Insider Secret: To maximize your points, choose a credit card with a high earning rate in the categories where you spend the most.
One of the best ways to maximize your points is to use credit cards that have good earnings in your top spending categories. Who wants to earn 1X points per dollar when you could be earning 5X points per dollar just for using the right card?
In this post, we’ll look at the best credit card for each major spending category.
Keep in mind that while a credit card’s earning rate is important, the value of the points earned is also a useful consideration. Some cards have a very high earning rate in certain categories, but if the value of those points is lower, your rate of return will be less. We’ll recap the best card to use for spending in each bonus category based on earning rate while also considering the average redemption value of different types of points.
If you value one type of point higher than another, you may find other cards are better for your specific situation. As always, do the math to determine which credit cards and which types of points are best for your situation.
The Platinum Card from American Express earns a whopping 5X points per dollar on airfare. Membership Rewards points are among the most valuable of all points, so this is a great card for folks who fly frequently. Note that to earn the 5X points, you must book your travel directly with the airline or through American Express travel.
The Citi Prestige comes in a close second, as it also earns 5X points per dollar on airfare. Citi ThankYou points are typically a little less valuable than AMEX Membership Rewards points, but this will depend on how you use them. One nice feature of the Citi Prestige is that the 5X points is not limited to purchases directly with the airline, so if you book your airfare through a travel agent, you can still earn the extra points. The Prestige also has substantially better travel protection benefits than the AMEX Platinum.
The Ink Business Cash card earns 5% cash back on cell phone, landline, internet and cable TV purchases, up to $25,000 per calendar year. For many folks, these services can run $200+ per month, meaning you can literally earn thousands of points per month in just this category. While the 5% cash back is good, the best way to use the Ink Cash card is to transfer the points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which then allows you to use the points at any of the Chase transfer partners.
The Ink Business Preferred Card earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points on cell phone, internet and cable purchases, but the main draw is the excellent cell phone insurance coverage. With the Ink Preferred, you have up to $600 in cell phone insurance for you and any employees listed on your monthly bill after paying a $100 deductible.
With the 2019 revamp, the Citi Prestige now earns 5X points per dollar on dining. Citi ThankYou points are especially valuable if you can take advantage of one of the 15 transfer partners.
The American Express Gold Card earns 4X Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on dining purchases worldwide. Similar to ThankYou points, the best use of Membership Rewards points is typically to transfer them to one of the 21 AMEX transfer partners.
The Capital One Savor card earns an impressive 4% cash back on entertainment purchases. The entertainment category is pretty broad on the Savor card and includes movie theaters, plays, concerts, sporting events, tourist attractions, theme parks, aquariums, zoos, dance clubs, bowling alleys, pool halls, record stores and video rental locations.
The US Bank Cash+ card earns 5% cash-back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases each quarter on two categories you choose. There are a number of categories that would fall under entertainment, depending on your interests:
While the Cash+ card has a higher earning rate, the 5% cash back only applies for two categories and up to $2,000 in spending per quarter. The Capital One Savor card earns 4% cash back on all entertainment categories and does not have a limit on the number of points you can earn.
The American Express Business Gold card allows you to earn 4X points in your top two spending categories each month (up to $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year) including at US gas stations. So if gas is one of your top expenses each month, the Business Gold is a no-brainer.
The Citi Premier card earns 3X points on all travel purchases, including gas. The Premier card earns Citi ThankYou points which can be transferred to one of the Citi transfer partners or redeemed with a 25% bonus through the Citi ThankYou travel center.
Both the Amex Blue Cash Preferred and EveryDay Preferred cards are excellent for shopping at grocery stores, so you should pick one based on your preferences. If you prefer cash back, the Blue Cash Preferred earns 6% cash back at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). But if you prefer travel rewards, the EveryDay Preferred is the way to go, as it earns 3X points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 each year; then 1X, plus a 50% points bonus each statement period during which you make 30 or more transactions).
If you maximize the value of AMEX Membership Rewards points by transferring to travel partners, this could be a huge return on your spending. The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
With the Capital One Venture Rewards card, you earn 10X miles on hotels booked and paid through Hotels.com/Venture. If you combine this with the hotels.com rewards program, where you get one free night for every 10 nights that you book, you are getting the equivalent of up to 20X miles on your hotel spending. Keep in mind that you may not receive elite benefits or credit for stays with the hotel loyalty program when you book through hotels.com.
If you are loyal to a particular hotel brand or have elite status, there may be better cards for your specific situation. For example, if you stay exclusively at Hilton hotels, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express gets you 14X points on Hilton stays at participating locations. And since the card come with complimentary Hilton Diamond status, you’ll earn an extra 20X points on most Hilton stays, for total earnings of 34X points.
Other hotel chains like Marriott and Hyatt have similar branded credit cards, so be sure to do the math if you are loyal to a particular brand. But if you prefer the flexibility of being able to stay at any hotel you want, the Capital One Venture Rewards card is hard to beat.
The AMEX Platinum card earns 5X points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. While this is significantly less than the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, AMEX Membership Rewards are much more valuable. If you can redeem AMEX points for a good value and don’t mind pre-paying your hotel stay through amextravel.com, the Platinum card is a great option for hotel stays.
Almost every travel rewards credit card earns bonus points in certain categories. One of the keys to maximizing your points earnings it to use the right card for the categories where you have the most spending.
Of course, the best card for you will depend on both your spending habits and how you want to use your points. Do the math to determine which card is best for your specific situation.
This story was originally written on Million Mile Secrets. For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.