Which Credit Cards Do I Use For Each Bonus Category?

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If you’re based in the US, one of the best ways to earn miles & points is through credit card spend. This can primarily be done in two ways:

  • Taking advantage of good sign-up bonuses. Credit card companies often offer big bonuses to incentivize you to sign up for their card. They’re convinced you’ll like the product long term, and want to dangle some sort of carrot to get you to sign-up. Many times these bonuses can be huge.
  • Maximizing points on everyday spend. In addition to the sign-up bonuses, using the right credit cards for different types of spend can also make a big difference. Rather than earning 1x point per dollar spent, you can often earn 2-5x points per dollar spent. Those points can quickly add up.

We’ve seen quite a few great new cards enter the marketplace lately, so my credit card spend strategy is even more diversified than ever before. In the past there were only at most a few cards I used for everyday spend, so I instinctively knew which card to use for each purchase. Nowadays I often find myself pondering my card choices with each purchase, given that several cards have similarly good returns in bonus categories.

I figured I’d prepare a post with my current credit card spend strategy by category. In general I’ll be organizing them by the amount I spend in each category (which is probably different than the average person, given that I travel full time). Of course these valuations are subjective, based on how much I think each points currency is worth.

Dining — Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Return: 2x Ultimate Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~3.6%)

I’d argue this is probably the single all around most rewarding credit card, and it’s what my dining spend ordinarily goes onto. Double points on dining with no foreign transaction fees is an awesome way to quickly wrap up points.

For what it’s worth, as of June the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card also offers double points on dining, though only at US restaurants (meanwhile with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card that benefit applies globally). I value Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points equally, which is why I continue to put that spend on the Sapphire Preferred across the board.

Hotels — Citi Prestige® Card

Return: 3x ThankYou points worth ~1.6 cents each (~4.8%)

This is a card I picked up earlier in the year, and in the meantime the card which gets all my hotel spend. I stay at Hyatt properties a lot, so you’d think I would use the The Hyatt Credit Card, given that it offers triple points. However, I value ThankYou points more than Gold Passport points.

Furthermore, I also stay at SPG properties a lot, though I do think that triple ThankYou points are worth more than the double Starpoints offered by the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.


Airfare — Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Return: 3x Membership Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~5.4%)

I really do value Membership Rewards points, so the fact that as of last month this card offers triple points on airfare purchased directly with an airline without foreign transaction fees is awesome. Nowadays this card gets all my airfare. While there are some specific airline branded cards which offer triple points for travel on their own flights, I don’t value any of their returns at more than this.

Travel (other than hotels and airfare) — Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

Return: 3x ThankYou points worth ~1.6 cents each (~4.8%)

This card offers triple points on all travel purchases. Different cards define “travel” differently, though for this card it includes the following:

airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals

So for travel purchases other than airfare directly from an airline and hotels, this is my go to card.


Uber — Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Return: 3x Membership Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~5.4%)

I do feel like it’s worth breaking out this category from the travel category above. American Express has a partnership with Uber whereby they offer double Membership Rewards points for Uber purchases. On top of that, this card offers a 50% points bonus when you make 30 purchases in a billing cycle.

So earning triple Membership Rewards points plus activity towards reaching that 30 transaction threshold is awesome.


Groceries — Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Return: 4.5x Membership Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~8.1%)

This is a category I spend almost nothing in, given that I live in hotels and don’t have a kitchen. That being said, the card offers triple points on grocery store purchases of up to $6,000 per year, and then on top of that a 50% points bonus when you have 30 transactions during a billing cycle.

That makes this the single highest return I get in a specific category… too bad it’s for one I hardly utilize.


Gas — Citi ThankYou® Premier Card 

Return: 3x ThankYou points worth ~1.6 cents each (~4.8%)

This card (unlike many) others includes gas under the definition of “travel,” making this a great card for gas station purchases. Again, this isn’t a category I spend much in, though, given that I live in hotels and typically prefer taking Uber or public transportaiton over renting a car.


Everyday non-bonused spend — Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Return: 1.5x Membership Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~2.7%)

Nowadays a vast majority of my non-bonused spend goes on this card. As long as I make 30 transactions per billing cycle I’m earning 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, which is a pretty darn good return for non-bonused, everyday spend. Linking this card to my Uber account helps to get me towards the 30 needed transactions per cycle.

Paying taxes — Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Return: 1.5x Membership Rewards points worth ~1.8 cents each (~2.7%)

Ultimately this should be included under the “everyday non-bonused spend” category, but I do think it’s specifically worth calling out. There are websites that will let you pay your taxes by credit card for a ~1.8% fee. Assuming I reach the 30 transaction threshold each billing cycle, that’s like picking up Membership Rewards points for ~1.2 cents each when paying my taxes. To me that’s a no brainer.

What should my strategy mean for you?

The above is my personal strategy, which suits my earning and redemption patterns well. Here’s what you should figure out for yourself:

Which points are worth most to you?

My valuations of points above are based on how I like to redeem them. Based on your redemption patterns, your valuations could be considerably different.


Do you spend enough to justify the annual fee?

