4 ways your credit card can actually save you money this holiday season

Credit Card Benefits Worth The Fees
Credit Card Benefits Worth The Fees

About 85 percent of Americans in a recent CreditCards.com survey said they use coupons, at least occasionally.

That's a huge number, but it makes a lot of sense. We've been clipping coupons out of the Sunday newspaper or finding coupons in our mailboxes for decades. Today, there are more options than ever with digital coupons. Countless websites offer you 10 percent off this and 25 percent off that, and people are more than happy to take advantage of those offers.

Did you know, however, that your credit card issuer may be offering coupons as well – and you don't need any scissors or even your phone to use them? The aforementioned CreditCards.com survey of 819 U.S. adults in August showed that only about half of credit and debit cardholders knew about these types of deals. That means many of you are missing out on savings that could help you out during the holiday season.

Card-Linked Offers

These credit card coupons are a far cry from the ones you'd find in your Sunday newspaper. What makes them unique is that there's really no coupon involved.

Huh? Here's what I mean ...

Programs such as Discover Deals and American Express' Amex Offers let you opt-in for deals on their websites, and then when you make a purchase at a participating vendor with your linked-up card, the deal is automatically applied to your account without you having to do anything. No paper coupons. No codes to scan. No muss, no fuss.

Current Amex Offers deals include:

  • Spend $199 or more at Best Buy and get $20 back

  • Spend $100 or more with Airbnb and get $50 back

  • Spend $50 or more with 1800Flowers.com and get $15 back

All these deals expire on Dec. 31, 2015, meaning you have plenty of time to take advantage of them throughout the holidays.

The biggest downside of these offers is there simply aren't enough of them. You'll find a far wider selection of coupons at popular online coupon sites. What those other sites can't do, however, is give you a deal without also giving you the coupon or discount code that comes along with it. Since we all have enough things to keep track of – whose to-do list isn't a mile long these days? – the simplicity offered by these card-linked offers is a refreshing change.

One other problem is that they can be a bit challenging to find on the issuer's website. If you have trouble, however, your best move is just to call the 800 number on the back of your credit card and ask what types of coupons or card-linked offers are available.

More Ways to Save

Coupons may be the best credit card perk few people know about, but they're hardly the only way to save with your credit card this holiday season.

  • Pay for your summer vacation with your holiday spending: This is a great time to sign up for a credit card in pursuit of sign-up bonuses. That's because most sign-up bonuses come with minimum spending thresholds that must be met, and it's not always easy to do that. However, since many of us spend more money during the holiday season than we do other times of the year, there's probably a better chance you'll hit those minimum spends. With the right card, you can turn that spending into points that can be used for summer travel. (For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That translates into $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.) Just be very, very careful. Overspending to get rewards is a recipe for disaster, so make a shopping list and then stick to it when you hit the stores.

  • Skip the foreign transaction fees: You don't have to travel overseas for the holidays to get stuck paying credit card foreign transaction fees. For example, say you want to buy your soccer-fanatic son a Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid jersey. If you buy it from a website in Spain and don't have a no-foreign transaction fee credit card, there's a good chance that 2 to 3 percent extra will be tacked on for that jersey. The same thing can happen if you buy a bottle of wine from a French website or a piece of art from an Italian website. The good news, however, is that more and more cards these days are choosing to drop these fees.

  • Guaranteed returns: If you try and return an item and the retailer won't take it back for some reason, you might be able to return it to your credit card issuer. There are rules and limits, of course. (For example, you will probably have to pay for shipping, provide the original receipt and original packaging, and so on.) However, jumping through a few extra hoops is a small price to pay to be able to return an item you previously thought was unreturnable. Call your credit card issuer to find out its policies on returns.

Savings certainly isn't the first word that comes to mind for most people when they think of credit cards. However, there are ways you can use your plastic to save some real money. You just have to take the time to look. And it will be worth the effort. After all, the holidays are expensive enough as it is. Why not take advantage of every savings opportunity – even if it comes from a place you might not expect?

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report