tourist attraction,” not a travel expense.

According to Barclays, a travel purchase is defined as a purchase in any of these categories:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Timeshares
  • Campgrounds
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Discount travel sites
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Limousines
  • Ferries

Excluded from Barclay’s definition of travel are:

  • Real estate agents
  • Websites or owners that rent properties
  • Inflight goods and services
  • Merchants within airports
  • Merchants that rent trailers, trucks and other vehicles for the purpose of hauling

Thankfully, dining expenses are simply defined as charges from restaurants and fast food establishments, with no apparent exclusions for dining outside of the United States.

These Barclays-issued cards offer bonuses on dining:

  • Uber Visa — 4% back at restaurants, including takeout, fast food, bars and UberEATS
  • JetBlue Plus Card — 2x TrueBlue points at restaurants, which includes fast food

Bank of America


The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card offers 1.5x points on all purchases, and points can be redeemed for statement credits toward travel expenses. Fortunately, Bank of America goes to great lengths to define travel, even going so far as to disclose the actual merchant codes that qualify.

The Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card offers you 2 points for each dollar spent on travel and dining.

Dining includes:

  • Restaurants, including fast food
  • Drinking establishments, such as bars or taverns

Travel includes:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Timeshares
  • Trailer parks
  • Motor homes
  • Recreational vehicle rentals
  • Campgrounds
  • Car rental agencies
  • Truck and trailer rental
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Tour operators
  • Real estate agents
  • Operators of passenger trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Limousines
  • Ferries
  • Boat rentals
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Tolls and bridge fees
  • Tourist attractions and exhibits like art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums, zoos and the like.

Not included:

  • Inflight goods and services
  • Duty-free airport purchases

Capital One

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers 2x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at (when booked and paid through; ends Jan. 31, 2020), and miles are worth 1 cent apiece as statement credits toward travel expenses, or, starting in December 2018, can be transferred to a variety of airline partners. In addition, the no-fee Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers 1.25 miles per dollar spent.

Capital One defines travel expenses as purchases made from airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents and time shares. These terms do not appear to include things like theme parks and other tourist attractions.

The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers you 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, and the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 3% cash back on dining and entertainment.

Capital One defines qualifying dining purchases as those from:

  • Restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Fast-food chains
  • Bakeries


The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 2x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining expenses, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points for travel and dining.

Merchants in the travel category (by Chase’s definition) include:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Timeshares
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Discount travel sites
  • Campgrounds
  • Operators of passenger trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Limousines
  • Ferries
  • Toll bridges and highways
  • Parking lots and garages.

Not included:

  • Real estate agents
  • Educational merchants arranging travel
  • In-flight goods and services
  • On-board cruise line goods and services
  • Sightseeing activities
  • Excursions
  • Tourist attractions
  • Merchants within hotels and airports
  • Merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling.
  • Purchasing of gift cards, points or miles does not qualify in this category unless the merchant has set up such purchases to be classified in the travel category.

For Chase, the dining category includes “merchants whose primary business is sit-down or eat-in dining, including fast food restaurants as well as fine-dining establishments.” Chase adds that “some merchants that sell food and drinks located within larger merchants such as sports stadiums, hotels and casinos, theme parks, and department stores may not be included in this category.”

Other Chase cards that offer bonuses for dining or travel include:

  • United Explorer Card — 2x United miles at restaurants and hotels
  • United Explorer Business Card — 2x United miles at restaurants
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card — 2x Hyatt points at restaurants and on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card —  2x IHG points at restaurants
  • Ink Business Cash Credit Card — 2% cash back (2x points) at restaurants
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business Credit Card — 4x Marriott points at restaurants
  • Chase AARP Credit Card — 3% cash back points at restaurants


Cards in the Citi ThankYou Rewards program offer some bonuses for travel and dining. The basic Citi ThankYou Preferred Card offers 2x on dining out and entertainment. The mid-range Citi Premier Card offers 3x on travel including gas stations and 2x on dining out and entertainment. And the premium Citi Prestige Card will offer a whopping 5x points on dining and air travel when it’s re-released on Jan. 4, 2019.

Citi uses an expansive definition of travel, and it lists all of the eligible expenses here. In addition to the usual suspects like airfare, hotels, and rental cars, other qualifying expenses include:

  • Bridges and tolls
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Tourist attractions and museums
  • Commuter transportation
  • Motor home and recreational vehicle rental
  • Travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators
  • Gas stations
  • Ferries
  • Taxis/limousines/car services
  • Passenger railways
  • Cruise lines
  • Bridge and road tolls
  • Parking lots/garages
  • Campgrounds and trailer parks
  • Timeshares
  • Bus lines
  • Boat leases and rentals

Not included:

  • Purchases made at recreational camps
  • Insurance companies
  • Auto clubs
  • Fuel used for non-automobile purposes
  • Real estate agencies
  • Gas purchases made at warehouse clubs, discount stores, department stores and convenience stores

As far as restaurants and entertainment purchases go, these purchases are included:

  • Cafes
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Fast food restaurants
  • Live entertainment
  • Live theatrical productions
  • Concerts
  • Live sporting events
  • Movie theaters
  • Amusement parks (including zoos, aquariums, circuses and carnivals)
  • Tourist attractions (including museums and art galleries)
  • Record stores
  • Video rental stores and on-demand internet streaming media

Not included are:

  • Bakeries
  • Restaurants/cafes inside certain department, grocery, discount and convenience stores or warehouse clubs
  • Sporting camps
  • Public and private golf courses
  • Country clubs (including membership fees)
  • Stores that sell musical instruments
  • Video game arcades
  • Bowling alleys
  • Stores that primarily sell video games/accessories
  • Charitable organizations that provide live entertainment
  • Bookstores
  • Sports complexes where you participate in the sport

Other Citi cards that offer dining bonuses:


The Discover it® Miles card earns 1.5x miles on all purchases and allows you to redeem rewards for travel purchases defined as airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, and commuter transportation. Nevertheless, any restrictions are moot, as you also have the option of redeeming your miles for cash anyways. The Discover it® chrome offers 2x points at restaurants, which Discover defines to include full service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias and fast-food locations.

Tips and Tricks

1. If in doubt, look up codes. 

Credit card issuers classify charges based on something called a merchant category code (MCC). These codes are part of every transaction, and are used to classify merchants for all sorts of reasons, including the allocation of rewards. Thankfully, there are websites like this one from Visa where you can search for merchant codes.

2. Watch out for warehouse stores. 

Many banks will exclude purchases from warehouse stores from eligibility for bonus rewards. These stores negotiate steep discounts on the fees that card issuers charge, and the banks really don’t want to offer additional rewards when they’re already making less money from these transactions.

3. Be careful with travel agents. 

In some cases, purchases from travel agents are considered to be “travel,” while in other cases they’re not. For example, most card issuers will classify charges from travel agents as travel; however, some cards only award bonus points on travel that’s categorized as flights purchased from the airline or the American Express Travel website.

4. Call to appeal.

If you have what you considered to be an eligible expense that didn’t earn the bonus or wasn’t eligible for rewards redemption, consider contacting the card issuer and asking for an exception. This won’t work every time, but the credit card industry is intensely competitive, and banks have good reason to resolve these issues in your favor.

5. Be careful outside of the United States. 

American Express excludes foreign transactions from just about every bonus category it offers, including restaurants and travel. While other card issuers are less explicit about it, foreign transactions are also more likely to be miscategorized. So if you have major travel or dining expenses during a trip abroad, be sure to double check that they have been properly credited when you return.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

SIGN-UP BONUS: 50,000 Miles


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Miles are now transferrable to over a dozen airline partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the 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.