Best Credit Cards for Restaurant Spending (2021)
Make sure to read the tips and general advice in our Optimize Rewards by Using Different Cards for Different Purchases guide.
In order to increase the value of their cards while most people aren't travelling, several credit card companies have made short-term enhancements to the dining rewards on their cards.
- The Citi Prestige's $250 credit will be automatically applied to restaurant (and grocery) purchases during 2021. This is great because the Prestige card already offers the most valuable reward rate on restaurant purchases.
- You can redeem your Capital One Venture and Spark points for restaurant (and streaming or wireless) purchases (at full value).
- All of the personal Hilton, Marriott, and Delta cards receive a monthly restaurant credit every month in 2021. You want to make sure to use the card to get anywhere from $5-20 of free restaurant, delivery, or takeout food every month.
- The Altitude Reserve earns 3x points on restaurant purchases until the end of June 2021, even if you don't pay with mobile wallet. Even better, any remaining travel credit will be automatically applied to these charges.
- If you want to keep it simple, stick with the Chase combo. It earns 3x easy-to-use Ultimate Rewards points on restaurants, valued at 5.1 cents per dollar. You can earn 3x points in dining with the Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, or Sapphire Reserve card. If you don't have the Sapphire Reserve, you'll need either the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Preferred to get maximum value for your points by transferring them to Hyatt or other travel partners.
- You can get even more value from the Citi Prestige Card. It earns 5x Thank You points on restaurants (and airfare), worth at least 7 cents per dollar. To get the most value from ThankYou points, you'll need to transfer them to frequent flyer programs and use them for award tickets. But, even if you just use them to purchase travel through Citi, 5 points are worth 5 cents per dollar (5.55 cents if you also have the Reward+ Card), about the same as the Chase cards. The drawback is the effective $245 annual fee, which is a lot to pay for higher reward rates on restaurant and online travel agency spending. But, if you spend at least $10,000 per year on restaurants, can take good advantage of the Prestige Card's unique 4th night free benefit, want a Priority Pass membership that includes unlimited guests, or have access to a lower annual fee as a Citigold customer, it can make sense to use this card, instead of the Sapphire Reserve, for restaurant and online travel agency purchases.
- If you are planning to get the Amex Gold Card for purchasing supermarket gift cards, it is probably your best option for most restaurant spending. You'll earn 4x Membership Reward points on restaurants and the annual fee can be justified by the 4x points on grocery spend (let alone the dining and Uber credits). Keep in mind that many restaurants, especially outside of the United States, won't accept Amex cards.
- If you can deal with some extra complexity, the Wells Fargo "Combo" is your next best option. It earns 4.5% on dining, without any annual fees. The trick is that you need to have two different Wells Fargo cards. And because you can only get one Wells Fargo card every 15 months, it will take some time to put this plan into action. The Wells Fargo Propel Card earns 3x points on Restaurant (and Travel, Gas, and Streaming Services). Normally these points are only worth 1 cent each. But, if you also have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card, you can redeem points at 1.5 cents each, for airfare purchases through the Wells Fargo portal. That works out to 4.5 cents per dollar.
- If you don't spend a bunch on restaurants and don't already have a better card, you can earn 4% on restaurants with the Altitude Go card and pay no annual fees. Unfortunately, the points don't combine with points from the Altitude Reserve card, so you can't redeem your points for more than 1 cent each. The Altitude Go also comes with a potentially useful $15 annual streaming credit and a small signup bonus.
If you want to concentrate on Membership Reward points and don't plan on spending a bunch on groceries, the Amex Green Card is an interesting option. It earns the same 3x points on Travel and Restaurants as the Sapphire Reserve Card but earns Membership Rewards points rather than Ultimate Rewards points. The effective annual fee is a little lower than Sapphire Reserve's as well. But unless you are sure you going to use your points for frequent flyer tickets, it is probably better to get the extra benefits and points flexibility from the Sapphire Reserve.
The point values used in the table below are estimates based on a typical traveler. They may need to be adjusted for your individual preferences and travel patterns. For example, if you highly value premium cabin award tickets and are willing and able to build up large point balances, Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and ThankYou points are much more valuable and you should earn as many of those types of points as you can. If you have trouble finding good frequent flyer redemptions, you might want to focus on cards that earn points that can be used more like cash. Deciding What Type of Points to Earn
The annual costs in the table below reflect the annual fee minus any travel credits. For travel credits that are harder to redeem, we value the credit at 50% of the maximum credit amount. We value the Amex Airlines Incidental Credit at only 25% of the maximum credit amount. If you are willing to do the work or are otherwise able to get full value from these credits, the effective annual fee can be considerably lower.
