The 3 Best Rewards Cards for Dining Out

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Dining is at the core of several banks’ strategies for attracting business from the ‘new affluent’ who value experiences over things and have discretionary income. It’s no coincidence that Chase offered triple points on travel and dining on their Sapphire Reserve product, and why that was successful targeting the customers they were most interested in reaching.

You can earn a better return than that now, though, as other banks have upped the ante in the dining category.

  • American Express® Gold Card earns 4 Membership Rewards points at restaurants worldwide (as well as 4 points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases and 3 points on flights booked directly with airlines or on Transfer the points to:

    • Star Alliance: Aeroplan, ANA, Singapore, Avianca
    • oneworld: AsiaMiles, British Airways, Iberia, Qantas
    • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Alitalia, Air France KLM, Delta
    • Non-alliance: Etihad, Emirates, El Al, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic
    • Hotels: Choice, Hilton, Marriott

Of these I use the American Express® Gold Card, having cancelled my Prestige about two and a half years ago.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Capital One is awful. They shut down your card as soon as you leave the US – even after travel notifications. Which of these includes points on transactions outside of US and doesn’t include foreign transaction fees? I feel should be included or at least documented in the post.

  2. I ignore these three “best cards” and use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for my dining expenses. It works flawlessly, unlike the three “best cards.”

  3. I’m with Charlie. If the AMEX gold didn’t cost $250 with difficult to use credits then maybe I would do that.

    Even if you value an AMEX point at 2 cents, breaking even with the $250 fee would run you about $12,500 in dining (I’m referring to whether to use a CSR with 3X or AMEX Gold at 4X).

    I might get a gold with a good sign up bonus and then cancel after a year but wouldn’t keep it with the nearly useless credits they provide. The airline credits are tough to use and doling out $10 food credits per month at places I seldom go to isn’t much better.

  4. Capital One gives you a better headline rate of 4%…but if you’re using UR points to book travel and have Sapphire Reserve, 3% turns into 4.5% (3*1.5). I’d rather have 3 UR points (or 4.5 cents) than 4 cents.

  5. On my recent trip, saw restaurants inside Japan’s malls and department stores post charges as the building as a whole and not the individual tenant, therefore only earning 1x general shopping on my Amex Gold rather than 4x for restaurants.
    Wondering if this is just Japan, or if it is part of Amex’s terms where restaurants inside other establishments may not count. ie: A Cheesecake factory inside a US mall billed as Cheesecake factory and got 4x + $10 monthly credit, but a Cheese Craft Works restaurant in Japan billed as Diver City Tokyo and only got 1x.

    I’m also assuming with hotel restaurants and airport restaurants the CSR should still give you 3x earnings for ‘travel’ if it bills as the hotel or airport while the Amex Gold will be 1x, no?

  6. 1. AMEX cards can be difficult to use internationally for any type spend. And both overseas (when accepted) & domestically they sometimes don’t merchant code properly for the bonus points.

    2. Cap 1 offers 4x, but if I transfer my Ultimate Rewards from all Chase sources to my Sapphire Reserve card, I effectively earn 4.5x towards travel on their portal.

    3. Citi is inherently the weakest in their point redemptions. I personally have a tricky time spending them towards their less mainstream airfare partners &, of course, their system includes no hotels.

    I own all the cards reviewed & participate to some degree in all the transferable currencies. But like @ Charlie & rich, 3x easy-coded dining earned anywhere in the world with Chase URs is the overall best dining play.

  7. @Gene – I disagree that it’s the best card, it earns the most but it’s high cost and the rest of the product isn’t as good as it used to be. I spend a lot on dining and it’s been over 24 months since I cancelled my Prestige, and I haven’t taken it back. It’s a short post, only 3 cards, snark aside I don’t think the ordering here means what you think it means.

  8. Rich,

    1) I run more than $12,500 in dining a year through my cards
    2) The dining credit is easy to use through normal Grubhub spending
    3) I just got 100% value from the airline credit by getting reward fees/taxes reimbursed
    4) Amex Gold also gives you 4x back on groceries – none of the Chase cards have a grocery bonus category

    The smart move is to use Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel, not dining

  9. For those of us in markets with grubhub (it has 19.9 million active users) the gold card is outstanding with an AF of $130 if you use the monthly bonus. 4 points on dining (along with an extra point I get from an amex offer to use grubhub bringing me to 5 pts per dollar, plus the bonus category for groceries makes this card a no brainer. It is rare I come across places I can’t use my amex although it does happen once in a awhile, but not often enough to be a significant issue. I easily make a profit with this card. I don’t find much use spending on the CSR except travel and now that I have the ink business preferred I don’t even need the CSR for travel.

  10. I agree with Charlie. Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best for me. It’s the best for lots of things, but you rarely mention it, I guess because you don’t get compensation out of it.

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