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

Filed Under: American Express, Chase
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For the average American, the single best way to maximize travel rewards (whether you’re looking to travel now or in the future) 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.

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 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare purchased directly with airlines. 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 (review) 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, internet, and cable purchases, as the card offers offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points, and has a great cell phone protection plan.

I used to use the no annual fee Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, which offers 5x points but doesn’t offer any sort of cell phone protection.

This is a category where I’m not maximizing the points earned, as I find it to be worthwhile to forgo some points for cell phone 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 first quarter of 2021 the card is offering 5x points quarter the card is offering 5x points with wholesale clubs, internet, cable, and phone services, and select streaming services.

In conjunction with select other cards, these rewards can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.

Food Delivery Purchases

I use Postmates 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 is 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 annually at US grocery stores, 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

This is only a very small category for me, since I don’t have a gas car, but the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express 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.

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?

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Comments
  1. This is how i am using my credit card portfolio in the year of 2020 🙂

    Airfare Purchases:
    – Amex Platinum on general airfare purchases (or Amex IAP) or fees for 5x Membership Rewards Points per dollar spent plus Travel Protection
    – Ritz Carlton on 2-5 people roundtrip ($ 100 Visa Infinite Air Discount) for 3x Marriott Rewards Points per dollar spent plus Travel Protection
    Dining Purchases:
    – Citi Sears for 21x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent (Yes, I got targeted again for Q1 🙂 )
    – VantageWest Connect for 5% cashback as backup option
    Cellular Phone, Internet, Streaming, And Cable Purchases:
    – Chase Ink Cash for 5x Ultimate Rewards Points per dollar spent (My phone is like $ 150, though I have Chase Ink Preferred, but $ 100 deductable make cellphone protection meaningless)
    Office Supply Store Purchases:
    – Chase Ink Cash for 5x Ultimate Rewards Points per dollar spent
    Rotating Quarterly Category Purchases
    – Chase Freedom for 2x Ultimate Rewards Points per dollar spent (Chase Freedom is where I am putting on my gas purchases in Q1)
    US Supermarket Purchases:
    – Citi Sears for 21x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent (Yes, I got targeted again for Q1 🙂 )
    – US Bank Altitude Reserve for 3x Altitude Reserve Points per dollar spent through Apple Pay as backup option
    – Citi Rewards+ for 2x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent (plus roundup to nearest 10) as another backup option if Apple Pay is not supported
    Food Delivery Purchases:
    – US Bank Altitude Reserve for 3x Altitude Reserve Points through Apple Pay on Uber Eats (Honestly, I only use it to pay excessive amount of monthly credits from Amex Platinum. The good news is that it also triggers both Real-Time Redemption and annual travel credits, win, win situation!)
    Other Travel Purchases:
    – Ritz Carlton Visa for 3x Mariott Rewards Points per dollar spent for car rental and primary car rental insurance
    – US Bank Altitude Reseve for 3x Altitude Reseve Points per dollar spent just to use up $ 325 travel credits if any
    – Amex Hilton Aspire for 14x Hilton HHonor Points per dollar spent for Hilton Properties
    – Amex Marriott Brilliant for 6x Marriott Rewards Points per dollar spent for Marriott Properties
    – Chase IHG Premier for 10x IHG Rewards Points per dollar spent for IHG Properties
    – Citi Premier for 3x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent for other personal travel
    – Chase Ink Preferred for 3x Ultimate Rewards Points per dollar spent for other business travel
    US Gas Station Purchases:
    – Citi Sears for 21x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent (Yes, I got targeted again for Q1 🙂 )
    – Citi Premier for 3x ThankYou Rewards Points per dollar spent for gas spent
    Home Utility (Electricity, Water):
    – US Bank Cash+ for 5% cashback
    Everyday, Non-Bonused Spending:
    – Citi Rewards+ for 10x ThankYou points when bill amount is smaller than $4
    – US Bank Altitude Reserve for 3x Altitude Reserve points per dollar spent when apple pay is accepted
    – Credit Card that has an active retention offer/targeted offer
    – Citi Double Cash for 2x ThankYou Rewards points per dollar spent

  2. Few other scenarios I want to mention
    Online Purchases: (This is where I actually wish I could have got Citi AT&T Access more)
    – Rakuten Visa for 3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent when I can go through Rakuten online portal
    – Chase Amazon for 5% cashback
    – US Bank Altitude Reserve for 3x Altitude Reserve points per dollar spent when apple pay is accepted
    – Bank of America Cash Rewards for 3% Cashback (but actually 3.3% as you get 10% bonus redeem toward BoA account)

    Gym
    – US Bank Cash+ for 5% cashback

    Everyday, Non-Bonused Spending in Foreign country:
    – Paypal Extra for 2% cashback

  3. Lucky, what card do you use for non-bonus categories outside of the US? The Double Cash, Freedom Unlimited, Ink Unlimited, and Blue Business Plus all have foreign transaction fees that significantly diminish their value outside the US. I assume this probably isn’t a very high spending category for you or most other people but I’m still curious to see what you would recommend.

