The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

3 Steps for Maximizing Credit Card Perks & Rewards

Maximizing Credit Card Perks And Rewards

credit card advice

Ashley Feinstein

Written by: Ashley Feinstein

Ashley Feinstein

Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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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
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 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 a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through our Partner Lounge Network
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover gives you an unlimited match of 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.
  • 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.
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 14.99% to 25.99% Standard Variable Purchase APR will apply.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
14.99% - 25.99% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$395
Excellent

+ 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
  • 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.
  • NEW! Discover helps remove your personal information from select people-search websites. Activate by mobile app for free.
  • Every $1 you earn in cash back is $1 you can redeem.
  • Get a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 14.99% to 25.99% Standard Variable Purchase APR applies, based on credit worthiness.
  • No annual fee.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 15 months
0% Intro APR for 15 months
14.99% - 25.99% Variable APR
$0
Excellent/Good
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
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 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 and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.99%-27.99% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
17.99% - 27.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good
GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
4.8
OVERALL RATING
  • Discover one of Citi's best cash back rewards cards designed exclusively for Costco members
  • 4% cash back on eligible gas and EV charging purchases for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter
  • 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee with your paid Costco membership and enjoy no foreign transaction fees on purchases
  • Receive an annual credit card reward certificate, which is redeemable for cash or merchandise at U.S. Costco warehouses, including Puerto Rico
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

+ 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
  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24% - 25.99%.
  • No annual fee - You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
17.24% - 25.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.
  • Balance Transfer Only Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 16.99% - 26.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back. Intro APR does not apply to purchases.
  • 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 an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0% Intro APR Period 18 months on Balance Transfers
16.99% - 26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

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
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • 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 and balance transfers for 15 months; 17.99%-27.99% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
17.99% - 27.99% (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.

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 for referrals for many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across CardRates.com (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.