The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Monday, September 21, 2020

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
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • 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✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ 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
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
$95
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 $1,000 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 10+ 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.

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 3X points on eating out and ordering in; gas stations, rideshares, and transit; flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals; and popular streaming services - all other purchases earn 1X points
  • Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
  • Introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months from account opening
  • No limit to points you can earn, and points don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Cell phone protection helps protect your cell phone from damage or theft
  • $0 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.49% - 24.99%
$0
Good/Excellent
American Express® Business Gold Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 categories where your business spends the most each billing cycle, including airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio), U.S. purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions, and U.S. purchases at gas stations, restaurants, or for shipping.
  • Earn 1X Membership Rewards® points on other purchases
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of card membership
  • Book your flight with American Express Travel using Membership Rewards® Pay with Points and get 25% of those points back
  • $295 annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.24% - 22.24%
$295
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
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Chase Freedom Flex℠ Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
N/A
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% for 18 months
13.99% - 23.99% (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.

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