  4. For non-US non-bonus spend (something I have a lot of), I first try and use US Bank Altitude+ with Samsung Pay (4.5% cash back on travel) and if that isn’t possible, I use CapitalOne Spark Business Cash for 2% cash back with no foreign transaction fee.

  5. @Robert L

    I think Capital One Venture/Spark Miles for 1.5x unlimited transferable miles is a good deal if you make big enough purchases to make up those $ 95 annual fee.

    Other than that, Chase United Club earns unlimited 1.5 United Miles and Synchrony Cathay Pacific card earns unlimited 1.5 Asia Miles on Foreign purchases are good too if you can make up the annual fee and utilize those specific miles.

    Similar, Bank of America is another good option. Air France card gives you 1.5 Flying Blue miles and Virgin Atlantic card gives you 1.5 Virgin miles and you can boost it up to 2.1 Virgin miles if your spent hit $25,000 in a year. Amtrak card only gives 1 Amtrak point, but it worth close to 3 cpp is another option if you are a frequent Amtrak traveler.

    Also if you have huge money deposits within Bank of America, BOA Premium Rewards and Travel Rewards can give you up to 2.625% cashback (Platinum Honor Tier) without FTF.

  6. Chase World of Hyatt is also another option when you try to hit a sweet spot of $ 15,000 spent or elite through spent chaser. You are getting almost essentially 2 Hyatt points per dollar spent plus couples of elite night.

  7. Everyone else mentioned it, but you really should get the US Bank card for Apple Pay purchases where there is not a bonus otherwise.

  8. Re: Weymar M Osborne

    This has long been a question for me too, and has always been left off these posts.

    In another post today he talked about the sweet spot of spending $15K on the World of Hyatt card per year. That is usually my card for non-US non-bonus spend. Another option is meeting minimum spend requirements for sign-up bonuses (provided the card has no foreign transaction fees)–since I just signed up for the United Explorer card, that will be my go to for my next few trips.

  9. Capital One Venture is my go to for non-bonused international spend – 2% cash back or 1.5x miles per dollar, a Visa (widely accepted), etc.

  10. @Anthony

    It depends on how much you spent on Capital One Venture card.

    Let’s make few assumptions here:

    1. You don’t use Capital One Venture on Hotels.com and you don’t utilize Global Entry Credits (Because a lot of premium credit cards already have it) and excluding signup bonus factor.

    2. You don’t use this card domestically at all (giving you can get 2 miles anywhere domestically so that you won’t even use this card)

    3. You have a 2% cashback internationally without FTF everywhere (Like Paypal Extra or PenFed Power Cash Rewards Card as a PenFed Honors Advantage Member)

    Assuming we value miles at 1.5 cpp, you need to spend $95/(0.0225-0.02) = $38,000 to make up annual fee.

  11. Don’t get me wrong though, Capital One Venture card and Spark business card are both great cards for keeping just first year for sign up bonus!

    I personally have Capital One Venture One card downgraded from Venture card purely for 1 or 2 Hotels.com purchases this year when gift card is not handy to me. And transfer the remaining miles out over time.

  12. @Lucky, do you really hit the 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle? Are all of those transactions on Gas (unlikely based on your previous statements) and Supermarkets? That must mean you’re using the card on other (probably non-bonused) spend.

  13. Re: Weymar M Osborne

    The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa earns 2% on all purchases, and it has no foreign transaction fees.

  14. Bill,

    I don’t think I make the annual fee back every year, and that is OK

    1) $95 isn’t that high of a fee, and the card is one of my larger credit limits
    2) I do use the card for occasional domestic non bonus spending
    3) I use the card for things like Amtrak where it makes sense to use the travel eraser
    4) I have been consistently transferring miles to Air France during transfer bonuses
    5) I like to have a relationship with a diversity of banks
    6) I plan to use the Global Entry credit this year for family

    I don’t have a Citi Double Cash, which could change some of the math here, but Venture is a decent card to have as part of a portfolio. My main spending is on Amex (Gold, Platinum) and Citi (Premier). CSR has fallen a bit and may get downgraded (again, I would pay $95 to keep a CSP regardless of how much I spend on it)

  15. this is out of control just paying annual fees alone. If you are not taking 20+ trips a year you can’t possibly break even with the AFs.

