Get your wallet ready — it’s that time again with the holidays right around the corner. An estimated 91% of Americans will celebrate in some form this holiday season, a November report from the National Retail Federation shows. And for most people, celebration means spending.
According to a September study by the Deloitte Center for Industry Insights, the average consumer plans to shell out $1,455 on holiday expenses this year, including food, travel and gifts. And by taking a few extra steps when you’re shopping, you can rev up your rewards earnings every time you use your credit card.
If you’re thinking the holidays are stressful enough without jumping through hoops to earn a few extra rewards, here’s the good news: It’s not as hard as you think. Taking just one or two steps can add meaningful extra value to your shopping budget. Here are six strategic moves to turbocharge your credit card rewards this holiday season.
1. OPEN A CREDIT CARD
Credit card issuers often offer piles of points or cash back when you open a card. But the catch is that you’ll need to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a set time frame to earn that welcome offer. Holiday shopping season can be the perfect time to knock out that spending requirement and earn a hefty bonus on a new card.
If that new credit card earns cash back, those bonus funds can help stretch your holiday budget. Some popular cards offer new cardholders $200 once the spending requirements are met. If your new card bonus earns a nice stash of travel rewards, those can offset future travel costs. Now that’s something to celebrate.
2. ONLINE SHOPPING PORTALS
Ditching the crowded stores this year? According to Deloitte’s study, 63% of holiday shoppers plan to make most of their purchases online. If you’re one of them, shopping portals (also called bonus malls) can be an easy way to rake in additional miles, points or cash back on top of the regular rewards your credit card earns.
A shopping portal is a website that provides an incentive of cash back, points or miles if you click through its links to shop on a retailer’s site. The portal receives commissions from retailers, including many major brands, and then shares a portion with you when you buy through its link.
Many airlines and hotel brands have shopping portals, as do many major credit card issuers. Log in to the portal you want to use, find the merchant you want to shop with and click through their link. Shop and check out with that merchant’s site as normal.
Though it might take a few extra clicks, once your purchase is verified by the portal, the extra rewards will be deposited into your account automatically. This verification can take a few weeks or, less frequently, months.
3. IN-STORE SHOPPING OFFERS
Similar to shopping portals that provide a bonus for online purchases, several mobile apps provide bonus points or cash back for in-person purchases. For example, apps like Rakuten, Dosh and Swagbucks offer bonus rewards for shopping at hundreds of stores.
Download the app, enter your credit card details and use that card to complete your in-store purchase. The app tracks your purchase, and bonus rewards will generally be deposited into your account within a few weeks. Many of these apps require you to reach a minimum threshold before you can cash out your rewards.
4. CREDIT CARD-LINKED OFFERS
Many credit card issuers offer discount programs for using their cards at certain retailers. Think of these offers like a built-in digital coupon you can click on from your online account and add to your credit card. Discounts are issued through statement credits or bonus points with the rewards program associated with your credit card. Log in to your credit card account and find the deals section and activate whichever offers you want to use.
Discount offers generally have a spending requirement and an expiration date, and terms vary depending on the retailer. There’s no harm or obligation to use the offers once added, so don’t be afraid to load them on your credit card in case you end up shopping at any of the retailers.
5. BUY GIFT CARDS
If you’re buying gift cards to give as holiday presents, you can earn extra rewards by purchasing them from certain stores.
Let’s say you want to give Aunt Sally a gift card to a clothing store. If you buy that gift card from the clothing retailer, you’ll probably earn only the standard base rate of credit card rewards on that purchase. But if you can find a gift card for that same clothing store on the big gift card rack at the grocery store, you can buy it there and earn more rewards. Many popular credit cards offer bonus rewards at grocery stores — some cards offer 3%, 4% or even up to 6% back.
While there is no problem buying one or even a few gift cards to lock in bonus rewards, don’t go overboard. If credit card issuers see a trend of gift card purchases, they may claw back your bonus points, particularly if you’re trying to earn an initial sign-up bonus.
6. DINING REWARDS PROGRAMS
If you’re eating out this holiday season — or at any time — you can earn extra points and miles when you dine at certain restaurants. Most major hotel and airline loyalty programs are linked to a dining rewards network that you can join for free.
Search for your favorite hotel or airline’s dining rewards site, and enter your ZIP code to see which restaurants near you are part of the program. You’ll need to register your credit card with that dining program and use that card at the restaurant when you pay to earn the bonus rewards. These programs frequently offer a first-dine bonus of extra points and often offer additional rewards for leaving a review of the restaurant.
Because these programs are all run by the same parent company, you can generally sign up to earn bonus rewards with only one airline or hotel dining program at a time. And if you link a new credit card to the dining program, the old card will get removed.