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If you live in or visit New York City, you know there’s so much to see and do — and just as many ways to spend your money. While you’re exploring the city, you might notice a pattern in what you’re purchasing. Residents and visitors alike tend to partake in the best things the city has to offer, like excellent restaurants, taxis or rideshares, and top-notch entertainment.
Within those categories, there are certain credit cards that will reward your spending with miles, points, or cash back on purchases. Of course, there isn’t one best credit card to use in New York City. The one or two you choose should maximize your rewards on what you’re already spending.
As a New York resident for 11 years, I found there were a few cards that rewarded me more richly than others. The right one for you will depend on the benefits you’re looking for, where you often spend, the annual fee you’re willing to pay, and many other factors.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, and earns 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and travel (after the $300 travel credit). You can use the points to book travel directly through Chase, or transfer them to airline and hotel partners like United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Hyatt.
Chase’s definition of “travel” is broad. You’ll earn 3x points per dollar spent on flights, hotels, tolls, parking garages, taxis, and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. Plus, you’ll earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and delivery. These are all popular spending categories for New Yorkers.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has an annual fee of $550, but you’ll get up to $300 in annual travel credits that apply to most travel purchases, including rideshares, which offsets over half the fee. Because of the pandemic, up to $300 in travel credits also apply to grocery and gas station purchases through December 31, 2021, which makes it even easier to maximize.
You’ll get other valuable benefits like primary car rental insurance and trip delay and cancellation insurance. I had this card when I lived in New York and found it worth keeping for the lucrative points earning alone.
Best credit card for subway and commuter train rides: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
In New York City, you’ll likely find yourself on the MTA subway or a commuter train like Amtrak or NJ Transit at some point, if not daily. You can earn 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on every dollar spent on tickets with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, because train rides are included within Chase’s broad travel category.
Even better, you can use the up to $300 annual travel credits from the Chase Sapphire Reserve® toward a subway or commuter train pass or tickets, which helps to offset the card’s annual fee. Plus, you’ll earn bonus points for most other travel and for dining. It’s a handy card to have when you purchase train tickets to move about the city.
14.99% – 23.74%
Good to Excellent
$200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
0% for the first 15 billing cycles
New Yorkers like stopping into Duane Reade or other drugstores for quick essentials. With a drugstore around nearly every corner, it’s convenient to pop in any time as most of them are open around the clock.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, and earns 3% cash back on drugstore purchases with no cap, which can add up quickly if you spend a lot at drugstores. You’ll also earn 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible food delivery services, 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter when you activate, then 1%) and travel booked through Chase, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. That’s strong earning potential for a card with no annual fee.
The cash back is actually earned in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. With the Chase Freedom Flex℠, 1 point is worth 1 cent, but your points are potentially worth much more if you pair the Chase Freedom Flex℠ with another Chase Ultimate Rewards card, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.
Best credit card to use at restaurants, takeout, and delivery: American Express® Gold Card
See Pay Over Time APR
60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening
New York City’s restaurant scene needs no introduction, and is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. In fact, many New Yorkers eat out or get delivery more often than not, especially because there are dozens of unique restaurants in each neighborhood.
The American Express® Gold Card comes with a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening. It’s the best card to use for dining out, takeout, and food delivery in New York City because you’ll earn 4 American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. Plus, you’ll get up to $120 in dining credits each year that are easy for New Yorkers to use.
After enrollment, you can use up to $10 in statement credits each month for purchases at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. Even if you don’t like the restaurants on the list, most New Yorkers can make good use of Grubhub and Seamless delivery once per month when they’re not dining at favorite local restaurants. This helps to cover the card’s $250 annual fee (See Rates).
Do New Yorkers buy groceries? It seems they’re always out and about but actually, there are many amazing supermarkets throughout the city, from Fairway in the Upper West Side to Sahadi’s in Brooklyn Heights to Key Food locations throughout the city.
