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How to Make the Most of Your AmEx Blue Cash Preferred Card

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American Express Blue Cash Preferred

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has long been a Nerd favorite with its industry-leading 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on the first $6,000 in spending, plus 3% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. If you use this card regularly, your rewards should more than make up for the annual fee, described as $95. But there’s more you can do to maximize your value when you carry this card.

Make the supermarket your mall

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express’ 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets applies to the first $6,000 in annual spending; after that, it gives customers 1% cash back. Cardholders with ravenous families might have no problem maxing out their 6% rewards — but if you spend less than $100 a week at the supermarket, you can still get the full benefit of these rewards by treating your local supermarket like a shopping mall.

Buy more than food. This card’s 6% rewards category is U.S. supermarkets, not groceries. So if you buy it at the supermarket, you can get 6% cash back on it, whether it’s a rump roast from the meat department, bear claws from the bakery, or a box of bunion pads from the health aisle. Cleaning supplies, floral arrangements, prepared food from the deli counter, party supplies, you name it — it qualifies.

Give yourself a gift. Most supermarkets now sell gift cards for various merchants. These cards make it possible to extend the 6% rewards to retailers, restaurants, online app stores and more. Say you’re eyeing a $200 toilet at Home Depot. You can go to the supermarket, buy four $50 Home Depot gift cards with your Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, and use those gift cards to buy your new throne. When your cash-back rewards come through, you’ll have gotten that toilet for just $188.

Know which department stores qualify

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is well known for its rewards at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, but it has another bonus category that sometimes gets overlooked: 3% at select U.S. department stores. American Express maintains a list of qualifying stores. It includes major national department store chains, but not discount retailers, such as Target or Wal-Mart, or regional chains. If you like to shop local for linens, lawnmowers and the like, it’s 1% for you.

Supplement with another card, or cards

If you prefer to carry only one card, and you spend a lot on groceries and gas, then the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is probably an ideal go-to card. But if you don’t mind carrying a few cards and using them strategically, you can enhance your cash-back benefits.

Use a bonus category card. Cards with rotating 5% cash-back categories  — such as the Chase Freedom® and the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ — often offer bonus rewards on groceries during at least one quarter of the year, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter. Your math teacher can confirm that 6% is still higher than 5% — but there’s the $6,000 annual spending cap on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express to think about.

If you spend $150 per week at the grocery store — not an unreasonable amount if you’ve got a few mouths to feed — that’s $7,800 a year. Your total grocery rewards for the year will be $378: $360 for the first $6,000 at 6%, plus $18 for the next $1,800 at 1%.

By comparison, if you used your Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express at U.S. supermarkets for nine months of the year and a 5% rotating category card during the three months when it offers a bonus on groceries, your annual grocery rewards would total a little over $430. Who’d sneeze at an extra $50 a year?

Plus, 5% cards often have gas as a bonus category, too, which means that for three months of the year you could bump your rewards at the pump from 3% on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express to 5%.

Mix in a flat-rate card. Outside its bonus categories, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 1% cash back. That’s not a bad rate, but it’s nothing special, either. If you’ve got room in your wallet (and in your head), consider carrying a card with a higher flat rate as your “everything else” card. The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, gives customers 1.5% cash back on every purchase, while the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer offers 1% back when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off.

How to redeem rewards on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Redeeming rewards on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is simple. Log in to your American Express account online and click “Use Reward Dollars.” Cash back comes in the form of a statement credit, which directly reduces your account balance. You can redeem in increments of $25, with a $25 minimum. You can also redeem for gift cards or merchandise.

Paul Soucy is an editor at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: paul@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @paulsoucy.