Earning extra credit card rewards on Uber and Lyft

If rides from ride-sharing companies (like Lyft and Uber) are eating up an increasing portion of your budget, you might as well try to earn some extra rewards.

Luckily, a few issuers and travel programs are making it easy to do so.Ride_Request

Get double Membership Rewards points

This partnership allows you to get 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent by linking your Uber account to a credit card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner).

To sign up for the promotion, you’ll need to download or update the Uber app, add an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points to your account and then tap “Enable.” To get the 2 points per dollar, you will need to select the enrolled card to pay for your ride. Your receipt will confirm that you’ve earned 2X points.

You can also use Membership Rewards points to pay for Uber rides. When you request a ride, the app will ask you if you’d like to pay with points. When redeeming this way, your points will be worth 1 cent each toward the fare.

If you have enough points to cover the ride, the cost will be automatically deducted from your rewards balance. If not, your card will be charged for the full fare (and you’ll earn 2X points).

Get 20 percent back with Capital One

This is available for only a limited time. Until April 30, 2016, if you use your Quicksilver or QuicksilverOne card to pay for Uber rides, you’ll get a 20 percent statement credit within one or two business cycles. This will happen automatically if you use your Quicksilver card to pay.

Earn Starwood Starpoints by taking Uber

The SPG-Uber benefits program doesn’t require a credit card, but can certainly be enhanced by one (which we’ll get to in a moment).

First the basics: You’ll need to join the Starwood Preferred Guest rewards program. Then, you’ll need to sign in to your SPG member account and link it to your Uber account. Finally, you’ll need to complete one stay at a Starwood property.

After that, you’ll earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on Uber rides (up to $10,000 per year). It gets better for Uber rides you take while staying at a Starwood property, as you can earn even more points, with elevated Starwood status. If your Uber pick-up happens between the date you check in and 11:59 p.m. on the day you check out, you’ll earn:

  • Preferred members: 2 Starpoints per dollar spent with Uber
  • Gold and Platinum members: 3 Starpoints per dollar spent with Uber
  • Platinum with 75 nights: 4 Starpoints per dollar spent with Uber

Now, here’s where a credit card can help you: Elite status above “Preferred” requires you to complete a certain number of stays/nights per calendar year. The Starwood Preferred Guest card gives you 5 nights and 2 stays toward elite status, speeding up your progress to those higher-earning tiers.

Extra points using cards with a travel category

Does your card give you a fixed number of bonus points for travel purchases? Lyft and Uber may fall into your card’s travel category, meaning your rides could get you double or triple points, depending on the card.

Most generic travel cards consider an assortment of transit options to be “travel” expenses. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred includes taxis, limos, ferries and passenger trains – and some have reported that Uber and Lyft do indeed fall within that category for double points. Citi’s ThankYou cards, meanwhile, include “merchants that provide passenger transportation services for hire.”

I used my credit card (which rewards 2 miles per dollar on travel charges) on both Lyft and Uber and was rewarded double points for both:

Uber and Lyft travel category

Of course, it’s difficult to know in advance exactly which purchases will count as “travel.” It’s based not only on the card, but on the merchant category code assigned to the purchase. That code has to match the card’s requirements. If it does, using a travel card for ride-sharing (and taxis) can help you get some extra rewards out of a regular expense.

Should you use store credit to finance furniture?

If you’re planning to take advantage of Memorial Day sales on furniture and other big-ticket items, should you also take advantage of the financing the store offers?

It can be an enticing prospect. In-store financing has a reputation for being easier for high-risk borrowers to qualify for, compared with mainstream credit products. It’s also common for stores to offer lengthy 0 percent interest periods. So, financing a sectional sofa may seem like a good way to bulk up your credit report and avoid interest.ashley furniture credit card

But in-store financing can be treacherous for those who haven’t carefully read all the terms.

