If you use your reward credit cards wisely, you can double and, in some cases, even triple your rewards quickly and without spending more. Here are five ways you can make your rewards work for you.
Follow which categories offer bonus rewards
Lots of reward credit card offers give bonuses for rotating categories throughout the year.
"Some of the rotating categories are pretty generous," says Curtis Arnold, of Little Rock, Arkansas, author of "How You Can Profit from Credit Cards."
For example, Chase Freedom® offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases on different categories each quarter, and from July through September this year it's gas stations and Kohl's department store. October through December that 5 percent cash back category includes (again, on up to $1,500 in combined purchases) Amazon.com, Zappos.com and select department stores. The Discover it® card also has rotating 5 percent cash-back categories. Cardholders can earn 5 percent cash back at gas stations (on up to $1,500 in purchases) through September and is offering up to 5 percent cash back for online shopping and department store purchases from October through December. Just pick the card with categories that align with your spending habit, Arnold advises.
Remember, you must activate the categories to earn these bonuses. Pay attention to the alerts telling you about the upcoming categories and how to sign up. You can save a reminder to your Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar so you don't forget. If you use multiple cards, make yourself a cheat sheet so that you can keep track of which card to use in which categories when you're shopping at the mall or online. Getting the most out of your rewards credit cards does require some organization and planning, notes Beverly Harzog, a nationally recognized credit card expert based in Atlanta.
Sign up for alerts from your issuer
This is another option so you won't miss the special bonus categories or the special deals that your credit card issuer might offer. Bank of America offers an ever-changing list of cash-back deals if you pay with its credit card. You can set alerts so you receive emails and text reminders when new deals become available and when your current cash-back deals are set to expire. Past deals have included a 10 percent bonus at Sports Authority, 15 percent back for purchases at 1-800-Flowers, and 5 percent cash back at Auto Zone. Bank of America says new deals are added often.
Use rewards to buy gift cards that give you bonuses
Discover partners with retailers such as the Apple Store, Best Buy, and CVS. You can buy a $25 gift card with your rewards points for $20 or a $50 gift card for $45. Use the gift cards you buy at CVS or Bed Bath & Beyond to buy items that give ExtraBucks or rebates and you've parlayed your rewards money into even more savings. At some grocery stores you can earn rewards to use toward gas. For example Giant Food Stores gives you 10 cents a gallon for every $100 you spend in its stores. Use your credit card that gives you the greatest rewards for groceries at stores like Giant and you're double-dipping.
Add authorized users
This works two ways, says John Ulzheimer, the credit expert at CreditSesame.com who is based in Atlanta. You can rack up more points because more people are charging more to your card. Ulzheimer says he gets his wife to use his Delta SkyMiles credit card so he can get more miles faster. Also, some cards -- usually from the airlines -- are giving bonuses for signing up an authorized user. With the Fuel Rewards Network™ MasterCard® you save 5 cents a gallon for every $100 you spend on your card. You also can earn higher rewards by referring a friend who applies for and uses the FRN MasterCard.
With the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card you can earn an additional 5,000 bonus miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within three months. Caution: Read the fine print. The bonus offers are only available one time in 24 months. The card has no annual fee the first year, then it's $95. Your miles won't expire as long as you're a card member. You also get free checked bags for you and a companion when you buy tickets with your card. If you fly a lot, the free checked bags can be a reward and you don't have to use any of your points to redeem.
Take advantage of partner deals
You can get more out of your BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card if you have a checking or savings account at Bank of America. Let the bank deposit your cash-back rewards into your account and you'll get a 10 percent customer bonus. It's not a huge amount but it's something. You can deposit 2 percent of your purchases with your Fidelity® Investment Rewards® American Express® Card into an eligible Fidelity retirement account, and you'll earn money tax free, Arnold says. That's a bit of an extra reward, too, he says.