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 using every trick in the book. 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)
Another time I always have to dine out is when traveling. Those who travel for pleasure will visit restaurants for convenience, or if only to enjoy the local cuisine.
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.
TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express
If you're already a Costco member (or planning to become one), the TrueEarnings® Card gets you 2% cash back at US restaurants. You will receive your cash back annually in the form of a reward coupon. Additional perks for this card include 3% cash back at US gas stations up to $4,000 per year in purchases, 2% for eligible travel, and 1% for other purchases. There is no annual fee with paid Costco membership.
- Earn cash back: 3% US gas stations up to $4,000 per year in purchases; 2% US restaurants & eligible travel; 1% other purchases. See details.
- You will receive your cash back annually in the form of a reward coupon
- The Two-In-One Card: it's an American Express® Card and Costco membership Card, with no annual fee for Costco members
- Maximize your cash back: Add additional Card Members to help get more cash back for you, also with no annual fee for Costco members
- Terms and restrictions apply
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
Chase offers several different cards that earn points in its Ultimate Rewards program, but their Sapphire cards earn double points for charges at restaurants. Those with the standard card can redeem points for gift cards or cash back at a rate of one cent in value per point. While there is no annual fee for the standard Sapphire card, I carry the Sapphire Preferred for several reasons. Despite its $95 annual fee (waived the first year), Preferred card holders receive a 7% bonus on their points each year, making each meal worth 2.14 points. Additionally, Preferred cardholders receive double points all travel expenses, and triple points when travel is booked through Chase’s web site. Finally, the Preferred card has no foreign transaction fees and cardmembers have the option to redeem points for miles with some airlines or points with hotel chains.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
This Barclaycard starts with a great bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit — and then piles on the rewards with 2x miles on all purchases. Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits. Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing. On top of that, it comes with a 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each balance transfer completed within the first 45 days of account opening. After that, it's a variable APR of 14.99% or 18.99%, based on your creditworthiness. You also get complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access as a benefit to Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers. There is an annual fee of $89, waived 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 bonus offer right now, you can get 20,000 points after spending $1,500 within the first 3 months -- this is redeemable for $200 in gift cards. They're also offering 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. Citi also offers special benefits like Price Rewind. Citi will search hundreds of retailers' sites for 30 days from the date of purchase to help find a lower price. If one is found that's lower by at least $25, you automatically get the price difference back. There is no annual fee.
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 card issuer.