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You might not be traveling much at the moment, or for some time to come, but that doesn’t mean you should stop earning rewards points or cash back toward your next trip. While a lot of travel rewards credit cards earn extra points or miles on things like airline tickets, hotel stays, and dining out, one of the best bonus-earning categories any credit card can offer is on groceries. That’s even truer now more than ever before as grocery-store runs become our excitement for the week—and remain a larger portion of our day-to-day expenses. What’s more, although the points that many of these cards earn can help offset travel purchases, they can usually also be redeemed toward statement credits for other expenses in the meantime.
Here are six of the best rewards credit cards for making the most of your supermarket runs and ways you can use the points and cash back for your next vacation.
The top earner: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Those looking for a simple rewards card that also offers some of the best cash-back rates on groceries (as well as in a few other categories) should take a look at this all-around winner from Amex.
Current welcome offer: Earn a $350 statement credit after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new card within the first six months of card membership (terms apply).
Earning: Cardholders can earn a whopping 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per calendar year (then 1 percent after that), as well as 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. Use the card at U.S. gas stations and on transit, including taxis, rideshares, parking, trains, and buses, and earn 3 percent back. The card earns 1 percent cash back on other purchases.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees).
Why get it: When it comes to travel rewards credit cards, many folks focus on airline and hotel cards. However, your wallet should include a solid cash-back card precisely because you can use the rewards you earn for statement credits toward a broad range of purchases that might include travel but also other expenses. The Blue Cash Preferred’s phenomenal cash-back earning rates on the things people are buying the most these days—groceries, streaming entertainment, and gas—make it one of the best cards to use at this particular moment or on any road trips you may have planned.
If you’re sprucing up your home office, the Amex return protection might also come in handy. If a seller won’t take back an item within 90 days from the date of purchase, Amex may refund the full price (excluding any shipping and handling) up to $300 per item and a maximum of $1,000 per calendar year per card account. Not only that, but through Amex’s Plan It® feature, you can set up a monthly plan to pay off eligible large purchases incrementally over a longer time (between 3 to 24 months). By doing so, you avoid high interest charges and are just subject to relatively low monthly fees instead. That flexibility could be a lifesaver if your finances are currently in flux.
For travel rewards instead of cash back: American Express® Gold Card
While the Blue Cash Preferred® offers the highest cash-back rates on grocery purchases, if you’re looking for more traditional travel rewards, this other Amex entry might be your best bet.
Current welcome offer: Get up to 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card within your first six months of card membership (terms apply).
Earning: Another excellent earner, the American Express Gold Card accrues four points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then one point per dollar), plus four points per dollar at restaurants, including takeout and delivery. Flights booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com earn three points per dollar. Everything else earns one point.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Why get it: If that annual fee gives you pause, keep in mind that cardholders receive up to $10 per month in statement credits when using their card to pay for orders from Grubhub, Seamless, the Cheesecake Factory, and participating Shake Shack locations. When you add your Amex Gold card to your Uber account, each month you’ll automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year. Enrollment is required for both benefits, but if you can leverage them, you’ll get $240 back in value each year.
The Membership Rewards points this card earns can be redeemed in a variety of ways, including for statement credits and Amazon purchases. However, they’re probably most useful when transferred to the Membership Rewards program’s 21 travel partners, including Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, Hilton Honors, and Marriott Bonvoy, among others. Simply save a stash of points with your card, then transfer them to a partner you like when it comes time to book your trip. By taking advantage of the bonus categories and transfers, you can essentially earn up to four Delta SkyMiles, say, or four Marriott Bonvoy points, per dollar on groceries.
Solid everyday earning: Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Although the points you earn with this card are ostensibly for cash back, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, too, you can combine points from all your accounts and transfer them to the Ultimate Rewards program’s 13 airline and hotel partners.
