Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category (2021)

Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category (2021)

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For the average American, the single best way to maximize travel rewards is to make sure you’re applying for the best credit cards, and using the right credit cards for your daily spending.

Having the card that best suits your spending patterns can be the difference between earning a single point per dollar on a purchase, and earning five points per dollar on a purchase.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the introduction of so many great new cards that can really help you maximize every dollar you spend. I remember that back in the day I’d typically only earn around one point per dollar spent, while nowadays I’m averaging multiple points per dollar spent.

The Best Credit Card Bonus Categories

Given how much the credit card landscape has changed, I figured it was worth sharing the cards that I’m currently using for each major spending category, based on my portfolio of cards. This list is different than the credit cards that I spend the most on in absolute terms, since that one is heavily skewed based on my spending patterns.

Here are the cards I use for various categories, ranked from the most points per dollar to the fewest points per dollar:

Airfare Purchases

I use The Platinum Card® from American Express (review) for my airfare purchases, as the card offers 5x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or through Amex Travel, on up to $500,000 of these purchases per calendar year (which is a cap I certainly don’t hit; after that it is 1x). I value those points at 1.7 cents each, for a return of 8.5%. On top of that, the Amex Platinum offers excellent travel protection when putting airfare purchases on the card.

Learn more about the best credit cards for airfare purchases.

I earn 5x points on airfare purchases

Dining Purchases

I use the Citi Prestige Card for my dining purchases, as the card offers 5x ThankYou points per dollar spent on dining purchases globally. I value those points at 1.7 cents each, for a return of 8.5%.

Learn more about the best credit cards for dining purchases.

I earn 5x points on dining purchases

Cellular Phone, Internet, And Cable Purchases

I use the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review) for my cell phone purchases, as the card offers offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points, and has a great cell phone protection plan. Meanwhile I use the no annual fee Ink Business Cash® Credit Card for me internet and cable purchases, as the card offers 5x Ultimate Rewards points.

As you can see, I’m forgoing some points on cell phone purchases by using the Ink Business Preferred, but I find it to be worthwhile for the added protection.

I value the cell phone protection offered by the Ink Preferred

Office Supply Store Purchases

I use the no annual fee Ink Business Cash® Credit Card (review) for office supply purchases, as the card offers 5x points. You can buy a surprising number of things at office supply stores, so I find this to be quite useful.

In conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review), Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review), or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, these points can be turned into Ultimate Rewards points.

Rotating Quarterly Category Purchases

The no annual fee Chase Freedom FlexSM (review) offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, on up to $1,500 of spending per quarter. For example, in the third quarter of 2021 the card is offering 5x points on grocery store and select streaming services purchases. In conjunction with select other cards, these rewards can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.

Food Delivery Purchases

I use Postmates and Uber Eats a lot, so I feel like in my case that’s worth putting in a separate category. What’s interesting is how different credit cards categorize food delivery services, as some view them the same as restaurants, while others don’t.

I use the Citi Prestige Card for food delivery services, as the card offers 5x ThankYou points on these purchases, since Postmates and Uber Eats are treated the same as a restaurant.


I earn 5x points on food delivery purchases

US Supermarket Purchases

I use the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express (review) for US supermarket purchases, as the card offers up to 4.5x Membership Rewards points on purchases at US supermarkets.

Specifically, you earn 3x Membership Rewards points on the first $6,000 spent every calendar year at US grocery stores (1x after that), and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.

Learn more about the best credit cards for supermarket purchases.

I earn 4.5x points on grocery store purchases

Other Travel Purchases

I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve® for most non-airfare travel purchases, as the card offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel coded purchases (this even includes things like Ubers, taxis, parking, etc.).

There are only two exceptions to this:

I earn 3x points on most travel purchases

US Gas Station Purchases

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card offers up to 3x Membership Rewards points on US gas station purchases. Specifically, you earn 2x Membership Rewards points at US gas stations, and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.

So this is the card I use for gas station purchases when I’m renting a car.

Learn more about the best credit cards for gas station purchases.

I earn 3x points on gas station purchases

US Drugstore Purchases

I use the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review) for US drugstore purchases, as the card offers 3x points on those purchases. In conjunction with select other cards, these rewards can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.

Everyday, Non-Bonused Personal Spending

For personal spending, my go to card is the no annual fee Citi® Double Cash Card (review). The card offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and 1% cash back when you pay for that purchase.

What makes this card so great is that in conjunction with a card earning ThankYou points, the cash back rewards can be converted into ThankYou points at a ratio of one cent per ThankYou point. So I basically earn two ThankYou points per dollar spent, which is amazing. This is an incredible amount of flexibility to have, especially in these unprecedented times.

Learn more about the best credit cards for everyday spending.

