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How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards and Frequent Flyer Points

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: July 24, 2017

You've spent the money by using your one or two reward credit cards to pile up reward points. Now comes the fun part - cashing them in. Just as the number of available reward cards has mushroomed over the years, so has the selection of stuff you can cash in on.

In a recent survey conducted by American Express, over half of the people they polled stated they participated in some type of rewards program. That means there are increasing numbers of people trying to figure out how to maximize their reward benefits and points.

Tips to Maximize Your Reward Points

  1. Look at the rewards linked to your airline, hotel, or retailer credit card.  You can find good deals on plane tickets - especially expensive ones - buy using an airline rewards card. Sometimes these deals are better than cashing your points in on a cheaper flight.
  2. Compare awards on multiple cards.  According to a study by Colloquy, the average American has 1.9 reward credit cards. So, examine the points needed from each one on say, a rental car, and use the card that has the better deal. You need to do the math between your reward cards.
  3. Find smaller awards.  There has been a big shift in recent years toward making awards available on the cheaper end - that is - using less points. Also, some reward programs will allow you to pay for an item with a mix of points and cash.
  4. Consider gift cards.  About 55 percent of all reward redemptions were in the form of gift cards. Gift cards are flexible and can offer a better value.
  5. Look up the current price of the item you are eyeing.  Credit card companies generally pay less than retail for merchandise so check online to see what that item is currently costing at a few retail stores. No point in using up your points on an overpriced item.
  6. Check out the specials.  Just as you would at a store, look for sales in your rewards program. A lot of rewards programs offer a changing list of specials - typically items that aren't moving and they want to get rid of them.
  7. Combine your points with someone else's.  An increasing number of rewards programs allow you to transfer your points to others, which means two people could share a gift that neither could reach individually.
  8. Look for cash-back options.  Redeeming points for cash back might not be flashy, but it could make sense if you need this case to pay your bills.

How to Keep Track of Your Points

There are a number of websites available to help consumers track and get the most out of their hard-earned credit card points, rewards, and airline frequent flyer miles. Although some services charge an annual fee, they may offer worthwhile perks such as email alerts regarding when miles will expire and award listings. Here are a few websites to check out.

  • MileTracker.com -  This site offers a free downloadable application sponsored by USA Today. MileTracker currently supports more than 100 frequent flier and loyalty programs. Once you create a profile and insert your multiple account information, you will not need to input it again. When you open MileTracker and tell it to display or update your accounts, it automatically and simultaneously goes to all the accounts your have listed in your profile, inserts your personal information required for each account, and retrieves the account data to be viewed on your computer desktop.
  • Points.com - This website allows you to track reward miles and points for free. It also allows you to trade with other users on the sites Global Points Exchange, GPX, but there is a fee involved. There is a processing fee per trade, plus whatever additional trading fees that may be required by the airline or rewards program.
  • PlasticJungle.com - Here is a site for gift card exchange and services, for consumers who want to either buy gift cards at substantial savings, sell them for cash, or trade pre-owned gift cards for others. Given that many credit card reward programs offer gift cards as one of their available redemption choices, this site may be handy if you end up with a gift card you'll never use. Plastic Jungle guarantees all transactions and offers industry-leading features like gift card replacement protection in case they are lost or damaged, and instant alerts via text or email. Users may list gift cards for free on Plastic Jungle, with successful transactions charged a 10 percent fee when their gift card is sold or traded.