What Are The Best Credit Cards For Dining?

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With the introduction this week of the new American Express® Gold Card, I figured it was time to publish an update to this previous post, since there’s a new best credit card for dining.


There are lots of great ways to earn points — you can earn them through credit card welcome bonuses, you can earn them by maximizing everyday spend, and you can even buy them directly from loyalty programs when there are sales.

The most straightforward way to earn as many points as possible is to be sure you’re maximizing the return you receive on everyday spend. Cards offer different bonuses for spend in different categories, ranging from dining to grocery stores to gas to travel. Having a credit card that earns you as many points as possible in a category you frequent is crucial.

For example, I spend a lot on dining and travel, but very little at grocery stores and gas stations (which I’m sure is true for many people, especially millennials).

Dining is a big spend category for many, so in this post I wanted to look at what I consider to be the most rewarding cards for dining spend. I wrote a post along these lines earlier in the year, though there have been several changes since then, so I thought it made sense to publish an updated list.

What qualifies as dining spend?

In general, the “dining” category is broader than you might think. The first thing to understand is that it’s up to individual merchants to decide how they categorize themselves. Sometimes they won’t be categorized correctly, and some businesses use Square, where they may also not have selected the right merchant code.

In general the dining category goes beyond just sit-down restaurants. They generally include coffee shops, frozen yogurt stores, fast food establishments, and more. They don’t, however, include grocery stores.

The best credit cards for dining spend

Here are what I consider to be the 10 most rewarding personal credit cards for dining spend, starting with the most rewarding:

1. American Express® Gold Card

Reward for dining spend: 6.8% (4x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $250
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, though only offers 4x points for dining spend in the US

Learn more about this card here.

2. Chase Sapphire Reserve® 

Reward for dining spend: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $450
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 3x points on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

3. U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Gold American Express® Card

Reward for dining spend: 4.5 (3x points, which can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each towards travel)
Card annual fee: $85
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 4% cash back on your dining spend globally

4. Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Reward for dining spend: 4% cash back
Card annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 4% cash back on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

5. The Uber Visa Card

Reward for dining spend: 4% cash back
Card annual fee: no annual fee
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 4% cash back on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

6. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Reward for dining spend: 3.4% (2x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 2x points on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

7. Citi Premier℠ Card

Reward for dining spend: 3.4% (2x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 2x points on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

8. Capital One® SavorOne(SM) Cash Rewards Credit Card

Reward for dining spend: 3% cash back
Card annual fee: no annual fee
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 3% cash back on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.

9. The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Reward for dining spend: 3% (2x points, which I value at 1.5 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 3% cash back on your dining spend globally; furthermore, spend on this card will get you closer to elite qualifying nights and free night certificates, so there’s lots of value to be had.

Learn more about this card here.

®Credit Card from Chase

Reward for dining spend: 3% cash back
Card annual fee: no annual fee (though an AARP membership is required — there’s no age requirement for that)
Other things to be aware of: This card has foreign transaction fees, so you’ll only want to use this card for US dining

Bottom line

Hopefully the above list gives a card for every budget and rewards preference. From a no annual fee card earning 4% cash back, to a premium card earning 4x points, there are lots of great options to choose from for your dining spend.

Historically the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been my go to card for all dining spend. However, going forward my plan is to get the American Express® Gold Card and use that for all my US dining spend, while continuing to use the the Sapphire Reserve for my non-US dining spend.

Earning a return that I value at 5.1-6.8% on all dining purchases is pretty incredible.

What credit card do you use for dining purchases?

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Comments

  1. You are missing the US Bank Gold Flex Perks card which provides 3X (4.5%) for dining.

  2. Lucky,

    What about the Hilton Aspire and Ascend Cards?
    Aspire gets you 7x Hilton points on US Dining… If you value Hilton points at 0.6 cents per point, thats a 4.2% return.

