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Despite all of the advanced techniques for generating rewards, people are still surprised to hear that daily spending on credit cards is the most reliable way to earn points, miles or cash back. The key is to use cards that earn the most rewards for each particular spending category.

But not all types of cards treat rewards the same. Business cardholders may earn 5x rewards at office supply stores, while someone with a travel rewards credit card would earn just 1x. That’s why we’re going to divide the best cards for each spending category into three distinct groups:

  • Points and miles cards
  • Cash-back cards
  • Business cards

To truly earn the highest rate of return on all of your spending, you may need to hold a combination of all three types of cards.

In This Post

The Best Points and Miles Cards for Each Bonus Category

Dining in the US — American Express® Gold Card

Return: 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at US restaurants. Points are worth 1.9 cents apiece according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, so you’re getting a return of 7.6%.

Current Bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Plus, for new cardmembers who apply by Jan. 9, 2019, receive 20% back as a statement credit at US restaurants within the first three months of cardmembership, up to $100.

Benefits: This card is a revamp of the older Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, and while the annual fee was raised from $195 to $250, it also offers several new perks and improved bonus categories. Earn 4x points at US supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases; then 1x, 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines and through amextravel.com and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Get up to $120 in dining credits each year when you pay with the Gold card at participating partners (up to $10 in statement credits each month). Get up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits toward airline incidental fees.

Annual Fee: $250

Dining Abroad — Chase Sapphire Reserve

Return: 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all travel and dining. Points are worth 2 cents apiece according to TPG’s valuations, so you’re getting a return of 6% when you eat out. You’ll earn 3x points on dining both in the US and abroad, but for dining in the US, the Amex Gold card offers a higher return.

Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Benefits: This card made a huge splash when it was released in 2016. Since it earns you 3x points at restaurants (and on travel), it’s an unbeatable option for dining out. The Ultimate Rewards program offers you the ability to transfer points to 13 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest and United. And Sapphire Reserve cardholders can receive 1.5 cents per point when they redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, which opens up several interesting possibilities. The card also offers a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and a $300 annual travel statement credit, and it waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $450

Hotels — Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Return: 10x miles on hotels booked and paid through Hotels.com at the Hotels.com/Venture link. That equals a 10% return, and if you stack that with the Hotels.com Rewards program to earn one free hotel night for every 10 you book, you’re effectively getting a 20% return.

Current Bonus: 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 2x miles on all other purchases. Get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. No foreign transaction fees. Starting in December, you can transfer miles to a selection of airline transfer partners.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Airfare — The Platinum Card® from American Express

Return: This card offers an outstanding 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with the airline or with American Express Travel. These points are worth 1.9 cents each, giving you rewards worth 9.5% of your purchase. 

Current Bonus: 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: This card offers a variety of airport lounge access options, including to American Express Centurion lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (the latter only when you’re flying Delta) plus Priority Pass Select lounge membership. You also get a $200 annual air travel fee credit and Gold status with Marriott and Hilton hotels. Membership Rewards points transfer to 17 different airline partners along with Choice, Hilton and the combined Marriott program. This card waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $550

General Travel — Chase Sapphire Reserve

Return: 3 points per dollar on all travel (and dining), equal to a return of 6% when you use this card to pay for airlines, hotels, rental cars and other purchases that Chase counts as travel.

Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Benefits: 3x points on all travel purchases is a huge benefit, made even better by the Ultimate Rewards program’s solid selection of 1:1 transfer partners. As mentioned above, Sapphire Reserve cardholders can also redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, and the card offers an $300 annual travel statement credit that applies to a wide variety of purchases.

Annual Fee: $450

Groceries — Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express

Return: 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 each year; then 1x, plus a 50% points bonus each statement period that you make 30 or more transactions, for a total of up to 4.5x points. At a value of 1.9 cents per point, these rewards could be worth 8.55% of your purchases. Note that the Amex Gold Card is another strong option with a higher annual cap, earning 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 spent per year in purchases. However, the EveryDay Preferred Card offers a higher return (8.55% vs. 7.6%) when you factor in the 50% points bonus for making 30 or more transactions.

Current Bonus: 15,000 bonus points when you use your card to spend $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: 2x points at US gas stations and a 50% bonus on all points received when you make 30 or more transactions in a statement period. You can transfer points to 17 different airlines that partner with the Membership Rewards program. Note that this card does charge a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so you won’t want to use it for purchases abroad (but the 3x category is only good for US supermarkets, anyway).

Annual Fee: $95

Gas — Citi Premier Card

Return: 3x points on all travel including gas. These points are worth 1.7 cents each, which equals a 5.1% return for your gas purchases.

