It’s simple: If you own a credit card with a rewards program, you should try to squeeze every last point, mile, or cash back percentage out of it. While most people with these types of cards know that they’ll get something in return whenever they use them, there are several earning strategies that many are unaware of. Some don’t even take advantage of their free money at all! With just a little investigation, which we’ve done for you, you can increase your rewards tally exponentially; in most cases, it doesn’t require much additional work.
Get a card that earns more in the categories that you frequently spend on
Some credit cards net you additional points on grocery store purchases, while others earn double miles wherever you use them. If you frequently spend on a particular category, you should have a credit card that will reward you heavily for it. There are several categories for which certain cards will collect additional rewards: Gas, groceries, restaurants, travel, telecommunications, etc. Evaluate your most common expenses and use, or apply for, a credit card that picks up rewards at a minimum of 1.5-to-$1. In addition to those that earn at the same flat rate year-round, you might also consider a credit card with rotating categories. Two examples from Chase and Discover earn 5% cash back on different areas quarterly. In a plausible scenario, you might earn 5% back on gas station and pharmacy purchases from January through March, while from April through June you’ll earn it instead of shopping at wholesale clubs and supermarkets. Note that you typically must enroll in or activate these rates at the start of each quarter, otherwise you’ll get rewarded at the base rate.
Go after signup bonuses
You’ll often see issuers offering introductory bonuses of thousands of miles or points in exchange for meeting a time-sensitive spending requirement. With airline cards, you could add up to 100,000 miles to your account. Cash back cards can reimburse you $500. Other rewards cards may gift 50,000 additional points or more. These big numbers are very tempting, and you can redeem them for valuable splurges: free flights or hotel stays gift cards, or considerable statement credits. The caveat, however, is the amount of money you need to spend to claim your bounty. Expect to make upwards of $1,000 in purchases within your first three months or so as a cardholder to qualify. The heftiest bonuses could require you to spend up to $5,000. If you can’t manage that magnitude of debt without falling behind on payments or being unable to fully pay off your statement balances, you’re better off not taking the risk. But if you can use your credit card on expenses that you are planning on making anyway – and if you do some additional splurging now and then – you may find the race to clear that hurdle to be pretty brisk.
Look out for special offers or limited-time promotions from card issuers
In addition to its regular rewards structure, your credit card may be able to give you back, even more, thanks to exclusive retailer partnerships that cater specifically to you. Chase Offers and Amex Offers are the leading practitioners and both list brands that pair well with your spending habits. All you need to do is log into your online account and look for merchants through which you can earn additional rewards when you shop there. Activate the offer and simply make a purchase. You’ll earn your card’s traditional rewards plus the extra amount from the partnered offer.
Shop at retailers that have their own rewards programs
Retail merchants are known for having rewards programs of their own as well as co-branded credit cards that amplify those incentives. Whether you use their proprietary card or not, you should sign up for your favorite stores’ clubs if you shop there often and multiply, as well as accelerate, your earnings every time.
Add authorized users or issue additional cards for employees
Authorized users can snag rewards along with you when they use their own cards, and all earnings to go the same account. Likewise, if you have a business credit card you can issue additional cards to your employees and collect the rewards they earn as they cover company expenses. However, maintaining authorized users is not without its risks. Since all expenses are reported to one account, you must make sure that the spending doesn’t get out of hand. Plus, if you allow the debt to mount and can’t pay it off in full each billing period, you’ll offset your rewards with the finance charges you’ll face. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
Refer your credit card to others
Some issuers offer bonus awards when you refer a card to others. If the person you referred to applies for the card and is approved, you may be gifted an incentive in the neighborhood of 5,000 bonus points or miles. Targeted offers might also grant a much larger payout for bulk referrals (such as five in one year).
Use credit cards that give you extra rewards when you redeem
Most issuers have their own shopping and redemption portals where you can empty your coffers, and they encourage customers to use them. Some even raise the value of your rewards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for instance, earns points that can normally be redeemed at a value of one cent per point. If you redeem them for travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards hub, though, those points will be worth 25% more. The more exclusive Chase Sapphire Reserve has the same setup, but that card’s points are worth 50% more when redeemed through Chase’s own marketplace. Other issuers will give you more rewards when you do additional banking with them. With Bank of America, you can earn up to 75% more in rewards on every purchase if you have a checking or savings account with them and maintain a minimum balance amount. And Union Bank card rewards are worth 25% more when you redeem them as a deposit into a checking or savings account from the bank; if you redeem them as a payment towards a Union Bank mortgage, they’re valued at 50% more.
Pay for alternative expenses with credit cards
You can secure an additional stream of rewards income if you use your credit card to pay bills or send money to other people. Be aware, however, that doing so almost always comes at the cost of a service charge (usually 3%). Said fee may offset any points, miles, or cash back that you’d earn from using your credit card, so assess how you’d be impacted before going through with it.
You have several options available if you need additional ways to increase your credit card rewards total, but you shouldn’t employ them if they’ll put you at risk of damaging your credit standing. Increased spending raises your credit utilization ratio, failing to make at least the minimum payment on your statement lowers your credit score, and frequently applying for new credit cards just so you can take advantage of the signup bonuses makes you look less favorable in your credit report. However, when you stick to a budget and plan strategically, you can see your earnings surge and bask in the rewards that come with them. Always take the time to review how your credit cards fit into your lifestyle and whether a change in direction will work in your favor or not. If you need to practice restraint you may miss out on points or cash back in the short term, but your financial reputation will thank you in the long run.