How to Squeeze Extra Rewards Out of Your Credit Cards

A young adult pays for a shopping purchase with a credit card.

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Here's how to snag the most rewards -- and reap the most cash back and savings.

Key points

  • The upside of using credit cards is getting rewarded for the purchases you make.
  • By keeping track of revolving rewards, timing your purchases with sign-up bonuses, and booking travel strategically, you can get more out of your credit cards.

Credit cards can be a useful tool that help you build credit and manage your spending efficiently. They can also reward you for the purchases you're making via cash back or points you redeem for gift cards or merchandise. If your goal is to eke the most benefit out of your credit cards, here are some essential moves worth making.

1. Pay attention to revolving reward categories

Some credit cards give you the same rewards all year long. For example, you might have a card that gives you 2% cash back on groceries no matter what time of the year you use it.

But some credit cards offer revolving reward categories that give you a chance to snag bonus points or cash back on your purchases. It's important to keep track of what those are.

You may have a credit card that offers 1% cash back on all purchases normally, but offers 3% cash back on select purchase categories on a quarterly basis. That card may, for instance, offer 3% cash back on department store purchases during the year's first quarter, 3% back on gas fill-ups during the second quarter, and so forth. Making a note of those categories across your different cards could help you determine which are worth using at different points of the year.

2. Apply for sign-up bonuses strategically

Your spending might increase at different periods during the year. For example, if you're attending a wedding in May, that month, you might spend money on a flight, hotel, and attire. And if you're planning a family vacation in August, that could be a month where you charge a lot on a credit card.

It's a great idea to match your anticipated spending with credit card sign-up bonuses. Many cards offer extra cash back or reward points for opening a new card and making a certain amount of purchases shortly thereafter.

Now, say you've got that wedding in May that you think will cost $1,000 on top of what you'd normally spend that month. In that case, you may want to apply for a credit card with a sign-up bonus in late April. If that bonus requires you to spend $3,000 within three months of opening your card for a $250 cash back reward, and you normally spend $750 a month on your credit cards, the extra $1,000 for that wedding should help you meet that threshold and snag your cash.

3. Use the right credit cards when you travel

If you tend to take a lot of trips, it pays to book them using a travel rewards credit card. Not only might one of these cards allow you to score extra bonus points or miles, but you might also benefit from perks that save you money.

Many travel cards, for example, give you the option to bring one checked bag on board a flight without having to pay for it. If you'd normally be charged $30 for that privilege, that's a lot of savings in the course of multiple flights.

The right moves on your part could help you squeeze extra rewards out of your credit cards all year round. That's a great way to make your purchases and plans more affordable.

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