Everyday, Non-Bonused Business Spending

For business spending, my go to card is the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (review), which offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year (1x after that).

Beyond that I use the no annual fee Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card (review), which offers unlimited 1.5x points that can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.

Bottom Line

When all is said and done, I earn an average of over 3x points per dollar spent, which I’d say is a solid return. While I’m not suggesting that everyone have as many credit cards as I do, I do think there’s a lot of value in strategically getting a few cards that have big bonus categories for the things you spend most on.

How does this compare to the cards you use to maximize your spending?

Conversations (22)
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  1. Gary Perkins

    Ben

    Great article, thanks for sharing. How do you manage the 30 required transactions each month on the Amex Everyday Preferred? We personally found this to be distracting and difficult to manage and instead moved supermarket spend to the 2x Amex Blue Business Plus card. With all your other spend divided up to these other cards, how are you managing the minimum 30 transactions?

    Gary P

  2. Ren

    First time posting. I am still learning and accumulating points but one area I am especially interested in is trying to maximize using the right card to spend for each category. It is sort of like a puzzle! Here is my list of spending categories sorted from highest earn based on OMAAT calculations. I don't have a side hustle, so don't feel comfortable using business cards just yet. I also tacked on an extra 10%...

    First time posting. I am still learning and accumulating points but one area I am especially interested in is trying to maximize using the right card to spend for each category. It is sort of like a puzzle! Here is my list of spending categories sorted from highest earn based on OMAAT calculations. I don't have a side hustle, so don't feel comfortable using business cards just yet. I also tacked on an extra 10% bonus for having the Citi Rewards + but understand that is limited to the first 100,000 redemption.

    Dining - Citi Custom Cash for first $500 monthly (5x x 1.7 (with Citi Premier) x. 1.1 (Citi Rewards with 10% rebate) = 9.35%); Amex Gold for excess spending (6.8%)
    Groceries - Citi Custom Cash 2 (spouse card) for first $500 monthly (9.35%); Amex Gold for excess spending (6.8%)
    Airlines - Amex Platinum (8.5%)
    Amex Travel Prepaid Hotels - Amex Platinum (8.5%)
    Rotating Categories - Freedom Flex (8.5%)
    Chase Travel - Freedom Flex (8.5%)

    Drugstores - Freedom Flex (5.1%)

    General Travel and Transit - Amex Green (5.1%)

    Gasoline - Citi Premier (5.1%)

    Target - Target (5%)

    General Spending - Citi Double Cash (3.74%)

    Purchases less than $3 -Citi Rewards+ (rounds up to 10 points)

    Rental Cars - Chase Sapphire Preferred (3.4% and primary coverage)

    IHG Hotels - IHG Premier (5% and to keep active spend on card, then Amex Green)

    Interested to hear feedback or others' plans.

  3. iamhere

    It would be better if you were not so biased in this article. Clearly Citi is paying you for promoting their products. In fact, I get better value from the Chase cards and supplementing it with two other cards that you rarely or close to never mention than you do with Citi.

  4. John Richard Stewart

    Nobody mentioned DiscoverIt at 10% for restaurants and PayPal 3Qt. 5x + 5x the first year then get a new card next year to renew the 5x+5x.

    Also, the Savor card generates 4% on entertainment (use the DiscoverIt 10% for restaurants). We spend over $50k on Utah Jazz tickets each year.

    The amount of gas we use is minimal. We have a Chey Volt plug in hybred and solar panels, but when we need to...

    Nobody mentioned DiscoverIt at 10% for restaurants and PayPal 3Qt. 5x + 5x the first year then get a new card next year to renew the 5x+5x.

    Also, the Savor card generates 4% on entertainment (use the DiscoverIt 10% for restaurants). We spend over $50k on Utah Jazz tickets each year.

    The amount of gas we use is minimal. We have a Chey Volt plug in hybred and solar panels, but when we need to fill up our 8 gal tank every 2-3 months, we use the USAA gas card for 5%

    For my unbonused spending I use my Chase United Business because I'm working on 150k UA miles for $20k in 6mo or Wyndham Business $2k in 6mo for 90k. We're doing major remodeling and I'm going to get a new plug-in electric hybrid and force the dealer to take the card ;-)

    I like the business cards because they don't count toward my 5/24 and my wife can do the promotion separately for a double-dip.

    I just product changed my CSP to the Unlimited, so thanks for the drug store 3x tip. I don't use it for unbonused spending. I use that for sign up bonuses.

    My wife and I have all the cards marked with the proper use, which I change each quarter.

    I've got 6 million miles and use those for airfare, but the taxes usually get the most bang for the buck by using that airline's card.

    1. eponymous coward

      I bet Discover It’s don’t generate referral bonuses. ;)

      It’s a solid card, I mentioned it up there … but a points and miles blogger who pumps aspirational travel is unsurprisingly not playing for Team Cashback.