Common types of in-store financing

The options vary from store to store, but, in general, you’re most likely to be offered one of the following:

0 percent interest financing: This is a credit account (often a credit card issued by a partner bank with the store’s logo on it), which charges no interest for a certain number of months. The store will check your credit and, if you’re approved, your purchase will be placed on this account. The length of the interest-free period, as well as the size of down payment and the monthly payments, will depend on the amount of the purchase.

“If the purchase is big enough, it will be zero down, 0 percent interest for a year to a year and a half,” says Paul Richard, president of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, a non-profit consumer education organization based in San Diego.

“However,” Richard warns, “whenever someone offers you a deal like that, you can bet you’re going to pay for it one way or the other.”

One way you might pay: The monthly payment might seem so affordable that you don’t negotiate the discount you would have worked for if paying cash. Furniture generally has a 500 percent mark-up on average, Richard notes.

The biggest trap, however, is the fact that 0 percent offers on in-store credit are almost always deferred interest plans, says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. While you may not be charged interest during the promotional period, it’s building up in the background. If you have any balance remaining when that period ends, you’ll get charged all that built-up interest retroactively. Interest may also be triggered if you miss a payment.

Here’s an example from Wu: You buy $2,000 worth of furniture and get a 0 percent deal for 12 months. At month 13, you have just $200 remaining. Even so, it’s the $2,000 balance you’ll pay interest on – not $200. To make matters worse, furniture store financing often comes with high interest rates (often above 20 percent). With a $2,000 purchase and a 29 percent interest rate, you’re looking at $580 in interest, assuming you let the promotional period expire.

“It’s a bit of a trap for the unwary,” Wu says.

Of course, it’ll all be there in the fine print (see the example below from a major furniture store):

Deferred interest fine print furniture store2

Yet even when consumers fully understand the fine print, they can still get tripped up.

“Life happens,” Wu says. “You think ‘I can pay this off in time, no problem.’ But something happens, such as an unexpected medical expense, or you lose your job.”

No-credit-check financing: If your credit isn’t good enough for a store line of credit, some businesses offer you the chance to prove you have enough income or money in the bank to make payments. Requirements vary, but furniture stores offering this option may use a combination of any of the following:

  • Bank account balance
  • A certain number of bank account deposits per month
  • Income (based on pay stubs)
  • Age of checking account (for example, must be open at least three months prior to purchase)
  • Length of employment at the same company

“What they’re doing is looking at the cash flow of the potential customer,” Richard says. “They’re just looking for another angle, another way to approve somebody.”

However, Richard emphasizes, furniture stores will often include in your contract that they can repossess your furniture if you fall behind.

A good way to build credit?

If you’ve had trouble getting credit in the past, getting a line of credit from a furniture store (or any store for that matter) might be an attractive route, as retail cards tend to set the approval bar lower. But keep in mind that they’re subsidizing that risk via some of the consumer snares mentioned above.

That’s why Wu and Richard aren’t fans of furniture financing as a means to a good- credit end.

“The idea of using a furniture store to get a good credit rating, I don’t think it’s so hot,” Richard says.

In addition to being rather consumer-unfriendly, store credit may not get you the results you’d hoped for. If your end game is qualifying for a mortgage, for example, the lender is going to look carefully at your credit reports – and may not be impressed if it sees nothing but a line of credit from a furniture store.

“They’ll wonder, ‘why are they doing that, why are they going that route?'” Richard says.

If you’re going the no-credit-check-financing route, there’s another possible hitch: The company servicing that account may not report to the credit bureaus. While some stores (and third parties working with the stores) boast that they report to all three major credit bureaus, others are vague or disclose that they don’t report to the bureaus at all:

no credit financing does it report to the credit bureaus

Even if your on-time payments are reported for your no-credit-check-financing plan, mainstream lending institutions probably won’t be any more impressed than they would be with a store line of credit, Richard says.
So, if you need to build excellent credit for a mortgage or other major loan, what are your options?

You might start with a secured credit card, which requires a deposit to secure the credit line, making this type of product easier to get for those with poor or thin credit, Wu says.

