How to rack up extra rewards over the holidays

Want to make the season merry by racking up points you can cash in for a post-holiday spa vacation or the one gift you didn’t find under the tree? It’ll be easy if you strategize to make the most of your holiday spending.

Holidays are a great time to grow your rewards stash because companies dangle extra opportunities to earn, says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of the rewards site UpgradedPoints.com.

“There are a lot of stores out there, and tons of choices for which credit card to open or use, so both issuers and stores try extra hard to get you to pick them,” he says.

That makes sense because so much money changes hands during the holiday season, and the average U.S. consumer banks on spending about $1,000 on the festivities – from the gifts to the holiday feast and the décor that will deck the halls. Of course, some get carried away playing Santa and go over their budgets as well.

These five tips will help you use that flurry of competition to your advantage and ring up extra rewards this holiday season.

1. Give yourself the gift of a bonus. A big sign-up bonus is one of the best ways to accumulate points as the register goes cha-ching. That’s because you can earn tens of thousands of points simply by spending a certain amount on your new card in a set timeframe after the account opening. Typically this requirement, known as minimum spend, ranges from $1,000 to $4,000. You want to spend as much as possible on your new card without buying items you wouldn’t otherwise have bought, says Lia Garcia, who blogs about budget travel at Practical Wanderlust.

“Planned purchases, like holiday gifts, are so helpful” in meeting minimum spend, she says. So it makes sense to consider making a new credit card the first item on your holiday shopping list.

2. Go through shopping portals to maximize points. If you belong to the half of all consumers who do holiday shopping online, remember to go through an online shopping portal before you click the “buy” button.

“Shopping portals are, hands down, the easiest way to accumulate more points during the holidays,” says Jamie Larounis, editor of the miles-and-points site The Forward Cabin.

Many bank and airline loyalty programs offer shopping portals – for example, the Shop Through Chase portal or Delta SkyMiles Shopping.

“It’s really easy,” Miller says. “All you do is visit the portal, click the link to the online store of your choice, and shop just like normal.”
By going through the portals (see a list here), you get a boost in points earning that varies by retailer and portal. It’s common to find offers of between 2 and 5 points per dollar spent, but you can occasionally get as many as 30 times the points, Larounis says. And sometimes around the holidays you’ll see better-than-normal offers, Miller says. He recommends using a tool like CashBackMonitor.com to compare portals. For example, before making a purchase on Overstock.com, he found an offer of 2 points per dollar at the Chase portal.

“I double-checked the British Airways Mall portal, though, and noticed that it was offering 7 miles per dollar — definitely a better deal,” he says.

3. Mine your junk mail for offers. If your eyes glaze over when you see a promo email in your inbox, start paying attention. Your email inbox could be stuffed with more goodies than a Christmas stocking.

“Those things are like gold,” Larounis says of the offers, noting that card issuers and loyalty programs and their retailer partners ramp up offers around the holidays.

“They know you’re going to spend money, and the goal is to get you to spend it with them,” he says.

For example, Delta recently sent out an email offer to some customers that allows frequent flier members to register to get 1,000 bonus points for every SkyMiles partner they buy from before September 30. Partners include Airbnb and a variety of car rental companies. So you could book a place to stay over the holidays or prepay a rental car to add to your stash of points. Aside from scouring your inbox, you can also check an offer tracking site like FrequentFlyerBonuses.com or go directly to the airline’s or card issuer’s website to look for current offers.

“One important thing to note is that you may have to register to activate that offer,” Larounis says.

4. Celebrate bonus categories. If you have a card that offers extra rewards in rotating bonus categories, remember to sign up before you start your holiday spending. Card issuers tend to coordinate categories seasonally, which means you could maximize points on gift shopping. For example, from October through December, the Discover it card will allow cardholders to earn 5 percent cash back on the first $1,500 in purchases made at Amazon.com or Target, two mega retailers that probably offer something for everyone on your list, whether they’ve been naughty or nice. Remember, you can order gift cards on Amazon, Garcia points out. The Chase Freedom card hasn’t yet announced its categories for that quarter, but its theme is holidays.

“Check what your fourth quarter rotating bonus category is, and wait to buy any gifts until you’re getting 5 percent back on them,” Garcia says.

5. Cash in on gift card purchases. If you love giving gift cards because they’re easy and recipients love them, there’s another big plus: You can get loads of points by purchasing cards. How?

“Pick up a credit card that rewards you for buying gift cards,” Garcia says.

For example, the Blue Cash cards from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) will give you bonus cash back at grocery stores.

“Yes, that includes those giant end caps full of shiny gift cards,” she says.

If you’re self-employed or own a business, the Chase Ink Business Cash card will give you 5 percent back at office supply stores, some of which sell gift cards. Even if you don’t want to give gift cards as gifts, you can still take advantage by purchasing a gift card and using it to buy a gift, Larounis says. For example, if you want to get slippers for grandma, you can buy a Bed, Bath & Beyond gift card at the office store and use that to buy the present. If you have a little money left on the card, you can always stash it in your wallet to use on your next purchase, Larounis says.

Finally, you might want to use a rewards app or even those sticky notes you got that one year in your stocking to differentiate your cards.

“Make sure to pay attention to where each of your cards earns the most points, so that you can use the best card for each purchase,” Miller says.

Follow this advice and you might find shopping a little less stressful, knowing each purchase will help you reward yourself after the holidays.

 
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