    I myself use Aspire for dining, which at 3.6% return is higher than many of the cards you list. Plus $15,000 of spending on an Aspire gets you a free weekend night at Hilton, which can be worth hundreds.

  3. Lucky, I’m surprised you haven’t reported on the changes coming the the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card. I just got a letter about it yesterday and it takes effect on 6/1/18. They now offer 2x for dining (I think United miles..didn’t read that closely) and hotels, 25% back on United in-flight purchases, and free GlobalEntry/TSA PreCheck every 4 years. Quite an improvement for a $95/year card.

  4. Edit to my above post – I use Ascend for US dining, not Aspire (I got the Ascend card for the first time recently, so I also am working towards the sign up bonus)

  5. Actually, let’s calculate the value of $15,000 of dining (or supermarket) spend on the Hilton Ascend

    For 15,000 in spending you get

    -90,000 Hilton points worth $450 to $540 (depending on whether you value them at $0.005 or $0.006 per point)
    – A free night at Hilton hotel – conservatively worth $250

    That equates to 4.6% to 5.3% return on spend, depending on how you value Hilton points

  6. @ Anthony — I don’t necessarily disagree with your math, though in general I was trying to look at direct return on dining spend, rather than return at specific thresholds.

    The area where I slightly disagree is that I think you’re still coming out behind on dining, even using your numbers. If you agree with my valuation of Sapphire Reserve points, that’s a return of 5.1%.

    What the math comes down to here is that you’re earning an incremental 3x points over non-bonused spend for dining. So 6x points are worth 3-3.6% (by your math — I’d argue Hilton points aren’t that valuable). So you’d be better off using the CSR for dining spend, and then putting non-bonused spend on the Hilton Ascend, in my opinion.

  7. Lucky,

    1) I wasn’t necessarily saying it was better than the CSR – my point is that it probably deserves to be somewhere on the list. Is the Citi Prestige significantly better for dining spend, for example, with a $450 fee? Or what about the Amex Gold? I would add the Hilton cards to your list to make it an even 10.

    2) It’s also a good option for those that, for 5/24 reasons or whatever, can’t sign up for a CSR card right now

  8. Setting aside the ‘fuzzy math’ about the relative values of points, which continue to be almost universally misunderstood, I would not use either the HH AMEX ASCEND or ASPIRE card to pay for dining OFF-PROPERTY just to earn HH points, and the reason is both simple and sound: HH points are easy to earn loads of (I am earning them @44/$ this quarter) and they do not transfer favorably to miles or other points currencies — i.e., the HH point, I suspect on purpose, is terrible transferable currency.

    For dining, the CSR reigns supremo, so, if you don’t got it, get it!

  9. Wow!!!! That is quite an unappetizing plate you show on the article above. I only use Chase Reserve for dinning.

  10. @santastico – if you haven’t had brussel sprouts well prepared then you haven’t lived!

    @lucky – still waiting for the restaurant in the pic!

  11. These articles are pointless. Assuming you spend $10k on dining out in a year, the difference b/w the top and bottom card in this analysis is a measley $210. Big deal. And that’s not even considering higher AF for Reserve!

  12. Chase Freedom Unlimited – 3% cash back on everything for the next year. Offer still available if you search for it.

  13. Don’t forget potential bonus miles for signing up and using airline dining programs. You can get up to 5 miles per $ extra if you dine at one of the restaurants in your local area that is part of the program.

  14. One thing I would add is that if you keep an eye on AMEX Platinum and go a lesser degree, Gold, card offers – you can often get deals ($30 off $150 spend is common in my area at nice restaurants with celebrity chefs). I don’t consistently use them for dining but when I do – the return is often the greatest.

  15. Wells Fargo Propel 3% back on dining. Straight cash back which I value more than cards like Hyatt, Hilton and AMEX PRG.

  16. Don’t forget that the Chase Business Ink Cash card offers 5X UR for office spend and that stores such as Office Max have a variety of gift cards for chain restaurants (I know, not the best places to dine). Otherwise, it’s all CSR.