Current Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Benefits: 2x points on dining out and entertainment. Transfer points to miles with several airline programs as well as Hilton and Sears. Points are also worth 1.25 cents each toward airfare booked through the ThankYou Travel Center. This card also waives foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Non-Bonus Spending — Chase Freedom Unlimited

Return: 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points) on all purchases, with no limits. While this is technically a cash-back card, if you have another Chase card that offers transfers to Ultimate Rewards partners, you can combine your rewards and redeem them as points. Since these points are worth 2 cents each, you’re looking at a return of up to 3%.

Current Bonus: $150 bonus after spending $500 on new purchases within three months of account opening.

Benefits: This card come with a basic benefits package including purchase protection and price protection. Don’t use it for non-bonus spending outside of the US, since it does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Annual Fee: $0

The Best Cash-Back Card for Each Bonus Category

At this point, it’s pretty much gospel that cash-back credit cards aren’t nearly as lucrative as points- and miles-earning cards. That is particularly true when it comes to the outsized welcome bonuses offered by the premium travel rewards cards. But cash-back cards have been making some noise lately on category bonuses, with new or revamped cards offering returns of up to 4% on certain categories while charging nominal annual fees.

Dining and Entertainment — Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

Return: Earn 4% cash back on entertainment purchases, “including tickets to a movie, play, concert, sporting event, tourist attraction, theme park, aquarium, zoo, dance club, pool hall or bowling alley. Also, making purchases at record store and video rental locations.”

Current bonus: Earn $500 after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account. That’s one of the best cash-back welcome bonuses available.

Benefits: Earn 4% cash back on dining, including restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains and bakeries; 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You’ll pay no foreign transaction fee on purchases outside the US, and you’ll receive protective benefits like extended warranty and price protection.This card is unmatched when it comes to cash-back cards offering rewards on entertainment spending, but probably shouldn’t be your go-to choice for grocery rewards, as there are several credit cards that offer higher returns.

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Another Dining Option — Uber Visa Card

Return: Earn 4% cash back on restaurants, takeout and bars, including UberEats.

Current bonus: Earn $100 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days.

Benefits: Earn 3% back on airfare, hotel and vacation home rentals; 2% back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, video and music streaming services and 1% on all other purchases. You’ll also receive mobile phone insurance for up to $600 for damage and theft when you use the card to pay your phone bill, and if you spend at least $5,000 on the card in a year, you’ll get a $50 credit that will automatically be applied toward online subscription services such as Netflix.

Annual fee: $0

Groceries — Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Return: Earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). Be sure to steer clear of these types of stores when shopping for groceries, as they don’t qualify for 6% cash back:

  • Specialty stores like fish markets, cheese shops and wine shops
  • Superstores, like Amazon, Target and Walmart
  • Warehouse clubs like BJ’s Club

Current bonus: Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 3% cash back at US gas stations and department stores and 1% back on other purchases. This card comes with a 0% APR introductory offer for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (transfers requested within 60 days of account opening), then a variable rate, currently 14.99% to 25.99%. This card is also eligible for enrollment in Amex Offers, a discount program that sends targeted offers to enrolled cardholders.

Annual fee: $95

Gas — Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi

Return: Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (1% thereafter). This is available worldwide, including Costco gas stations. The 4% bonus rate will not be applied to gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco or for fuel used for non-automobile purposes.

Welcome bonus: None

Benefits: Earn 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines and Costco Travel; 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You’ll also enjoy several purchase protections, including primary rental car insurance (on rentals made outside the US only) and trip cancellation and interruption protection. There are no foreign transaction fees. You have to be a Costco member to be eligible for this card, and although this is a cash-back card, you can’t earn statement credits or redeem your rewards at any time. Instead, you’ll receive a reward coupon annually, redeemable for cash or merchandise at US Costco warehouses.

Annual fee: $0 with your paid Costco membership

The revamped Wells Fargo Propel Amex has some generous 3% categories.

Travel — Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Return: Earn 3% on travel, including flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals, taxis, gas station purchases and rideshares. Rewards can be redeemed for more than just cash back, but all redemption options generally are worth the same. Other options include travel, gift cards and charity donations. You can redeem rewards for airfare at 1.5 cents each on the Wells Fargo travel portal when you own another card that earns Go Far Rewards points, like the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card. And if you spend $50,000 in a calendar year on the Wells Fargo Visa, that redemption rate jumps to 1.75 cents per point, which would make 3x points worth as much as 5.25 cents per dollar when redeemed for airfare. (The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature 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.)

Current bonus: Earn $300 (30,000 points) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 3% on on dining and on select streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio and Spotify Premium, when you pay your bill with your card and 1% on all other purchases. You’ll also enjoy cell phone protection. When you pay your monthly bill with the Propel, you can get up to $600 in protection (subject to a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft.