  16. I just switched my cell phone bill from Ink Cash to Prestige for the insurance benefit. I have the CIBP also but I have 4 additional accounts on my bill that can’t reasonably be considered business accounts. Missing out on 5x hurts though.

  17. Citi Prestige covers all of the top spending categories with 3x to 5x, including multi point accrual for hotel stays, and spending with the Citi Thank You points is very flexible and card benefits include additional perks like annual $250 credit towards all travel spending and fourth night free every time you book through their travel agency three nights paid. It’s certainly better than the American Express Gold card, and if you can’t remember which card to use, I just pull the Citi card out. I’d rather have one car that covers 80% of major spend categories with multi points, than having too many cards in my wallet and not remembering which one does what

  18. If I’m a Citi Gold member qualifies for $ 350 annual fee, I think it may be worth it for me. But with $ 495 annual fee, $ 245 for just 5x on dining purchase? No thank you! Prestige’s travel category is narrow as hell. I can’t even think of a scenario I will stay in one hotel for 4 nights.

  19. @Anthony

    Yeah, in your case since you don’t have cards like Citi Double Cash yet, Capital One Venture sounds like a good card for you to keep in this case. However, I want to remind you that I believe global entry credits is every 4 years for Capital One Venture card. So if you used the credit recently, you won’t get reimburse for it. Just a head up 🙂

  20. I find Citi points less desirable than chase or Amex.

    Amex Gold gives 4x on restaurants and supermarkets and you don’t need 30 transactions. Lucky, do you have 30 everyday transactions every month without having to try hard?

  21. Lucky,

    Please do a post on international everyday, non-bonus spend! As you can see by the posts here and elsewhere, we’re dying to know which cards to use that don’t have foreign transaction fees.

  22. I should clarify by saying the BEST cards for international non-bonus spend. Which cards can we use internationally that will give us more than 1-2 points outside of travel and dining options? For instance, which is the best card for buying groceries in a side shop in Madrid or misc items in a local “Rite-Aid” in Prague?

  23. @Kevin If you’re willing to put some effort in, it’s easier to justify the AF’s than most think. I’ve booked trips where I received over 2-2.5k in card benefits (travel credits, free nights, etc.) alone, before even accounting for the value of redeemed points. My travel right now is 100% leisure for a family of 4, taking 5-6 annual trips in non-covid times and my cards pay for themselves, despite paying more than $2,000 in AF’s.

  24. @lucky I think it would be interesting to see a series of posts on maximizing returns across different ranges of annual fees. For example, for a budget of $250-300 per year, is the best combo CSP+CFU+CF+WOH+Explorer (or Rapid Rewards)? That seems like a nice package of benefits and earning potential for $285, not to mention a couple hundred thousand miles in sign up bonuses. You could then look at other target annual fee ranges of $500, 1k, 2k+, etc.

    During slow travel times, it may provide some new material and engage newer readers who struggle with where to start the points and miles journey.

  25. I do use a lot of gas but would rather get 1X AMEX point than 2X AA miles or 2X Wyndham points.

    Does anyone agree that they would rather earn 1 Amex point versus 2X AA miles ?

  26. @D3kingg I would take 2x AA, but that’s in part due to my earning patterns. Between Rakuten, my Gold and Plat, I have a surplus of MR and they continue to add up quickly. The AA miles would hold a higher valuation anywhere you look and since they’re not associated with a major transferable currency, I would stock up where I could. If I earned a lot of AA miles through work travel, I might have a different answer.

  27. For instance, which is the best card for buying groceries in a side shop in Madrid or misc items in a local “Rite-Aid” in Prague?

    I can confirm that Citi premier gets you 3x for grocery and gas w/o FTF. For other non-bonus categories, your best bet is Capitalone Venture.

  28. My goal is to amass point/miles to use for asperational travel. These schemes seem way too complicated to achieve my goals. I want points consolidated in such a way that I can get out-sized return for 1st (becoming harder) or (more likely) Business Class travel and to stay at hotels and resorts that I wouldn’t ever want to pay for. My wife & I have had some amazing trips (Lufthansa, British, United & Turkish Air) First Class around the world. And stayed at 5* hotels in NYC, Vail, Paris, Maui, London, Munich, Singapore, San Francisco and more for free. I have over 15 cards, but only use a few each year. Since we travel on JetBlue domestically, we work to achieve Mosaic status through CC spend. I like cashing in the points for a Mint transcon each year. It’s not the best return for the buck, but I really appreciate the perks. I have over 4MM points on AMEX, United, Choice (Preferred Hotels) & Marriott that are burning a hole in my pocket as travel wasn’t possible this year. Can’t wait for my vaccine shot in 2021!

