The highest cash back possible, sorted by rewards category

Each cash-back card has its specialty – one might give higher rewards for travel, while another might do so for dining. Some offer boosted rewards in a couple key categories. So, when you’re shopping for a cash-back card, your mission is to find one (or a combination of cards) that most closely matches your spending patterns.

Spending categories

To help with that, we’ve compiled a list. Find your most common spending categories on the menu to the right to see which cards offer the highest cash-back rate possible.

Note: This article concentrates on cash-back cards and those offering fixed-value points. There’s still lots of value to be had with airline mile cars, hotel reward cards and cards that earn points that fluctuate in value, depending on how you redeem them.

Unless specified, the cards below have no annual fee.

All purchases

  • 2 percent cash back on all purchases with the Capital One Spark Cash for Business ($59 annual fee, waived the first year).
  • 2 percent back with the Fidelity Investment Rewards card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). Rewards must be contributed toward an eligible Fidelity brokerage, IRA, 529 or Cash Management account.
  • 1 percent back on all spending PLUS another 1 percent back when you pay your bill with the Citi Double Cash.
  • 1.5 percent cash back on all spending with the Capital One Quicksilver.

See also: Interested in travel rewards? Generic travel rewards cards give “miles” that can be cashed in (usually for 1 cent each) toward travel purchases made with the card. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus ($89 annual fee), for example, gives 2.1 percent back if you redeem for travel, and the Capital One Venture ($59 annual fee) gives what amounts to 2 percent back if you redeem for travel.

Groceries

  • 6 percent cash back with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee) on up to $6,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, then 1%.
  • 3 percent cash back with the American Express Blue Cash Everyday card on up to $6,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, then 1%.

See also: Rotating-category cards, such as the Chase Freedom and Discover it card usually offer groceries as 5 percent bonus categories for one quarter a year.

Gas

  • 5 percent cash back with the Sallie Mae MasterCard, on up to $250 per month for combined grocery and gas purchases.
  • 3 percent cash back with the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card on up to $1,500 in combined gas/grocery purchases per quarter (groceries earn 2 percent back). If you already have other accounts with Bank of America, these earnings have the potential of being even higher than 3 percent, thanks to the Preferred Rewards program. Depending on your balance in these other accounts, you can get up to a 75 percent bonus. So, your rewards on gas could be up to 3.75 percent.
  • 3 percent cash back with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee) on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%.

See also: Again, check out the rotating-category cards (like the Chase Freedom and Discover it), as gas is a common 5 percent category.

Travel

Cards that reward actual frequent flier miles and hotel loyalty points could potentially get you a greater return on your spending. Because that value depends so greatly on how you redeem, however, we will focus on cards that reward cash back (or fixed-value points) for travel purchases.

  • 3 percent cash back on one of the following: airfare, hotel rooms and car rentals with the American Express SimplyCash Business card. You must enroll in the category of your choice to be eligible.
  • 2 miles per dollar (plus 5 percent redemption bonus) with the Barclaycard Arrival (no-annual-fee version). This amounts to 2.1 percent back when you redeem for travel.
  • 2X points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived the first year). That amounts to 2 percent back if you redeem for cash – or much more if you use the card’s travel partners.

See also: For potentially more value, consider cards that let you transfer points to various affiliate travel programs. For example, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card ($195 annual fee, waived the first year) earns 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare (booked directly with airlines). While the redemption rate for cash-back isn’t ideal, those points can be transferred to more than a dozen airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Dining

  • 3 percent cash back with the American Express SimplyCash Business card. To be eligible, you must select “U.S. restaurants” from the list of available categories.
  • 2 percent with a variety of cards, including the Barclaycard Arrival (no-annual-fee version), Discover it chrome, the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived the first year), Chase Ink Cash (on the first $25,000 in combined purchases for gas and restaurants), American Express Premier Rewards Gold ($195 annual fee, waived the first year) and the US Bank Cash Plus.

See also: Dining often pops up as a 5 percent quarterly category for the Discover it and Chase Freedom. In addition, if you eat a lot of fast food, note that the US Bank Cash Plus card rewards 5 percent cash back on fast food restaurants if you enroll in the category.

Office Supplies

  • 5 percent cash back at U.S. office supply stores with the American Express SimplyCash Business card (for purchases up to $25,000 per year, combined with wireless telephone services).
  • 5 percent back with the Chase Ink Cash and Chase Ink Plus ($95 annual fee, waived the first year). The Ink Cash gives you 5 percent cash back on the first $25,000 combined office supply store, cellular phone and landline phone/Internet purchases each year. The Ink Plus, meanwhile, has the same rules but gives 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. That can be redeemed for 5 percent cash back, or you can transfer those rewards to frequent-traveler programs.

See also: Consistent cash back on office supplies is generally the territory of business credit cards (as you can see above). One possible work-around for maximizing rewards on office supplies would be to get a personal credit card that gives a high rate of cash back on grocery purchases (the American Express Blue Cash Cards, for example) — and then buy an office supply store gift card at the grocery store.

Department stores

  • 5 percent cash back with the US Bank Cash Plus on the first $2,000 in spending in a quarter. You must select “department stores” as a bonus category for the quarter to be eligible.
  • 3 percent cash back with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee). Here’s a list of eligible stores.
  • 2 percent cash back with the American Express Blue Cash Everyday.

See also: Various department stores make appearances as quarterly categories for the Chase Freedom and Discover it.

Did we leave any important cards off our list? Tell us in the comments.

 
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