If you bar-hop on the weekends, hit coffee shops in the mornings or simply enjoy going out to eat, a card that rewards dining could save you hundreds of dollars a year. Figuring out just which card to get, however, can be tricky, since reward rates vary and some cards charge annual fees.
To determine which card offers the best deal overall, CNBC Make It analyzed 50 of the most popular cash-back and travel cards in the U.S. Using a sample budget based on spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we estimated how much money each card would save typical spenders after five years.
We also evaluated the ease of use of each card and their potential downsides, including interest rates and reward limits.
Based on the data, here is our No. 1 choice, our runner up and a third option that may be better suited to your lifestyle.
If you want to rack up rewards as you travel and get cash back, the Uber Visa from Barclays is your best choice.
There's no annual fee. The card promises 4 percent cash back on restaurant spending as well as 3 percent on hotels and airfare purchases, 2 percent on some online purchases and Uber rides, and 1 percent on all other purchases.
It offers a $100 sign-up bonus for those who spend $500 on purchases in their first 90 days with the card, plus a $50 credit for online subscription services if you spend $5,000 a year.
As long as you use the card to pay for your phone bill, it also offers $600 in cell phone protection from damage and theft. The variable annual percentage rate is 16.49 to 25.24 percent, and there's no foreign transaction fee when you use it outside the U.S.
The newly revamped Capital One Savor matches the Uber Visa's offer of 4 percent cash back on restaurant spending. Those who spend $3,000 within the first three months also receive a sign-up bonus of $500, currently the best offer of any cash-back card. Most popular cash-back competitors offer between $100 and $200, if anything, for signing up.
The Savor does charge a $95 annual fee, though Capital One waives it for the first year. And to further offset that fee, the card rewards spending on entertainment with 4 percent cash back, which applies to ticketed events such as concerts, movies and games.
Users also get 2 percent back at grocery stores and 1 percent on all other purchases.
Its variable APR is 16.24 to 25.24, and, like the Uber Visa, it has no foreign transaction fee.
If you're a frequent traveler, the Chase Sapphire Reserve may be your best choice. It offers 3 points for every dollar spent on dining, and every point you redeem on travel is worth 50 percent more. That means you have the potential to get 4.5 percent back on every dining purchase.
It is an elite travel card, though, and it requires a $450 annual fee. The fee is only worth it if you take advantage of some of the card's other perks, like its annual $300 travel credit. Cardholders also receive Priority Pass Select lounge access in more than 1,000 airports throughout the world and extensive travel coverage in the event of trip cancellation or lost luggage.
In addition to restaurant spending, users get 3 points per dollar spent on travel, and when you sign up for the card, you can qualify for 50,000 bonus points as long as you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That's worth $750 when redeemed toward travel, if not more. Points can become even more valuable when they're transferred to one of Chase's 13 partner rewards programs.
Its variable APR is 17.74 to 24.74 percent.
To determine which cards offer the best deals on dining, CNBC Make It compiled a list of more than 50 highly rated cash back and travel credit cards. The rate of return on dining purchases was the most heavily weighted consideration. We also vetted each card based on its other reward offers, introductory and eventual APR, annual fee, bonus, recommended credit score, late fee, balance transfer fee, foreign transaction fee, redemption options and customer reviews.
We then estimated how much money each card would save the typical American after one year, two years and five years. Our assessment heavily weighs the five-year return to avoid a large sign-up bonus skewing the results. We also assume that most people want a great card that they can stick with for years, since bouncing from card to card can be bad for your credit score.
To estimate the return, we used expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make a sample budget broken down by average annual spending in categories like gas ($1,909), groceries ($4,049), dining out ($3,154) and general purchases ($12,833). The general spending category includes shopping, entertainment, public transit, vehicle expenses other than gas, some household costs and travel expenses.
The estimates incorporate bonuses and assume you have a high credit limit and that you use your card for 90 percent of the purchases you make in these categories, accounting for instances where you have to use cash or shop somewhere that doesn't accept your card. They also assume you don't carry a balance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve's estimate is ranged based on how its points are redeemed. Users can get 1 cent per point in cash back or, for an even better deal, 1.5 cents per point toward travel.
It's worth noting that the estimates are derived from this single sample budget but, if you use a card strategically and take advantage of its rewards, your five-year return could be higher.
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