Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category

Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category

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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.

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).

Airfare purchases

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Learn more about the best credit cards for supermarket purchases.

I earn 4.5x points on grocery store purchases

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:

Learn more about the best credit cards for hotel purchases, learn more about the best credit cards for rideshare purchases.

I earn 3x points on most travel purchases

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.

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

I earn 3x points on gas station purchases

Drugstore purchases

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.

International purchases

My go-to card for purchases abroad is the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review), given that it offers 2x Venture miles per dollar spent, which I value at a 3.4% return.

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.

I earn at least 2x points on international purchases

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.

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). 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.

Bottom line

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?

Conversations (23)
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  1. Pam Guest

    Ben, would have to think with all your travels you might have need for an Entertainment category. Lots of surprising other purchases can code, like many winery purchases.

    Since you seem to prefer Capital One, the Savor Rewards would give you 4x, transferable to your VX acct. By the same token, also 3x on groceries without fooling with the AMEX 30x transaction premium (& maybe not reaching anyway since you don’t cook or drive much?).

  2. iamhere Guest

    Full of ads. The strategy is not really conducive to most people's situation.

  3. Points in PDX Guest

    Thanks - very timely as I am 'rebalancing' my card portfolio.

    I realize this is your list, not necessarily a reccomended formula, but I have a few questions:

    Airfare: is there any benefit to the Amex Platinum over Venture X or Sapphire Reserve? Could I consider them equally interchangeable options?

    Dining: since Citi Prestige isn't open for applications, but it also carries a hefty annual fee for a dining only card that might be...

    Thanks - very timely as I am 'rebalancing' my card portfolio.

    I realize this is your list, not necessarily a reccomended formula, but I have a few questions:

    Airfare: is there any benefit to the Amex Platinum over Venture X or Sapphire Reserve? Could I consider them equally interchangeable options?

    Dining: since Citi Prestige isn't open for applications, but it also carries a hefty annual fee for a dining only card that might be more than the difference vs a Sapphire card at 3x1.7 or a CapOne Savor card at 4x1.7, right?

    Grocery: do you track to make sure you get 30 transactions per month? I assume that means using it outside of category for incidentals?

    This category is a challenge given inflation, I have been using Venture but leaving more points on the table. Considering adding a new card to my wallet, but amex blue cash or citi premiere might be better as grocery only cards?

    Hotel: any thoughts on moving this to the VentureX portal for 10x1.7? And even on Hilton and Hyatt, who aren't transfer partners, wouldn't the added value justify it?

    Gas: costco visa at 4% is straightforward, vs. 30 transactions. (2 grocery stores and 2 car gas visits per week only gets you half way there) . Might be the only use for the costco visa. Citi premiere would require $9k gas spend to justify the annual fee unless it's also the grocery card.

  4. William Guest

    I have 3 Citi Custom Cash(es) lol and I cancelled my Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Hilton Aspire due to Venture X launch!
    Flights (General) - US Bank Altitude Reserve 3x (4.5%) with 12 Hours Trip Delayed Insurance
    Flights (Capital One Portal) - Capital One Venture X 5x (7.5%) with 12 Hours Trip Delayed Insurance
    Hotels (General) - Chase Ink Preferred 3x (4.5%)
    Hotels (Hyatt) - Chase World of Hyatt 4x...

    I have 3 Citi Custom Cash(es) lol and I cancelled my Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Hilton Aspire due to Venture X launch!
    Flights (General) - US Bank Altitude Reserve 3x (4.5%) with 12 Hours Trip Delayed Insurance
    Flights (Capital One Portal) - Capital One Venture X 5x (7.5%) with 12 Hours Trip Delayed Insurance
    Hotels (General) - Chase Ink Preferred 3x (4.5%)
    Hotels (Hyatt) - Chase World of Hyatt 4x (6.0%)
    Hotels (Capital One Portal) - Capital One Venture X 10x (15.0%)
    Car Rental (General) - US Bank Altitude Reserve 3x (4.5%)
    Car Rental (Capital One Portal) - Capital One Venture X 10x (15.0%)
    Ride Share - Cardless Boston Celltics 7x (7.0%)
    Other Travel (Parking, Transit, etc) - Chase Ink Preferred 3x (4.5%)
    Dining (Domestic) - Citi Custom Cash #1 5x (7.5%)
    Dining (International) - Citi Premier 3x (4.5%)
    Supermarkets (Domestic) - Citi Custom Cash #2 5x (7.5%)
    Supermarkets (International) - Citi Premier 3x (4.5%)
    Gas (Domestic) - Citi Custom Cash #3 5x (7.5%)
    Gas (International) - Citi Premier 3x (4.5%)
    Entertainment - Capital One SavorOne 3x (4.5%)
    Office Supply - Chase Ink Cash 5x (7.5%)
    Internet - Chase Ink Cash 5x (7.5%)
    Streaming - Cardless Boston Celltics 7x (7.0%)
    Personal Cell - Capital One Venture X 2x (3.0%) with $ 50 Deductible Cell Phone Insurance (beats Chase Ink Preferred earning 3x with $100 Deductible imo)
    Utility - US Bank Cash+ 5.0%
    Gym - US Bank Cash+ 5.0%
    Small Purchases (< $2) - Citi Rewards+ 5-10x (7.5%-15.0%)
    Others (Apple Pay - Costco, Home Improvement, Department Store, Electronic Store, etc) - US Bank Altitude Reserve 3x (4.5%)
    Everything Else- Capital One Venture X 2x (3.0%)

  5. Bill Guest

    I would seriously question for anyone who has few dozens of credit cards will actually put effort on hitting 30 transactions on your Amex Everyday Preferred Card, not to mention it has $ 95 Annual Fee with $ 6,000 Annual Limit on Groceries bonus spent.

