by Brittney Myers | Jan. 22, 2021
Keeping up with the ever-changing categories takes a little effort, but it can be well worth the trouble.
One of the more challenging aspects of maximizing credit card rewards is that the deals and bonuses change on a regular basis. In fact, a number of popular cash back cards are known for their rotating bonus categories that change every quarter.
Even cards with normally static bonus rewards can be updated and tweaked once or twice a year. Then, any new cards added to the collection need to be incorporated into the mix. Oh, and don't forget the issuer savings portals that offer new deals every few weeks.
Long story short, maximizing your rewards requires frequently updating your strategy to reflect new deals and bonuses. So before each new quarter, I spend some time figuring out how to get the most from my cards for the next three months. Here's a look at how I plan to maximize my rewards during the first quarter of 2021.
There are three main cards of note with rotating categories. Each earns 5% cash back in select categories, and you'll need to activate the new categories each quarter:
It's not uncommon for the bonus categories of these cards to overlap -- particularly with the Chase and Discover cards -- but that's not the case right now. The Discover cash back calendar shows bonuses for grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS through March 2021. The Chase Freedom cash back calendar lists bonus rewards for wholesale stores, internet, cable, and select streaming services.
So far as the Discover card goes, well, I earn better rewards on groceries with my American Express® Gold Card. I don't have another card that's better for CVS or Walgreens, so I'll use my Discover it® Cash Back on my drugstore errands.
The Chase rewards card is a bit trickier. I earn at least 5% back on streaming services and internet purchases with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card. But the rewards earned with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ are a little more valuable in my book.
That's because the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is advertised as cash back, but it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points. With just that card, those points are only good for cash back. But they can be used for travel if you have a Sapphire card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (a card currently on my to-do list). I'll likely switch my internet and streaming purchases to the Freedom Flex to maximize my Ultimate Rewards points.
For my U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, I'll keep my go-to bonus category of home utilities. My second category pick is usually internet and cable, which I'll move to the Chase Freedom Flex℠ for the quarter. That leaves me free to choose cellphones as my second pick, earning me some extra cash back on my phone service.
Even the best purchase rewards can't compete with a good sign-up bonus, so obviously I'll want to make sure I focus on any new cards this quarter. Not too long ago, I added the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to my collection, which comes with a $200 sign-up bonus for spending $500 in the first three months.
With a couple of semi-major purchases on the horizon, I feel confident I can reach the low spending requirement without too much trouble. And since the card earns a flat 1.5% back on every purchase -- which can be turned into 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar -- I'll actually be maximizing those purchases to boot.
Just in case, I'll keep an eye on my spending. If I'm coming up on my 90 days and am still short of hitting my bonus, I'll throw a grocery trip or take-out meal onto the card to make sure I earn it.
Last, but hardly least, no credit card strategy is complete without taking into consideration all of the great issuer deals you can find. From bonus rewards to deep discounts, these issuer savings can be better than most coupons you'll find out there.
Although Chase has some decent discounts for cardholders in its savings portal, the main issuer I think about here is American Express. No matter which card you have, you can find dozens of retailer deals in the Amex Offers & Benefits portal. Just recently, I earned $5 back on our HBO Max subscription, $20 off the cost of filing my taxes, and 1,500 bonus points for spending $500.
In addition to checking the savings portals, I'll keep an eye on my email all quarter long. Many issuers send out targeted offers for select cardholders, often providing higher rewards rates on certain purchases or mini spending bonuses.
If this all sounds like a lot, well, it can be, if you're not organized. However, maximizing rewards can be an enriching hobby -- literally -- but it isn't a win or lose game. No one (but you) is keeping score.
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