    2. Andrew

      Haha. Probably true.

      Although they run on the MasterCard network, I see fewer logos for discover at merchants. I feel like I see JTB more often, and even that’s rare.

    3. Eskimo

      I'm not going to say Discover or cash back cards are bad. They are not for people who can maximize the points program. I you know what you are doing, points can stretch further than outright cash back, but in some cases cash back is fine.

      Discover card specifically, is solid because it's simple for the average user. What you didn't mention is the quarterly 5% is capped at $1500 spend or just maximum $600...

      I'm not going to say Discover or cash back cards are bad. They are not for people who can maximize the points program. I you know what you are doing, points can stretch further than outright cash back, but in some cases cash back is fine.

      Discover card specifically, is solid because it's simple for the average user. What you didn't mention is the quarterly 5% is capped at $1500 spend or just maximum $600 cash back with the first year bonus. To get that every year, you lose out on signing bonus that other banks provide. If I have to pick 5 cards for bonus, Discovery isn't on the list.

      Savor with the annual fee, you need to spend $9500 just to break even. Most people don't spend that much on entertainment. But yes, if you are season ticket holders the 4% Savor is worth it.

      There are many cards that isn't heavily promoted but yields good value to certain users.
      Amazon prime card, BofA + Preferred rewards (if you qualify), US Bank, PenFed etc.
      The common theme is none gives you good bonus.
      Even cards with good bonus like Choice or Wyndham isn't talked about either.

    4. Joe1293

      Where are you seats courtside?
      50k per year?

    5. Joe

      Also 6 million miles
      50k per year on seats
      Where are those court side?

  5. Emery Mammothlover

    Would be awesome if there were some ranked options for each category since we all don’t have every card mentioned

  6. Gary

    I travel ovetseas a lot so US gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants aren' the most important categories. What cards have the best cash rewards for overseas purchased and no foreign transaction fees??

    1. Mark

      Gary: how about Capital One’s Venture Rewards card? 2% back that you can apply to all kinds of travel purchases, and no foreign exchange fees. It’s $95 per year but they’ll pay for your Global Entry application.

  7. khatl

    I could calculate this... but what's your total annual fees from doing this spread of cards?

    1. Andrew

      Don’t matter since readers are paying the bills. Business expense, so tax deductible to boot.

  8. eponymous coward

    Airfare: Mostly AMEX Schwab Platinum but sometimes Hilton Aspire to maximize the $250 misc credit. If I dump the Platinum after year 1 (it is the card that makes the least sense in my lineup) it will be an AMEX Green.
    Dining: AMEX Schwab Platinum for now (10x for 6 months), AMEX Gold usually, Hilton Aspire and Bonvoy Brilliant for $20: month credit.
    Groceries; AMEX Gold or (sometimes) Amazon Store Card by Synchrony...

    Airfare: Mostly AMEX Schwab Platinum but sometimes Hilton Aspire to maximize the $250 misc credit. If I dump the Platinum after year 1 (it is the card that makes the least sense in my lineup) it will be an AMEX Green.
    Dining: AMEX Schwab Platinum for now (10x for 6 months), AMEX Gold usually, Hilton Aspire and Bonvoy Brilliant for $20: month credit.
    Groceries; AMEX Gold or (sometimes) Amazon Store Card by Synchrony at Amazon Go Grocery for 5% cashback (it doesn’t code as grocery, so AMEX Gold is no good here.)
    Travel: AMEX Green (catch-all) + Hilton Aspire (Hilton) + Bonvoy Brilliant (Marriott, I also have an offer making it a 7x card for Marriott)
    Gas: right now it’s a bunch of AMEX offers giving me extra points, by default it’s a 2% cashback card or a Discover It card (5% one quarter a year)
    Rent: PayPal Key hooked up to various cards (Discover It,, Hotels.com, 2% cashback). Sucks that AMEX isn’t an option though.
    Bills/unbonused spend: whatever signup bonus I am shooting for. Right now it’s mostly the Schwab Platinum but the Bonvoy Brilliant gets some love because I have a 1x point offer for $7500 in spend which makes it marginally better than a 2% card, like the Hotels.com card. I currently pay a kid’s college tuition with credit card + taxes, so that helps a bit.

    Saving up points and nights for a 6 week trip to Europe in Summer 2022 where I will be bringing family over for part of it, so it’s a lot of points…

    In a world where I wanted to streamline my cards, strip a bunch of annual fees, it would probably end up something like: Chase Sapphire Reserve (travel), Citi Premier, (dining/groceries), Citi DC (unbonused spend) Hilton Aspire (Hilton) Amex Bonvoy $95 (Bonvoy) Amex Everyday (keep alive MR and toss some points that way, fish for upgrade offers).