If you spend a lot on groceries, consider the Amex Gold Card, which earns 4x American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar up to $25,000 in spending per year (then 1x) at U.S. supermarkets. The card also earns 4x points for restaurant purchases worldwide and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel. You can then transfer the points to a variety of airline and hotel partners for travel experiences.
There’s a $250 annual fee, but you can make up for it with up to $120 in dining credits each year, up to $120 in Uber Cash credits annually, and of course, the strong earning potential at U.S. supermarkets.
15.99% – 24.99% variable APR
Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months
If city exploration is your favorite thing to do, consider the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card and its solid intro bonus: Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months. It earns 4% cash back on entertainment purchases — a broad category that includes things like tickets to movie theaters, plays, sporting events, and concerts, as well as tourist attractions, dance clubs, and many other activities.
There aren’t a lot of cards that reward entertainment purchases. You’ll also earn 4% cash back on dining, 2% cash back at grocery stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card comes with a $95 annual fee, but if you spend a lot in the bonus categories, you can easily cover it. Run the numbers and see if your entertainment spending is enough to make this card worthwhile.
$99, waived for the first year
15.74% to 24.74% variable APR
70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Delta is a good airline for New Yorkers because they have a domestic hub at LaGuardia and many international flights out of JFK. Amex offers several Delta credit cards, but most casual flyers will do well with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, which is currently offering 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
With it, you’ll get a free first checked bag on Delta flights for yourself and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation, Zone 1 Priority boarding, and a 20% discount on inflight purchases as a statement credit. Considering it costs $30 to check a bag each way, you can recover the card’s annual fee of $99, waived for the first year (See Rates), in a single trip traveling with friends or family.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card also earns 2x Delta miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery), and at U.S. supermarkets, which are bonus categories most New Yorkers can appreciate.
$95, waived the first year
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Good to Excellent
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
If you prefer to fly out of Newark, chances are you’ll find yourself on a United flight. In that case, the United℠ Explorer Card is the best credit card for United flyers, with a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months. You’ll earn 2x miles on United purchases, at restaurants including eligible delivery services, and on hotel stays. Cardholders also get a statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years.
The card also mimics lower-level elite status by providing a free first checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation when you pay for your ticket with the card, priority boarding, 25% back as a statement credit for United inflight purchases, and two United Club passes each cardmember anniversary.
All combined, the card is easily worth its annual fee of $95, waived the first year, especially if you make the most of its generous perks. It’s also one of the rare cards that offer primary car rental insurance.
$99, waived for first 12 months
15.99% – 24.99% variable
Good to Excellent
50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
American Airlines offers plenty of flights out of their hubs at LaGuardia domestically and JFK for trans-Atlantic travel. With the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, you’ll earn 2x miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and at restaurants and gas stations.
Along with a welcome bonus of 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, the card also gets you a free first checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights, as well as for up to four companions traveling on the same itinerary. That perk alone can cover the card’s annual fee of $99, waived for first 12 months. You’ll also get preferred boarding when you fly on American Airlines and a 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases. If you fly American Airlines a few times per year, this is the best credit card for American Airlines flights.
15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% based on your creditworthiness.
40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee
Finally, there’s New York’s hometown airline, JetBlue, which occupies all of Terminal 5 at JFK airport. New Yorkers love flying JetBlue for its comfort, unlimited snacks, and welcoming atmosphere. If that describes you, you’ll do well with the JetBlue Plus Card, which comes with a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee.
It earns 6x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. You’ll also receive 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary each year. The JetBlue Plus Card also comes with a free first checked bag for you and up to three companions on the same reservation when you use the card to pay for your tickets, and 50% off inflight cocktails and food purchases.
JetBlue points are worth, on average, 1.4 cents each according to Insider’s points and miles valuations, which means the 5,000 anniversary bonus points are worth about $70 toward JetBlue flights each year. Between that and the first free checked bag benefit, the JetBlue Plus Card is easily worth its $99 annual fee if you like flying with JetBlue.
Harlan Vaughn is a freelance writer who has written about credit card rewards, personal finance, points and miles, and travel loyalty programs for nearly a decade.