Ever take a look at how much Americans spend at restaurants every year? We won’t bore you with all the details but let’s just say it’s billions of dollars. You read that right. That’s billion with a big fat B.
We think that means billions of points and miles should be earned on that spend, but far too many are earning a measly 1% cash back. Don’t even get us started on those wasting that spend by paying with a debit card or cash.
That’s okay, though. Not everyone has seen the light yet, but we hear from a bunch of people just starting their adventures in the miles and points world who could use a little help getting started.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the best cards for dining purchases whether you want to earn transferable points, airline miles, hotel points or cash back. We’ll even cover a few perks that you might not realize you can use just by having specific cards.
Best Credit Cards For Dining – The Champs
If you’re looking for the most bang for you buck consistently, look no further than our champs. These three cards earn transferable points so you have access to numerous airline transfer partners so you can get the best deal when you want to book an award ticket. Our winners earn between 3X and 5X on all dining purchases which makes a 1% cash back or debit card look pretty silly if you ask us.
American Express Gold Card
The Amex Gold Card (Learn More) earns 4X Membership Rewards points when you use it at restaurants. Until mid-2019, it actually only earned bonus points on U.S. restaurants a and 1X when abroad. This was a huge weak spot that American Express was smart to fix. Now, it’s easily one of the most powerful cards you can use when you visit your favorite sandwich shop or splurge on a Michelin-starred meal.
What can you do with Amex Membership Rewards Points? Check out some of our favorite ways to redeem Amex points for crazy value.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
If you’re looking for the best place to get started with points and miles, we’re big fans of the Chase Sapphire Reserve — yes, we know lots of people think the Chase Sapphire Preferred should be the starting point. There are a few reasons for this but a big one is that it earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to World of Hyatt as well as airline partners.
It’s also restricted by the Chase 5/24 rule which could prevent you from getting it if you don’t get it early in your miles and points journey. It would be a shame to miss out on earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points. Don’t take this on spec, check out some of the great ways you can use Ultimate Rewards points and you’ll see why.
We also think the Sapphire Reserve is the best card for those who love flight deals.
If you dine out a ton, you won’t beat the 5X ThankYou Points you can earn with the Citi Prestige (Learn More). When Citi bumped up the Prestige’s earn rate in early 2019, it immediately became a go-to card for many people, myself included. There are just too many great ways to use ThankYou Points to not earn 5X on dining.
Of course, Citi has made the decision to keep the Citi Prestige much tougher by pulling all of its travel protections such as trip delay and baggage delay coverage. This kicks in on August 1, 2019 and, as we’ve discussed previously, was a really poor decision on Citi’s part. If you aren’t concerned about trip protection, the 5X on dining really is great.
Best Business Cards For Dining
If you have a small business — even if it’s just a side hustle or you’re a freelancer — then these cards might be of interest to you. Again, we have cards that earn transferable points leading the way with representatives from both Amex and Chase.
American Express Business Gold Card
Similar to the Amex Gold, the Amex Business Gold (Learn More) can also earn 4X Membership Rewards points on dining purchases. You just need to be aware of two things that could prevent you from earning the bonus points on these purchases.
To ensure you earn 4X on dining purchases, the purchase must be at a U.S. restaurant. Additionally, the Amex Business Gold has several 4X bonus categories but only lets you earn the bonus points on the two most used categories during any given billing cycle. If you spend a lot at U.S. restaurants, that could be an easy 4X for you.
Chase Ink Business Cash
Before we dive into this one, keep in mind that the Chase Ink Cash earns cash back unless you have one of the following cards:
If you pair the Ink Cash with one of these cards, you can earn either 2X or 5X on dining purchases. While the 2X won’t mean much if you have either Sapphire card, it pairs nicely with the Ink Preferred which earns 3X on travel but not dining.
However, the Ink Cash has a fun advantage as it earns 5X at office supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot. Why does this matter? Well, these stores sell a variety of restaurant gift cards. So, pick up a gift card to your favorite restaurant and earn 5X for your meal. You can even get a Whole Foods gift card and pick up lunch there.
Best Airline Credit Cards For Dining
Generally, your best bet for earning the most points possible rests with the transferrable points programs. However, there are a couple of options if you want to earn 2X airline miles and enjoy some of the perks that come with these co-branded airline cards. Just keep in mind that you’ll be sacrificing some valuable transferable points on dining purchases if you go this route.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
With the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select (Learn More), you can earn 2X American AAdvantage miles on your dining purchases. If you need some American miles, this could be a good option to grab some as the only other way to earn them is to fly or transfer Marriott Bonvoy points.
This card also earns 2X and provides a 25% discount on food and beverage purchased inflight on American Airlines. You’ll also get a free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions when traveling on American Airlines — you don’t have to pay for the ticket with the card to receive this benefit. Finally, you’ll also get “preferred” boarding which means you’ll board after people with elite status but before non-cardholders.
United Explorer Business Card
The Chase United Business Card earns 2X United miles on dining purchases. However, when you consider that Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United, think carefully before going with this option. Since the Sapphire Reserve earns 3X and the Sapphire Preferred earns 2X, you can earn as many or more points that can be transferred to United.
