How Credit Card Issuers Classify Dining Purchases

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Depending on the credit cards you carry, you could be earning bonus rewards every time you swipe your card to pay for specific types of purchases, such as gas, groceries or travel. Dining is another bonus category many credit cards offer, and it might include everything from traditional sit-down restaurants and neighborhood cafes to cocktail lounges and delivery services.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that "food away from home" accounted for around 5.6% of the average U.S. household's annual expenditures in 2019, totaling around $3,526 per year. So why not benefit from all that spending with a credit card that offers bonus rewards on dining? Here's how rewards credit cards classify which purchases earn dining rewards, and how you can maximize your spending on them.

What Are Merchant Category Codes?

Credit card issuers use four-digit numbers that are known as merchant category codes, or MCCs, to classify different types of businesses.

MCCs were created by the IRS in 2004 to help credit card networks and issuers identify businesses, analyze customer behavior and spending, track payment processing charges and determine bonus rewards on purchases. When a business establishes a payment system with a credit card payment network, such as Mastercard or Visa, it is assigned a merchant category code based on what it sells or the service it provides.

Because MCCs are assigned by the payment networks or self-designated by the businesses themselves, credit card issuers—banks such as Bank of America or Chase—do not control which businesses fall under which merchant category codes. You might find that some food delivery services use an MCC that your credit card issuer considers "dining," and earns bonus rewards on orders as a result. On the other hand, a business you consider a restaurant might not earn any bonus rewards on dining expenses because of the MCC it is categorized under.

Credit card issuers have their own systems of classifying different types of businesses too. While based on merchant category codes, they can vary from the official MCCs and from other issuers' categories.

It's good to pay attention to merchant category codes so you understand how credit cards might group different types of businesses. However, it's more important to look at how your specific credit card will code purchases—dining and otherwise—so you can set your rewards earnings expectations accordingly.

What Purchases Count Toward Dining Rewards?

The major issuers in the U.S. offering credit cards that earn bonus rewards on dining typically provide listings for which businesses are included. Always check the terms of your specific cards to understand what kinds of purchases will earn bonus rewards. To help get you started, here are some guidelines to what purchases are considered dining by each of the major credit card issuers.

American Express

American Express counts most restaurants, including fast food restaurants, under its dining category. Many delivery services, such as DoorDash and Grubhub, also count.

There are just two things to beware of:

  1. If a restaurant is located within another type of business (such as a hotel, casino, stadium or theme park), it may not be coded as a dining establishment, and will not be eligible for bonus rewards.
  2. Some of Amex's cards only earn bonus rewards on U.S. restaurant purchases, whereas others earn them at restaurants globally, so always review your specific card's terms.

To make a quick comparison, the American Express® Gold Card earns 4 points per dollar on dining, which includes restaurants, takeout and delivery; unlike a typical credit card, however, this card only allows you to carry a balance for certain charges, not all. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, on the other hand, earns 3 points per dollar on dining, but only at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery. Terms apply.

Bank Of America

Bank of America considers the following types of businesses under the dining designation:

  • Eating places
  • Restaurants
  • Fast food restaurants
  • Bars
  • Cocktail lounges
  • Discotheques
  • Nightclubs
  • Taverns
  • Drinking places

While this list doesn't explicitly include cafes, many of them (including Starbucks) fall under dining, too, so you can expect bonus rewards there—as well as with many of the major food delivery services.

Capital One

Among the Capital One cards that offer dining bonuses, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 3% cash back on dining. Here are the types of businesses that qualify:

  • Restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Fast food chains
  • Bakeries

Although Capital One does not include delivery services, many may be eligible for this card's bonus earning.

Chase

Several Chase cards earn bonus points on dining. For the purpose of rewards, Chase considers the following as dining outlets:

  • Sit-down or eat-in dining
  • Fast food restaurants
  • Fine-dining establishments
  • Delivery services that classify themselves as a restaurant

Interestingly, Chase explicitly notes that delivery services might earn bonus rewards based on their MCC classification.

How to Maximize Dining Rewards Credit Cards

Given just how many types of businesses may count toward a credit card's dining bonus category, it's not hard to maximize dining rewards credit cards. However, to make absolutely sure you're getting the most out of your rewards cards, consider doing the following:

  • Pick the right card. Dining rewards credit cards range from those that charge no annual fee and earn cash back. Many rewards credit cards earn cash back, while the Ultimate Rewards points the Chase cards earn are good for cash back in addition to travel rewards and other possibilities. Consider the types of rewards you want to earn and whether the value of the points or cash back you earn will outweigh a card's annual fee each year before submitting an application.
  • Use your card for dining purchases whenever possible. If you have a card that earns bonus rewards on dining, be sure to use it for dining purchases, including takeout and delivery services. Otherwise, you could be leaving rewards on the table.
  • Look out for caps and maximums. Certain credit cards cap the rewards you can earn in various categories, including dining.
  • Take advantage of limited-time bonuses. Other credit cards earn bonuses on categories that rotate each quarter, and it's worth leveraging them to the fullest.
  • Call your issuer. If you think that a purchase should have been coded as dining but wasn't—it happens all the time due to those pesky MCCs—don't be afraid to call your issuer and ask them to reconsider adding extra rewards to your account. The worst they can do is say no.

If you have a credit card that earns bonus rewards at restaurants, it's important to understand how issuers classify dining rewards and which purchases will count. Then, make sure you use your card (responsibly) for any eligible charges to earn the most rewards possible. For more information and guidance, check out Experian CreditMatchTM for credit card offers matched to your credit profile that could earn you bonus rewards on dining.

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