Which credit cards to use at warehouse clubs (Sam’s, Costco and BJ’s)

Being a member of a wholesale club can yield big savings on bulk purchases. Yet earning credit-card rewards on these purchases isn’t always straightforward, thanks to clubs limiting the types of cards they accept and few credit cards including warehouse clubs in their bonus categories.

BJs wholesale club

Plus, with the new Costco Anywhere card from Citi coming out, the playing field has changed somewhat. Keep these factors in mind to you maximize your rewards at warehouse clubs.

Consider using a generic rewards card instead of your warehouse club’s affiliated card

Getting a co-branded card from your wholesale club of choice isn’t always the best strategy, even if you fill up your cart there every week. While these cards may give bonus cash back for purchases at their affiliated stores, they’re a lot less flexible than other rewards cards when it comes to redemption. For example, with Costco and Sam’s Club, you can redeem your rewards only during a specific window of time each year. BJ’s rewards can be redeemed only in $20 increments at store registers.

Therefore, you may be better off using a generic rewards card that includes warehouse stores as a bonus category, like the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ card and (through September 2016) the Chase Freedom. That way, you can redeem your rewards whenever you want for cash back or anything else in the card’s program.

If flexibility is important to you, you might even consider rewards cards that don’t include warehouse clubs as a bonus category. After all, earning just 1 point per dollar on a cart full of frozen food or a big screen TV may still be lucrative if you can transfer those points into frequent-flier programs, like you can with these cards (American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner):

Check which cards your warehouse club accepts

Credit-card acceptance at U.S. warehouse clubs
Sam’s ClubAmerican Express, MasterCard, Discover, Visa
BJ’sMasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Sam’s Club and BJ’s accept credit cards from all major networks, but Costco accepts only credit cards from Visa (as of June 20, 2016). So, if you’re hoping to earn rewards at Costco (and don’t have the Costco Anywhere card), make sure you have a rewards-earning Visa in your wallet.

Know your bonus categories

The cards below include at least one warehouse club in their bonus categories:

NEW: Navy Federal Credit Union rewards cards: Navy Fed is doubling cash-back rewards across its card portfolio for warehouse club purchases (Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s) through 2017. Whatever your card would normally earn, double it when shopping (or buying gas) at warehouse stores. That means 3 percent cash back with the cashRewards card (which otherwise earns 1.5 percent) and 4X points with the GoRewards card (which otherwise earns 2X points per dollar at gas stations).

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ card (Visa): This card gives you 2 percent back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3 percent on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery store/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.

Chase Freedom (Visa): Chase made wholesale clubs part of its 5 percent bonus categories for both Q2, Q3 and Q4 for 2016. That means you can get 5 percent cash back on your warehouse club purchases through the end of 2016 (for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, combined with your purchases in those quarters’ other bonus categories).

If you want elevated earnings year round, you might also consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns 1.5 percent cash back on everything. It’s a Visa card, so it’s accepted at all three major warehouse club chains in the U.S.: BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club.

Discover it: For Q2 2017, you can get 5 percent back on warehouse club purchases (for up to $1,500 in purchases in the quarter, combined with other purchases in Q4’s bonus categories).

Sam’s Club card (MasterCard): The only reason you’d use this card at Sam’s Club is if you are buying gas — you get 5 percent back at U.S. gas stations, including at Sam’s, for up to $6,000 in gas purchases per year. There’s no bonus category for other Sam’s Club purchases. However, the card has other bonus categories, including 3 percent back on dining and travel.

Costco Anywhere card (Visa): This card replaces the TrueEarnings Costco American Express card as of June 20, 2016. Unlike the Sam’s Club card, it does have a bonus category for Costco and Costco.com purchases – you’ll get 2 percent back. You also get bonus cash back in other categories, including 4 percent back on gas (including at Costco), 3 percent back on restaurants and travel.

My BJ’s Perks credit card (MasterCard): This card rewards loyal shoppers with 5 percent back on most BJ’s purchases in stores and online. It also offers 2 percent back on dining and non-BJ’s gas purchases.

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I have been a longtime shopper at Costco and am disappointed at their recent change regarding the card types they accept. I think they will see quite a backlash from existing customers. I am considering using the Chase Freedom Unlimited mentioned in the article and heading to Sams Club instead.