Optimizing Credit Card Rewards

How to Optimize Credit Card Rewards

Sooo a kind of random but interesting topic for today…credit cards. Many of you likely have one or two, unless you’re team debit card. I didn’t really use mine until post-college but as soon as I turned into an “adult,” quickly started paying attention to points, cash back and all of that stuff. Basically this post is a bit of a brain dump because it’s like a compilation of conversations I’ve had with others + tips I’ve traded friends. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg and is what I personally have experience with (there are so many cards on the market, and this isn’t a comparison of all of them). Hopefully some of you find this helpful and fun, too!

I’ll preface all this by saying that I’m far from a financial expert and simply just sharing my own experience and research on this subject. Two things: only get a credit card if you’re able to pay it off in full each month, and don’t treat me as your financial advisor :)

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CASH BACK

My two favorite kinds of cards are ones that give you cashback and ones that give you travel points. Cash back is great for obvious reasons…it’s money back in your pocket that you can use for anything: shopping or saving. I’ve had a Discover card for years and the best part is that they’ll have different categories every few months where you get 5% cash back for spending that falls into those buckets (ex: Restaurants & Movies, Amazon + Home Improvement, Department Stores + Amazon, etc. ). There’s also no annual fee, which is a big plus. The downside is that Discover isn’t accepted everywhere, especially abroad. Lots of cards offer cashback so it’s something to look at if travel isn’t something you’re trying to budget for.

TRAVEL POINTS

Cashback is all fun and great, but to me, travel points are where it’s at!

I have and love the Capital One Venture card. It has a great signup bonus (40,000 points, i.e. $400 of travel credit) and unlike some of its competitors, it’s incredibly easy to use the points you accumulate–you literally book and pay for travel with the card, and then go into your account and apply a point value to that purchase so you’re essentially “canceling out” what you just purchased. You get 2x miles on any purchase and Visa Signature Benefits. The downside is there’s a $59 annual fee after the first year, but not only is this lower compared to many other cards, but it pays for itself if you plan to charge over $8,000 on it per year (more here).

That being said, I know many people who swear by the Chase Sapphire card, which functions similarly to the Venture. It has an even higher signup bonus but redeeming your rewards is a little different (you can either transfer them directly to the airline, or book directly through Chase’s travel system; Ashlee talks more about the card here.) Similarly, the newly released Chase Sapphire Reserve card is said to be the best travel card on the market right now, and comes with an unprecedented 100k point bonus if you spend $4000 in the first three months ($450 annual fee, but worth it once you read more about it). The Points Guy goes into the nitty gritty but it’s a tremendous card–especially for the first year–and one I’ll be signing up for at some point!

One more thing worth noting about travel cards: they almost always have no foreign transaction fees, which is huge if you plan to travel internationally even just once a year. Basically when you travel abroad and charge something to a credit card, there’s a small fee (around 3%, I believe) that’s applied to your purchase to account for the currency conversion. Travel cards waive this, which is a great perk!

STORE CREDIT CARDS

Generally speaking, the one type of card I personally wouldn’t really recommend for optimizing points are store credit cards. Many people love them, but just hear me out…I recently got a Nordstrom credit card and it’s great (early access to the Anniversary Sale, “Nordstrom Notes” in $20 increments after a certain dollar amount spent, $100 in alterations a year, and a couple other perks are awesome). The reason I opted for this is because I shop there more than any other store, and am likely to accumulate rewards quicker here than at any other retailer. The thing is, every time I do charge a large amount to my Nordstrom card, I think of the value of that purchase in travel points because those seem to accumulate much more quickly than Nordstrom points.

However, some people swear by having few store credit cards and that’s ok! I just wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to optimize benefits like cashback or travel points, since it can be harder to accumulate rewards depending on the retailer.

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Anyway, that’s my two cents about credit card rewards and points…I’m kind of hooked on them, if you can’t tell. I’d love to know if you have any thoughts/questions/information to share on this topic…it’s #adulting at its finest, but it’s kind of a fun part!

Image via Wit & Delight with edits + text added by me

Comments:

  1. 1

    This is a fantastic post! Love the tips!

  2. 3

    I love this post! I literally haven’t used my debit card for a purchase in over a year, as I just think ‘why not get the cash back instead?’ I have a different Capital One card and love it, but I’ve been thinking about getting a Chase Sapphire Reserve lately as well, just for the travel benefits! It’s incredible the amount of money you can save/benefits you can get.

    • 4

      Definitely agree about setting aside the debit for rewards (clearly, with this post…haha). And agree re: the Reserve! The annual fee is a bit scary but definitely pays for itself.

  3. 5

    Team Chase Sapphire Preferred here!! I’m obsessed with the rewards for travel and haven’t paid full price { or at all} for a flight in years. Only store credit card I find useful is the TJX one because they reward gift cards for every $200 you spend, and I’m there almost weekly hah! This post is amazing, Monica!!
    xx Tess | Sequins are the New Black

  4. 7

    Such a great post! I got a Delta card when I was in college and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I also have a couple different store cards but only for stores I shop at religiously!

    xo Bree
    http://bree-west.com

  5. 9

    Such an informative post!! I’ve been thinking about a Capitol One card for awhile!! Thanks for all the info!
    XO, Jillian
    http://rhymeandreason-jillian.com/

  6. 11

    Love this post! Obviously, I’m team Sapphire (hopefully Reserve soon!), but there are so many great cards out there, you just really have to know how to take advantage of them! Great job breaking down all of the different pros and cons!

    Ashlee
    http://www.cobaltchronicles.com

  7. 13

    I have the Sapphire Preferred and it’s great! I’ve really been able to rack in the points.

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