Richard suggests working directly with your bank or credit union.

“Sit down and talk with that credit union official or banker and tell them you need to build credit,” he says. Some credit unions, for example, offer loan products specifically designed for credit building.

If you do decide to finance furniture via a store card or even a regular bank card, your biggest defense (for your finances and credit) is money in the bank.

“The first thing to think about is whether you can afford the item,” Wu says. “If you put something on a credit card and really don’t have the money for it, you’re going to wind up with unmanageable debt.”

Today, they’re the ones people turn to for advice and inspiration when paying off credit card debt. But that doesn’t mean they can’t relate to the debt struggles of recent grads.

We asked some credit bloggers and personal finance experts to share their biggest youthful credit mistakes – and their advice for the class of 2015.

David Weliver, founding editor of Money Under 30

His youthful mistake: When I was a college student and recent graduate, I saw credit cards as a way to live (way) beyond my income. I understood how credit worked, but I naively assumed the debt would be easy to pay off once I started working. Shocker: It wasn’t.

By the age of 25, I had over $40,000 of credit card debt. Combined with student loans, my total debt exceeded $80,000. I’ve since paid all that off and never looked back.

Advice to the class of 2015: Take a moment to imagine your life five years from now every time you make a major life decision (financial or otherwise). That can seem like a long time, but it’s really not – think about how quickly college seemed to pass now that it’s over.

The choices you make today will have very real implications for yourself five years in the future. Financially, those decisions will either make your future life easier or harder. Five years from now, something as simple as saving $100 a month might make it possible to buy your own condo or go on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with friends. On the flip side, something as seemingly trivial as blowing off a $50 doctor’s bill could tarnish your credit, which will still haunt you five years from now.

Cate Rysavy, senior director of financial services for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

CateRysavyHeadShot_cropped

Her youthful mistake: Besides my ’80s and ’90s fashion mistakes, I also made some credit mistakes in my 20s. I financed much of my life on credit cards. I thought I was getting a great deal by “saving 10 percent and opening a Macy’s card”. And The Limited. And Gap. I bought my textbooks, groceries, and many other things using credit cards. See the trend?

I worked hard, put myself through college and thought I “needed,” “wanted,” and “deserved” these things. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But, the important aspect I was missing was what I could “afford.” I was heading down an unhealthy financial path that ends in debt, major stress and bad credit. It was the guidance of a non-profit credit counselor, learning how to budget, shifting my mindset about money, and a debt management plan, which improved my credit and changed the trajectory of my life.

Advice to the class of 2015: You are amazing. The world needs you and your ideas. Think about all the brain power you can use toward your life ambitions and creating positive change in the world if you aren’t burdened by debt. Imagine your freedom if you set up your life to spend less than you earn. Imagine enjoying your life, doing what you love, spending time with your friends and family because you aren’t working all the time to afford a big, expensive house, car, wardrobe, etc.

Rod Ebrahimi, CEO and co-founder of ReadyForZero

rod_ebrahimi_readyforzero

His youthful mistake: My credit mistake was not reviewing and understanding my full credit report (not credit score) earlier. I didn’t know how credit actually impacted my report. Everything comes down to what’s in these reports, and you can access them free once a year at Annualcreditreport.com.

Advice to the class of 2015: Understand how credit is tracked and recorded in your individual credit reports.

It’s a simple, regular annual habit that can save you a lot of time and money in the future. It can also help you catch mistakes that may be negatively impacting your credit.

David Auten (pictured at left with co-blogger John Schneider) of Debt Free Guys

David Auten_debt free guys

His youthful mistake: The biggest mistake I made was thinking I had money to spend when I really had available credit on my credit card. I used my credit card even when I had cash on me or money in the bank. This habit resulted in me spending double or triple on all my purchases because of the credit card interest I accrued. I viewed my available credit as my money. It wasn’t!

Advice to the class of 2015: No one gets rich spending more money than they make. When you buy on credit, you anchor your future wealth on your past, and you will never get it back.

