Three Things You Don’t Know About Credit Card Rewards

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

You think you know all there is to know about credit card rewards. You pay attention to which categories offer extra cash back when the seasons change, you redeem your points for gift cards from your favorite merchants, and you’re on a first-name basis with the frequent flyer booking agent at your preferred airline.

But if you don’t know the following credit card rewards secrets, you might not be getting the maximum value out of your rewards programs. Here are three little-known facts about credit card rewards:

1)     You can get 20% cash back from your credit card purchases. Your credit card probably gives you 1% back on all purchases and 5% back in rotating categories that change each quarter. Or maybe you get 2% back on gas station purchases and 3% back on each dollar you spend at the grocery store all year long. But many cards give more back than that—up to 20%, in fact. The secret is shopping at online credit card malls. Cards like Chase, Discover and Citi all have shopping portals online that offer bigger rewards than you get from a brick-and-mortar store or a retailer’s official site. Cash back varies from 5% up to 20% on hundreds of items, from flower delivery to shoes to computer equipment. Log in to your credit card issuer to find out what your credit card offers in the way of higher-value rewards, and start squeezing more cash back from your purchases.

2)     The value of your frequent flyer miles is not fixed. Depending which airline rewards card you use, how much bang you’ll get for your buck when booking reward travel varies greatly. For example, a credit that’s good for one round-trip domestic fare will be worth more if it’s used during peak travel times or for a more expensive route or class of service. A trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Billings, Montana, has a different price tag than one from Los Angeles to New York, but both are domestic flights. And those same trips cost different amounts in January versus July. Choosing wisely when using your frequent flyer credit card reward miles will help you get the most value from them.

3)     Annual fee credit cards are worth the money. Shelling out the cash for a card with a hefty annual fee might not seem to make sense when there are so many no-annual-fee credit cards available. But here’s a secret: they are almost always well worth the money. The cards with the steepest annual fees also often come with the highest-percentage cash back per dollar, the most frequent flyer miles, the most rewarding sign-on bonuses and the best customer perks. These go way beyond cash back rewards and include things like concierge service, preferred boarding and seating on flights, VIP lounge access and advance ticket sales to exclusive events. If you are already the kind of person who takes full advantage of your credit card rewards, upgrading to a premium card with an annual fee is the door to a whole new world of benefits.

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