  29. Given the Double Cash for everyday, non-bonus spend, it’s hard to see how Lucky hits the 30 transactions a month for the EDP (without a hack like breaking up a self-checkout transaction into six). If I had both, I’d likely put non-category recurring spend on the EDP and non-category one-time spend on the EDP until I crossed 30 charges a month and then switch to the DC (though to be honest, I value MR enough over TYP that I personally wouldn’t bother with the DC).

    With the EDP in the mix, a lot depends on how you allocate credit for the 50% pool: it seems reasonable to me to apportion the 50% bonus among all transactions, which means that the 4.5x grocery is a little less than that if you got the extra 1.5x only with some borderline non-category transactions (though again, you don’t need to get outlandish redemption value on MR for 1.5x to beat 2%-2.5% cashback).

    My strategy is a bit limited compared to Lucky, as the EDP was my sole card until just before the pandemic, when I got the Amtrak World MC (it looked like I’d be traveling enough for work in the Northeast to be worth it); a few months ago, I took a decent offer on the Hilton Surpass. So my strategy is basically (I value Amtrak at something like 2.25, MR at 1.5, and Hilton at 0.6), for transactions where I can use an Amex instead of a MC:

    * Amtrak (3x )/Hilton (12x) on the respective cobrands
    * Restaurants on the Surpass (6x)
    * Other travel/transit on the Amtrak (2x => 4.5% on travel from a $79 AF isn’t bad)
    * Housing and car payments through Plastiq on the Amtrak (1x; partly to get 80% of the way to Amtrak status by hitting $20k in spend)
    * Groceries on the EDP (3-4.5x)
    * Gas on the EDP (2-3x)
    * Recurring bills on the EDP (1-1.5x)
    * Other non-category on the EDP until it has 30 transactions (1-1.5x)

    After that, it’s basically a wash: 3x Hilton, 1x Amtrak, and 1.5x MR are close enough in value that I figure, if nothing else, using them for some non-category spend will keep me under the abuse analysts’ radar.

  30. I am trying to simplify…

    Citi Prestige – all things it is bonus for. 4 night function is pretty weak now, but possible to use if you shop well, for non loyalty stays.

    Non bonus – was using AMEX everyday preffered… but buying very little traditional grocery and gas. May cancel it for Citi double cash on all other spend than Prestige. Increasingly liking Citi points.

    Chase Ink and Amex Blue for different businesses. Earning Chase points are extra valuable for transfer to Hyatt… those points are worth more to me than a standard airline transfer. I have way more access to airline points than hotel.

    Hyatt Card – non bonus international spend as well as if they don’t take AMEX I use this. Or if it’s just handy I know it’s a good earner, use it and don’t worry about it.

    I have much more cards. Want to cancel some, other than a few hotel cards with free night certs. Thinking of canceling some and making it easy with…

    Citi Prestige
    Citi Double Cash
    Hyatt
    AMEX Blue and Chase Ink for business, need multiple accounts.

    If I add the Hilton card I would have status at them and Hyatt and Marriott… with status requirements way down that could be valuable.

    Also add the Marriott biz card for 15 more nights, paid for with free night cert.

  31. @ All — Why make this so complicated? Here’s my approach:

    Airfare — AMEX PLAT (5x)
    BA award tickets — Chase BA VISA (only 3x, but tax/fee rebate)
    Dining — Citi Prestige (5x)
    Cell Phone — Citi Prestige (only 1x, but great insurance)
    Office Supplies/Telephone/Internet/Cable — Chase Ink (5x)
    Car Rentals — Chase Sapphire (only 2x, but great insurance)
    Groceries — AMEX Gold (4x)
    Hyatt — Chase Hyatt (4x plus spend towards 2 QNs every $5k)
    Hilton — AMEX Aspire (14x)
    Costco and Costco Gas — Chase Hyatt (1x plus spend towards 2 QNs every $5k)
    Everything else — The churn card of the month (typically 10x to 20x)
    All else fails — AMEX Blue Biz 2x

  32. No one has mentioned SW.
    I use the SW Performance Business for everyday, nonbonused spend.
    SW miles = 1.5/$, but with the Companion Pass = 3miles/$
    Plus, SW was easy to work with even before the pandemic.
    Love SW!

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