When you’re buying a $3 or $4 latte, the difference between using the right rewards credit card and the wrong one (or not using one at all) comes out to maybe a few pennies.
If your latte is a daily ritual, though, it can add up to more than $10 a year. And that underscores the value of using rewards credit cards for every single purchase: Day by day, dollar by dollar, the seemingly small amounts you get back can snowball into hundreds of dollars’ worth of rewards every year.
The right card to use when you buy your latte depends on a couple of factors. One is how much effort you want to put into maximizing your credit card rewards. Another is where you buy your lattes.
Flat-rate vs. bonus rewards
Credit cards that earn rewards dole them out in one of two ways:
- Flat-rate rewards. This type of card earns the same percentage on all spending, usually 1% to 2%, depending on the card. Whether you’re buying a half-caf-triple-cap heavy foam concoction or a coffee-scented candle, you’ll earn the same rewards rate.
- Bonus categories. These cards earn elevated rewards in certain categories and a lower rate everywhere else. Spending strategically with bonus-rewards cards can net you greater rewards overall than simply using a flat-rate card, but it also requires more effort on your part to know which card to pull out for each purchase.
If you like to keep things simple, flat-rate rewards are the way to go. If you enjoy squeezing maximum value out of every purchase, bonus rewards are for you.
Picking a card
When it comes to that latte, you’ll get the most points with a card that earns bonus rewards on restaurant purchases, since coffee shops usually count as restaurants on such cards. The best of these pay rewards of 3% or more. So if a coffee run is a regular part of your routine, it makes sense to pay for it with a card that pays bonus rewards wherever you fill your cup.
If you’re a Starbucks loyalist, you might consider that chain’s card, the Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card. But if you spread your business around, a card like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card will net you the same elevated rewards on your order regardless of whether it’s from a diner, coffee shop or drive-through window.
If you’re fussy about your froth or are more of a brew-it-yourselfer, a card that pays high rewards where you buy your beans is your best bet. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, offers some of the highest rewards around on supermarket spending. Warehouse shoppers can earn big with a card like the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi or the Sam's Club® Mastercard®.
If juggling credit cards doesn’t appeal to you, then get yourself a good flat-rate card and you’re good to go. For cash back, you might try the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer or the Chase Freedom Unlimited®; for travel rewards, maybe the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card.
» MORE: How to choose a rewards card
More money answers from the Nerds:
- Should I be spending $6 on a coffee?
- Should I put the next round on my credit card and get the points?
- How can people afford to eat out all the time?