The Best Ways to Use Your Credit Card Rewards

Stephanie Miller
May 7, 2018
Best Way to Redeem

There are usually a handful of options for redeeming your credit card rewards. So, which one gives you the most bank for your buck?

If you’re using a credit card that offers cash back rewards – and why wouldn’t you be, considering that it would earn you free money on the things you buy anyway? – you might be wondering what to do next. Most issuers will offer you options for redeeming your rewards, leaving you curious about which gives the best return.

Many allow you to cash them in for a statement credit, others require you to purchase gift cards, and some might give you any number of different options. So, if given a choice, which option should you pick for your credit card redemption? Does it really matter whether you cash your rewards in for cold hard cash or do something a bit more exotic?

The answer is that, yes, it does matter. For instance, choosing to redeem rewards for something like merchandise can net a significantly smaller return on a rewards balance when compared to travel options or even cash. Depending on the card(s) you hold, you might even get bonus points for certain redemptions.

Let’s take a look at how you should consider redeeming points earned, in order to get as much as you can from the trade.

Redeem Through a Travel Portal

There are quite a few credit cards out there that offer their own rewards portal. Two of the biggest are Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

With cards in either of these rewards families, you are given the option to redeem your earned points through the portal. When doing so, you will have access to discount pricing on flights, hotel stays, rental cars, cruises, and more. This can often be one way to book your next trip or vacation with points at a lower price, getting more bang for your buck than you would with a simple statement credit.

You might even get a bonus on your points redemption, too!

For example, if you carry the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and choose to redeem your points through the Ultimate Rewards portal, each point will be worth an additional 25%. Want to buy a flight that costs $250? You can use the points earned from your Chase Sapphire Preferred card to buy that flight for the points-equivalent of only $200. If you carry the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you’ll do even better with a 50% redemption bonus.

If your credit card company offers you a portal for redeeming points, it’s well-worth the time to check it out. You can often get a better deal by cashing in with them directly than you would getting cash.

Redeem for Cash

With that said, cash is often toward the top of the list for points redemption value. If your credit card doesn’t offer a travel portal (or something comparable), or you want to use your earned rewards for something other than travel or merchandise, the best option might just be cold, hard cash.

For many credit cards, points can be cashed in at a rate of one point per cent. You’ll want to read the fine print for your specific product, though, as some issuers may offer considerably less. Most credit card companies will allow you to simply cash out your rewards balance right away, applying it to your next statement; others will restrict you to $25 increments, etc. If given the option between a one-cent redemption for merchandise that you may or may not need, or a statement credit on this month’s charges, cash is usually a worthwhile choice. This redemption option might also save you from choosing products or gift cards that you don’t really need, simply because it feels like a good deal.

Get Discounted Gift Cards

Your best option, depending on the card(s) you carry, might be gift card redemptions. This can often mean a value of one cent per point or more; as long as you redeem wisely, you may be able to come out far ahead!

If you carry a card that earns Citi ThankYou points, for instance, you can redeem your ThankYou points for gift cards from any number of retailers, at a 1:1 rate. Compared to the cash redemption of 0.5 cent-per-point through the same portal, and you see why gift cards are the right choice.

Other cards, like many from Discover, offer bonus redemptions for certain gift cards. For instance, you might be able to get a $25 gift card to the grocery store you frequent anyway, for only $20 worth of earned rewards. This 25% bonus is an excellent option, especially considering how much extra money you’ll get versus a statement credit for those same funds.

Just be sure that you are choosing gift cards for things you would buy anyway, like gas, groceries, or holiday gifts.

Transfer Airline Miles

If you are looking into award flights, you may want to use your credit card points. Depending on the rewards you have accrued, you may even be able to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to your favorite airline.

This is a great option if you have almost enough points for an award flight or have miles that are about to expire. Transferring a mere 1,000 points could be enough to save you (and your miles), and get you that free flight you want.

The key to getting the most out of your credit card rewards is to first pick a card that aligns with your preferences. Choose a card that offers rewards in the categories you spend the most in, and has redemption options that you actually want.

Then, be sure to read the fine print and choose your redemption method wisely. After all, it could mean even more free money in your pocket!

There are usually a handful of options for redeeming your credit card rewards. So, which one gives you the most

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