It might not be worth paying the annual fee on a card just for one bonus category. In other words, I could never justify the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card exclusively for the ability to earn triple points on gas, given that it’s a category I don’t spend much in. But when I look at it more “big picture,” it is worth it to me for the triple points on gas and all other travel purchases as well.

Everyone has to crunch the numbers for themselves. In my case I’ve crunched the numbers, and to me it’s worth holding onto the above cards for the bonus categories they offer me.

Don’t over diversify your points

I’m fortunate to have millions of points across accounts at any given time. In fairness, I eat, breathe, and sleep miles & points. But if you’re not someone who plans on racking up tons of points, it might be worth deciding on one or two most valuable points currencies, and then doing what you can to maximize points within them. For example, if you’re someone who spends $10,000 per year on credit cards, it probably won’t make sense to try and earn Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and ThankYou points, given that it’ll be quite a while before you build up a sizable balance.

So you don’t just want valuable points, but you also want them in useful quantities.

Bottom line

Credit cards are one of the best ways to rack up miles & points, and a large portion of that strategy is maximizing their bonus categories. So be sure you’re paying attention to the bonuses offered by different cards, but also don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need the absolute best bonus category for every type of spend out there.

Do the cards you use for different spend categories differ from my selection?

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  1. Call me picky, but if you value AmEx MRs at 1.8c each, shouldn’t you use the EveryDay Preferred for gas purchases too? (2×1.5×1.8=5.4% vs 4.8%)

  2. Have you checked that you actually earn a 50% bonus on the extra Uber MR point? Since the extra Uber point credits separately from your monthly statement points, I’d guess you don’t earn the extra 50% on that point, so it’s really only 2.5 MR points per dollar.

  3. This is helpful! I see the Amex EverydaySM Preferred has an annual fee of $95 – how would you calculate the cost/benefit of getting this card just for the grocery bonus? Also – I looked on the site – it looks like it is just 3x bonus for the grocery category?

  4. You did not mention Chase Freedom, I am assuming because of the rolling categories. It is the card I use for gas this quarter, given the 5% back.

  5. So what do you use the SPG card for? Or do you just throw it in there on non bonus spend every once in a while? Just not sure why/if you have it.

  6. I think you mentioned it in an earlier post, but CapitalOne Quicksilver is doing a 20% rebate (plus first two rides free) on Uber until the middle of next year. I don’t think the card has an annual fee either.

  7. Could you make a similar post for those who are US residents but based abroad for a long term ? 😉

    note: X2 point for Uber, Dining offered by AMEX PRG are only valid in US territories.

  8. @Jyoti, Ben’s math is taking into consideration the 50% Bonus the card offers as long as you have 30 transactions each billing cycle. This makes the grocery category 4.5x (up to $6,000) and the gas category 3x.

    @Ben, Both the Citi Prestige AND the Citi ThankYou Premier offer 3x Thank You points on hotels, correct? Are there additional benefits to holding both cards?

  9. HA! I was just doing this yesterday! Pretty much the same with my end and your preference! But quick question on your thoughts on ThankYou Point. When you mentioned the redemption for AA/US, do you still get the miles for the status? (Sorry it might be an obvious question…)

  10. So you don’t use SPG Business Card for your Hyatt stays anymore? It still earns 5% cash back through Open Savings, right? Add in the 1 SPG point per dollar (which in the past you valued at 2.2 cents), and you are talking about a 7.2% return, which beats 4.8% with Citi Prestige (unless you are taking advantage of the 4th night free benefit). Also, I would assume starting August 11th it would make sense for domestic and international Hyatt stays, with foreign transaction fees being dropped.

  11. i know this isn’t your thing but your post makes a strong argument for doing non-bonused spend with $500 gift cards from the grocery store. A 6.9% return!

  12. @ Stvr — Definitely true, though living in hotels I have enough things to keep track of. Doubt that would end well for me. 😀

  13. @ lamonster — Agreed the SPG Biz AmEx is the way to go for domestic Hyatt spend, though I’ve already maxed out the limit on that this year, which is why I’m not using it anymore.

  14. @ Kalboz — Hmmm, maybe someone can chime in with experience on that. I think it’s processed directly by Sam’s Club, so I *believe* it doesn’t count as gas spend… I could be wrong, though.

  15. @ Adam — As far as long term benefits go, shared my general thoughts on that here:

    Basically I value the Prestige benefits long term, so will hold onto that card for sure. The Premier has slightly better bonus categories, so I think it might be worth holding onto long term as well. But I’m 100% onboard with the Citi Prestige long term.

    And you’re absolutely correct, both the Prestige and Premier offer 3x points at hotels. The reason I always use the Prestige is because it offers the fourth night free benefit as well. That way I always remember to pay with that card. I had one stay I booked using the fourth night free benefit where I accidentally paid with the Premier, since the cards look so similar. I’m trying to avoid that mistake going forward.

  16. @ Travel4B — Indeed, the Capital One promotion is awesome, though personally I don’t think it’s worth applying for a Capital One card exclusively for that, since I wouldn’t get much value out of the card otherwise.