  17. Lucky, I love your credit card reviews. Can you please STOP POSTING TRIP REPORTS because they just distract from all these wonderful credit cards reviews. You should tell us cards are using for your wedding, how much are you spending etc.

  18. As usual, articles like this are nothing more than yet another way to push the Sapphire cards (especially the Reserve). You ignore the Hilton cards (6x for the personal and business Ascend cards; 7x for the Aspire); the United Airlines, American Airlines and IHG cards (2x on each); even Citi’s Costco card offers 3% back on all restaurants.

  19. @Lucky – FYI, the Hi-Fly A380 is now grounded as one of the A380 engines collided with a jet bridge in Paris. It was operating for Air Austral for flights to Reunion and because of it the airline has been cancelling flights for a second 777 flight. This happened Friday and no one was on board during the incident. As of now it is still grounded. TPG has written an article on it.

  20. united explorer and united explorer business cards earn 2x miles per dollar — and they don’t have foreign transaction fees, making them pretty decent (probably better than Amex PRG), because the bonus is on “restaurants”, not on “US restaurants”
    Ink cash also earns 2x on dining — however there is a foreign transaction fee so it’s a bad choice when traveling abroad.

  21. @LUCKY — YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY.

    @Luke asks: “Why are there comments dated from May 2018? How is that possible on an article written/posted today?”

    That is possible because @Lucky has recently been recycling, not just old posts, but also associated comments. Not only that, it appears that in creating his HUGE “Ultimate Guide To The New Marriott & SPG Program”, @Lucky simply copied and pasted from old individual posts on MR and SPG, and then redirected the links to those individual and original posts to point to his “Ultimate Guide”.

    This a very “loose” medium and it’s his blog, so it is no big deal. However, I found a potential problem, especially with moving posts from their original URLs and pointing to their content in a huge post that may or may not have kept fidelity with the original posts. This is what I mean. A post by @Lucky titled “Marriott’s brutal 2016 hotel category changes” was cited (referred to) in a recent ‘very serious’ ACADEMIC paper by SY Chun et al (2018) titled

    “Loyalty Program Liabilities and Point Values”

    Then, when I followed the URL provided by the authors, it took me to @Lucky’s ‘Ultimate Guide’, which did not provide the information that the authors of the academic piece had thought they were providing to their readers. The result is that the ‘rigor’ of the academic paper is now somewhat affected.

    @Lucky: did you know you were cited in the piece? (Yea!). Anyway, below I provide the context in which you were cited. Could you restore the content at the link [URL: provided in the next comment], so that readers of the academic piece will find your original post that the authors thought they were pointing to? It’s very interesting stuff, which was one of my sources when I’d said not too long ago in a comment that you and self-anointed “thought leader in travel” were wrong when you pushed the completely bogus meme that Chase was swimming in a $300M sea of red ink in Q2 because the redemption of UR points earned on CSR was brisker than they’d anticipated. Pure hogwash. Chase wants UR points they award to be redeemed as fast as possible because that $300M “liability” was incurred WHEN UR points WERE ISSUED and NOT when the UR points were redeemed. Redeeming the already awarded UR points is what would decrease that $300M liability! But I digress…here’s the context in which @Lucky was cited [see sentence before last]:
    _______

    Loyalty Program Liabilities and Point Values
    by
    So Yeon Chun, Dan A. Iancu and Nikolaos Trichakis

    INTRODUCTION
    Originally designed as marketing tools for rewarding customers, loyalty programs have expanded dramatically in size and scope during recent years, with total memberships in the U.S. reaching 3.3 billion in 2014 (or 10.3 on average per individual, Berry 2015), and covering a wide array of industries, including retail (39%), travel and hospitality (27%), and financial services (17%).

