Best Credit Card Category Bonuses

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Update: This offer for the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

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Update: There’s an exciting Limited Time Offer for the Hilton American Express cards through 5/31/17! The links below are expired, but you can learn more about best offers we’ve seen on these cards!


If you live in the US nowadays, the single best way to earn points is through credit cards. There are two components to maximizing the points you earn through credit card spend:

  • You want to maximize the points you earn for acquiring a new card
  • You want to maximize the points you earn for your everyday spend

infographWhile I often have rundowns of the best credit card sign-up bonuses, I figured I’d compile a list with the best bonuses you can earn on your credit card for everyday spend, based on the category in which you spend the most money.

Like all things in life, you have to crunch the numbers to see what makes sense for you. In other words, based on how much money you spend in each general “category” you have to decide how many cards it makes sense to acquire for the category bonuses they offer.

There are some “super cards” out there which have several category bonuses, and therefore can in many cases kill multiple birds with one stone, so to speak. In general, I’d consider these four cards to be the closest to “super cards:”

With that in mind, I figured I’d share the best credit card category bonuses based on where you spend the most money.

Let me start by mentioning that:

Dining

Dining is a category I’m especially passionate about. Since I live in hotels, it’s the one thing I spend money on, aside from “travel.” With that in mind, there are three cards I consider to be especially lucrative for dining spend, each of which offers double points:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Ultimate Rewards points1.8¢3.6%
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card 2x Membership Rewards points1.8¢3.6%
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 2x Thank You points1.6¢3.2%

Personally, to keep things simple I just put all my dining spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

dining

Airline tickets purchased directly with airline

I also spend a good amount of money on airfare, so maximizing my points on airfare purchases is very important as well. While many airlines offer bonus points on their co-branded credit cards when you purchase airfare with them, I don’t think any of them beat the return you get on the following cards:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express3x Membership Rewards points1.8¢5.4%
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 3x Thank You points1.6¢4.8%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Ultimate Rewards points1.8¢3.6%

So all of my US airfare purchases go on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card, while all of my foreign airfare purchases go on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (since the card has no foreign transaction fees and great trip delay protection).

airline-tickets

That being said, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is eliminating foreign transaction fees as of June 1, 2015, at which point I’ll use it for more of my airfare purchases.

Gas

In case gas prices falling so much isn’t reward enough, you can even earn up to 3x points on your gas spend, which in my opinion is infinitely better than what any co-branded gas credit card offers.

I recommend one of the following cards:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card 3x Membership Rewards points (with 30 transactions)1.8¢5.4%
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 3x Thank You points1.6¢4.8%

Personally I’d go with the Amex EveryDay℠ Preferred Credit Card, given that it offers the highest return.

Groceries

There’s one card that wins in the grocery category, assuming you make 30 transactions per month, and which is capped at $6,000 of purchases per year.

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card 4.5x Membership Rewards points (with 30 transactions)1.8¢8.1%
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express6% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases). Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.1.0¢6.0%
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express2x Membership Rewards points1.8¢3.6%
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express3% cash back at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases). Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.1.0¢3.0%
Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express 6x Hilton HHonors points0.4¢2.4%

So yeah, the Amex EveryDay℠ Preferred Credit Card would be my pick for grocery spend.

gas-groceries

Car rentals

When it comes to deciding which credit card to use for car rentals, you don’t just want to consider how many points you’re earning, but also the rental car coverage you get. Last year the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card added primary auto rental collision damage waiver, which is awesome.

With that in mind, here are the cards I’d consider for rental car spend:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 3x Thank You points plus CDW 1.6¢4.8%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Ultimate Rewards points plus CDW1.8¢3.6%

So your best strategy is to:

  • Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for rentals within the US since they offer primary coverage both within the US and abroad
  • Use the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card for rentals outside the US, since they offer coverage in more countries, including Ireland, Israel, Italy, etc. (coverage in the US is secondary)

car-rentals

Hotels

Hotels are probably the trickiest category for deciding which card makes the most sense. That’s because co-branded hotel credit cards typically have good returns. First let me share the cards I would recommend considering (and please note that the bonus points listed for co-branded hotel cards only apply when staying at their respective brands):

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express5% rebate on Hyatt stays plus 1 SPG point2.2¢7.2%
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 3x Thank You points1.6¢4.8%
Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express 12x Hilton HHonors points0.4¢4.8%
The Hyatt Credit Card3x Hyatt Gold Passport points1.5¢4.5%
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card
10x Club Carlson Gold points0.4¢4.0%
Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card 10x Hilton HHonors points0.4¢4.0%
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card 5x Marriott Rewards points0.8¢4.0%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Ultimate Rewards points1.8¢3.6%
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card 5x IHG Rewards Club points0.7¢3.5%

So what do I think the best strategy is?

hotels

Other travel purchases (parking, tolls, tours, OTAs, etc.)