The added benefit to earning Ultimate Rewards, of course, is that you aren’t locked into United. This can protect you from devaluations as you could transfer points to another airline partner instead.
Similar to the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, United Business cardholders will get priority boarding and a free checked bag. However, the checked bag benefit only applies to the cardholder plus one companion and the card must be used to pay for the ticket.
Sign Up For Airline Dining Programs For Bonus Points
If you want to earn a few extra miles, you can link a card to your preferred airline’s dining program. When you dine at a participating restaurant, you’ll automatically earn miles. The number of miles you’ll earn will vary based on the airline you choose and how often you dine at participating restaurants. Keep in mind that a specific card can only be linked to one program.
Here are the sign-up links to some of the most popular programs:
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Dining Plan
- American Airlines AAdvantage Dining
- Delta SkyMiles Dining
- JetBlue TrueBlue Dining
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
- United MileagePlus Dining
We’re not even going to link to the Spirit dining program because, ya know, it’s Spirit.
Best Hotel Credit Cards For Dining
When it comes to earning hotel points for dining purchases, your best bet lies with one of a few Hilton cards issued by American Express. Again, transferable points are our preferred option but Hilton is the best hotel option.
Hilton Amex Cards
With the Hilton Aspire Card From American Express (Learn More), you can earn 7X on dining purchases. Since Hilton points are worth roughly 0.5 cents each and the card carries a $450 annual fee, the 7X isn’t quite as exciting as 4X with the Amex Gold Card. There are, of course, plenty of other reasons to get the Hilton Aspire thanks to a suite of benefits.
Alternatively, you can earn 6X with the Hilton Ascend Card from American Express (Learn More) or 5X with the Hilton Honors Card from American Express (Learn More). The Hilton Ascend has a $95 annual fee with the Hilton Honors Card doesn’t have an annual fee.
Best Cashback Credit Cards For Dining
If you have enough miles and points to cover your upcoming trips but want to earn some cash back to offset some other travel expenses, you might want to earn some cash back. Think of the cash back you earn as a little travel fund.
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Savor Card (Learn More) is your best bet to max out cash back on dining purchases as you’ll earn 4% back on each purchase. If nothing else, it’s a 4% discount on all dining purchases plus you can stack it with an airline dining program to earn some miles at select restaurants.
You might even be able to land some more cash back by linking the card to the Dosh cashback app. Clearly, we like squeezing out whatever we can from purchases.
The card comes with a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year. Alternatively, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (Learn More) is a no annual fee card that earns 3% cash back on dining purchases.
Cards With Quarterly Bonuses And No Annual Fee
Sometimes, your go-to card for dining won’t even be your best option. That’s because a couple of cards have quarterly bonus categories that can earn you 5X or 5% on your dining purchases.
Chase Freedom And Discover It
Both the Chase Freedom and the Discover It (Learn More) regularly include dining as one of their quarterly bonus categories which earn 5X and 5%, respectively. Now, you’re capped at earning 5X/5% on $1,500 per quarter but that’s still $500 per month. Even if that won’t cover all of your restaurant visits, it’s a great way to earn some easy bonus points.
Remember, with the Chase Freedom, you need the Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred or Ink Preferred if you want to have access to Ultimate Rewards transfer partners.
Best Credit Card Dining Perks
American Express and Visa both offer intriguing dining perks beyond just earning points. Whether you’re looking for a Michelin star meal, a discount on a quick bite to eat or a fun wine tour, you’ll be covered.
Amex Platinum – Global Dining Collection
While The Platinum Card from American Express (Learn More) won’t earn bonus points on dining purchases, it can be your key to unlocking some amazing dining experiences with the Global Dining Collection. How is that? Well, Amex has access to reservations at some excellent reservations that it has made available to Platinum Card members, exclusively. This includes Michelin star restaurants!
American Express Gold – Monthly Dining Credit
On the other end of the spectrum, if you need a quick bite to eat or something a bit more low-key, the Amex Gold Card (Learn More) provides a $10 monthly dining credit. You can use this credit at a variety of options including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations.
So, not only do you earn 4X on dining purchases but you can save $120 per year thanks to this clever benefit from Amex. Just make sure you enroll your card in the benefit before making your purchase or you won’t get the credit.
Visa Infinite and Visa Signature – Sonoma Wine Benefit
For wine lovers, Visa Infinite and Visa Signature cards come with some fun perks thanks to a partnership with Sonoma County Vintners. This partnership provides access to the following benefits at over 50 Sonoma County wineries.
Here are the benefits you’ll get according to the terms:
- Purchases 1 tasting and receive a second tasting free (must be of equal or lesser value)
- Preferred pricing on purchases over $50 of non-wine purchases, where applicable
- Discounts on wine purchased same day in the Tasting Room
- Discounts on Reserve tasting or special wine and food pairings
With how often people are dining out these days, there are plenty of opportunities to earn a bunch of points and miles that you can put toward your next adventure. The key is figuring out which points will be most valuable to you. For us, we’re big fans of transferable points. We certainly don’t mind some dining perks to top it off.