How to get the most out of credit card rewards
As CreditCards.com points out, there are more ways you can spend your rewards than ever these days, so it pays to be a savvy shopper. WalletPop asked Amber Stubbs, managing editor at CardRatings.com, for her advice on how to make the most of credit card rewards.
Choose a rewards card that suits you
First things first, choose a credit card that offers rewards that fit your lifestyle, says Stubbs. Whether that's double miles for frequent fliers or bonus points on categories of items you buy on a regular basis, your points can really add up if you have the right card for your needs.
Cash back cards offer plenty of bang for the buck
If you know you're going to opt for cash back, Stubbs says, go for a cash back card to get the most bang for your buck. "A straight cash back card is king. It's straightforward, and you can't beat it because you know dollar-for-dollar what you're getting into," she says. Points cards often have tiered earnings programs, so you'll need to do your homework to figure out your redemption rate.
Check branded card rewards offers first
If you have a card that's affiliated with a particular brand, such as an airline or a retailer, look into using your rewards there; many issuers will offer incentives for you to do just that, so the same amount of reward credit goes further.
If you (like many of us) have multiple credit cards, it pays to shop around if you have a particular reward in mind. Issuers have expanded their offerings to such a degree that sometimes you can find the same reward for fewer points through alternate means. Just be sure you're comparing apples to apples. Depending on the card, you can earn points at varying rates, so paying more points for a reward might not be such a bad deal if you earn those points more quickly.
Trade in points for a gift card
Stubbs says gift cards can be a good reward option, since retailers often work out deals with the merchants to give you a higher-value card than if you were redeeming the same amount for cash back on your statement. Also, check to see if the issuer runs any promotions with retail partners; many of them do, and you could get a lot more for your points if you select a reward from among that partner's products or services.
Mind the caps
Watch out for caps on reward earnings, Stubbs says. "Many reward cards that offer a bonus in certain categories put a cap on the bonus amount," she says. For instance, you could have a cash back card that offers 3% cash back on gas, but only up to $300 per year. That sounds like a great percentage until you realize how quickly you could hit that cap if you drive a lot. Likewise, check the fine print to see when your miles or points expire. If you don't use the card enough to accrue enough points for a reward, you'll be throwing money away (especially if that card has an annual fee).