Current welcome offer: New cardholders can earn a $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Earning: The Chase Freedom Unlimited racks up 5 percent back on travel purchased through the Chase portal, 3 percent on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates, 3 percent on drugstore purchases, and 1.5 percent on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $0
Why get it: For a card with no annual fee, the Chase Freedom Unlimited sure offers outsized earning opportunities, especially within the first year. While earning cash back is a savvy strategy whether your end goal is to redeem for travel or other types of purchases, the fact that you can combine your Freedom points with those earned on the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve and then transfer them to airlines like Southwest and United, or hotels like Hyatt and Marriott, means you will have a lot of choices for when you eventually decide to put your points to use.
Best “bonus” categories: Chase Freedom Flex+℠ Card
The fact that its name is so similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be confusing, but it’s worth considering this relatively new card on its own because it offers tremendous earning opportunities on groceries and other areas.
Current welcome offer: Like the Unlimited version, this one is currently offering $200 back after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Earning: This card’s earning structure is unique and can be a little difficult to keep track of, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, it earns 5 percent back on travel booked through the Chase portal, 3 percent back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, and 3 percent on drugstore purchases. However, instead of earning 1.5 percent back on other purchases, it offers rotating bonus categories each quarter, such as restaurants, gas stations, or Amazon purchases, where cardholders can earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases when they activate their card to do so. It earns 1 percent back on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Why get it: This card’s other benefits are the same as the Chase Freedom Unlimited. The reason you might want it instead of the Unlimited version is if you can max out its rotating bonus categories, which include PayPal and Walmart for the fourth quarter of 2020.
Best for rounding up rewards: Citi Rewards+® Card
Thanks to a quirky bonus formula that rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 points, you could use this card to rake in the rewards at supermarkets.
Current welcome offer: Earn 20,000 bonus points after you spend $1,500 in purchases with your card within three months of account opening. That’s redeemable for $200 in gift cards through Citi’s redemption portal, but there are more options, which we’ll enumerate below.
Earning: Earn two ThankYou® points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 spent per year, and one ThankYou® point per dollar after that. The card earns one ThankYou® point per dollar on all other purchases. However, Citi will round up your points to the nearest 10 on every purchase. So if you bought a book on Amazon for $11, you’d earn 20 ThankYou® points. Or if you spent $31 at a grocery store, you’d earn a total of 70 points—double 31 to earn 62 thanks to the supermarket bonus category, then round up to the nearest 10.
Annual fee: $0
Why get it: In addition to that interesting round-up feature, this card also refunds 10 percent of your redeemed points back each year on the first 100,000 points (so you could get up to 10,000 points back each year), which stretches the value of your points even further. Those redeemed for cash back, gift cards, or travel booked through Citi’s redemption portal, thankyou.com, are worth one cent apiece. In addition to cash back, though, cardholders can convert their points into JetBlue TrueBlue miles at a ratio of 5:4. However, if you have one of Citi’s other cards that earn ThankYou points, such as the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card, you can combine the points from your Citi Rewards+ with the ones you earn on them and then transfer them at better ratios to ThankYou’s airline partners, such as Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, among others, which adds an extra layer of versatility.
The go-to for Prime members: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature
If you have Prime and Amazon is your go-to retail and grocery outlet, this card is probably the top contender.
Current welcome offer: Get a $70 Amazon gift card upon approval.
Earning: If you live in the Amazon universe, there’s no beating this card’s earning potential. It offers 5 percent back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods, 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, and 1 percent back on all other purchases. You can redeem your cash back toward purchases on Amazon.com.
Annual fee: None, but since you have to be a Prime member to carry it, you’re essentially paying $119 per year.
Why get it: Among its other benefits, cardholders can expect waived foreign transaction fees and various travel protections including baggage delay insurance and lost luggage reimbursement thanks to its affiliation as a Visa Signature.
While now might not be the most obvious time to rack up travel rewards, it happens to be one of the most opportune moments to do so, especially if you can maximize your spending on groceries. Any of these cards is a great way to keep earning points or cash back either toward a future trip when you’re ready to travel again, or simply to help pay for some expenses that come up in the meantime.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available. This article was originally published on October 7, 2020; it was updated on October 1, 2021, with current information.