The 5 Best Credit Cards for Dining Out
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At first glance, dining out would seem to be the opposite of frugality, as it is easy to spend enough in one meal at a restaurant as you could buying a week's worth of groceries. Yet frugal people like me have been able to turn this equation on its head by taking advantage of rewards points.
On a recent night out, I made my reservation with Open Table just before departing in order to receive points worth future dining credits. When I arrived, I presented a coupon from Restaurant.com that took $25 off my $35 bill. Finally, I paid for our meal with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns double points at restaurants. On other occasions I have use coupons from the Entertainment Book and participated in many of the dining miles programs offered by the airlines. By dining out frugally, I cannot claim to be saving money over the price of home-cooked meals, but I can come pretty close to the price I would have paid for just the ingredients I would have used to prepare a similar meal. (See also: Credit Cards for Groceries)
Restaurant Rewards Credit Cards
No matter what your situation, anyone can save money by using the ideal credit card to maximize the rewards they receive from their dining expenses. Just as with any reward credit card, cardholders must always pay their balances in full and on time in order to assure that interest payments do not overwhelm any rewards received.
Best Credit Cards for Dining Out at Restaurants
These are my picks for the top credit cards to use when dining out.
Discover it® Chrome
With the Discover it® Chrome card, you receive 2% cash back on your first $1,000 spent each quarter on combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants. In addition, you'll get 1% cash back on all other purchases you make with the card. There is no minimum you need to meet before you can start redeeming your cash back rewards, and they never expire. Currently, there is a special introductory offer of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months (balance transfer fees apply). Then, the standard variable APR of 10.99%-22.99% will apply based on your creditworthiness. The card also offers no foreign transaction fees, no overlimit fee, no penalty APR, and no late fee on your first payment. There is no annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase offers several cards that earn points in its Ultimate Rewards program, but their Sapphire Preferred® Card earns double points for charges at restaurants and for travel. Their current sign up offer includes 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months — that's $500 worth of travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn 5,000 bonus points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first 3 months. Cardholders receive 20% off travel when redeeming travel through their website or transfer your points to partner programs at a 1:1 rate (this makes Sapphire's points more valuable since you usually lose some points during the transfer on other cards). Finally, the card has no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 2x miles per dollar on every purchase, unlimited! They're also offering a great bonus offer right now: get 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months (equal to $400 in travel). Apply your points toward your travel purchases — so fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime — no blackout dates or seat restrictions. This card also has no foreign transaction fees. Annual fee: $59, waived for the first year.
Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card
The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card offers unlimited double points on purchases spent on dining and entertainment, and one point spent on other purchases. As a sign up offer right now, you can get 20,000 points after spending $1,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening — this is redeemable for $200 in rewards. Citi also offers special benefits like Price Rewind, where Citi will search hundreds of retailers' sites for 60 days from the date of purchase to help find a lower price and be refunded the difference (see program details for terms and limitations). There is no annual fee.
U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card
U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card allows its cardholders to earn some great rewards on their everyday purchases. You can earn 2 FlexPoints for every $1 you spend on restaurant purchases as well as most cell phone purchases. In addition, depending on what you spend the most on each billing cycle, you can also earn 2x FlexPoints on your gas, grocery, or airline purchases. You'll get 1 FlexPoint on all other purchases you make with the card, and for any charitable donations you make, you'll earn 3 FlexPoints. Points can be redeemed as airline award tickets with more than 150 airlines or for merchandise, gift cards, or statment credits.
New cardmembers will receive 20,000 bonus FlexPoints after spending $3,500 on purchases within the first 4 months of account opening, which is enough to redeem for an award airline ticket worth up to $400. Also get 3,500 bonus points each year you spend $24k in net purchases, and get up to $25 reimbursed per air travel award ticket toward baggage fees or in-flight food and drinks. Finally, this card offers EMV chip technology and no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee of $49 is waived for the first year.
Without a doubt, most consumers will save money when they prepare their meals at home. Nevertheless, I find a frugal night out to be a needed respite from our family's normal routine of cooking and cleaning. By using all available coupons and discounts, and by choosing the best credit card to pay for your dining expenses, you can have affordable meals that ultimately lead to valuable rewards.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.