How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards

In addition to helping you build your credit and making it easier to complete everyday purchases, rewards credit cards also offer the opportunity to earn valuable cash back, points or miles that can save you a lot of money. But most rewards cardholders don’t take full advantage of the rewards they’ve earned.

A recent study by LendingTree found that nearly seven in 10 rewards cardholders have unused cashback rewards, points or miles in their accounts, and 40% have not collected any rewards in the past year. While many of those people (63%) save their rewards until they reach a certain threshold, credit card rewards tend to lose value over time, so it’s important to have a strategy for taking advantage of them.

“Those who avoid credit card interest by paying off their balance in full are leaving money on the table if they don’t maximize their rewards,” says Jason Steele, a credit card expert and producer of Credit Card Exposure. CardCon. Here’s how to get started:

Match the type of rewards program to your habits and motivation to maximize rewards

The best card for you pays the highest rewards for the things you spend the most money on, whether it’s traveling, buying groceries or filling up your car with gas. The card that is best for one consumer may not make sense for another. The American Express® Gold Card, for example, pays four times Membership Rewards® points for money spent at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery, in the US and four times Membership Rewards® points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases). Cardholders can also earn triple points for flights booked directly with airlines or at (terms apply).

If you’re looking for a travel credit card and have an airline or hotel chain that you like or use often, it may make sense to get a co-branded card that gives you additional rewards or benefits when you fly or stay with that company. .

However, maximizing travel and other rewards can be tricky, so if you know you’re unlikely to spend the time learning the ins and outs of a card’s program, you might want to stick with a cash back credit card. simple.

“Everyone understands the value of a dollar,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of Equifax and FICO. “It’s not about airline miles, hotel points or some bland point you don’t understand. You just don’t have to think about it too much.”

Consider having more than one card

While using multiple credit cards can make shopping a bit more complicated, it may be worth using specific cards that align with specific types of spending to get the most value from each transaction.

“The average American has four cards in their wallet,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and president of “He might as well replace them with cards that he can benefit from.”

One strategy might be to get a store credit card if there is a store where you shop regularly to use the card for all your purchases there. The Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®, for example, pays 5% cash back for purchases at and 2% cash back for purchases made in-store, so it can be a good option for who shop there frequently.

Check your card website for opportunities to earn more rewards

Some cards have additional bonus categories or other short-term programs that allow you to earn additional rewards for certain types of spending. To take advantage of these offers, you typically need to log into your card portal or website and activate them. During one of these bonus periods, you can get 5% cash back at grocery stores, for example, compared to 1% cash back on all other purchases. However, rotating bonus tiers are temporary, so the sooner you activate them, the more time you have to earn those rewards.

Another way to earn additional rewards is to make purchases online through the site’s shopping portal. When you click through the portal to the retail sites before you shop, you may earn additional cash back or rewards, or in some cases a discount, on those purchases.

“You’re not really doing business with the shopping portal,” says Nick Ewen, director of content for The Points Guy. “You still end up at or, but in the end, you get a little payment.”

Learn about the other benefits of your card

Rewards and cash back aren’t the only benefits of rewards cards. If you travel frequently, consider looking into a card that offers travel insurance, which comes in various forms and can cover anything from trip cancellation to lost or damaged luggage.

Many cards offer other valuable benefits, such as free checked bags on a flight, discounts on streaming entertainment or meal delivery services, or rental car insurance. The Citi Premier® Card, for example, gives cardholders free access to their FICO credit score and early access to concert and sporting event tickets.

Take advantage of registration bonuses

To compete for new customers, many cards offer valuable sign-up bonuses when you open a new card. Right now, for example, the Citi Rewards+® card offers the opportunity to earn up to 25,000 ThankYou® bonus points after spending $1,500 within the first three months of account opening.

These bonuses can be a great way to boost your rewards balance, but it’s important to understand the terms. If you don’t spend the required minimum, for example, you won’t get the rewards.

Charge what you can responsibly and pay your bill in full

No matter how valuable your rewards are, they’re not worth more than the amount you’d have to pay in interest if you don’t pay off your credit card balance every month. That’s especially important right now, at a time when interest rates are rising.

“Your credit card and associated rewards are an asset, so you need to take care of it and treat it like an asset,” Dvorkin says. “If you don’t pay the bill, the points you’ve accumulated over time will disappear.”

Bottom line

Credit card rewards are a great way to get more for your money, whether you’re at the grocery store or just paying a utility bill. There are so many different types of reward credit cards that it pays to research the best option for you, and then make sure you fully understand how to maximize your rewards.

Editorial disclosure: All articles are prepared by the editorial staff and collaborators. The opinions expressed in it are solely those of the editorial team and have not been reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser. The information, including rates and charges, presented in this article is accurate as of the date of publication. Check the lender’s website for the most up-to-date information.

This article was originally published on and reviewed by Lauren Williamson, who serves as the home and financial services editor for Hearst’s e-commerce team. Email her at [email protected].