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.
Below are the cards I use for various categories, ranked from the most points per dollar to the fewest points per dollar (and the return on spending that I calculate is based on my valuation of points).
I use The Platinum Card® from American Express (review) for my airfare purchases globally, as the card offers 5x Membership Rewards 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.
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%.
Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases
I use the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review) for my cell phone purchases, as the card 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 my 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.
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 2022 the card is offering 5x points on grocery store and eBay. In conjunction with select other cards, these rewards can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.
Food delivery purchases
I use food delivery services like Uber Eats a lot, so I feel like in my case that’s worth putting in a separate category from dining. 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, as the card offers 5x ThankYou points on these purchases, just as is the case with dining.
Grocery & supermarket purchases
I use the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express (review) for U.S. supermarket purchases, as the card offers up to 4.5x Membership Rewards points on purchases at U.S. supermarkets, which I value at a 7.65% return.
Specifically, you earn 3x Membership Rewards points on the first $6,000 spent every calendar year at U.S. grocery stores (1x after that), and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.
Hotel & other travel purchases
I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (review) for most non-airfare travel purchases, as the card offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel coded purchases globally, for a return of 5.1%. This includes everything from hotels, to rideshares and taxis, to cruises, to parking.
There are only two exceptions to this:
- I use the World of Hyatt Credit Card (review) and World of Hyatt Business Credit Card (review) for my Hyatt purchases (so that I earn 4x World of Hyatt points, which I value at a 6% return)
- I use the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (review) for my Hilton purchases (so that I earn 14x Hilton Honors points, which I value at a 7% return)
Gas station purchases
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card offers up to 3x Membership Rewards points on U.S. gas station purchases, which I value at a 5.1% return. Specifically, you earn 2x Membership Rewards points at U.S. gas stations, and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.
I use the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review) for U.S. 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.
Now, I still use cards with bonus categories internationally if there are no foreign transaction fees. But for all my international non-travel and dining purchases, this is my preferred card.
Everyday, non-bonused personal spending
For personal spending I have two go-to cards. Up until recently my favorite option was the no annual fee Citi® Double Cash Card (review), which 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 I value at a 3.4% return.
Lately I’ve switched most of my everyday spending to the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review), which offers a flat 2x Venture miles per dollar spent, all with no foreign transaction fees. While the card has a $395 annual fee, that’s quite easy to justify thanks to the benefits the card offers, including $300 in Capital One Travel statement credits every cardmember year, plus 10,000 bonus Venture miles every anniversary.
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). I value that at a 3.4% return.
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. I value that at a 2.55% return.
It’s incredible how far credit card rewards structures have come, especially for those maximizing bonus categories. When all is said and done, I earn an average of over 3x transferable points per dollar spent, which I value at a return of over 5%.
While I’m not suggesting that everyone should 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?