What are the Best Rewards Credit Cards?

Use a rewards credit card to make the most of your spending.

Laura Adams, MBA
5-minute read
Episode #179

10 Tips to Get the Most Rewards from a Credit Card

To get the most from a rewards card, use the following 10 tips:

  1. Earn rewards where you spend the most money. Choose a card that will earn rewards at the stores where you shop or for the type of products that you buy frequently, like groceries, gas, or airline tickets.

  2. Earn rewards for items that you want or need. Cash rewards give you the most flexibility, however, some rewards cards allow you to earn points for a Disney vacation, hotel stays, discount retailers, or concerts, for instance. 

  3. Get a card with no annual fee and the lowest interest rate possible. This will increase the value of your rewards and cost you less if you do have to carry a balance from month to month (but remember that’s not what I recommend). However, paying an annual fee can make sense if you’re a big spender and will earn more than enough rewards to offset the cost.

  4. Stay alert to rewards expiration dates. If you earn points that have to be redeemed by a certain date, be sure to put a reminder on your calendar so you don’t lose them. 

  5. Limit the number of rewards cards you have. If you earn rewards on just one or two cards it’ll be easier to keep up with their benefits so you can maximize them.

  6. Read the rewards terms carefully before you apply for a card. There may be restrictions such as limitations on purchase categories, tiered rewards, caps on the amount of rewards, or time limits on when you can earn rewards.

  7. Consider a card’s additional free benefits. Extra offers like travel insurance, extended product warranties, and other buyer protections may make one card a better deal for you than another.

  8. Take advantage of bonus programs. Some rewards cards offer discounts or extra points or travel miles when you shop with their merchant partners or through their online shopping malls. Always review the partner offers before you make a big purchase so you don’t miss any discount opportunities.

  9. Stay up-to-date on program offers. Sign up to receive program e-mail notifications and limited-time offers. Getting the most out of your rewards program will mean spending a little time managing it—but it’s well worth it.

  10. Find the price of the reward you want. Redeeming points for merchandise or airline tickets may not be the most economical way to make those purchases. Be mindful of the real value of what you’re getting and don’t overpay for something just because you’re spending points (unless they’re about to expire, that is!).  

A final quick and dirty tip is that rewards cards may not have the lowest interest rates. So if you carry a balance from month-to-month, use a low interest card instead. Paying an interest rate that’s higher-than-necessary would wipe out the value of your rewards and extend the time it’ll take you to pay off your balance.

For more on credit cards, see my episode about "Taking Charge of Your Credit Cards" and my Quick Tip for getting a credit card with bad credit.

Lastly, a new banking regulation is forcing banks to ask you whether or not you want to opt in for overdraft protection.  Get my take on overdraft coverage, and whether or not you should risk the hefty fees, in my Quick Tip on overdraft coverage.

Connect with Money Girl

If you have money questions or topics you’d like me to cover, be sure to send an e-mail to money@quickanddirtytips.com. You can also send a Tweet to @lauraadams or make a post on the Money Girl Facebook page. Visit my new blog Smart Moves to Grow Rich (smartmovestogrowrich.com) where you’ll find an article and a companion video I created in response to a question I received about how much money you should save.

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House Call Doctor

It’s hard to believe, but Dr. Rob Lamberts from the House Call Doctor has been podcasting about medical problems, questions, and mysteries for over a year now! Episode 26 about body odor was one of my personal favorites. He makes learning about the body fun and easy, so if you’re not already subscribed, be sure to check out the House Call Doctor show in iTunes.

More Resouces:

Federal Reserve Board Consumer’s Guide to Credit Cards

Credit Card image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a frequent, trusted source for the national media. Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers is her newest title. Laura's previous book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.