How to maximize your credit card rewards

Getting the most from your rewards credit cards depends on cardholder priorities, spending habits, and the user’s unique financial needs. (iStock)

Americans love their rewards credit cards — even if they don’t always know what they’re getting.

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While the vast majority of rewards cardholders are “satisfied” with their cards according to J.D Power’s 2019 Credit Card Satisfaction Study, only 66 percent cardholders say they understand their card's rewards benefits and only 36 percent fully understand their supplemental benefits.

Online marketplace Credible can help you compare different types of reward cards, including various rates and fees that come with them. Use Credible's free online tools to find the recommended credit card for your needs.

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Here's what you need to know to maximize all the perks — from travel credits to points at gas stations — that come with these rewards programs.

How to get the most out of your rewards credit cards

First, know what’s at stake, as rewards card benefits have expanded in recent years. These days, aside from traditional benefits like travel rewards points and cash back cards, users can gain new perks like help paying for groceries or getting front row seats at major sports and entertainment events, among other benefits.

Check out card details on Credible's website and see what kind of credit cards you qualify for today.

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Then, get to work maximizing your credit card rewards.

For the best results, shop for your new credit card on Credible's website. The site allows you to instantly rewards cards and get real rate comparisons from cash-back cards, rewards cards and travel rewards cards.

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“Identify your priorities, how you spend your money, and figure out what rewards translate to the most value in terms of actual dollars,” said Jayson DeMers, chief executive officer at Email Analytics, a technology firm in Seattle and a multiple rewards credit card owner.

“For example, if you travel a lot, then a rewards card that saves you money on flights and hotels can save you a lot of money. If your expenses are fairly even distributed, then you can't go wrong with a cash back rewards card. That's my preferred rewards method," he added.

DeMers switches back and forth between rewards cards, depending on his unique needs.

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“I use a CitiBank Double Cash card for all my personal expenses, which gets me 2 percent cash-back on all purchases,” he said. “I use the Capital One Spark Business card for all my business expenses, which also gets me 2 percent cash-back on all purchases. I also use an Alaska Airlines Visa card for personal travel expenses. It has an annual fee of $75, but it gets me an annual companion fare discount which saves me a few hundred dollars on airfare every year, so it pays for itself.”

Get flexible with your rewards cards

Shaun Savage, CEO of GoShare in San Diego, Calif., said that choosing the best rewards cards for his team is a major business priority.

“As we started spending more and more on credit cards each month, we had our analysts figure out which credit cards were best for our business based on our spending habits,” Savage said. “For us, the Chase Ink Business Preferred Visa and the American Express Business Gold were best.”

For Savage and his team, choosing the best rewards card are all about expanding user opportunities.

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“If you want to save money on travel through credit card rewards the Chase Ink and Amex Gold are great options,” he said. “The Chase card will give you the ability to transfer to select hotels and airlines with global reach. The Amex Gold points are also flexible and can be used to book global travel including flights, hotels and rental car.”

Savvy rewards cardholders will also want a rewards card with user-friendly redeeming options.

“Both Chase Ink and Amex Gold cards both have easy to use redemption portals,” Savage said. “With Chase Ink, for example, I transfer points to participating partners such as Hyatt to maximize full card benefits.”

Keep it simple when you can

Miguel A. Suro, a Miami, Fla.-based attorney and personal finance specialist at The Rich Miser, a money management website, said cash back rewards are the easiest rewards credit cards to use — and for good reason.

“For most people, I recommend a case back card because of its simplicity and ease of use,” Suro said. “For example, the Citi Double Cash card pays 2 percent back on everything. “Even better, if you later decide to get a premium travel rewards card from Citi, you can transfer your Double Cash credit/points to travel partners such as several airlines.”

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Rewards card users can also leverage favored retailers and get ample cash back rewards. “If you frequently shop at a merchant that has 5 percent back co-branded credit card, open an account and take advantage of it,” Suro noted. “Notable examples are Amazon and Target.”

Simplifying your card use and keeping things organized is another good idea for new rewards card users.

“Unless you're very knowledgeable about miles and points, I recommend getting a general cash-back card and a few 5 percent back store cards,” Suro noted. “It’s possible to maximize benefits (especially travel benefits) by having many cards, but it requires a lot of work to make sure you use the best card for each purchase. You also need to keep up with points-and-miles news, since benefits are constantly changing.”

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