  17. @ mark — Great question. For one, I keep it for the two elite stays and five elite nights I get towards status annually with the card. Beyond that, my everyday spend preferences do change all the time based on which programs I have the most points in. At the moment I’m Starpoints-rich and Membership Rewards-poor, which is why my focus has changed a bit. But I’m sure I’ll be using it as my primary card for everyday spend again soon.

  18. @ Richard — Awesome card indeed, which I have and love. But figured if I’m talking about general categories it wasn’t worth mentioning, since the bonus categories on the card are constantly changing.

  19. @ Jyoti — Correct, 3x points, and then you get a 50% bonus if you have 30 transactions during a billing cycle, for a total of 4.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. I’d say if you spend ~$5,000 or so a year at grocery stores you’ll come out ahead with this card.

  20. @ Bgriff — Hmmm, haven’t noticed that it posts separately. Guess I should check more carefully.

  21. @ takke — Great point. Given how little I spend on gas, guess I didn’t put enough thought into that.

  22. @Lucky

    For the 4th night free, do you have to book through the Citi Travel Portal or can you book directly with the hotel?

  23. What about dining for a business card? The best I have right now is the Club Carlson at 5 points per dollar as standard spending. The big problem, of course, is the recent double devaluation.

  24. Which card can I use when I am based in Germany ?

    I would like to redemmr miles at American Airlines frequent flyer program.

  25. @Tom – I have the Ink Plus and Ink Bold, but the Ink Cash is the one that gives double restaurant points. Sadly, there’s no way Chase will give me another UR card in the near future. Thanks for the reply, though.

  26. What do you use at drugstores and pharmacies? That can be a big cost center as you get older. Best I can find is Chase Amazon card with 2x points for spend at Amazon.

  27. Awesome post! I’ve been waiting for this ever since you mentioned somewhere that you prefer AmEx to Prestige on airline flights – I couldn’t figure out why!

  28. @ John — Yeah, unfortunately not really a much better return that I know of for drugstore spend. I usually just use my EveryDay Preferred to earn 1.5x points (factoring in the 50% bonus).

  29. @ Moritz — Do you have a US SSN/address? If not, you unfortunately wouldn’t be eligible to apply for a US credit card. Sorry.

  30. @ Christian — As noted by Tom, the Ink Cash is the way to go, as it offers 2x points. Or use another card and reimburse yourself.

  31. For Uber, I think you should directly compare CapitalOne Quicksilver card – which coincidentally you don’t have a link for – to AMEX EveryDay Preferred. The fact that CapOne basically earns 21.5% cash back (20% with the promotion and 1.5% on everything), you’d have to make a very, very compelling case that AMEX-EP with it’s 5.4% rebate would come anywhere close to CapOne for big Uber spenders. Perhaps AMEX Statement Offers and Small Biz Saturday could get you there. Don’t forget CapOne has no foreign transaction fees though. Your other recommendations seem pretty spot on but the Uber recommendation is a little disingenuous IMHO. Come May 1, 2016 you will absolutely be right when the promotion expires.

  32. @ JR — To clarify, this post wasn’t necessarily about what the “best” bonuses are, but rather those that I use and that work best for me. Is the Capital One Quicksilver return better for Uber? 10000%. But to me it’s not worth picking up a Capital One card (where they pull from all three bureaus) just to save 20% on Uber for less than the next year. But if you already have the card, it’s absolutely the best option.

  33. “I’m fortunate to have millionS of points across accounts at any given time.”
    Ben, how can I get to be as fortunate?
    Clearly, with you burn rate on travel no amount of sign-on bonuses or Uber spend can consistently generate so many points.
    Thank you in advance.

  34. You would go with AMEX Premier Rewards Gold over Chase Sapphire Preferred for airfare even with Chase’s trip delay/loss/luggage benefits?

  35. Living in the UK, I’m so jealous of the US credit card bonuses and reward points. Best you get here is 25k miles and 1.5 mile per £1 (basically 1.5%, valuing a BA avios at £0.01)

  36. @ Louis — I suppose it depends on the type of trip. I’ve only once ever used the trip benefits of the CSP, so I’m generally pretty motivated by trying to earn as many points as possible.

  37. Hi, Lucky. I just recently moved to a new apartment where they only charge a 1.2% fee for credit card payment. I think AMEX EDP would be a no brainier if they accept AMEX but they only take Visa/Master/discover… Any suggestion which card to use here? Thanks!

  38. @ Jason — At 1.2 cents per point I’d agree it’s a great deal. Maybe the Citi Double Cash Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred would be good alternatives, as I value their returns at ~1.8-2%.

  39. Red herring of an article. You just wanted to list a bunch of cards and how to use them to influence people to apply for them. You don’t need do many cards. Perhaps 2 or 3.

  40. I am slightly confused on Thank you Premier and Prestige. On x3 category, Prestige offers hotel and airfare, but Premier offers “Travel”. Is it safe to assume that Premier’s “Travel” x3 categories covers the Prestige x3 categories? So if I book on AA or on Hyatt website, I should be indifferent on using Premier or Prestige card, right? Thank you!!!

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