6 foolproof ways to maximize rewards on grocery spending
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Editor's note: This guide has been updated with the latest information.
Every purchase is an opportunity to earn rewards -- and that includes purchases at U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores.
The average American will spend between $150-300 each week on food. Wherever you fall within that range, that's a large chunk of spending, some of which will be on groceries. And with the right approach, it can earn you an equally large chunk of points, miles or cash back.
Let's look at a few different strategies (as well as credit cards) that you can use to maximize every dollar of your spending on your next milk-and-egg run.
Shop where you can save
We'll start with one of the easiest rules to follow: shop where you can save. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating.
If shopping at a Walmart for groceries saves you a significant amount of money over your local grocery chain, then you might be better off sticking with those savings than shopping at grocery stores to earn a category bonus. Walmart likely won't earn a bonus on grocery purchases (it's typically considered a superstore and falls under a separate category) but if the cost savings are significant, that doesn't matter.
Do the math and make sure that you're not paying more than you should to earn rewards.
Be aware of how your card "codes" your purchase
On a related note, be aware of the merchant category code. This code determines whether a particular purchase will earn you bonus points. If you’re uncertain how a given merchant is coded, I recommend testing it with a small purchase.
You can then examine your card statement to see whether the merchant in question codes properly. For example, grocery purchases at Walmart and wholesale clubs like Costco are not categorized as groceries on some rewards credit cards. However, some cards may code grocery delivery services such as Instacart as grocery stores on your statement.
For instance, the American Express® Gold Card delivers 4 points per dollar on purchases made through Instacart (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x). And because Instacart also delivers items from a wide variety of stores, including Costco, etc., there are opportunities to maximize a bonus from stores not typically associated with that category.
Know the earning limits of your particular rewards card
Some cards have a limit to how many rewards you can earn such as the American Express® Gold Card. While you'll earn a generous 4x bonus points at U.S. supermarkets after spending $25,000 on these purchases per calendar year, your earning rate will go down to 1 point per dollar after reaching this maximum cap.
Then, there are the 5x rotating bonus categories on the Chase Freedom card (no longer open to new applicants) and Chase Freedom Flex. Often, the rotating category is for spending that can be done at grocery stores -- but keep in mind that each quarter, this is capped at $1,500 (and activation required). Have a backup card ready for when you exceed this limit.
Use one of the best cards for groceries
Ready to start earning some points, miles or cash back through card spending? These cards offer some of the biggest returns on your U.S. supermarket spending.
The Platinum Card® from American Express (part of welcome offer)
New cardholders can benefit in a big way from U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas station purchases. First, you get a generous welcome offer: a sizable 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. But the truly unique element of the offer is a bonus multiplier on non-travel items.
New cardholders will now be able to earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Unfortunately, existing cardholders don't qualify for this supermarket offer.
Apply here: The Platinum Card from American Express
The Amex Gold Card is my go-to card for grocery purchases at U.S supermarkets, with 4 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent (up to $25,000) at U.S. supermarkets every calendar year (then 1x). That's a huge multiplier for everyday spending at U.S. supermarkets nationwide.
Related: Amex Gold Card review
Apply here: American Express Gold Card
This card gives you 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on up to $6,000 at U.S. supermarkets each year, along with 1 point per dollar beyond that. Additionally, if you hit 30 transactions per month, you get a 50% bonus on all points earned. So you could effectively earn 4.5 points per dollar spent at supermarkets.
Membership Rewards are worth 2 cents each, according to TPG's valuations. If you spend $15,000 annually at U.S. supermarkets and hit the monthly bonus, you could earn over 40,000 points each year – worth $800. The card has a $95 annual fee, so your net value earned could be in the neighborhood of $700.
The information for 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: Amex EveryDay Preferred Card review
The Blue Cash Preferred earns 6% cash back on the first $6,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per calendar year and 1% on all purchases thereafter. The 6% return on the first $6,000 would earn you $360 cash back. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
The card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Apply here: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Take advantage of mobile apps when going in-store
Besides apps directly from stores like CVS and Target (both offer coupons), many third-party apps can help you maximize your grocery spending. Ibotta, for instance, gets you cash back both in-store and online from dozens of supported retailers and grocery stores with a coupon function.
Dosh helps you earn cash back by having users directly link a credit card (like the list of cards above) to your account on the Dosh app. Then, any time you shop at participating retailers with that associated card, you'll see savings of up to 10% for each purchase.
Click through a shopping portal when buying online
Shopping portals are an easy way to earn extra points, miles, or cash back on purchases you're already making online. While this is fairly limited in the groceries category, you still may find some food-related retailers that can earn you points or cash back through a portal.
Instead of going directly to a merchant at its most basic level, you would navigate to a shopping portal, search for the retailer you want to purchase from and click through to that site.
The best part is that you still earn rewards based on the card that you use. That means, in many situations, you can double or even triple dip your earnings with both a shopping portal bonus, category bonus, a card offer, etc.
There are dozens of different online shopping portals — but they all essentially operate the same way. I often use Cashback Monitor, a shopping portal aggregator that compiles a list of reward comparisons.
Regardless of the strategy you use to maximize your grocery purchases, it's great to have a certain travel redemption (or cash back goal) in the back of your mind. With this list of tactics and tips, you should be well on your way to maximizing your spending on groceries.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred card, click here.