How You Can Maximize Your Credit Card Points During the Holidays

Fifth Third Bank

 

If you’re already worried about the impact that holiday shopping will have on your wallet, there’s probably good reason. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, consumers say they will spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 they spent last year. One of the easiest ways to ease the burden of holiday shopping is to take full advantage of credit card perks. Here are some of the best ways to do that.

Get a card that fits your shopping patterns

How it helps: Most cards offer perks in the form of cash back, gift cards or points for travel, but the trick is knowing which card will work best for your needs. For example, if you already plan to travel a ton over the holiday, a card that offers double the rewards on purchases like flights, hotels and gas will probably be your best bet. If you’re hosting this year, perhaps a card with maximum points on groceries would be good. According to that same NRF survey, people tend to spend in three main categories including gifts, items like food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards, and then non-gift purchases made because deals are good. Put a little thought into your own holiday spending habits and pick the best credit card with rewards for those specific needs.

Stick with one card

How it helps: According to credit monitoring site Credit Karma, the average American has two or three credit cards, and Credit Karma members have nearly five. Spreading your holiday purchases out among multiple cards might seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s harder to keep track of purchase totals and due dates that way, and by keeping all of your purchases to one card you’ll be sure to really rack up the reward points being offered, especially if the card offers cash back on most purchases.

One caveat: If you have different cards that offer better rewards for different purchases (like gas, groceries, hotels, etc.), then be sure to use the appropriate card for the appropriate purchase. Just make sure you keep a close watch on your balances and pay everything on time.

Cash in on your current points to put towards gifts while still earning points on your purchases

How it helps: If you’ve already racked up a nice stash of rewards points on your credit cards, the holidays are a great time to cash in and use that money to put a dent in your spending. The best way to do this would be to make all your purchases on your credit card (to get the points, of course), and then when it comes time to pay, cash in your rewards for dollars to put directly towards the bill.

Read the fine print

How it helps: There are usually some easy ways to rack up even more rewards points if you’re careful with your spending, do a little research and always be sure to read the fine print on your credit card. For example, let’s say you want to buy a co-worker a gift card, and your credit card offers you double the rewards on gas. It’s quite possible that buying your co-worker’s gift card at a gas station will earn you twice the rewards you would get if you bought it at a regular store. When it comes to booking travel on cards with travel rewards, your first stop should always be through the online shopping portals connected to your credit card reward program. If you can find what you’re looking for there, you’ll often earn twice the rewards that you would if you booked directly through the seller’s site or through a third-party site, like Expedia.

Avoid store cards

How it helps: The holidays are an especially tempting time to sign up for a store credit card, which usually comes with instant discounts on purchases, but this is hardly ever a good idea. Opening these cards almost always involves a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can lower your credit score, and the interest rates tend to be much higher than what you’d get with a traditional credit card. Plus, you won’t get the same rewards that will you through a regular credit card, since store cards only tend to offer perks and discounts when you make purchases directly in that store.

Get a little creative

How it helps: Most travel rewards programs allow members to book travel for other people using their points, so if you want to be really generous (and make the most out of travel points, especially if you won’t be using them yourself), use your points to book a holiday trip home for a special friend or family member. As an added bonus to seeing your loved one, you traditionally get the most value out of your travel rewards points by using them to purchase travel directly, rather than converting them to cash rewards.

With the holidays right around the corner, many people start to fret over spending. A little research and the right credit card with rewards can make all the difference.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.