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Over the past few years — arguably since 2016, when the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card debuted, but arguably for several years before that, too — credit card rewards and travel went hand in hand. While cash back remains the most popular type of credit card reward, as opposed to frequent flyer miles or hotel points, cards have increasingly focused on providing travel benefits and perks.
While travel is still a major focus of credit card rewards, and is often the best redemption option when using credit card points, a new rewards trend has emerged during 2018.
Dining, often combined with groceries or entertainment, has emerged as a standalone flagship bonus category.
“Credit card issuers have made dining rewards a major focus in 2018, creating an arms race of sorts as banks try to one-up each other to compete for the attention of consumers,” said Julian Mark Kheel, editorial director at travel and lifestyle website The Point Guy (which is a Business Insider e-commerce partner). “In this golden age of dining rewards, if you go out to eat even once a week, you should make sure you have a credit card in your purse or wallet that rewards you for those purchases.”
While cards have earned bonus points on dining and groceries before — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which was released in 2009, earns 2x points on dining alongside travel — the releases of new cards and refreshes of several existing cards have been particularly food-centric, rather than tying dining to travel. In addition to new cards currently available from AmEx, Capital One, and Wells Fargo, Citi recently announced a refresh to its Prestige Card.
However, while the focus on dining as a standalone category is evident, American Express, which released a new restaurant-centric version of its Gold Card in October, still retains an element of travel lifestyle in its new card’s positioning.
“We designed the new Gold Card to reward our Card Members’ growing appetites for dining out, eating in and traveling near and far,” said Rachel Stocks, who is an executive vice president of premium products and benefits at AmEx. “Our Card Members increasingly want to experience new cuisines and explore new places, so when creating this new product, we focused on adding value in these areas.”
Similarly, Capital One based the 2018 refresh its year-old Savor and SavorOne cards around customer feedback.
“We hear from our customers that they value the time they spend with family and friends, dining out and having fun, said Lauren Liss, the vice president of US card products at Capital One. “We kept that in mind when developing our new Savor card, and updated it to reward people more for doing the things they love.”
Between generous rewards on spending and high new member bonuses, 2018 has brought in a rewarding time for diners.
Here are the best cards available right now — new and old — for dining and groceries.
Welcome offer: 25,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Until January 9: Get up 20% back at US restaurants within the first three months, up to $100 total.
Best for: All-around dining rewards
This October, American Express launched a massive reboot of its Premier Rewards Gold card, or “PRG,” rebranding it as the American Express Gold Card, releasing a new metal design and limited-edition rose gold version, and totally overhauling the rewards and benefits on the card. Because that wasn’t quite enough, AmEx also launched a fairly unique new welcome bonus.
Right now, this is arguably the best card available for food, unless you’re only interested in cash back, rather than potentially more valuable rewards points, and unless you find yourself abroad at restaurants often.
The new Gold Card earns 4x points at US restaurants and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets (and 1x point after that), 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline, and 1x point on everything else. Based on the fact that you can easily redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1¢ of value each, that makes this the highest-earning card for everything food-related.
Like the old PRG, the Gold Card offers a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, and adds up to $120 of dining credits — split into $10 each month — at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Steak House, or participating Shake Shack locations.
New card members — those who haven’t previously had the Premier Rewards Gold — can earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 points when they spend $2,000 in the first three months. Additionally, those who apply before January 9 can get 20% back on all US restaurant charges — up to $100 total — in the form of a statement credit.
While it’s difficult to assign an exact value to Membership Rewards points, The Points Guy subjectively estimates each point as worth 1.9¢. That makes the welcome bonus worth $575 — $475 for the points, and up to $100 back from restaurants. Even without factoring in the annual credit benefits, that’s more than enough to make up for the card’s $250 annual fee.
Click here to learn more about the AmEx Gold Card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Sign-up bonus: $500 (after spending $3,000 in the first three months)
Best for: Cash back rewards on dining
If dining and cooking are your thing, and cash back is what you’re after, the Capital One Savor is sure to please.
The card earns unlimited 4% cash back on all dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. Plus, the card offers a whopping $500 sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
The Savor carries a lower annual fee than the AmEx Gold — $95, waived the first year. The earning rate will make up for the fee in many cases, based on normal spending, but if that’s too high for you, there’s an alternative: the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card.
The SavorOne card has no annual fee, and offers a slightly lower — but still valuable — earning rate of 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. It offers a lower sign-up bonus of $150 when you spend $500 in the first three months.
Click here to learn more about the Capital One Savor card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Click here to learn more about the Capital One SavorOne card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Read more: The Capital One Savor offers 4% cash back on dining and entertainment — here’s how much the average American saves each year with the card
Welcome bonus: 30,000 Go Far points, worth $300 (after spending $3,000 in the first three months)
Best for: Dining rewards with no annual fee
This new card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you’ll find from a no-annual-fee card. While it’s marketed as earning “points,” those points are worth 1¢ each and can be redeemed for cash, essentially making it a cash-back card; you can also redeem points at 1¢ each for travel, gift cards, and more.
The card earns 3x points (essentially 3% cash back) on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else). If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve (more on that in a minute).
Of course, there are some key differences between the cards. The Propel is basically a cash-back card with a range of redemption opportunities, all of which value points at 1¢ each, while the Sapphire Reserve offers a potentially more valuable redemption options. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve offers a number of premium travel-centric perks that the Propel doesn’t, like airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit travel delay insurance, and more.
Of course, the Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $450 annual fee, while the Wells Fargo Propel doesn’t have a fee. It’s also more useful for frequent travelers.
The $300 welcome bonus on the Propel, combined with the high 3% earning rate on popular spend categories including all dining and travel (and 1% on everything else), as well as the $0 annual fee, makes this a stellar option.
Click here to learn more about the Wells Fargo Propel card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)
Best for: Dining and travel combined
The Chase Sapphire Preferred predates the recent trend of dining-centric cards, and it ties dining inextricably to travel. However, it still remains one of the most all-around useful and rewarding cards out there — and it offers bonus points on dining purchases.
The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points per dollar spent on just about all travel and dining purchases, and 1x point on everything else. It also comes with a ton of travel and purchase protections, such as rental car insurance, trip delay coverage, and extended warranty.
The sign-up bonus — 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points — is worth, at the very least, $500 as cash back or gift cards. However, if you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and use points to pay, you’ll get a 25% bonus, making points worth 1.25 cents each. That means that the sign-up bonus would be worth $625.
Even more lucrative — the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your UR points to a few different frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. This comes in handy because, in many cases, it costs fewer points to book a trip if you go through one of those programs, as opposed to using the points as cash. You can read more about why transferring points to frequent flyer programs gets you more value here.
This all comes for a fairly standard annual fee of $95, which is waived the first year.
You may also want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is basically a beefier version of the Preferred.
While the card comes with the same sign-up bonus, it earns points on everyday spending faster, nabbing a higher 3x points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases, and 1x on everything else. It also offers similar, though in many cases, enhanced travel and purchase protections.
While the card has a $450 annual fee, it makes up for that with a yearly $300 travel credit, access to airport lounges through the Priority Pass network, and more. However, the Reserve is only valuable if you’re a fairly regular traveler. While there are plenty of reasons to pick it over the Preferred, the Preferred is a better option for a dining-centric spender who’s also looking for solid travel rewards — here are seven other reasons you might want the Preferred over the Reserve.
Click here to learn more about the Sapphire Preferred from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy