Reap the credit card rewards harvest at fall food festivals

Headed to a food fair? Don't forget to pack a card with dining bonuses and exclusive perks

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Food festival credit card tips

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Turning leaves, cooler weather and all things pumpkin-flavored signal fall’s approach. Fall also brings a calendar packed with food festivals and fairs from coast to coast.

Some of the samplings on this year’s menu recommended by Travel and Leisure include the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, Beignet Fest in New Orleans and the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival.

While you’re sure to bring along your appetite for any fall food fest you attend, don’t forget to pack something else: a rewards credit card.

Here’s how to earn credit card rewards while satisfying your fall foodie cravings.

See related: Fall travel: Expert tips for planning the perfect getaway

Pick a card that caters to dining

If you’re hitting the road to attend a fall food festival, a travel rewards card makes sense for earning miles on flights or cash back for gas.

But you’ll want to swap it out for a dining rewards card when it’s time to chow down.

“The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is the Capital One Savor,” says HighYa.com expert J.R. Duren. “A close second would be the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card.”

  • The Savor card offers 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment, plus 2 percent back on groceries, which is a plus if you like to test out fall recipes at home.
  • If you prefer points to cash rewards, the Wells Fargo Propel card lets you earn 3 points per dollar on dining and travel.

The Uber Visa and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards also land on the list of best cards for diners.

  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve yields 3 points per dollar spent on dining and travel.
  • The Uber Visa card gives you 4 points per dollar spent at restaurants, bars, takeout and UberEATS.

Travel blogger and Bank of America spokesman Lee Abbamonte prefers the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card for food fairs. The card offers 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1.5 points on everything else.

He used the card to attend the Austin Food and Wine Festival in the spring and has additional foodie trips lined up through year’s end.

“No matter the activity, I’m earning points that I can use to pay for my next fall adventure,” says Abbamonte.

Crack the (merchant) code on food fair eats

If you’re using your card to charge snacks or meals at a fall food event, get familiar with merchant codes for dining to make sure you get full rewards credit for every purchase.

“This is super important because your credit card company is going to determine if your purchases get the restaurant bonus, based on the merchant code the seller uses,” says Duren.

He says in most cases a merchant must use one of three codes for a dining rewards bonus to apply (you can find the whole list on the IRS's website):

  • 5812: Eating places, restaurants
  • 5813: Drinking places (most commonly bars)
  • 5814: Fast food restaurants

Individual card networks maintain their own merchant code lists. For instance, Duren recommends using Visa’s Supplier Locator if you’re using a Visa card at fall food fairs. Just remember that some vendors at fall food festivals may not fall into any of those three categories.

"A produce tent may not be coded, so if you’re buying something from a local farmer at a food fair, there’s a good chance that your purchase won’t get the dining bonus."

“A produce tent may not be coded,” he says, “so if you’re buying something from a local farmer at a food fair, there’s a good chance that your purchase won’t get the dining bonus.”

This year’s Feast Portland event, for instance, includes Oregon Growers, a farm direct specialty food vendor, which most likely won't be coded as a restaurant purchase.

  • If you’re in doubt about buying from a vendor at a fall food festival, you can always ask them directly if they know their merchant code.
  • Planning ahead for which vendors you want to frequent can help avoid code confusion. 
  • You can generally spot the entire food and booth lineup in the weeks before the event rolls out, says travel expert Samantha McNesby.
  • When all else fails, check your transaction history to see how food purchases are coded.

“At the end of the day, take a look at your credit card statement and see if you’re getting the bonuses on your purchases,” says Duren. “You should be able to see how your credit card company classified them.”

See related: How to find a business’s merchant category code

Fill your plate with extra benefits

Your card may come with additional perks that can sweeten the deal at fall food fairs.

Abbamonte recommends the Preferred Rewards program for Bank of America card users. Depending on your membership level, you could earn up to a 75 percent rewards bonus when you spend on dining.

Look for discounts at the venue

If you’re headed to a fall food festival on a budget, check to see if the event offers any money-saving incentives.

McNesby, whose family is planning a visit to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival running through mid-November, says checking for a sampler discount is a simple way to save.

“Epcot offers a sampler pass that features a variety of choices for a reduced rate,” says McNesby. “The sampler pass allows you to budget and plan out your trip,” so you don’t get carried away with wanting to try – and buy – everything.

"Bringing cash along to a food festival is a good move in case a vendor doesn’t accept cards, or you have an emergency that requires cash."

Event organizers sometimes release reduced-fee opportunities closer to the event, so keep an eye out for promotions as you plan your visit.

  • Setting a daily budget for what you plan to charge to your card can also help you keep from overindulging your waistline and your wallet.
  • Splitting meals is another option for managing fall food fair spending.

Keep cash at the ready – and watch out for fraudsters

“Bringing cash along to a food festival is a good move in case a vendor doesn’t accept your rewards card, or you have an emergency that requires cash,” says Duren.

  • In a worst-case scenario, you may have to resort to using your credit or debit card to grab cash at the ATM.
  • That could trigger a cash advance fee and/or a steep APR if you use a credit card, both of which could spoil your fall food festival experience.
  • But you’ll also want to keep an eye out for skimmers and shimmers, which could steal your card’s info at ATMs.

One way to avoid having to carry your card around is to link your card to the food festival’s wristband if they offer one. It's an increasingly popular option adopted by music festivals.

Just pay attention to what you’re spending, since it may be easier to lose track if you’re not using your card each time.


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Updated: 11-16-2018