How Credit Card Issuers Classify Your Purchases For Bonus Rewards

By Jason Steele. Last updated 28 November 2017. 0 comments

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We've all seen credit cards that offer bonus rewards for specific categories of purchases such as "dining" or "entertainment," but how do you know which purchases will qualify? For example, if you go to a nightclub and order a drink, is that considered to be a dining or an entertainment expense? The problem is different issuers may have different definitions, so you may have to whip out that magnifying glass and review the fine print of your credit card agreement, but sometimes it's just trial and error -- charge it and see what that card classifies it as. Generally, though, here are a few pointers.


It's important to note that rewards cards that offer bonuses on groceries usually specify the type of grocery stores that would count in that category. For example, it has to be a U.S. based supermarket, and many will not count superstores or wholesale clubs. Also, alternative markets like Farmers Markets or drugstores that sell groceries may not count. Some do, though, so just check your credit card terms.


Issuers may define dining differently. For example, one bank's definition of dining may any place that sells food or drinks "for immediate consumption by consumers" which includes eating in, taking out, or delivery. In fact, bars, cocktail lounges, nightclubs, and fast food joints all count as restaurants. While another bank's definition may points out that if you buy food from a stand in a larger venue, such as a stadium, hotel, or theme park, the meal might show up as coming from somewhere other than a restaurant, so it wouldn't count toward the dining category. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Dining Out)


There are many cards that offer bonuses for travel purchases, but their definitions of travel can vary widely. For example, some cards will specify that they only count air travel and hotels made directly from the airline or hotel, not a travel agency or package tour company. Others will count purchases that includes charges from travel agencies, cruise lines, tour operators, and even toll roads and parking garages. Vacation rental sites like AirBnB are also increasingly included in some travel redemption options. (See also: Credit Cards that Offer Rewards for Travel Purchases)


It can be hard to define what someone might consider to be entertainment. Most likely entertainment include sports promoters, stadiums, theaters (both live and movie), amusement parks, zoos, circuses, and aquariums. In addition, tourist attractions, museums, art galleries, and even record stores are included. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Entertainment Purchases)

How to Get More Information

Credit card issuers classify purchases based on a merchant code that is added to your transaction behind the scenes. The problem with this system is that companies can select their own codes, which sometimes don't line up exactly with the kind of business they do. Fortunately, there is a way to find out what merchant code a business is using, by using tools like the Visa Supplier locator. This tool allows you to look up the merchant code that any business is using, and it also allows you to search for businesses using particular codes in your area. 

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