David Bakke of Money Crashers

david-bakke-163
His youthful mistake: One of the biggest credit mistakes I made around college age was simply taking out credit cards before I was mature enough to handle the responsibility. I made a lot of poor spending choices, which ultimately resulted in severe credit card debt, which took me years to work my way out of. I carried high balances, wasted a bundle of money on interest payments, and my credit score took a serious hit as a result.

Advice to the class of 2015: If you don’t pay your balance off on time and in full, you will be charged extra money in the form of interest or late payment fees. This is simply wasted money. The best way to use credit cards is to only put purchases on them that you know you can pay off by the time the bill comes in. If that’s not the case, you’re better off saving your money until you can do so. If you don’t think you can handle the responsibility of credit card ownership, pay for everything in cash instead. Either that or use a secured credit card, which is backed by your own money. Doing that will help you establish a solid credit score.

Deacon Hayes, founder of Well Kept Wallet

Deacon Hayes_well kept wallet

His youthful mistake: When I was young, I applied for as many cards as I could. I wanted to build my credit and I thought that this was the best way. It was not long before I maxed out one card and then another. It was just from small purchases but they all added up over time. I was so frustrated that I let my credit card usage get so out of hand and I hated paying those high interest rates every month. Eventually I paid off those cards, but it took me a long time and it was a painful process.

Advice to the class of 2015: I learned one simple fact: If I don’t I have money in the bank to purchase an item, I can’t afford to buy it. I still use credit cards today; however, I make sure that I have the money in my bank account first before making the purchase. I also make sure to pay off my credit cards every month so that I do not have to pay interest. When you are starting out as a young adult, I recommend using your credit card for fixed expenses like your cell phone bill, car insurance, etc. This way you never overspend, and if you budget appropriately, you will always have the money to pay the card off in full each month.

plastc_cardMobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Wallet are intriguing, but most of the places you shop still want you to swipe a card. That’s where all-in-one digital cards such as Coin, Plastc (pictured to the right), Stratos, Swyp and Wocket come in: You can load all your cards into an app on your phone — and then transfer them to a digital card with a magnetic stripe that actually swipes.

These digital cards come with high price tags and nebulous ship dates, though – and new payment technology is already a possible threat to their relevance. If you’re considering a digital card, compare your options using our chart below. We also asked Ross Rubin, principal analyst at consumer technology consulting firm Reticle Research to help us understand digital cards’ benefits and limitations.

Compare all-in-one digital cards
CoinPlastcStratosSwypWocket
Number of cards it holds8 on card, unlimited in app20 on card, unlimited in app3 on card, unlimited in app25 on card, unlimited in app10,000 (using physical electronic wallet, which houses the card)
How to add cardsVia mobile app and plug-in card reader Via mobile app and plug-in card readerVia mobile app and plug-in card readerVia mobile app and plug-in card readerCard reader built into the wallet
Ship datePre-order. Has started shipping, but new orders will take several months to ship. Pre-order (estimated shipping date is summer 2015)Pre-order. First orders have shipped, others will be filled on first-come first-served basis.Pre-order (Batch 2 only). Batch 1 will ship in Fall 2015. No estimated ship date for Batch 2.Requires exclusive invite for purchase.
Battery life2 years. Needs to be replaced after battery dies30 days. Can be charged on wireless charging matt.2 years. Membership includes free replacement each year.1 year (assuming 4 swipes/day). Battery is rechargeable, and charger is included with purchase.1 year. Rechargeable.
EMV compatible?NoYes. Also, contactless.NoUpgrade planned for when U.S. market transitions to EMV.No
Security featuresMust enter code if phone isn't nearby.

Phone app will notify you if you leave your card behind.
Phone app will notify you if you leave your card behind.

Remote wipe

Requires PIN
Can set up lock-down if card is away from phone for certain amount of time.Automatically locks when out of range of your phone

Requires PIN when card is locked

Can lock to chosen card when giving card to server at restaurant.
Must be unlocked by passcode or owner's voice.
Cost$100$155$95 per year or $145 for 2 years$99$149

How do digital cards work?