Annual fee: $0

Rotating Bonus Categories — Chase Freedom

Return: You’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases. That’s not very appealing. But the big appeal for Chase Freedom is the 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases at merchants in the card’s quarterly bonus categories.

To qualify for the 5% cash back, you’ll need to activate the bonus categories every quarter. Chase offers numerous activation options, including a one-click email activation the issuer will send you every quarter. If you plan to primarily redeem your rewards in the form of cash back, know that you’ll only be able to earn a maximum of $75 per quarter on the bonus categories ($1,500 in purchases at 5% cash back). If, however, you pair the card with one that’s part of the Ultimate Rewards program and transfer the Freedom points to that card, you can more than double the annual value of rewards. ($1,500 in purchases at 5x points equals 7,500 UR points per quarter. Those points are worth $150, according to TPG valuations. That’s $600 per year.)

Current bonus: Earn $150 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases during your first three months after account opening.

Benefits: New cardholders also will enjoy a 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period expires, the standard rate is a variable APR of 16.99% to 25.74%.

Annual fee: None

Non-Bonus Spending — Citi Double Cash Card

Return: Earn 1% when you buy and then another 1% as you pay on all spending. This is among the best flat-rate rewards cards available.

Current bonus: None

Benefits: Double Cash comes with a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.49% to 25.49% based on your creditworthiness. This card is also a part of the Price Rewind program, although the benefits were recently devalued.

Annual fee: None

The Best Business Card for Each Bonus Category

One thing that makes business rewards credit cards so attractive is their flexibility when it comes to earning those rewards. Business cards actually offer even more bonus categories to choose from than their personal credit card counterparts. The trick is finding the card that matches your business spending.

Office Supplies — SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express

pencils office supplies
(Photo by @antfpalmer via Twenty20)

Return: Earn 5% cash back at US office supply stores and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers on up to $50,000 in purchases during a calendar year, then 1% thereafter.

Current bonus: None

Benefits:  American Express allows you to choose another category of spending that earns 3% cash back on up to $50,000 in annual spending (then 1%). Pick from one of eight categories — airfare purchased directly from airlines, hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels, car rentals purchased from select car rental companies, US gas stations, US restaurants, US purchases for advertising in select media, US purchases for shipping and US computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers. You’ll earn 1% cash back on all other eligible spending.

Enjoy a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 15 months. (After that it will be a variable of 14.24% to 21.24% APR.) If cash flow is a problem or you have a big one-time expense, you can spend above your credit limit — and earn rewards while doing it. The amount you can spend above your credit limit will be based on your payment history, credit record, available financial resources and other factors.

Annual fee: None.

General Business Expenses — Ink Business Cash Credit Card

business expenses
(Photo by @jacobandrews64 via Twenty20)

Return: This card offers a broader definition of office expenses that includes both spending on supplies and some utility services. Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year (then 1%). Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year (then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Current bonus: $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months after account opening.

Benefits: While this is a cash-back card, Ink Business Cash rewards become considerably more valuable if you transfer those earnings to another Chase credit account — say the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve — that earns Ultimate Rewards points. Utilizing the transfer option means you could effectively earn a return of 10% percent (based on TPG’s valuations). This card comes with a 0% introductory APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. (After that it will be a variable 15.24% to 21.24% APR.) You’ll also enjoy an extended warranty and purchase protections, a nice feature on a card that comes with no annual fee. Purchase protection covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account, while the warranty protection extends the US manufacturer’s warranty by an extra year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Annual fee: None

Dining in the US — American Express® Business Gold Card

American Express Gold Credit Card

Return: This just-launched card has a unique earnings structure: You’ll earn 4x points on your top two select spending categories each month, from a list of six. One of the options is purchases at US restaurants, so if this is a top spending area for your business, you can get a 7.6% return on these purchases. Other options include airfare purchased directly from airlines, US purchases for advertising in select media and US purchases at gas stations. Your top two select spending categories each month are determined by the amount spent in each on your billing cycle, and you’ll earn 4x points on the first $150,000 in combined purchases across these categories each calendar year.

Current bonus: Up to one free year of G Suite Basic for three users and up to one free year of ZipRecruiter Standard (both in the form of statement credits).

Benefits: A 25% Pay With Points bonus when you use Amex points to pay for business or first-class airfare with any airline or for any class of airfare with your Amex selected qualifying airline. The option to pay over time (carrying a balance with interest) on purchases of $100 or more. Expense management tools like Quickbooks and SpendManager. No foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $295

Dining — Costco Anywhere Visa Business Card by Citi

Image by Thomas B. Shea/AFP / Getty Images
Cosco run. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/AFP / Getty Images)

Return: This card actually offers higher returns on gas purchases (with a ceiling on maximum earnings) than it does on dining, but this is a fine all-around business rewards credit card — if your business spends heavily at Costco. You’ll earn 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (1% thereafter), 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases, 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Current bonus: None

Benefits: Citi recently eliminated foreign transaction fees on the business and personal versions of the Anywhere Visa, meaning you’ll no longer be charged 3% on purchases made abroad or through an international retailer’s website. This change makes the Anywhere Visa Business a more appealing card, particularly if you travel frequently outside the US.