Some cards waive the annual fee for the first year. But the table focuses on what you would pay in the longer term.
|Citi Prestige||7%||5x TY||$245‡|
|Amex Gold||6%||4x MR||$30-250|
|Amex Business Gold Rewards Card
(if it is one of your two bonus categories)
|Capital One Savor Card||4 - 5.2% §||4x||$95|
|Sapphire Reserve Card||5.1%||3x UR||$190-250|
|Freedom Unlimited Card
(with a card that enables UR transfers)
|Freedom Flex Card
(with a card that enables UR transfers)
|Wells Fargo Propel Card
(with Wells Fargo Visa Signature)
|US Bank Altitude Reserve
(on mobile wallet purchases only)
|US Bank Flexperks Gold||4.5%||3x FP||$85|
|Amex Green Card||4.5%||3x MR||$150|
|Fairwinds Visa Signature||4.5%||3x||$249|
|Citi Premier||4.2%||3x TY||$95|
|Capital One SaverOne Card||3 - 3.9% §||3x||$0|
|BOA Premium Rewards||2-3.5%†||2-3.5x||$45|
|Ink Cash (business card)||3.4%||2x UR||$0|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||3.4%||2x UR||$95|
|CNB Crystal Infinite*||3.3%||3x||$150|
|Hilton Aspire||3.15%||7x Hilton||$<0-450|
(for Morgan Stanley customers only)
|Costco / Sam's Club Credit Card||3%||3%||$0|
* Cardholders with more than $20,000 in combined balances at BOA / Merrill Lynch earn bonus rewards, maxing out at 3.5 points, or 5.25 cents on travel purchases.
† Bonus rewards on US Restaurants only.
§ Higher estimated value is for people who can transfer to a Capital One miles earning card to transfer to airline and hotel partners. Lower value is straight cashback (and doesn't require a second card).
‡ Citigold customers get an effective annual fee of $100.
Restaurant delivery and takeout services
Your card's restaurant bonus category reward rate should work when you use a delivery or takeout service like DoorDash. In addition, a few credit cards have special credits or benefits with different services.
The Sapphire Reserve Card provides a $60 credit for 2021. You can use it all at once or across multiple orders.
The Sapphire Reserve and the Sapphire Preferred provide a 12 month DashPass membership. The Freedom Unlimited, Freedom Flex, Freedom, and Chase Slate provide three month memberships (and 50% off the next 9 months). DashPass lowers the service fees on orders of $12 or more from many of DoorDash's restaurants and eliminates DoorDash's delivery fee. The offer needs to be activated here by the end of 2021. After a year (or after the end of 2021 if you activated the offer in 2020), you will automatically be charged the regular $10/month fee.
The personal version of the Amex Platinum Card provides a $15 Uber credit every month (and an extra $20 in December). The personal version of the Amex Gold Card provides a $10 per month credit. Both can be used on uberEats as well as for ride shares. To activate the credit, you just need to add the cards as payment option on your account. The monthly credits will then be automatically added to your Uber Cash balance. Any unused amount will be subtracted back out at the end of the month. You can add multiple versions of each card to the same account so that you can use a large amount on a single purchase.
The personal versions of the Amex Platinum, Gold, and Green Cards provide a free year of Eats Pass. Uber Eat Pass eliminates the delivery fee from restaurants (and from grocery orders over $30) and provides a 5% discount on most restaurant orders of over $15. You'll be prompted to activate your Pass in the Uber app and can do so until the end of 2021. After 12 months, you'll automatically be billed at the normal $10 per month rate.
Uber's own credit card provides 5% cashback on Uber Eats purchases.
Simply by linking your accounts, you'll earn Marriott points on some Uber purchases. You get 2 points for Uber eats orders of at least $25, 6 points for Uber Eats orders delivered to Marriott hotels, and 3 points per dollar for Uber XL, Comfort, and Black rides. You link your accounts in the Rewards section of the Uber app.
|Grubhub / Seamless||
The Amex Gold Card provides a $10 per month credit that you can use at Grubhub or Seamless. The credit can also be used at The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Once enrolled on the card's online benefit page, you only need to use your card to make the purchase and you'll automatically receive the credit. This benefit is in addition to the card's $10 per month Uber benefit.
While the Sapphire Reserve has a DoorDash credit, it also provides a free 'Grubhub+ / Seamless+ membership. Grubhub+ eliminates the delivery fee (on orders of at least $12). The Grubhub+ membership comes as a side-benefit of the Sapphire Reserve's free Lyft Pink membership which lasts until March of 2022.
Most World and World Elite Mastercards get $5 off every Postmate order of $25 or more.
If you have multiple eligible cards, you should be able to extend your DashPass or Eats Pass memberships by activating the membership on one card right away, cancelling your membership just before the end of the year, and then immediately reactivating with another card.
Supercharge your dining rewards with a credit card dining program
By taking advantage of dining programs, you can earn even more points from using your credit card at some restaurants. You simply register your card with the dining program, and you’ll earn extra points each time you use it at a participating restaurant. Earn Extra Rewards by Enrolling in Credit Card Dining Programs
blog comments powered by Disqus