  9. Anthony

    1) Airfare - Amex Platinum or Delta Reserve
    2) Dining - Chase Freedom Unlimited or Citi Premier
    3) Grocery - Citi Premier (unless there is a rotating bonus)
    4) Uber - Apple Card
    5) Lyft - Freedom Flex
    6) Marriott - Amex Bonvoy Brilliant
    7) Hyatt - World of Hyatt
    8) Other transit (taxi, train, etc) and travel - World of Hyatt or Chase Sapphire Preferred
    9)...

    1) Airfare - Amex Platinum or Delta Reserve
    2) Dining - Chase Freedom Unlimited or Citi Premier
    3) Grocery - Citi Premier (unless there is a rotating bonus)
    4) Uber - Apple Card
    5) Lyft - Freedom Flex
    6) Marriott - Amex Bonvoy Brilliant
    7) Hyatt - World of Hyatt
    8) Other transit (taxi, train, etc) and travel - World of Hyatt or Chase Sapphire Preferred
    9) Cell Phone - Amex Platinum
    10) Unbonused spend - Delta Reserve, Citi Double Cash or Freedom Unlimited
    11) Drugstore - Freedom Unlimited or Apple Card
    12) Large purchases - Amex Platinum

    1. Eskimo

      While each individual would have his/her/they own preferences. How can you have 2 cards in so many categories. Doesn't best means best?
      For example, why would you use Apple card over CFU in any circumstances for drugstores.
      Why WoH or CSP for other transit? Either WoH because you want to meet the 5k spend, or CSP if you don't care. Since CSP can transfer to WoH at the same rate.
      Large purchases?...

      While each individual would have his/her/they own preferences. How can you have 2 cards in so many categories. Doesn't best means best?
      For example, why would you use Apple card over CFU in any circumstances for drugstores.
      Why WoH or CSP for other transit? Either WoH because you want to meet the 5k spend, or CSP if you don't care. Since CSP can transfer to WoH at the same rate.
      Large purchases? Why this card? Confused with the Business card?

      FYI: Use CSP for Lyft until deal ends. And I would consider Amex Gold over Platinum and upgrading the Premier to Prestige (when possible). Unless you really abuse gas stations.

    2. Anthony

      1) I almost always use CFU for drugstores, Apple Card usage is rare
      2) I will use CSP when I want to bulk up on UR for non Hyatt purchases
      3) I use Amex Platinum for large purchases that I want extended warranty or purchase protection for

      I had Amex Gold and will likely get another one soon. Best way to earn UR. Not really interested in another super high fee card, so no Prestige (unless its successor is worth it)

  10. Bill n DC

    Nice helpful article as I try to maximize earning with the cards I have - at some point I will be under 5/24, (rolled eyes)

    Asiam (sp?). I put almost 30 different monthly donations to candidates thru ActBlue or charity groups. Average only $10-$15 each, but gets the bonus for 30 transactions.

    Then I easily charge bonus categories to appropriate cards. FYI I dropped the high end cards due to less traveling, but...

    Nice helpful article as I try to maximize earning with the cards I have - at some point I will be under 5/24, (rolled eyes)

    Asiam (sp?). I put almost 30 different monthly donations to candidates thru ActBlue or charity groups. Average only $10-$15 each, but gets the bonus for 30 transactions.

    Then I easily charge bonus categories to appropriate cards. FYI I dropped the high end cards due to less traveling, but will upgrade to Hilton Aspire when extended status ends.

    And I seem to be earning enough miles. No more international travel this year (but 4 domestic including AA Plat Dollar run), but 2 RTW trips set for next May and July (plus mega $$ Upper Mississippi River cruise in September 2022.

    For 2023, my really big trip assuming access to Australia. DCA JFK HND SYD/Perth JNB EZE SCL SYD HND IAD ;-) 58,000 travel miles

  11. Raksiam

    How do you make enough charges to get the Amex bonus if you're using so many other cards for most of your purchases?

    1. Eskimo

      You mean the monthly 30 charges?

      Go to supermarket everyday.
      Or
      Split what ever charges you will have into smaller charges.

    2. iamhere

      Haha. That's the question that we can never answer...

Featured Comments Load all 22 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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eponymous coward

I bet Discover It’s don’t generate referral bonuses. ;) It’s a solid card, I mentioned it up there … but a points and miles blogger who pumps aspirational travel is unsurprisingly not playing for Team Cashback.

iamhere

It would be better if you were not so biased in this article. Clearly Citi is paying you for promoting their products. In fact, I get better value from the Chase cards and supplementing it with two other cards that you rarely or close to never mention than you do with Citi.

Joe

Also 6 million miles 50k per year on seats Where are those court side?

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