The Best Rewards Credit Cards for Each Spending Category

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One of the easiest ways of increasing your monthly haul of points and miles is picking the right credit card for each purchase. Not only will you earn more points in the short-term, knowing which rewards card nets the best returns in each spending category can direct your long-term card application strategy, allowing you to fill your wallet with top-earning cards and maximize the rewards earned on every purchase.

The Best Rewards Credit Card Bonus Spending Category

That said, the key takeaway with any best-of list of rewards cards is the best card to swipe for any given purchase is subjective and determined by your travel goals and the cards you keep in your wallet.

The Top-Earning Credit Cards for Each Bonus Category

We’ve included a summary of our top picks for each bonus category, with links to deep-dive posts that cover the topic in full.

  • Best Rewards Cards for Travel Purchases – While Chase and Citi sit reasonably even in the travel category, we give the Chase Sapphire Reserve® an edge in this category as we place a higher value on Ultimate Rewards points than ThankYou Rewards, and Chase includes the broadest definition of which purchases code as travel.
  • Best Credit Cards for Gas & Fuel – Find yourself paying a premium for fuel at the pump? Make sure you’re getting the best return on Gas with the Citi Premier Card which earns a solid 3 points per $1 spent on travel including gas stations for every dollar spent. Alternatively, the Amex EveryDay Preferred earns 2x MR points on fuel, but if you make 30 transactions on the card each month, you’ll get 50% bonus points.
  • Best Credit Cards for Everyday Purchases – Making gravy on bonus categories is all very well and good, but if you’re earning just 1 point per dollar or 1% on non-bonus spend, you’re missing out on pockets full of points! A 2% cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card should be the benchmark for everyday spend.

Unsure how many points or miles your card earns for each purchase? Be sure to check our handy guide covering credit card earning rates.

Final Thoughts

Extract the maximum return (points, cash or miles) from every purchase, and you’ll quickly build a substantial balance of travel rewards to splurge on your next award booking. When you’re not working on a welcome bonus or spending threshold bonus, you should have a shortlist of cards you use for each bonus category, to ensure you get the maximum return from every dollar you spend.

The Best Rewards Credit Cards for Each Spending Category
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Comments

  • Thank you for the explanations and strategy options.

  • Matthew Ward says:

    The link to the Amex everyday card says that the card is no longer available. Is that right?

  • Matthew Ward says:

    Ah – OK – thanks Howie!

  • Bruce Klein says:

    Wondering are the Ink Business cards subject to the 4/24 month rule?

  • Thank you for this write up. I tend to forget all these cards bonus categories even though I have a note in my wallet of each card’s categories.

  • Darshak Thakore says:

    I would think that the Chase Freedom Unlimited and/or the United MileagePlus Club card should also be in the “Best for Everyday Spend” category since they both earn 1.5 point per dollar (and that can be valued at above 2 % depending on how you value UR and/or MileagePlus miles.

  • Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay says:

    Here’s my list of cards in categories where I differ. They result mostly because I like the certainty of actual cash-back percentages rather than “so-and-so points are valued at x cents”. Give me cash, any day, and preferably without annual fees.

    1. Air travel: Penfed Amex Travel (now unfortunately no longer offered, being subsumed by the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards) – 5 points for air travel, with each point valued at 0.85 cents (I don’t go for the extra valuation by buying airline tickets, I just get the Amazon gift cards of different denominations, which is cash enough for me). Effective cashback: 4.25%

    2. Travel (other than airfare): the above PenFed Pathfinder Rewards, 4 points. Effective cashback: 3.4%

    3. Dining: Uber card, 4%

    4. Gas: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa, 5 points, effective 4.25%. Its effective 2.55% on groceries is OK, but not category-beating. I would rather go with…

    5. All else: Alliant Credit Union Signature Visa, 3% first year with no annual fee, 2.5% thereafter with $59 fee. The only card with a fee that I can condone.

    (All the above have no international transaction fees).

    6. Revolving 5% with Discover and Chase Freedom.

    • ^^^ AWESOME STRATEGY. The thoughtfulness and approach you put in to maximize your cash back is fantastic. The best part is that it works for you. Cash is king — keep building those bank account balances 🙂

  • Michael Bodaken says:

    City National Bank Crystal Visa provides 3 points per $1 for groceries, restaurants and travel. Also gives priority pass for holder plus others. When redeeming, 1.2 analog for flights.

  • What about online website spending like GoDaddy? Does that count as the advertising category?

  • I prefer the Ink Business Cash for the 2x back on gas station and fuel purchases.

  • I use the Sam’s Club Master Card for Gas. It pays 5% cash back on Gas purchases from any gas retailer, not just Sam’s Club (although not at other warehouse clubs like Costco). It also pays 3% cash back on dining and travel. The down side is that the rewards are only paid out once a year and you can only cash the check at Sam’s club (You can use the check for merchandise or go the service desk and get cash).

  • I still use my old AMEX Blue card and get 5% on gas and groceries. That card, however, is no longer offered by AMEX.
    My next standby is my Citi Costco which gets me 3% at restaurants and 2% at Costco. All cash back… no points.

  • Bank of America Cash Rewards card pays 3.5% on groceries and 5.25% on gas if you qualify for Platinum Honors. Penfed’s Platinum Rewards Visa Signature provides 5 points per dollar for gas purchases. While the redemption value has been devalued from the previous 5000 points=a $50 gift card, it is still the highest reward value I know without the BOA Platinum Honors, having a Sams Club membership, or some other special requirement or rotating catagory.

  • You should add credit card balance tracking to the app 😀

  • Bank of America Premium Rewards gives 2 points on travel and dining and 1.5 points on all other purchases.
    Best of all, BOA Platinum Rewards customers get 75% more points, which works out to 3.5x on travel and dining,
    and 2.625x on all other purchases. You also get $100 yearly travel credit for airline incidental fees, and a $100 Global
    Entry or TSA Pre-check credit every 4 years.

  • I’ve got to look into the everyday amex card. it just might help me on a trip. They do have some nice transfer partners.

  • Is it true I cannot get bonus points for Chase Sapphire Reserve if I already have another chase Sapphire Preferred? In which case, which premium card would be best for me? I heard maybe American Express.

  • Since I prefer travel points to cash back, I like the 6x that the Hilton Aspire Card for grocery spend, and the CSR for its 3x travel and dining, although the Hilton Aspire card does come out sometimes to pay for meals and travel arrangements with its 7x earning in those categories.

  • Anyone knows if it is possible to get the american airlines credit card (and earn miles) with an italian bank? thanks

  • Oops, should have said Hilton *Ascend* for 6x on groceries… And for everyday spend, my go-to’s are the Freedom Unlimted along
    with the Hitlon Ascend (up to $15k, which earns a free weekend night cert).

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