Why I Gave Up on Credit Cards With Rotating Bonus Rewards

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KEY POINTS

  • Many credit cards offer bonus rewards on rotating categories.
  • I used to have one of these cards, but I stopped using it because you have to activate the bonus category each quarter.
  • I find it easier to use a card that offers a good rewards rate on all purchases rather than one that offers a great rate on a few rotating categories.


A credit card with rotating bonus rewards had one big downside I couldn't get over.

Different rewards credit cards all have their own unique rules. For example, some rewards cards offer bonus rewards for rotating categories of spending. With these credit cards, you might get 5% cash back on groceries during one quarter of the year, and the next quarter get 5% back on gas.

I used to have one of these credit cards with rotating bonus rewards -- but I switched it out for a different rewards card for one simple reason. Here's what it is.

This is why I don't like cards with rotating bonus rewards

When I had a credit card with rotating bonus rewards, the card imposed a specific requirement. In order to be able to get the bonus 5% cash back on purchases in the special rewards category for the current quarter, I had to sign into my account and manually activate this option.

Now, this seems simple enough. I just had to activate the bonus rewards four times a year in order to benefit from the 5% cash back. The problem is, doing this was actually a really big hassle for me. I would forget when I had to go in and activate the rewards. And even when I set calendar reminders, I'd have to stop doing other things as soon as the reminder came up. Otherwise, I'd tell myself that I was going to do it later and end up just not remembering.

Related: Compare Credit Cards

Since I had such a hard time activating the bonus cash back, I ended up getting cash back all the time at the standard bonus rate. On the particular card I had, this meant that the vast majority of the time, I ended up getting just 1% back on most of my purchases.

And even when I did remember to activate the special bonus rewards, it became annoying to try to keep track of which cards to use for which purchases. I had to remember, for example, to switch to using my 5% cash back card on gas during the quarter when I got the extra money back for this -- but then switch back to a different card later when the rewards for gas purchasing dropped down to just 1% after the category rotated.

Since I don't really want to spend a lot of time and mental energy figuring out which credit card to use for everything I buy, I decided I was much better off with a card that just offered me higher rewards than 1% on all my purchases. While I don't get 5% back on anything, it's a lot less work to max out the credit card rewards I do get -- I just use the card and the cash back adds up.

Is a card with a rotating bonus rewards program right for you?

Cards with rotating bonus rewards can definitely help you earn a lot of extra cash back or points if you remember to activate your bonus category and use the right card. If you enjoy playing the game of trying to earn the most money possible from your credit cards, they may be a good option for you.

But if you want the minimum amount of stress and you don't like spending a ton of time managing credit card transactions, you may be better off doing what I did and just finding the rewards program that gives the most generous amount back on every purchase regardless of what category it's in. This way, you could still earn great rewards but with a lot less hassle.

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