Updated Best Rewards Card for Each Category of Spending

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If you want to earn the most points for your spending — beyond just earning a big signup bonus — you need to pay attention to what you spend the most money on and which cards give you the best juice for that specific spending.

If you drive a ton you want a card that maximizes gas spend. If you eat out a lot, there are cards that bonus restaurant spend. Since I travel a lot it’s air, hotel, and dining. Some cards are great for multiple categories.

I’ve been a big fan and user of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for many years which gives you double points for both travel and dining. It’s the best all-around card for people getting started seriously collecting miles and points. Sapphire Reserve can be tough to get approved for so getting Chase Sapphire Preferred, waiting a year, and then product changing may be the best strategy to get it.

I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best card for several spend:

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. For general spending I am not sure the Citi Double Card is best. I rather put spending on the Chase Freedom Unlimited that gives me 1.5 points on all spending and then transfer them to the CSR.
    Another option is to put all spending that can be done via Apple Pay on the Altitude US Bank card and get 3 points for everything. Does anybody agree?

  2. Oh no, another article touting using credit cards for gas. If you are not getting a minimum of 10% back in cash from buying discounted gift cards with a cash back CC, you have failed.

  3. @Sam, problem is that it’s hard to use an AMEX card everywhere. I just spent a month away mostly in northern Spain. I spent a lot on meals and drinks (over $2000 in 48 transactions) and NOT ONE restaurant or cafe I went to would accept AMEX, so I used a Chase Sapphire Reserve card for 3 points per $1 which I consider slightly better than 4x MR points.

    Only negative was that a number of restaurants coded as something else and earned only 1 point per $1 spent.

    Not to mention that earlier I was in Australia and the Hilton Hotel in Melbourne would not accept my Hilton Aspire card! Pathetic.

  4. @Frank I know what you mean. Every now and then that find Amex accepted places abroad, but not often. Last time I was in Europe though, my Chase Sapphire Reserve wouldn’t work at any restaurant. They kept telling me I needed to use a different card after several unsuccessful attempts at each place. I replaced the card when I got home just in case it was due to damage, but still… It sucked that I couldn’t get any bonused spend for dining anywhere.

  5. Shipping – 4x Amex Business Gold (if one of highest 2 spending categories monthly)
    Social and search advertising – 4x Amex Business Gold (if one of highest 2 spending categories monthly)
    Groceries – 4.5x Amex EveryDay Preferred (if 30+ total transactions per month)
    Gas – 3x Amex EveryDay Preferred (if 30+ total transactions per month)
    – 4x Amex Business Gold (if one of highest 2 spending categories monthly)
    Hotels – 10x Capital One Venture Card on Hotels.com (promo thru 1/20, hopefully will be extended; stacks with Hotels.com stay 10 nights get 1 night free)

  6. If I were to get all the cards listed in this post, I would be a mile wide and an inch deep with points sprinkled across MR, UR, TYP, Hyatt, and PenFed. It would take me years to have enough points for a redemption in any of those ecosystems. Better to pick one points currency and put together a combination of cards that all earn in that currency. That’s what I call optimization.

    By the way, the PenFed 5x on gas only equals 4% on gas because the points are worth less than one cent each.

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