6 Ways to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards
Earning rewards, either in the form of points or miles, is one of the best benefits of credit card use. You’ll essentially earn free money just for buying the things you need anyway. But are there ways that you can squeeze even more rewards out of your credit card programs? Well yes, with a little planning and intentional spending you most certainly can. In fact, here are six strategies that you can use to maximize your earned rewards and rake in even more free cash.
Earn Bonus Offers
Most rewards-based credit cards today will offer bonus rewards – in the form of a statement credit, points, or miles – for new cardmembers. The catch? There’s typically a minimum spend required.
For instance, the issuer will give you a certain period of time (usually the first 3 months or so) to spend a certain amount of money (somewhere between $500 and $4,000 is typical, depending on the product). If you do that, though, you’ll see a nice reward land in your account shortly thereafter.
There are plenty of ways to do this without spending needlessly; the last thing you want to do is waste money or go into debt just trying to earn a bonus. However, by paying all of your bills using your new card (at least, the ones that won’t charge a fee for doing so), buying groceries and gas, and even prepaying for things like upcoming medical bills or insurance premiums, you can spend the same but earn more.
If your new card offers one of these sign-up bonuses, make sure that you get it. This is an easy way to boost your points or miles balance, or even earn cold hard cash, right off the bat. And since credit card bonuses today are higher than they’ve ever been, you can expect this boost to easily be worth hundreds of dollars.
Remember Rotating Categories
Some credit cards, like the Chase Freedom and Discover it, offer rotating bonus categories. The catch for earning your extra bonuses, though, is that you have to opt in ahead of time.
With these types of cards, a new group of spending categories is offered each quarter. When you make qualifying purchases in said categories, you’ll earn significantly more in cash back (usually 5%, compared to the typical 1%). However, if you forget to opt in for that quarter’s spending category, you won’t earn the bonus.
Set calendar reminders in your phone to call or log in at least a week or two before the new quarter is set to begin. Opting in is easy and automated, and will ensure that you earn as many rewards as possible.
Use Your Credit Card for Everything
If you have a rewards-earning credit card, you should be using it for everything that doesn’t charge a fee. This means gas, bills, groceries, insurance payments, and even down payments on a new car. If the payee doesn’t add a fee for credit card payments, use plastic. Otherwise, you are leaving free money on the table every single time you spend.
Of course, there are caveats here. You still need to budget and spend wisely – don’t use this as an excuse to overbuy or blow your budget. Just put the money on your card rather than pulling out cash, and pay off the bill accordingly.
Speaking of paying your bill, you also need to plan to pay off your entire statement in full each month. It makes little sense to earn 2% cash back on your spending if you’re then going to pay 18% in interest by carrying over a balance.
My personal tip? I use a savings account through my bank that’s exclusively for my credit card spending. When I buy anything with my credit card – whether it’s coffee or groceries or my cell phone bill – I immediately transfer that amount from my checking account to my savings account. That way, I feel the impact of having “spent” that money, and when my statement comes at the end of the month, I don’t feel the pinch of having to pay it all in full. The exact balance is already sitting aside in savings, waiting to pay the bill.
Plan Your Card Usage
Having one cash back credit card is great. Having two or three, though, can allow you to really maximize your rewards.
If you qualify, and know that you can responsibly manage more than one card, it’s a wise move to find 2-3 credit cards that you can optimize your spending with. For instance, I hold one credit card that offers 6% back on groceries and 3% back on gas, so I use that every single time I buy food or fill up. However, it only earns 1% back on everything else. So if my spending isn’t at the grocery store or gas station, I use a different cash back card… one that earns me 2% back on everything.
This method will earn you as much back from each transaction as possible.
Find Additional Bonus Offers
Some credit cards will offer more than just a sign-up bonus to new users. You might also find offers for referrals, authorized users, or special spending.
If your card offers bonuses beyond your initial sign-up, seriously look into taking them. For instance, you might get 1,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to the account, and another 500 when they make their first purchase. Or, you might get a $75 statement credit for every person you refer to the credit card, after they open their own account.
Utilize Bonus Malls
If you shop online (and who doesn’t, these days?), credit card bonus malls can be an excellent way to earn even more points. All you have to do is initiate your shopping through the card issuer’s portal, and you’ll earn a number of bonus points for every transaction.
For instance, the Shop Through Chase portal offers anywhere from 1 to 8 bonus points per dollar spent at certain retailers. If I’m already buying something online for my home or my kids, I check to see if the store is listed on the portal. If it is, I can spend the same amount of money, but earn as much as 8% back on my purchase.
Check to see if your card issuer offers their own bonus mall shopping portal, and utilize it every time you go to buy online.
Spend Through Portals
Lastly, if you really want to optimize the rewards you’ve already earned, look into spending them through an issuer’s portal. There, you’ll typically make your points stretch even further than if you redeemed them for a statement credit.
For instance, some cards will offer bonus redemption through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Whereas 50,000 points would get you a $500 statement credit, you could redeem that same amount for an impressive $625 toward travel expenses. If you’re already going somewhere anyway or planned to use the rewards toward a trip, you might as well book through the issuer’s portal.
With Discover and American Express, as an example, you can often find gift cards that give an added value. A $25 grocery store card might be “purchased” with $20 worth of rewards, for instance, netting you $5 at a store you would have shopped at anyway. That’s a 25% bonus just for getting a gift card instead of cash.
Credit card rewards are the best they’ve ever been, offering you ways to earn even more on the money you’re already spending. With a little planning – and responsible account management – you can turn your everyday expenses into hundreds of dollars in free cash each year.