Ways to Play (and Win!) the Credit Card Rewards Game

People cash in big time on credit card rewards, and you can too. Find out how to do it.

Get creative with your charging

Instead of buying new things in hopes of earning rewards, consider what you already purchase and use your card instead of checks, cash or an online bill pay service. Such items might include groceries and gas, or utilities.

If you need to spend enough to get a sign-up bonus, could you pay ahead on insurance? Buy a year’s worth of trash service? Or maybe load up on gift cards for the grocery store?

Before you make this switch, beware of processing fees. For example, some utilities and insurance companies let you make credit card payments but charge you a fee for the privilege. Make sure your rewards are worth the cost.

A final note on creative spending: Always shop through your card issuer’s website when making purchases online. Many credit card companies have online malls that offer the opportunity to buy from major retailers. These purchases then earn bonus points, miles or cash back.

Consider going for cash rather than miles

If you aren’t a traveler or if you want to keep things simple, cash-back cards may be more your style than cards earning points or miles.

Earning 40,000 bonus miles may sound good, but what does that really mean? It may mean $400 worth of free travel on one airline or $700 worth of free travel on another carrier. In addition, point and mile values can change over time if redemption levels and terms are adjusted.

On the other hand, 3 percent cash back is 3 percent cash back. You may find that miles and points give you more value, but if you’re a homebody, why bother getting free upgrades and companion travel tickets? Take the money and run instead.

Transfer points and miles between programs

Having credit cards from multiple card issuers could leave you with a lot of accounts with not enough miles or points to redeem for anything meaningful. That’s when you need to look for ways to transfer and consolidate earnings.

This strategy is part of the reason you want to sign up for frequent-flier or other loyalty programs. When applying for rewards credit cards, look for those with multiple partnering programs and those that will transfer points on a 1:1 basis.

Keep an eye on changing rules

Finally, remember the rules of the game are constantly changing. For example, cash-back cards used to give you flat rewards on all purchases. Now, many have rotating categories and caps on earnings.

The same goes for frequent-flier and loyalty programs. Some airlines now are basing rewards on the amount you spend rather than the miles you fly.

This article only scratches the surface of the world of credit card rewards. If you’re serious about maximizing these programs, follow one of the blogs mentioned above or join a forum such as FlyerTalk, where you can stay up-to-date on the latest promotions and winning strategies.

Got rewards-card experiences of your own to share? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Maryalene LaPonsie
Maryalene LaPonsie
After 13 years as a staffer for a Michigan legislator, I decided it was time to quit the commute and work from home instead. For the past three years, I’ve been penning ... More

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