In general, you’ll run your cards through the included card reader, which plugs into your mobile device, to add digital versions of your cards to the app. The only exception is the stand-alone Wocket – instead of plugging a reader into your phone, you’ll run your cards through the reader that’s already built into the physical wallet, which, in turn, houses the Wocket card.

Once you’ve swiped in all your cards, you can tell the app (or, in Wocket’s case, the wallet) which cards you want to have loaded onto the digital card. Each product has limits regarding how many cards you can have accessible at once, but you can use the app to change your line-up anytime. When you make a purchase, you’ll use the card’s buttons or other interface (some digital cards have tiny displays) to select which card you want to use. Your digital card then “becomes” that card for the sake of the purchase. Some digital cards allow you to load membership cards, loyalty cards or even key cards on as well. In some cases, the app will suggest a card for you to use (based on location) to maximize your rewards.

That sounds cool – but aren’t digital cards pretty expensive?

At about $100 and up, the price tag is high for all-in-one cards.

“They are technologically very impressive,” Rubin says. “They have very thin batteries. They have wireless charging in some cases. Some have touch displays. That’s a lot of technology in a little package.”

The cost of those components will likely decrease over time and possibly lower the cost of the cards, Rubin says. But certain consumers (including some of our forum members) will be willing to pay right now.

“Early adopters, people who like the idea of cutting down on the amount of bulk in their wallet, might see real value,” Rubin says.

Digital card companies may have something to offer issuers, too, Rubin says, noting that it might be advantageous for them to form co-branding relationships with banks. Banks could offer digital cards to their high-spending or affluent consumers and, in return, get the opportunity to control the experience in their favor.

“For example, if I get the card directly from Plastc, it’s brand neutral,” Rubin says. “I decide what’s the default. But if a bank gives me a Plastc card, they could brand it, and they could make their card the default while allowing me to put other cards on there.”

What’s the point of these digital cards, when you can use a mobile wallet for free on your phone?

The biggest advantage digital cards have over mobile wallets have is compatibility, Rubin notes. Lots of merchants haven’t yet upgraded their equipment to accept mobile payments — so there’s still an advantage to having a physical card with a magnetic stripe.

Size is another factor. Digital wallets are the same size as a regular credit card. Smartphones, meanwhile, just keep growing.

“With smartphones getting larger with bigger screens, it’s going to be tough to find a pocket to hold that,” Rubin says. “You can just carry the card by itself or in one of the 500 minimalist wallets that have been Kickstarted.”

While many of us carry our phones around no matter how big they are, there are times it might be preferable to leave yours at home – when you go to the beach or pool, for example, Rubin says. It’s worth noting that, unlike your $600 phone, some digital cards are waterproof.

Yet another factor to consider: Apple Pay, for example, currently excludes some payment cards, including some store-branded cards. Digital all-in-one cards, meanwhile, are compatible with any magnetic stripe payment card, meaning you can still use your store cards to rack up coupons and loyalty points.

What weaknesses should I be aware of before dropping $100 or more on a digital card?

Digital cards solve some problems – and create others, including:

  • Limited display: It might seem logical to choose the digital card that lets you queue up the highest number of cards for immediate use.”On the other hand, the more cards you have could mean more challenging navigation,” Rubin says. “All these [digital] cards have extremely limited screen capabilities. It may take a little bit of swiping and button pushing to get to the card you want to use. So it may not be much of an improvement over digging through your wallet.”
  • Battery life: “Battery life is a big issue,” Rubin says. “Much as it’s been an issue for smartwatches. There’s only so much battery you can put in so small a device.”Some cards have to be replaced every couple years when the battery dies. Plastc has a rechargeable battery (and wireless charger), but that may not do you much good if the battery dies away from home.
  • Payment tech changes: The U.S. is gradually converting to EMV chip technology. When the conversion is complete, payment cards will have small microprocessor chips that make it tougher for thieves to steal card data.While some digital cards have plans for implementing this technology, some don’t. Those that don’t will still probably be relevant for a while, however, until the bulk of merchants upgrade their equipment to be accept chip cards.”Obviously, things aren’t going to change overnight,” Rubin says. “[Digital cards] will continue to have some value. They probably have a window of a few years.”