Annual fee: None, but you have to pay your annual Costco membership fee.

Hotels — Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

St. Regis Macau Hotel (Photo Courtesy of Starwood)
St. Regis Macau Hotel. (Photo Courtesy of Starwood Hotels)

Return: Earn 6 points per dollar at Starwood and Marriott properties. Points are worth 0.9 cents each, according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, which means you could get a return of up to 5.4% when you book a hotel.

Current bonus: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 4 points per dollar at US restaurants, US gas stations, US wireless telephone services purchased directly from US providers, and US purchases for shipping. Earn 2 points per dollar everywhere else. This card charges no foreign transaction fees and offers complimentary unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at once, plus complimentary premium in-room internet access. You’ll also get free access to Sheraton Clubs when you book rates that are eligible to earn Starpoints. Additional employee cards are free and earn points at the same rate.

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Airfare — American Express Business Gold Card

Image by Florian Gaertner / Getty Images
(Photo by Florian Gaertner/Getty Images)

Return: This card lets you earn 4x points on your top two select spending categories each month, from a list of six that includes airfare purchased directly from the airlines as well as US restaurants, US purchases for advertising in select media and US purchases made directly from select technology providers. Your top two select spending categories can change on a month-to-month basis, but if your business spends a lot on air travel, this card could be a great pick. You’ll earn 4x on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases from these categories each calendar year (then 1 point per dollar).

Current bonus: Up to one free year of G Suite Basic for three users and up to one free year of ZipRecruiter Standard (both in the form of statement credits).

Benefits: A 25% Pay With Points bonus when you use Amex points to pay for business or first-class airfare with any airline or for any class of airfare with your Amex selected qualifying airline. The option to pay over time (carrying a balance with interest) on purchases of $100 or more. Expense management tools like Quickbooks and SpendManager. No foreign transaction fees.

Annual fee: $295

General Travel — The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

I feel like standing at the luggage carousel is equivalent to playing a slot machine. (Photo by izusek/Getty Images)
(Photo by izusek/Getty Images)

Return: Earn 5 points per dollar on airfare and on prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com, 1.5 points per dollar on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million extra points per year) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Redeem points directly for first or business class, or for any seat on the airline of your choice, and get a 35% points rebate.

Current bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 in the first three months and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 also within the first three months from account opening.

Benefits: Cardholders get access to Centurion and Priority Pass lounges, plus Delta Sky Clubs when you’re flying Delta. You also get a $200 annual airline fee credit and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application rebate. There are no foreign transaction fees. This card comes with access to Platinum Travel Service concierge counselors who can create custom itineraries based on your preferences. You’ll also get 10 Gogo in-flight internet passes annually and unlimited Wi-Fi at Boingo hotspots. Cardholders also receive purchase protection, which covers items up to $10,000 in value if they’re stolen, accidentally damaged, or lost within 90 days of purchase. Like the Business Gold card, Business Platinum is a charge card, but is also eligible for the Pay Over Time program. Reminder: If you don’t pay your card in full each month, interest charges can wipe out the value of the rewards you earn.

Annual fee: $450

Gas — Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card

(Photo by LydiaGoolia/Getty Images)
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Return: Earn 3% cash back on purchases at gas stations and office supply stores (up to $250,000 each calendar year, 1% after that). You can redeem your Business Advantage rewards as a statement credit or check, or have the cash deposited into your Bank of America checking or savings account.

Current bonus: Get a $200 statement credit when you make at least $500 in net purchases within 60 days of your account opening.

Benefits: Earn 2% on purchases at restaurants and 1% on all other purchases.

Annual fee: None

Non-Bonus Spending — The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

Small Business owner
(Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images)

Return: If you want a business rewards credit card but you don’t want to track category spending, this no-fuss, no-muss card could be your answer. Earn 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases for the first $50,000 spent each year; then 1x. That equals a 3.8% return based on TPG’s valuations. You’ll sacrifice some of the huge bonuses other cards offer on specific categories, but if office supply spending isn’t really a concern you’re not missing out on much.

Current bonus: N/A

Benefits: Employee cards are free, and you’ll earn rewards from their business spend.

Annual fee: $0

Featured image by scyther5 / Getty Images

The best beginner points and miles card out there.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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.