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Which Credit Cards to Use to Maximize Bonuses For Each Spend Category

If you’re looking to really maximize the number of bonus miles and points you’re getting when you use your credit card, you’re going to have to carry a couple of cards. Me, I use the Starwood Amex for everyday spend, Amex PRG for Airfare (because of the 3X bonus) and Chase Sapphire Preferred for other travel spend because of the 2X bonus. I could certainly maximize more by carrying a few other cards but honestly, I’m too lazy for that.

But you don’t need to be that lazy. I’ve put together the chart below to show which credit card gives you the best bonus for many categories of spending. As always, anything I’ve forgotten just note it in the comments.

In general, I’m assuming most points are worth something in the 1-2 cent range (it varies, and certainly some points are more valuable than others. But it also varies widely based on what you use the points for – I just booked a trip where I’m getting about 10 cents in value for each point. Points become much more valuable, for example, when you’re booking premium cabin travel). For the chart below, I’ve suggested a cash back card when the value of the cash back outweighed the value of the points, assuming a 2 cent point value.

CategoryBest Credit Card to UseBonus You ReceiveAnnual Fee
Airline TicketsAmerican Express Premier Rewards Gold or the Business version3x Membership Rewards PointsFree first year, then $175
All Other TravelChase Sapphire PreferredDouble Ultimate Rewards
Points (transferable to
United, Continental,
Korean Air, British Airways, Marriott, Hyatt and Priority
Free first year, then $95
GasPenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa5% Cash BackFree
GroceriesAmerican Express Blue Cash Preferred6% Cash Back$75
RestaurantsCiti Forward5x ThankYou points
(essentially you can get
3.1% cash back in the
form of gift cards)
No Annual Fee
Business Services (Office Supplies, Wireless Access, Phone, Cable)Ink Boldâ„  with Ultimate Rewards5% Cash BackFree first year, then $95
AdvertisingAmex Premier Rewards Gold Business2X Membership Rewards PointsFree first year, then $175
ShippingAmex Premier Rewards Gold Business2X Membership Rewards PointsFree first year, then $175
Straight Cash BackFidelity American Rewards Express and Capital One Spark Cash Business or Priceline Rewards Visa2% Cash BackNo annual fee for Fidelity or Priceline, $59 for Capital One
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  1. I think the PenFed AMEX is best for airline tickets. You earn 5 points in their travel awards program for every dollar spent on airfare, and each point is worth about a penny and a half for air travel booked through their program. So it’s like better than a 7% rebate.

  2. It’s still not bad, but PenFed apparently just changed their award chart so the points are now worth about 1.25 cents each (rather than 1.5) so the effective rebate is about 6%. That’s not bad, obviously, but from what I’ve read there is a hassle factor in using those points, no?

  3. i just applied for blue preferred from amex. is the deal of spending 1k and getting $150 still valid?
    also is it 6% back for ANY supermarket eg mom & pop grocery?
    last, what about groceries out of the usa?

  4. I know this is an older post, but I wanted to point out that Citi Forward gives 5% back on books. They consider Amazon a bookstore, so all purchases made at Amazon get 5% back, whether they are books or not.

    Also, the Citi travel center is great for redeeming points. They have a points + cash option, so you don’t have to have the exact points for the airfare, which is a straight $0.01 per point.