    But the relevance of digital cards isn’t just about whether they have EMV chips. As merchants upgrade their equipment to accept EMV, those new terminals will likely be compatible with NFC contactless payments — the technology behind mobile wallets. At that point, the major advantage digital cards have (the ability to work with older equipment) will disappear.

    “Right now, these cards exist between traditional plastic and smartphones and wearable technologies,” Rubin says. “One of the advantages of these cards is backwards compatibility, and that advantage will likely diminish over time.”

  • Shipping delays: Because the window for digital cards’ usefulness may close in the future, time is of the essence. Problem is, many of those who pre-ordered these products in their Kickstarter infancy have yet to receive them as projected ship dates are continuously moved back. Some companies have shipped a limited number of cards to the very first wave of customers but are vague about future shipment dates.”I don’t think any of them have made their initial projected ship date,” Rubin says.

Making sense of American Express’s Plenti program

The new Plenti rewards program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is, as AmEx says, the first of its kind. It combines features of store loyalty programs, card-linked offer programs and traditional credit card rewards into an absolutely sprawling platform.

Uniqueness aside, should you try to cash in on Plenti – or apply for the credit card tied to the program? We took a deep dive into the details and found that Plenti has potential if you can get a grip on all its moving parts.

Program details

There are two layers to Plenti – the rewards program and the Plenti credit card (which can boost your earnings but isn’t required for the program).

Plenti Credit Card
Plenti credit card

You don’t have to get this card to join Plenti, but, if you do, you’ll earn 1 Plenti point per dollar spent on all eligible purchases anywhere. The card has no annual fee and comes with the usual benefits befitting a no-fee AmEx: Extended warranty, purchase protection, return protection, secondary rental car insurance coverage and travel accident insurance. It also has an EMV chip, for greater acceptance abroad.

Plenti program
If you don’t want to get the credit card, you can still join the Plenti program. You just won’t get the boost of 1 point per dollar on all spending — and will be limited to earning rewards with the program’s partners only. Sign up online, and you’ll receive a Plenti loyalty card and key tag in the mail. Whenever you make a purchase, you will present your Plenti card at checkout (or insert it into the card reader) and follow the directions. If you’re shopping online, you’ll use your Plenti card number. Points you earn will automatically be deposited into your Plenti account.

The program is vast, but here are the basics:

Earning

  • Shopping at Plenti partners: You’ll earn points when shopping at Plenti’s partners, including AT&T, Exxon, Macy’s, Mobil, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Alamo Rent A Car, Direct Energy, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hulu, National Car Rental and more (full list here). You can pay however you wish (credit card, debit card, cash), but you will still need to present your Plenti loyalty card. The only exception at this time is if you’re shopping at Macy’s and have linked your Plenti card to your Macy’s credit card, in which case your Macy’s card will suffice.

    The number of points you’ll earn per purchase at partners varies, so check the terms before you shop.

  • Utilizing relationships: You can stack rewards by getting your other credit and loyalty cards involved. For example, at Macy’s, using your Macy’s credit card with your Plenti card gets you 10X the points on the same purchases:
    Plenti Rewards Program at Macy's
    Even better, if you link your Macy’s American Express card, you can get Plenti points by using it outside of Macy’s as well.
  • Claiming bonuses: You can earn extra points by shopping in the Plenti Online Marketplace. You can also find and activate special offers online or within the Plenti app for extra points on certain purchases. Such bonuses generally have to be activated in advance — but in-store signage at some retail partners will guide you to purchases that get you extra Plenti points with no advance activation needed.
  • Transferring Membership Rewards points into Plenti: You can top off your Plenti balance by transferring Membership Rewards points earned on another American Express card into the program (500 MR points gets you 400 Plenti points). We recommend thinking long and hard about this decision, however. For one thing, you’re sacrificing 100 MR points for every 500 you transfer. For another, Membership Rewards points can be transferred directly into various hotel and airline reward programs, a valuable perk that Plenti does not offer.


