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The world of miles, points and credit cards can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out. There are so many cards out there from multiple issuers, it can be hard to figure out which card to get, or which card to use where.
While there are some cards that offer a flat rate of miles, points or cash back on ALL purchases, it seems like the majority of cards have different tiered bonus amounts on different categories. Depending on where you do the majority of your shopping, this can make a big difference in the rewards you get from your spending.
While I try to take the maxim to not sweat the small stuff if you accidentally use the “wrong” card one day (it isn’t really THAT many points), if you’re looking to get a new card, taking a few minutes to consider what card makes the most sense for the spending categories that you use the most is a wise move.
Here are a few of my favorite credit cards for different categories of spending:
Best cards for groceries
Grocery stores are one of the biggest monthly expenses for most families, so it’s no surprise that many credit card issuers offer cards that incentivize grocery stores. When it comes to the best credit cards for grocery shopping, American Express stands out.
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred – comes with a $95 annual fee, but earns 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). Another option is the Blue Cash Everyday card, which offers 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) but no annual fee.
- American Express EveryDay Preferred – also a $95 annual fee but earns 3X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets up to the first $6,000 in spend each year, and also gets a 50% bonus each month that you use the card at least 30 times.
- American Express Gold Card – Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). However, it also comes with a hefty $250 annual fee.
If you shop at Target or Amazon / Whole Foods, you might also consider their co-branded credit cards as another option.
Best cards for dining
Dining is another popular category for credit card issuers; here are a few popular cards that give bonus at restaurants:
- Citi Prestige – earns 5 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent at restaurants. It also has a welcome offer of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of having the card. It has a $495 annual fee, though that is partially offset by a $250 annual travel credit
- American Express Gold Card – in addition to 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (see above), the Gold Card earns 4 points per dollar while dining as well. It does have a $250 annual fee, but you also get a $100 annual travel credit and $120 each year at either :, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, or participating Shake Shack locations.
- CapitalOne Savor Rewards – offers an unlimited 4% cash back on dining.
Best cards for travel
Deciding on the best cards for travel is an exercise in choosing whether you value earning points when BOOKING travel vs. perks WHILE you’re traveling. Many travel-focused cards offer perks both while booking and traveling, but you do have to strike the balance. If you find yourself always flying on one particular airline or staying at one particular hotel brand, then you’re likely going to want to get that brand’s card as it will often offer perks specific to that hotel or airline. Just remember that your United credit card does you no good when you’re flying Delta!
For those of us who are free agents, here are a few of the best cards for all-around travel:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months (worth at least $750 in travel). The Sapphire Preferred earns 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on travel and has a $95 annual fee. Also consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve which earns 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel, excellent trip and travel insurance and a $300 annual travel credit, but comes with a $550 annual fee.
- CapitalOne Venture Rewards card – 50,000 Venture miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. CapitalOne Venture miles can be used straight up as cash ($500) on just about anything travel related or transferred to a variety of airline partners.
- Chase Ink Business Preferred – 80,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The Ink Preferred earns 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and a $95 annual fee.
Best cards for gas
Here are some of the best cards for use at gas stations:
- American Express EveryDay Preferred – Earns 2 Membership Rewards points at gas stations and also gets a 50% bonus each month that you use the card at least 30 times. $95 annual fee
- Citi Premier Card – earns 3 ThankYou points at gas stations (and travel). $95 annual fee
- Hilton Honors Surpass card – Get 125,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months of having the card, and 6 Hilton points per dollar spent at gas stations. $95 annual fee
Best cards for everyday purchases
Finally we come to the best cards on everyday (non-bonused) spending. These are typically cards that don’t offer category bonuses but instead give a solid reward for ALL purchases. Use these cards for spending that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories.
- American Express Blue Business Plus – Earn 2 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent up to the first $50,000 per calendar year. No annual fee
- Citi Double Cash – Earn 2% cash back (or 2 ThankYou points) for all purchases – 1% when you make the purchase and another 1% when you pay your bill on time (which you should always do!)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited – Earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on all purchases. Combine the Freedom Unlimited with a premium Chase card such as the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Preferred or Sapphire Reserve to unlock higher value redemptions and transfers to Chase’s hotel and airline partners to maximize the value.
What are some of your favorite credit cards? Let us know in the comments!