  6. eponymous coward Guest

    Nice unobtainium cards there. ;)

    Anyways, this is all subject to promos and signups (last year I used a Bonvoy Brilliant a ton because 1x bonus on $7500 spend + about $700 in “free” spend from AMEX offers and promos + 8x PayPal, for instance), but the end state, after I divest some AMEX Platinums acquired for AMEX SUBs, will probably be:

    Dining: Capital One SavorOne (3x) and AMEX Green (3x)
    Grocery: SavorOne (3x)

    Nice unobtainium cards there. ;)

    Anyways, this is all subject to promos and signups (last year I used a Bonvoy Brilliant a ton because 1x bonus on $7500 spend + about $700 in “free” spend from AMEX offers and promos + 8x PayPal, for instance), but the end state, after I divest some AMEX Platinums acquired for AMEX SUBs, will probably be:

    Dining: Capital One SavorOne (3x) and AMEX Green (3x)
    Grocery: SavorOne (3x)
    General Travel: AMEX Green (3x)
    Hilton: AMEX Aspire (14x)
    Marriott: maybe Brilliant (6x), but this is likely to be spiked in late 2022/early 2023 if Bonvoy’s program gets Bonvoyed going to dynamic award pricing without charts
    General Spend: VentureOne (2x)

  7. Another Lump Guest

    I'm almost always putting all my spend towards MSR for a new signup bonus. It's more profitable and less work than keeping track of categories and the 20 cards in my wallet. My simple rule is that I need to be getting greater than 2x more on a card to not use my MSR card (i.e. I'll bypass MSR at 1x if another card gives me 4x)

  8. alec Guest

    Ben, the pop-up video ads on your site have to go, it makes it unusable, especially on an iPhone.

    the best part is i just got one for a Sam Chui video.... hahaha

  9. Al C Guest

    What are the benefits to using Capital One X over the Double Cash for non-bonused purchases in the US?

    1. Reno Joe Guest

      Citi Double Cash imposes foreign transaction fees.

    2. Khatl Gold

      Other than FX, really comes down to which airlines u want to redeem on. Hopefully, we'll start to see Cap One begin to more transfer bonuses, as this is where Amex shines and, to me, makes their program the most rewarding (as Citi/Chase don't really do that)

  10. Chris Guest

    Lol I appreciate your dedication to use so many cards.

    I try to keep it a little more streamlined between Amex (Platinum), Chase (Reserve), and Citi (Premier & Double Cash)

    Flights - Amex 5x
    Hotels - Amex 5x prepaid or Chase/Citi 3x
    General Travel - Chase 3x
    Dining - Chase/Citi 3x
    Supermarkets - 3x Citi
    Gas - 3x Citi
    Everything Else - 2x Citi

    1. Reno Joe Guest

      Imagine one card matching all of that as well as earning 4.5 percent on non-bonus category spend.

    2. Martin Guest

      Which one? 4.5% on non-bonus spend?

  11. tda1986 Guest

    Do you actually have 30+ grocery/gas transactions each month to get the Amex 1.5x bonus? I feel like I’d lose out on more points trying to hit 30 transactions than I’d gain trying to earn an extra 0.5 points per dollar (over Amex Gold) on groceries.

    1. Mishas Guest

      Was wondering about that too. Seems like a major effort with not that big return.

    2. Reno Joe Guest

      The average family spends $6k per year on groceries and $4k per year on gas. Mishas, as you suggest, does this really move the needle? A person is better off by focusing on one's 1) really-big-spend categories and 2) all other charges. Maybe that leads to (as another commenter suggests) two cards. There's a value in simplicity.

    3. dc_nomad Guest

      Ditto! And if Amex Gold for 4x on groceries (and dinning), probably don't need Citi prestige 5x on dinning

    4. Khatl Gold

      Agree... particularly as warehouse clubs, Walmart etc. are excluded from "grocery"

    5. highperf Guest

      Before I streamlined my cards (slightly), I used to generate the necessary 30 transactions every month by buying a series of $1 Amazon gift cards at the beginning of the month. As you suggest, it is a bit of a hassle, but not too bad. Nowadays, I use the AMEX Gold (4X) except when the Chase Freedom Flex has 5X, as it does this quarter.

  12. CB Guest

    Nice post Ben.

    Random bit of feedback (for another article lol), but your J rankings would look better in descending order like F rankings.

  13. Art_Czar New Member

    Hi Ben - Do you have Citi's Custom Cash card that offers 5x ThankYou points in any one spend category? If so, which category do you use the Custom Cash card for?

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

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dc_nomad Guest

Ditto! And if Amex Gold for 4x on groceries (and dinning), probably don't need Citi prestige 5x on dinning

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Al C Guest

What are the benefits to using Capital One X over the Double Cash for non-bonused purchases in the US?

1
Chris Guest

Lol I appreciate your dedication to use so many cards. I try to keep it a little more streamlined between Amex (Platinum), Chase (Reserve), and Citi (Premier & Double Cash) Flights - Amex 5x Hotels - Amex 5x prepaid or Chase/Citi 3x General Travel - Chase 3x Dining - Chase/Citi 3x Supermarkets - 3x Citi Gas - 3x Citi Everything Else - 2x Citi

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