Here are 6 ways to maximize rewards on grocery spending

Dec 19, 2020

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Chase Freedom Flex, Chase Freedom Unlimited

Editor’s note: For more on the best cards to use for groceries during the pandemic, read our full guide. 

Every purchase is an opportunity to earn rewards — and that includes purchases at grocery stores. That means your milk-and-egg run can be a small step toward more points for your loyalty accounts or dollars towards your cash-back balance.

With travel still limited due to the pandemic, now is an ideal time to earn points and cash back at grocery stores to prepare for your next getaway.

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The average American household will spend between $150-300 each week on food. Wherever you fall within that range, that’s a large chunk of spending that likely 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 at the grocery store.

In This Post

Shop where you can save

We’ll start off 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.

Related: How to ensure you earn bonus points for grocery purchases

Shoppers browse the produce section at Whole Foods Market grocery store in Dublin, California, June 16, 2017, June 16, 2017. On June 16, 2017, announced that it would acquire the upscale grocery chain. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
(Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

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. 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.

Related: Your definitive guide to online grocery delivery services 

Know the earning limits of your particular rewards card

Some credit cards have a limit to how many rewards you can earn. For instance, in the case of the American Express® Gold Card, your 4x bonus points at U.S. supermarkets are capped after spending $25,000 on these purchases per calendar year (then 1x).

Then, there are the 5% 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 back-up 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 credit cards offer the biggest return on your grocery spending. For a complete list of the best cards for groceries during the pandemic, read our full guide.

The Platinum Card® from American Express (limited time, part of welcome offer)

Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

New cardholders can benefit in a big way from U.S. supermarket and U.S. gas purchases. First, you get a generous welcome offer: a sizable 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first six 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 up to $15,000 in combined eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets during the same first six months of card membership. That’s an additional 9x points on top of the 1x point you earn for these purchases.

Unfortunately, existing cardholders don’t qualify for this supermarket offer.

Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited (limited time, part of sign-up bonus)

Chase’s Freedom credit card lineup — the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited — are also among cards that are offering temporary bonus categories as part of the sign-up bonus. With either of these cards, you’ll earn $200 in cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus get 5% back on the first $12,000 spent at grocery stores in the first 12 months.

Again, like the Platinum card, existing cardholders don’t qualify for this grocery offer.

Related: Are temporary categories here to stay as part of sign-up bonuses?

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

The Amex Gold Card is my go-to card for grocery store purchases, with 4x 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 spend at U.S. supermarkets nationwide.

Plus, there is incredible versatility when it comes to using Membership Rewards points including the ability to book through Amex Travel or transfer points to an array of airline and hotel partners.

Related: Amex Gold Card review

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express

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.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

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.

The card has a $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95 (see rates & fees). 

Related: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card review

Take advantage of mobile apps when going in-store

Besides apps directly from stores like CVS and Target (both offer coupons), there are a handful of third-party apps that 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.

(Photo courtesy of Dosh/The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of Dosh/The Points Guy)

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.

At its most basic level, instead of going directly to a merchant, 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. One site that I use all the time is Cashback Monitor, a shopping portal aggregator that compiles a list of reward comparisons.

Rewards options for Walmart (Screenshot courtesy of Cashback Monitor)

Bottom line

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.

Featured photo by FangXiaNuo/Getty Images.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred card, click here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, 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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
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15.99%-22.99% Variable
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Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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