Using your Plenti points

  • Redeem as you shop: You’ll need a balance of at least 200 points to begin redeeming. Instead of logging in to online banking and cashing in your rewards, you will use them in real time at the point of purchase. Present your Plenti card (or insert it into the card reader) and follow the instructions. If you have enough points, you’ll be prompted to use them for purchase. At Exxon, for example, you might see this:Plenti at Exxon
    As of this time (May 2015), the only partners you can redeem points at are Macy’s, Rite Aid and participating Exxon and Mobil stations. The value of your points depends on where you redeem them, but, according to the Plenti program’s site, they’ll be worth at least 1 cent each. To calculate the value of your Plenti points on a case-by-case basis, use these formulas.

Pros and cons

Depending on your goals, what might be a con to one person might be a pro for you. So instead of a black-and-white pros-and-cons list, here’s a catalogue of things to consider.

  1. Exclusions: All reward programs have exclusions, and Plenti is no exception. One of the most notable is that you generally can’t earn Plenti points when purchasing gift cards at partner retailers. That may be disappointing, as buying gift cards for extra rewards is a favorite strategy for many reward chasers. Certain luxury brands at Macy’s are also not eligible for rewards, which may be disappointing for anyone who just bought a $500 purse.
  2. An abundance of options: You can earn extra Plenti points on things that fall outside traditional credit card rewards programs, including paying your insurance premiums and adding a new line to your wireless service. And then there all those ever-changing, limited-time offers, which can earn you even more. This makes Plenti a robust and flexible program — but chasing all your options might exhaust you. If so, a more consistent cash-back program may be a better fit.
  3. You can use rewards in real time: Cashing in your rewards at the register may be preferable to making time to log into a rewards account and mulling over your options. If you’re the type to let your rewards collect dust for years, Plenti may be the anecdote. However, it can be hard to make sure you’re getting the best value for your points when a line is forming behind you and you have mere seconds to decide if you’d like to redeem your points on the spot.
  4. Limited redemption partners: The partners that allow you to earn points far outnumber the partners that allow you to redeem them. The redemption value (of at least 1 cent per point) isn’t bad – and gasoline, groceries and clothing purchases are exactly the kind of regular expenses for which consumers might welcome a discount. But if you’re not near an Exxon or Mobile station, a Rite Aid or a Macy’s, the redemption options won’t be convenient. American Express could always add more redemption partners in the future, though.
  5. You can keep using your existing cards: You can present your Plenti card or key tag to collect Plenti points – and then pay with any other rewards card and collect its points, too. For example, you might present your Plenti card at Macy’s and collect 1 point for every $10 spent – and then pay with a rewards card offering 5 percent cash back that quarter on department store purchases.

The bottom line

Plenti solves one of the most common problems with rewards – not using them. Due to its real-time, streamlined redemption scheme, you’ll be invited to use your rewards whenever you check out at a partner retailer. The program also doesn’t have to interfere with your existing reward strategies because you can use any credit card for the actual payment. That means you can embrace Plenti’s short-term, instant gratification system without surrendering the long-term strategizing you’re doing with your travel rewards cards, for example.

The Plenti credit card doesn’t add much additional value – although, with no annual fee, it might be worth swiping at merchants that fall outside your existing rewards cards’ bonus categories.

Time and sanity are also things to consider when it comes to your rewards strategy, however. Plenti has, well, plenty of options for boosting your earnings. If you’re the type to obsess over squeezing every possible reward point out of ever purchase, Plenti could become a time-consuming hobby.