8 Strategies To Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards – Forbes Advisor

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Although large welcome bonuses can be rightfully enticing, they aren’t the only regular source of miles and points for people looking to save money on travel. Don’t make the mistake of leaving miles and points on the table from your everyday spending. In this post we’ll discuss strategies to help you maximize your credit card rewards. Small wins will add up and help you to travel more for less.

Start With an End in Mind

One of the most important things to do and something that people often forget is to set a travel goal. It cannot be emphasized enough: If you know where you want to go you can tailor a better plan for your points. The miles and points you need to earn to take a cross country trip aren’t necessarily the same currencies as what you would want to use to get to Europe.

After you set a travel goal, make sure you research what miles and points can help you to reach that goal. Flexible currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards can help give you flexible options to help you meet your goals. There are many different ways to reach your travel goal—the important thing is to figure out which miles and points you’ll need to make it to your goal. The last thing you want is a large stash of miles and points that you struggle to make work with your plans.

Learn the Loyalty Programs Relevant to Your Goal

Once you’ve figured out what loyalty programs will help you achieve your goal, it’s important to familiarize yourself with those programs. Each and every program is different and will have quirks that might be beneficial or detrimental to your trip.

Figuring out the answers to these questions will help you understand how many miles and points you will need to make it to your travel goal. It’s not easy work, but the rewards are worth it. Once you know how many miles and points you need, you can get to earning as efficiently as possible.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some questions you can research to get to know the loyalty programs you need better.

Questions for Airline Loyalty Programs

  • How much will the flight I want to take cost in miles?
  • Does the flight cost fluctuate depending on the time of year I’m flying?
  • Which airlines partner with this loyalty program?
  • Does the program offer earning boosts via spending or flights taken?

Questions for Hotel Loyalty Programs

  • Does the hotel chain have peak/off peak pricing?
  • Can I use any free night certificates towards my trip or will variable pricing mean they aren’t valid?
  • Does the program offer any free nights on bookings of a specific length?
  • Does the program waive resort fees on award bookings?
  • Are points and cash bookings an option?
  • Does a credit card I hold give me status with the program? Does that status confer benefits such as breakfast, upgrades or late checkout?

Questions for Transferable Points Programs

  • What value can I get for my points if I use them to pay for flights?
  • What transfer partners can I use to help get me to my destination?
  • What bonus categories does my card offer to help boost my earnings?

Use Credit Cards to Help You Reach Your Travel Goal

Once you’ve identified the loyalty programs that will help you reach your travel goal, you can apply for credit cards to help you meet those goals. Whether it’s the New United Quest℠ Card card, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card card or a flexible card like Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, knowing what miles and points you need should inform the cards that will help you get there. The welcome bonuses for these new credit cards should give you a solid head start.

Most importantly, knowing the points you need to reach your goal should help inform which credit cards you apply for. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting money and time on miles and points you don’t need, instead focus on your travel goal and earn the welcome bonuses that will get you there.

Tip: Make a spreadsheet tracking how much you need to spend on a credit card to earn the welcome bonus and the deadline for making that spend so you don’t miss out on a bonus.

Maximize Credit Card Category Bonuses in Your Everyday Spending

Outside of welcome bonuses, one of the easiest ways to earn miles and points is to maximize your credit card category bonuses. Most credit cards offer double, triple or even quintuple points in certain spend categories. For example, the American Express® Gold Card card offers 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar), 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express travel. All other eligible purchases earn 1 point per dollar. (Terms apply. See rates and fees). If you hold the card, make sure you maximize the category bonus by using the card for all your dining and supermarket purchases.

Some credit cards, like the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card card, allow you to choose a bonus category. That card lets you earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases. Cards with that kind of flexibility allow you to choose your own bonus categories which can make your points earning even more efficient.

Make sure you know what bonus categories each of your credit cards offer and try to earn bonus points whenever you can to get you to your travel goal even faster. You could even use stickers to help you remember which card to use at which venue.

Remember to Activate and Maximize Quarterly Bonus Categories

Certain credit cards, like the Chase Freedom Flex℠, offer rotating bonus categories. This requires some bookkeeping for you. You need to remember to activate these bonus categories every quarter. After you activate the bonus category, you also need to make sure you maximize the category for the quarter—without going over any limits. The Freedom Flex allows you to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the bonus category each quarter. Make sure you stay organized so you don’t leave any miles and points on the table.

Tip: Set calendar reminders for yourself to remember to activate quarterly bonus categories.

Strategically Time Your Large Purchases

A corollary to maximizing bonus categories is strategically timing your large purchases. If you know you have some big ticket items coming up due to moving to situations like moving to a new house or the holidays you can time your purchases to help maximize your points. If you know you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on new furniture in a few months, you might want to wait until then to apply for a new credit card. That way those dollars can be spent towards earning a welcome bonus (or two).

You can also strategically time your purchases to coincide with quarterly bonus categories. Let’s take the Chase Freedom Flex℠ as an example. In Q2 2021, home improvement stores were included in the 5% bonus category. If you were in the market for a new washer and dryer, it would have been good to wait until that quarter to purchase that item from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Once again, staying organized and knowing what bonus categories apply to which credit cards at what times can really help you to maximize your miles and points earnings.

Shop Through Portals to Earn Extra Miles

Another way to earn bonus miles and points is to utilize shopping portals when making purchases online. Most airline and bank rewards programs feature shopping portals. You create an account and then click through to the website where you want to make an online purchase. The shopping portal keeps a record of your purchase via a cookie and you earn bonus miles or points from the purchase. The trick is finding a shopping portal that offers you the most bonus points for the miles and points you’re looking for. Every bonus point counts so don’t leave points on the table by going directly to a retailer website—go through a shopping portal whenever you can.

Tip: Use Cashback Monitor to find the best shopping portal bonus.

Use a Dining Portal to Earn Bonus Miles When Dining

Many airline programs also have dining portals that allow you to earn bonus miles when dining at certain restaurants. You generally can only sign up for one of these dining portals at a time, but since you’re focused on a travel goal you should be able to sign up for a dining portal that will best help you reach that goal.

After linking a credit card to the dining portal, whenever you dine at a participating restaurant you will earn bonus points. You can either look up restaurants on the portal every time you want to go out to eat or just use the card linked to the portal every time you dine out. That way, if a restaurant is on the portal you’ll get the bonus points without even having to think about it. While you won’t earn a ton of miles and points this way, it’s still a nice way to top off your account.

Tip: Using a dining portal is an easy way to make sure your miles don’t expire—remember some programs require you to have activity every so often to avoid expiration.

Bottom Line

Having a clear travel goal for your miles and points will help you to maximize your miles and points earning. With efficiency and organization, you should be able to earn welcome bonuses and bonus points in the loyalty programs that will help you to meet your travel goal. Stay focused on your goal and you will be putting your hard earned miles and points to work in no time.

To view rates and fees for American Express® Gold Card please visit this page.

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