3 Steps for Maximizing Credit Card Perks & Rewards

3 Steps for Maximizing Credit Card Perks & Rewards

credit card advice

Ashley Feinstein
By: Ashley Feinstein
Posted: December 7, 2018
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

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 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good
AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent
Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles. That's $600 towards travel!
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
$0
Good/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
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.99-25.74%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase - it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
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
16.99% - 25.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

GAS REBATE RATING
★★★★★
5.0
OVERALL RATING
4.8/5.0
  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
14.49%-26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

+ 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.99-25.74%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase - it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
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
16.99% - 25.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card Review

at Wells Fargo'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
4.9/5.0
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases
  • Enjoy 1.8% cash rewards on qualified mobile wallet purchases, like Apple Pay® or Google Pay™, during the first 12 months from account opening
  • No category restrictions or sign ups and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open
  • Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers (fees apply), then a 15.99%-26.99% variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
0% for 12 months
15.99%-26.99% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good
Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING
★★★★★
4.9
OVERALL RATING
5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.99% - 24.99% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

+ 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 Discover, for instance, one of the issuers most-known for its 5% rotating 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.