Dining is one of the most common and competitive bonus categories among points and miles cards. This is because so many people in the United States go out to eat often. From simple convenience to special occasions, there are great opportunities to earn rewards for dining.
But the question here is what kind of rewards do you want to earn? All three of the major transferrable points currencies and cash back can be earned by eating out.
Transferrable Points Cards
This section overviews the cards that earn the most of each transferrable points currency for dining. Citi, American Express, and Chase points are highlighted as they are the most powerful points in the industry.
The Citi Prestige currently has the highest rewards rate for dining in the points and miles world! You can earn 5x Thank You (TY) points per dollar at restaurants. You can also earn 5x points for Airfare (booked directly with the airline) and 3x points for Cruises and Hotels.
The Citi Prestige has a sign-up bonus worth 50,000 points. It can be earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with some perks including Priority Pass airport lounge access and its signature Fourth Night Free benefit. These benefits can help to justify the card’s $495 annual fee (NOT waived the first year).
American Express Gold Card
American Express’ golden charge card earns 4x Membership Rewards (MR) points on US Restaurants and US Grocery Stores. There is a shared $25,000 annual spend limit for both categories. The Gold Card also offers $220 in dining and airline credits each year. These credits can help to justify the card’s $250 annual fee (NOT waived the first year) if you can use them fully.
The Gold Card currently has a sign-up bonus worth 35,000 points. This bonus can be earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The minimum spend requirement used to be just $2,000 within the first three months. But Amex doubled it to $4,000 in October 2019 to better align with competitors. Unfortunately, this makes the Gold Card’s bonus much less desirable than it used to be.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase’s top travel card is one of the best for quickly earning Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. That’s because it earns 3x points for Dining as well as General Travel.
Like the Citi Prestige, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a sign-up bonus worth 50,000 points. It can be earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months. This card also comes with some nice perks including Priority Pass airport lounge access, Chase’s famous $300 general travel credit, and a Pre-TSA / Global Entry fee waiver credit.
Alternatively, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is available if you do not want to pay a $450 annual fee. You will earn 2x points for the same categories as the Reserve, but it will only cost you $95 per year.
This no annual fee Chase card earns 5x UR points in quarterly rotating categories, which often includes restaurants. The Chase Freedom practically prints points if you can maximize the categories each quarter. There is a $1,500 spend limit each quarter. This means that you will earn only one point in bonus category spend if you exceed that limit.
The Freedom comes with a sign-up bonus worth 15,000 points (or $150). It can be earned after spending just $500 in the first three months. But you need to have either the Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Chase Ink Preferred alongside this card to transfer points.
Either way, this card is great for beginners and as a supplementary card provided you can max out the categories.
Cash Back Cards
Cash back cards are not as rewarding as transferrable points cards for travelers. However, they shouldn’t be pushed aside. Straight cash can oftentimes cover travel expenses that transferrable points can’t.
Capital One Savor
The Capital One Savor Card is also great if you want to earn cash back for dining. Capital One aptly created and named this card for “savers” who want to “savor” their meals. Nonetheless, the Savor Card earns 4% cash back on all Dining and Entertainment purchases. It also earns an unlimited 2% back at Grocery Stores.
The Capital One Savor Card has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), which is one of the highest among cash back cards. But it also has a sign-up bonus worth $500 that can be earned after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. That bonus is like getting nearly a 17% return on your purchases on top of other cash back.
Caveat emptor before applying for any Capital One card. Capital One is one of the few issuers to pull all three credit bureaus when applying for any of their cards. If you are inquiry sensitive, Capital One cards might not be for you.
Discover’s flagship card is like the Chase Freedom in that it earns 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories. Restaurants are also a regular category for Discover whose card lets its holders earn up to $75 in cash back each quarter.
Discover also has an unconventional sign-up bonus that solely depends on how much you spend. Discover will double the amount of cash back earned within the first 12 months. You would need to spend $3,000 in the 5% categories to earn $150 in cash back. That requires you to maximize any two categories, which can take up to 6 months.
Dining out is one of the easiest ways to earn travel rewards. All you have to do is figure out what kinds of rewards you want to earn before applying. Consider your travel itinerary, loyalty to transfer partners, and how much you are willing to pay in annual fees.
Also note that your mileage may vary. The cards listed above are my suggestions and you might have another card that works better for you.