How Do Credit Card Issuers Define Bonus Category Spending?
Your credit card gives you extra points or cash back for bonus categories like travel and grocery spending. But how do you know your spending actually qualifies? While the answer may seem obvious to you, your card issuer may not have the same definition of "travel" as you do.
Each credit card issuer has its own criteria for transactions to qualify - and even how they categorize different stores - for a bonus category. So it's a good idea to understand your card issuer's requirements to maximize your rewards.
Here's a look at how each major card issuer defines travel, gasoline, grocery, and dining expenses so that you can take better advantage of the bonus categories offered by your rewards card.
The definition of travel expenses varies quite a bit among card issuers. For example, many card issuers consider a car rental as a travel expense, but American Express does not.
Several Amex cards earn 2x rewards for travel purchases through American Express's AmexTravel.com.
Not all travel purchases earn your bonus reward, though. Car rental reservations, non-prepaid hotels, bookings through the Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels & Reports, and any portion of a booking paid with MR points will not qualify.
If you have the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, which earns 3x points on airfare, note that you only get bonus points on airfare purchased directly through the airline, not a travel agent or discount site.
Barclaycard has one of the most generous definitions of "travel" expenses, which includes:
Hotel and motel stays
Discount travel sites (like Priceline and Hotwire)
Trains and buses
Taxis and limos
There are a few expenses excluded from this list, including theme park tickets, websites that rent properties, in-flight purchases, merchants inside airports, and merchants that rent hauling vehicles like U-Haul.
Bank of America
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card earns 1.5x points on all purchases that can be redeemed for statement credits against travel expenses. Qualifying travel expenses include:
Car rental agencies
Travel agencies or tour operators
Taxis and limos
Passenger rail, ferries, bus lines, and local commuter passenger
Real estate agents and rental managers
Campgrounds and trailer parks
Motor home and RV rental
Art galleries and dealers
Amusement parks, carnivals, and circuses
Aquariums and zoos
Boat rentals and leases
Like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, the Capital One Venture Rewards card earns double miles on all purchases that can be redeemed toward travel expenses on your statement.
Capital One considers travel expenses as any purchases from airlines, rail lines, car rental agencies, hotels/motels, limo services, taxi services, bus lines, travel agencies, and timeshares. Capital One does not consider tourist attractions and theme parks as travel expenses.
Chase excludes real estate agents, in-flight purchases, sightseeing (including tour buses), tourist attractions, merchants inside airports, and merchants that rent trailers and trucks.
The Citi ThankYou Premier card earns 3x points on travel and gasoline plus double points on dining. Along with common travel expenses like airfare and car rentals, Citi considers the following as eligible travel expenses:
Parking lots and garagesTourist attractionsCommuter transportation like busesRV rentalTollsThe Citi ThankYou Premier card is currently the only reward card that considers gasoline as a travel expense for bonus points.
The Discover it Miles card earns 1.5x miles on all purchases which are automatically doubled at the end of your first year. Miles can be redeemed for eligible travel expenses on your statement.
Discover's list of eligible travel expenses is fairly standard and includes commuter transportation and online discount sites.
If you want to use your points for a non-eligible travel expense -- or anything else -- you can also redeem miles for cash back as an electronic deposit in your bank account.
In general, card issuers only give you additional rewards for gas spending at a U.S. gas station with a primary business of selling gas. You will earn extra rewards for fill-ups at Shell and Exxon, for example, but not on gasoline sold at Costco or supermarkets that sell gasoline.
Sometimes you can earn extra rewards at convenience stores that sell gas, but it depends on how the merchant is classified.
The big exceptions to this are Costco and Sam's Club. The new Costco Anywhere Visa earns 4% back on gas worldwide, including at Costco, on the first $7,000 per year. The Sam's Club Mastercard earns 5% back on gas at U.S. gas stations and at Sam's Club on the first $6,000 per year.
In general, credit card issuers only consider standalone supermarkets in the United States as a grocery store. Virtually all issuers exclude spending at warehouse clubs like Costco, convenience stores, superstores, and specialty for bonus grocery spending.
While you will earn bonus points for shopping at Kroger or Meijer, for example, you will not get additional rewards at Costco, Wal-Mart, or a specialty cheese shop.
With most credit cards, you can earn additional rewards for restaurant s
pending at any U.S. restaurant, which includes fast food. Convenience stores and grocery stores are excluded.
You may or may not earn extra rewards if the restaurant is located in another business, such as a hotel, casino, theme park, or sports stadium. This is because the transaction may be processed as if the purchase was at the hotel and not the restaurant.
While this guide can be helpful, remember that it all comes down to how a merchant is categorized. If a merchant isn't categorized correctly, you may not earn bonus rewards. For example, if you buy gas at a convenience store that isn't coded as a gas station, you may not get extra rewards for gas spending.
You can look up merchant codes to help you maximize your bonuses and make sure your card issuer is crediting them properly as merchant codes usually appear on your statements. If you feel like a transaction should have earned a bonus but didn't, try calling your card issuer to ask for an exception to the rule.
If you're choosing a new travel rewards card, check the card issuer's definition of travel expenses before you sign up. For example, if you want to earn extra rewards for daily travel to work, for example, instead of recreational trips, a card like the Citi ThankYou Premier or Chase Sapphire Preferred may be a good choice to get bonus rewards for routine spending at parking garages,toll bridges, and gasoline.
Credit Shout is a community of personal finance experts dedicated to helping you save money and make smart financial decisions. Learn how to master your credit card rewards, improve your credit score and start eliminating your debt.