    In a typical “point-based” loyalty program (LP), members earn points for purchases from the issuing firm, and can redeem accumulated points for rewards, such as additional products, services or even cash. For consumers, points thus effectively become a new currency, often carrying substantial value — for instance, approximately 14 trillion miles worth more than $700B were outstanding in 2005 (Economist 2005), and the annual reward value issued in the US alone exceeded $48B in 2015 (Gordon and Hlavinka 2015).

    For the issuing firm, however, loyalty points represent a promise for future service, and their value thus constitutes a liability. The sheer magnitude of LPs coupled with recent changes in accounting rules have turned these liabilities into significant balance sheet items — for instance, at the end of 2015, they amounted to $3.9B for Delta Airlines and $2.6B for Marriott International, or 10% and 25% of their respective total liabilities (Delta Airlines 2015, Marriott 2015). As such, it is easy to see that the value of points can dramatically impact firms’ earnings and profitability.

    In view of this, setting the value of loyalty points emerges as a key operating decision for the firm. In practice, this is usually done by changing the point requirements for redemptions, or by adjusting the exchange rates for converting points into cash. For instance, Marriott changes the point requirements for a free night stay at its properties on an annual basis, by re-categorizing the properties and/or adjusting the points required for each category (Schlappig 2016, Marriott 2017). In addition, Marriott also alters point values on a daily basis by, e.g., changing the available inventory of rooms for redemption.

    [Etc, etc, etc… gets wonkish]
    ________________

    Schlappig, B. (2016), `Marriott’s brutal 2016 hotel category changes’. [URL]

  22. This URL ‘https://tinyurl.com/zw4zh6m’ was supposed to point to an original post on this blog titled,

    “Marriott’s brutal 2016 hotel category changes”

    but instead, it points to a humongous one titled,

    “Ultimate Guide To The New Marriott & SPG Program”

    throwing off readers of an academic paper in which the first post was cited.

  23. @DCS: Why did you post all of that here in this article (about dining credit cards) and not in one of the ones related to MP/SPG?

  24. If I suspect that the restaurant uses SQUARE to process cards, I pay with Amex Business Plus for a guaranteed 2x, rather than possibly getting only 1x on CSR.
    Some of the smaller restaurants/carry-outs don’t accept Amex, however. Leftover credit on Visa/MC gift cards come in handy in these joints.

  25. @GSBEWR — Please read and think before commenting. Had you bothered, you would have seen that I was addressing a comment about THIS article by @Luke: “Why are there comments dated from May 2018? How is that possible on an article written/posted today?”

    In fact, had you bothered reading the content of my comment, rather rushing to question its relevance (which, by the way, no one needs to justify in a free-for-all online discussion), you could have learned something.

    I am also quite certain that @Lucky will see the relevance.

    G’day.

  26. @DCS are you actually insane? It’s a running blog and it wouldn’t make sense to publish an entirely new post when pieces of the old one are still relevant. It’s an update. And that he was cited in whatever tf that is matters not– why should Lucky be the one responsible for a random paper’s reliance on a constantly shifting blog??

    ANYWAY, my question… has anybody had luck getting Amex or Chase to redesignate a category? I took a group to Jiro’s Sushi in Tokyo and spend about $2k, which is a significant return on points at 3x. However, it is somehow not listed as a restaurant. They refused to make an exception even after admitting they have seen the Netflix show and one guy even ate there. I’m pretty pissed and the new 4x on Amex gold makes not using that card super easy in the US, but I still have this issue abroad. Thoughts?

  27. And @DCS since you always criticize people of not reading your comments, did you fail to read the blog post? Check out the very first line and internalize the word “update.”

    you really are a sad little f’er aren’t ya

  28. Lucky, yeah come on, I’m sure that plate was delicious but come on man, you’re blogging about dining and that’s the pic!!??

  29. @Mattt – What the hell are you jabbering about?

