The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, May 11, 2021

3 Steps for Maximizing Credit Card Perks & Rewards

Maximizing Credit Card Perks And Rewards

credit card advice

Ashley Feinstein
By: Ashley Feinstein
Updated: December 10, 2019
Advertiser Disclosure

Maximizing credit card perks and rewards is a great way to make your plastic go even further, whether you’re interested in dining, travel, or cash back.

Still, credit card perks are one of the most underutilized benefits of having a credit card. A 2017 study from Bankrate found that 31% of cardholders aren’t redeeming the rewards they’ve earned. If you’re one of these people and paying an annual fee for your card — or interest charges on a revolving balance for that matter — you’re leaving free money on the table.

Here are three ways to maximize credit card perks and rewards, some of which you may not even know you have.

1. Pick the Right Credit Card for You

It all starts with the right credit card. No fees and a low interest rate should be your top priority when choosing a new credit card, but you should also factor in the card’s reward program to make sure it suits your spending needs and lifestyle.

If you like to travel, it may make sense to choose a credit card that has the best airline miles program, but if you have a long commute to work each day, cash back on gas may be more valuable to you.

If you already have a credit card, decide which perks appeal most to you, and, if your card doesn’t offer them, see if you can negotiate or switch to a different card (this works best if the rewards are offered through a different credit card available from the same credit card company). Below are just a few of the popular rewards categories that may fit your lifestyle.

If You Like to Travel — Top Air Miles Cards

You don’t have to be an adventurous, plane-hopping nomad to find value in a good air miles card. Americans spent more than $700 billion on leisure travel in 2017 alone. One could infer two things from this — that we like to travel (to see family, in particular, according to the data) and that it doesn’t come cheap.

Using a credit card for purchases that can earn you free or even discounted flights can be a boon to many, though travel rewards are some of the more complicated to navigate, especially when transferring air miles to partner airlines is involved. If you’re ready and willing to make the most of your travel rewards, these are a few of the top-rated air miles cards available today.

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Redeem on travel—including flights, vacation rentals, car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles.  There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
  • New! Redeem Miles to pay any part of your monthly bill, including your minimum payment.
  • Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 14 months
10.99% Intro APR for 14 months
11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
$0
Good/Excellent
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 15+ travel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+ See More of Our Experts’ Favorite Air Miles Cards

If You’re a Regular Commuter — Top Gas Rebate Cards

According to ABC News, 220 million Americans spend an average of an hour and a half each day in their cars, while another 3.3 million commute at least 100 miles round trip for work each day. That’s a lot of paycheck going toward gas.

If you’re a “super commuter” or just find yourself using your car to run errands that add up in fuel costs quickly, a card that can earn you rewards on fuel purchases can help save you a fair chunk of change. Below are some of the top-rated gas-rebate cards.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back in any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • #1 Most Trusted Credit Card according to Investor’s Business Daily.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
$0
Good/Excellent
GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49%-25.49% variable APR after that
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
N/A
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good
Discover it® chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn cash back on your next road trip with 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. Based Customer Service available any time.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
$0
Good/Excellent

+ See More of Our Experts’ Favorite Gas Rebate Cards

If You Want to Save on All Purchases — Top Cash Back Cards

Cash back is the no-muss, no-fuss category of credit card rewards. You use the card as normal for everyday purchases and accrue a percentage of each purchase back, generally 1 – 5% depending on the card you have, and can redeem that accrual toward statement credit or even have a check sent to you in the mail. It’s essentially a rebate on everything you buy — a coupon if you will.

The caveat, of course, is that if you carry a balance, interest charges will eat away at any “savings” you may have earned. But if you pay your balance in full each month, it really is free money. Below are a few of the best cash back cards available today.

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49%-25.49% variable APR after that
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
N/A
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back in any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • #1 Most Trusted Credit Card according to Investor’s Business Daily.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
$0
Good/Excellent
CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
N/A
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

+ See More of Our Experts’ Favorite Cash Back Cards

2. Get Familiar with Your Rewards

If you don’t know what rewards your card offers, how will you know to use them? Check with your credit card company for a list of your specific credit card perks and how they work. Make sure to know the rules — some are more complex than others.

For example, if you have a cash back credit card with rotating quarterly categories, this means you earn more cash back on specific purchases within that quarter’s promotion.

Take Chase, for instance, one of the issuers most-known for its rotating bonus categories. Three months of the year, you can earn 5% cash back — 4% more than the standard 1% on all purchases — at places like Amazon.com, wholesale clubs like Sams or Costco, and even gas stations or grocery stores, plus many other retailers and spending categories, as these are just a few common examples. But if you don’t know which months align with which merchants — or fail to opt-in to these quarterly promotions — you’ll miss out on all your card has to offer.

3. Ask About Lesser-Known Perks

Some cards offer perks that you may not even know to ask about. Though this information should be accessible through your credit card issuer’s website and/or the terms and conditions that arrived with the card, make sure to get an exhaustive list of all the perks and protections your card offers. Here are some of the lesser-known perks:

  • Concierge services like advance access to concert and theater tickets or help getting reservations at hotels and restaurants (note that credit card companies will usually charge for these types of services)
  • Travel benefits, such as rental car insurance (so there is no need to buy additional coverage from the rental car company), trip-cancellation insurance, waived currency conversion fees, and baggage insurance
  • Roadside assistance in case of a flat tire, engine issues, etc.
  • Extended warranty on eligible purchases when you use your card (usually up to one year)
  • Return protection on items purchased with your card that arrive damaged or are not what you ordered
  • Price protection if an item bought with the credit card drops in price within a specified time period (usually within 30 to 60 days)

While things like price and return protection are becoming less common in the industry, they’re extremely valuable perks to have (or at least know you have), especially on big-ticket items. Understanding the perks and protections that come with your credit card will help you avoid joining the nearly one-third of cardholders who never redeem their rewards, and potentially save you a lot of money in the long run.

Advertiser Disclosure

CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation from many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across the site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.