Published in: Credit Cards | Oct. 19, 2019

7 Tricks to Help You Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

By:  Kailey Hagen

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Anyone can earn rewards, but maximizing them requires a plan.

Using a rewards credit card doesn't require any skill -- just swipe, sign, and you're earning -- but maximizing your credit card rewards requires a strategy and an understanding of how your card's rewards program works. Here are seven tips you can use to start getting the most out of your credit cards today.

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Image source: Getty Images

1. Choose the right credit card

The right credit card is one that offers lucrative rewards on the purchases you make the most. Some cards offer extra rewards on dining and entertainment purchases, for example, while others give you bonus rewards when you purchase airline tickets. Rotating category credit cards can offer 5% cash back on different categories each quarter -- usually things like gas, groceries, or department store purchases. Or if you regularly spend money on a lot of different things, a card earning 1.5% or 2% cash back on every purchase might make the most sense. Take a look at your spending over the last few months and look for any trends that stand out. Then find a credit card with rewards programs that match.

You also have to think about the kinds of rewards you want. If you enjoy taking lots of trips, a travel rewards card makes the most sense. Cash back cards are popular because you can turn the rewards into just about anything. Some cards also offer special perks like advanced tickets to concerts or other live events. While not the same as rewards points, you should weigh all of these benefits. All the points in the world won't mean a thing if you're not interested in any of the redemption options.

2. Take advantage of sign-up bonuses

Many card issuers offer sign-up bonuses to entice new customers into joining. Typically they offer large point or mile bonuses to those who spend over a certain amount within the first three months their account is open. Obviously you shouldn't spend this much if doing so would cause you to carry credit card debt, as this could negate the rewards benefit. 

But if earning the sign-up bonus doesn't require a significant change in spending habits, it's worth pursuing. The card issuer should outline the requirements to earn the sign-up bonus on its website and in its cardholder agreement.

3. Use the card for your everyday purchases

You probably use your credit cards when you shop online for security, but it's also a good idea to use them for everyday purchases, like gas and groceries, even if you have cash on hand. This way, you can increase your rewards-earning opportunities without having to buy extra things you don't need. Again, stay mindful to avoid accidentally spending too much, or you could end up buried in costly credit card debt.

4. Use your card issuer's shopping portal

Many of the top credit card issuers offer online shopping portals to popular retailers. You can earn bonus rewards if you access these retailers' websites through the card issuer's portal rather than just typing it into your internet browser. In some cases, you can get up to 5% cash back whereas otherwise, you might've only earned 1% on your purchase. 

It is a little bit of a hassle to reach retailers' websites this way and your card issuer probably doesn't partner with every store you want to visit, but if you shop online often and you're willing to jump through the extra hoops, you can rack up rewards much more quickly.

5. Read your cardholder agreement

Your cardholder agreement tells you all the key details about the card, including the fine print of the rewards program. It often hides valuable information, like the fact that you have to opt into quarterly rotating categories in order to qualify for the higher rewards-earning rate, or that you can only earn so much in bonus rewards per month or per quarter. Some card issuers exclude certain retailers from its rewards categories, and some travel rewards cards have rewards that expire if you don't use them within a certain time frame.

Understanding all the little details will stop you from making a mistake that accidentally costs you your hard-earned rewards. If you have any questions about how the rewards program works, reach out to the card issuer and ask.

6. Use a few complementary cards

It's always a good idea to have more than one credit card in your wallet in case your main card is stolen. But it can also help you maximize your credit card rewards. Say you typically max out your bonus rewards on your rotating category credit card. Rather than earning a paltry 1% back on all your remaining purchases in that category for the rest of the quarter, you could switch over to a card offering 1.5% or 2% back on all purchases. 

You don't have to choose another card from the same card issuer, but this can help because all of your rewards will be in one place, so it won't take as long to accumulate an amount you can redeem for the rewards you want.

7. Think about how you redeem your rewards 

Cash back rewards cards usually give you several redemption options, including using your points to shop directly on popular retailers' websites, statement credits, cash back, or gift cards to popular stores. But if you do the math, these different redemption options typically assign different values to your points. Using your points to shop directly on other sites usually means you must spend more points than you would have had to if you'd used your points to buy a gift card to the same store.

Similarly, travel rewards cards might offer better value for your miles on some flights or hotel stays than others. Do your research and compare your redemption options to figure out which offers you the best value for your points before you spend them. 

You don't have to follow all of the tips laid out here, although if you do, you'll probably see your rewards balance swell quickly. Even if you only try a few, you should start to notice an increase in the number of rewards you're earning each month.

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