Credit card rewards (whether cash back, miles, points) are often based on Merchant Category Codes, known as MCCs. For example, my Chase United MileagePlus card earns double miles for groceries, gas, dining and home improvement. My Chase United Explorer business card earns double miles for travel, dining, gas and office supplies.
How a purchase is categorized is based on the MCC associated with the merchant and is spelled out in the fine print of the credit card features/benefits.
For example, I’m looking at the BankAmericard application that came in the mail recently. The rewards for this card are 2% cash back on groceries, 3% cash back on gas, and 1% cash back on everything else (with quarterly limits). If I go to the fine print on the back of the application, I see that “Eligible merchants and the associated MCCs…are the following: (a) Grocery Stores (MCC codes 5411, 5422, 5441, 5451, 5462, and 5499); and (b) Gas Stations (MCC codes 5541 and 5542). Purchases made at a merchant that does not process transactions under these codes will not qualify and you will not receive the bonus cash rewards.”
The trick is to figure out what the MCC is for a merchant you shop at and make sure you use the card that maximizes your rewards. This comes with experience and research. Asking the cashier what their MCC is will usually not get you anywhere! 😉
Reviewing your year end statement, which breaks purchases into categories (at least with my Chase cards) is very helpful. That’s how I discovered that purchases at my local Target (which has a grocery section) and Walmart are categorized as groceries. Handy to know!
There’s also this handy website which tells you exactly what the MCC is for any “supplier” that takes VISA:
Have at it!