    I never suggested that @Lucky not link, update, or reuse his own old material. Rather, I suggested that the link to the original posts be retained (it’s what all ‘rigorous’ publications do), and if you bother reading my post you’ll see why that could be valuable even for blog.

    As usual, behind the gratuitous insults invariably lies a weak mind that’s incapable of adding one and one…

  30. @Jr. — never address me again, unless Sr. is present so that he can witness first-hand what a stupid offsping he’s saddled world with…

  31. @Mattt: When we ate at a Bangkok restaurant called Nana (if I remember correctly the name), Chase gave 1 mile/$ spent. The restaurant was in a hotel. Chase said for them it got categorized as a hotel. They did NOT change it.

  32. RED ALERT! RED ALERT!

    This is for real, so please check your CSR accounts.

    I just noticed that starting on or about September 11, 2018, I’ve received no UR points at all (like in 0.0) for all spend on ground transportation (taxi, limo service, Uber) charged to the CHASE SAPPHIRE RESERVED visa or the CSR.

    Entries look like

    9/21 TAXI SVC WOODSIDE $7.56 0 [instead of 0, the number after $7.56 have been $7.56 x 3 or 23 UR points.]
    Rewards Earned
    Transaction Date:9/21 Statement Post Date:9/23
    Total Rewards: 0

    9/28 UBER *TRIP L3CNV $31.25 0 –
    Rewards
    Earned Transaction Date:9/28 Statement Post Date:9/30
    Total Rewards: 0

    10/01 CARMELLIMOPASS.COM $100.00 0 –
    Rewards Earned
    Transaction Date:10/01 Statement Post Date:10/02
    Total Rewards: 0
    ___________________________________________________________

    What is really weird about that and suggests a “system error” is that there are NO CATEGORIES for which one earns 0.0 UR points/$ on the CSR. It’s 3x for dining and travel, and 1x for EVERYTHING ELSE.

    To her credit, the support agent on the phone immediately perceived that this was a Big Deal, and escalated it with the appropriate level of urgency.

    Stay tuned!

  33. @Daniel B – Correct categorization at the time of the transaction is key if the correct credit is to be earned. In fact, I was researching a weird case of (mis)categorization a year ago in Kyoto when I noticed the even weirder situation I just reported above about not getting any points at all on the CSR for spend on ground transportation.

    The weird situation in Kyoto related to the SAME establishment earning me either 3x or 1x depending on how it processed the charges on the CSR:

    When the charge posted as due to spend at
    MIXOLOGY BAR SMOOTH
    I earned 3UR points/$

    However, when the charge posted as due to spend at
    MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU
    I earned 1UR point/$

    And this is what was really funny about that. If you look at the establishment’s second name
    MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU
    is actually just MIXOLOGY BAR SMOOTH nipponized!!!

    MIXOLOGY = MIKUSOROJI
    BAR = BA
    SMOOTH = SUMU-ZU

    I could not get Chase to give me 3x credit for spend at MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU. Is that fucked up or what?! 🙂

  34. @Daniel B – Correct categorization at the time of the transaction is key if the correct credit is to be earned. In fact, I was researching a weird case of (mis)categorization a year ago in Kyoto when I noticed the even weirder situation I just reported above about not getting any points at all on the CSR for spend on ground transportation.

    The weird situation in Kyoto related to the SAME establishment earning me either 3x or 1x depending on how it processed the charges on the CSR:

    When the charge posted as due to spend at
    MIXOLOGY BAR SMOOTH
    I earned 3UR points/$

    However, when the charge posted as due to spend at
    MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU
    I earned 1UR point/$

    And this is what was really funny about that. If you look at the establishment’s second name
    MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU
    is actually just MIXOLOGY BAR SMOOTH nipponized!!!

    MIXOLOGY = MIKUSOROJI
    BAR = BA
    SMOOTH = SUMU-ZU

    I could not get Chase to give me 3x credit for spend at MIKUSOROJI-BA-SUMU-ZU. Is that f’ed up or what?! 🙂

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