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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