Different issuers have different definitions of what constitutes “travel,” though in general terms here are the best cards for non-airline/hotel travel purchases:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 3x Thank You points plus CDW 1.6¢4.8%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Ultimate Rewards points plus CDW1.8¢3.6%

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is the way to go in this case.

other-travel-purchases

Office supply stores & telecom

There are two cards which are hands down the winner for office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services:

CardCategory BonusMy Value Per PointReturn On Spend
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card 5x Ultimate Rewards points1.8¢9.0%
Ink Cash® Business Card 5% Cash Back or
5x Ultimate Rewards points when carried in conjunction with a premium Ultimate Rewards card (CSP or Ink Plus)
1.0¢ for cash back
1.8¢ for premium Ultimate Rewards
5.0% or
9.0%

The Ink Plus® Business Credit Card is your all around best bet.

However, while the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card is a no annual fee cash back credit card on the surface, the points accrued with the card can be converted into “premium” Ultimate Rewards points in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

office-telecom

So I’d say the ideal option is to have the Ink Cash in conjunction with the Sapphire Preferred, so that you’re only paying an annual fee on one card.

Bottom line

I probably spend way too much money earn too many bonus points for my own good by maximizing category bonuses. If you’re just earning one point per dollar spent you’re really missing out.


Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the  Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card has been collected independently by One Mile At A Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Comments

  1. when does the last 7% dividend for CSP post? i thought it was by the end of February but so far i got nothing.
    🙁

  2. The best bonus point category that’s useful for me is the 5x points on office supply stores for the Chase Ink card. I buy large amounts of Amazon gift cards from an office supply store since I tend to buy almost everything from Amazon. The 5x points really adds up fast.

  3. Citi Forward card, don’t think it’s open to public now but it’s no annual fee with 5x thank you points on all restaurants, movies and book stores.
    Thank you points were not very useful back then, but we are looking at 5miles/$ without any kind of registration…So glad that I took the card at that point and so sad that I exchanged >$600 in cashback(1.4pts/cent). And just before they added Singapore miles I exchanged $300 in Hyatt gift certs (1pts/cent).

  4. @ Lantean — Yeah, it should be coming soon, I think. And if you have an old account then you should still get the bonus for this year, so that the last dividend will post early next year.

  5. Lucky, would it be worth going for a 100k Amex Platinum offer I’ve received? The general consensus seems to be that the Amex PRG is better for spend than the Amex Platinum because of the category bonuses and the annual fee is so much lower for the PRG.

  6. +1 on the elite status at hotels. I’m Plat @ Marriott and just re-upped for the card now that work has me traveling again…The hardest part of getting lifetime elite status at Marriott is the total # of points necessary (2MM & 750 nights). I have the nights, but short by ~ 900K points still.

    The card definitely helps with that!

    p.s.
    Did you mean to put some #s/info after SPG @ an SPG hotel??

  7. Hotel stays of 4 days plus, I love the 4th night free benefit of the Citi Prestige…plus you still earn points and maintain all benefits of status. On 8 night stays in a city, I’ll do 4 in one hotel, 4 in another to double up on the benefit

  8. @Lucky,

    Are their previous posts where I can see how you value the pts above? For example you valued amex pts at 1.8%. Why? I want to dig into the underlying assumptions, and see if I am missing anything when I am valuing pts. Thank you lucky!

    alan

  9. Lucky –

    I pay for a lot of servers in various datacenters — does that qualify for “internet” spend??

    Thanks

  10. @ UA FF — It all depends how it’s coded on your credit card statement. What category does it show as on your statement?

  11. @ Marie — Yes, I’d say that’s a hell of a sign-up bonus. 100K points is tough to beat. I’d go for it.

  12. I suppose it would be a bit burdensome to ask you to add the rotating category cards like Freedom but it would be nice. US Airlines regularly ran promotions for category spending(we don’t know yet whether they will as American Airlines) and other Bank Cards do it too so it would be nice also if you had a category promotion section. Also I’ve see Utilities payments and charitable giving result in multiple point awards. Thanks for this service it’s a valuable tool

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