Until recently, there were limited options for earning credit card rewards while dining out. In the past few years, however, many premium rewards cards have made restaurant spending just as rewarding as travel—a recognition of the fact that the two categories frequently go together.
In selecting a credit card that earns points for dining, remember one of the cardinal rules: All points are not created equal. Example: American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the most valuable at nearly two cents apiece. The Amex Gold card gives four points per dollar on travel, for a net value of eight cents per dollar. The top-tier Hilton Honors Aspire card from American Express will yield seven points per dollar, which would appear to be a much better choice.
But guess what? Hilton points are worth approximately one half-cent each, making the yield on the Aspire card less than half of what you’ll get from the Amex Gold. Before you commit yourself to a rewards card, make sure you do the math—and also consider how rewarding the card is for the other categories where your spending is concentrated.
Here are some of the top choices for restaurant spending, from the most rewarding on down:
This card currently leads the pack at five points per dollar at restaurants both in the U.S. and overseas. While Citi ThankYou points aren’t worth quite as much as Amex or Chase, most sources value them at 1.5-1.7 cents. The card also gives 5X for air travel, 3X for hotels and cruise lines and one point everywhere else. There’s a bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The annual fee is $450.
American Express Gold
As mentioned, you get 4X for restaurants around the world, along with 4X at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each year), 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com, and one point elsewhere. The bonus is 35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, and the annual fee is $250.
American Express Green
Thanks to a recent makeover, the venerable Green Card now gives 3X on dining worldwide, along with 3X on travel (defined as airfare, hotels, car rentals, tours, travel agencies, campsites and home shares as well as transit) and one point on everything else. The annual fee is $150, and you earn 30,000 with spending of $2,000 in the first three months.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
This is the card that started the competition in the dining space, with three points per dollar on worldwide dining (and travel as well) along with one point elsewhere. The current signup bonus is 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in your first three months. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed through the Chase Travel Portal and are generally valued at nearly two cents each. The annual fee recently went up to $550; there’s a $300 annual travel credit (automatically applied), but you still need to do the math carefully before applying.
Hilton Honors Aspire From American Express
We mentioned earlier that the Aspire gives seven points per dollar on dining (at U.S. restaurants only), but the points themselves are generally valued at only $0.05-0.06. Even so, it has other benefits for Hilton loyalists: 14X per dollar on charges at Hilton hotels and resorts, 7X on selected car rentals or on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and one point elsewhere. It also includes a $250 airline incidental fee credit, a $250 credit at Hilton resorts, and top-tier Hilton Diamond status. The card comes with a bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in your first three months, and the annual fee is $450.
Hilton Honors Surpass From American Express
For an annual fee of $95, you receive 6X at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, along with 12X for charges at Hilton properties and one point for everything else. It also includes Hilton Honors Gold status and 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits each year, and it yields a bonus of 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in your first three months of card membership.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The sibling to the Sapphire Reserve is easier to be approved for, and also offers some attractive rewards: two points per dollar on worldwide dining as well as travel, and one point on all other purchases. The signup bonus is even higher than the Reserve at 60,000 points for $4,000 in spending within your first three months. The annual fee is a comparatively low $95.
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards
If you’re interested in cash back rather than rewards, this card gives you 4% on all restaurant purchases (including fast food, Starbucks and food trucks). You earn a $300 cash bonus after spending $3,000 in your first three months. Even better, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
Wells Fargo Propel From American Express
Looking for restaurant rewards with no annual fee? This card gives triple points on dining (whether you go out or order in), along with airfare, hotels, car rentals and gas stations. There’s a bonus of 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in purchases over your first three months.
There are now more options to earn dining rewards than ever before. To maximize your returns, consider three factors: the value of the points, the annual fee, and how rewarding the card is for other categories where your spending is concentrated.
Source: frugal travel guy