How to save with your credit cards during the holidays
As you make your holiday shopping list, there is one other list you should make, though you may have to check it twice: What kind of additional deals or perks can you get using your credit cards?
Buying with some cards gives you purchase protection, a refund if the price drops, an extended return period or a longer warranty. Plus, card issuers may have deals with retailers that will give you additional discounts, reward points or cash back if you use their card.
SEE ALSO: 7 best rewards credit cards for holiday shopping
That means your holiday shopping plan may need to include a credit card strategy, too.
"Before you hit the store to go shopping, it's always a good idea to take a look at your credit card issuers," says Matt Schulz, a U.S. News blogger and senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, one of several companies that analyzes and compares credit card benefits.
The exact perks vary by card, and not all credit cards issued by the same network (Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express) will have the same perks. So it's important to read the fine print that goes with your particular card. Some benefits may require you to sign up ahead of time or register your purchase when it's made, and others may require significant legwork on your part to collect.
"A lot of these things can be really helpful if you make sure you follow the process," says Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate for Credit Karma. "It totally depends on what kind of shopper you are."
The rules for price matching, extended warranties and extended returns can be particularly stringent, and the process may only be worth the trouble if a significant amount of money is involved.
SEE ALSO: 8 perks that might be hiding in your credit cards
"For all of these, there are major caveats," says Sean McQuay, credit card expert at NerdWallet. "They sound great, but they are really quite complicated to use."
Adding special offers to your card and shopping through an online portal that provides additional discounts, in contrast, can actually be quite simple. You can subscribe to alerts via text or email. "They're going to make it really easy for you to get information from them on special deals and promotions," Hardeman says.
Here are nine ways to get the best deals using credit cards for holiday shopping.
Apply for cards with bonuses. Some cards give you points or extra cash back as a sign-up bonus, though you'll need good credit to qualify for the best deals. "This is a good time to get a credit card, especially if you're chasing sign-up bonuses," Schulz says. Most cards require a minimum amount of spending in the first three months to earn the bonus, so applying at a time you expect to spend more is a smart move.
Take advantage of linked card offers. Many cards offer the equivalent of discount coupons, but you have to sign up for the offer before you buy. Once you sign up the discounts are linked to your card, so you don't need a coupon. Some credit cards offer shopping portals with discounts, free shipping or additional cash back. "It's always good to check online and see what deals they're offering," says Jill Gonzalez, analyst for CardHub.com.
Watch for special offers. Cards that offer reward points or cash back often vary as to what type of transaction brings the highest rewards. Sometimes it's groceries, gasoline or other purchases. Keeping an eye on that may help you choose which card to use for holiday shopping. You may want to sign up for text or email alerts, as well as keep an eye on your credit card statements and inserts.
Know yourself and your habits. "It's important to not be aspirational," McQuay says. You may dream of travel, but if most of your trips are to the grocery store, you may be better off with a cash back card rather than travel reward points. "For families, I'm finding travel perks tend to be a little too complicated," McQuay says. "Just think about where you're going to spend the money and where you're going to use the money."
Take advantage of price matching. According to CardHub, about half of credit cards offer some type of price matching, in which they will refund the difference in purchase price if you find the item you bought listed for less within a specific time, usually 60 days. Most companies require you to find and prove the lower price, but Citi Price Rewind will keep track of prices for you for 60 days after you register your purchase and notify you if the item is found for lower price.
Use extended warranties. Some cards will add an additional warranty period after the manufacturer's warranty expires, but be sure to read the fine print. Lots of items are excluded, including vehicles, collectibles, professional or commercial equipment, items for resale, software and real estate. Visa and American Express cover refurbished electronics, but others do not, Gonzalez says. In most cases, you'll need your original receipt, the credit card statement and the manufacturer's warranty. Some cards require items to be registered within a certain time after purchase. "It's up to the card network administration to decide whether to repair, replace or refund," Gonzalez says.
Expand return periods. About half of all credit cards allow you to return an item the store won't take back, according to CardHub, but some of those require annual registration to keep this benefit in effect. In addition, most require the original purchase receipt, the credit card statement and sometimes other documentation. Some even stipulate that the store manager write a letter on company letterhead saying why the refund was rejected, McQuay says. "For a large-ticket item, that may be worth the effort, but it's going to be a lot of effort," he says.
Use purchase protection. About 88 percent of all credit cards say they will replace items that are damaged or stolen within up to 120 days after purchase, according to a CardHub study. The amount and terms of coverage vary, and the policy is secondary to the cardholder's insurance policies.
Look at store credit cards – carefully. Store credit cards usually aren't the best deal for consumers, with higher rates and limited uses. But, if you frequently shop at a particular store, that store card's perks may be a good deal for you.