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Bottom Line Up Front

  • You can get the most out of your rewards credit card by using a spending strategy.
  • Use your card often to get points, but not so much that you can’t pay it off quickly since interest charges can wipe out your rewards.
  • Know how your card works in terms of bonus categories and reward limits, and take advantage of perks like member shopping portals.

Time to Read

4 minutes

May 9, 2022

If you have a rewards credit card, it’s a great feeling to know you’re earning points or cash back every time you use it. But did you know that with a little bit of planning, you can use your card to earn even more? Consider these ideas to maximize what you earn from your rewards program.

Make it your preferred payment method

When you use your rewards credit card as your go-to way to pay bills and everyday expenses, you can earn cash-back rewards or points on nearly all your spending habits. Filling up the gas tank or going to the grocery store? Grab your rewards card. Paying phone and utility bills, or ordering something online—earn rewards!

Make sure you compare the benefits of the rewards you can earn to the cost of the interest you’d pay if you don’t make your credit card payments on time and in full. It doesn’t make sense to pay a lot of interest to collect rewards points, but you may also avoid interest on payments by paying off your balance each month (which, as a bonus, may help your credit score). If you’re looking at a new credit card, factor in both the interest rate and annual fee compared to the reward rate, plus any sign-up bonus or other perks.

Check into bonus categories

Many credit card rewards programs offer additional points on specific types of eligible purchases. These may include travel rewards or for spending at drug stores, gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores, for instance. Find out which purchases qualify for bonus points, because sometimes that’s buried in the fine print. For instance, if a card offers bonus points for travel, that may include not just airfare, but also ordinary expenses like parking fees or hotel stays.

If you have a few different rewards cards in your wallet, use the best credit card for the specific purchase you’re making. For example, if you can earn 2 points on gas with one membership rewards card and only 1 point with another, use the card that pays 2 points when you purchase gas. And, pay attention to limited-time offers. Some credit card offers give you extra points for purchases that meet certain spending requirements or are in specific categories during certain times.

Pay attention to the details

Some credit card companies set dollar limits for the bonuses you can earn in certain spending categories. Some types of rewards may also have expiration dates. Make sure you understand the limits so you can manage your rewards and avoid losing points. And, check out how you can use your rewards and how easy they are to redeem. (Can you apply them to a travel credit or get them in cash or as a statement credit?) If you’re paying an annual fee for your rewards card, make sure the rewards you earn are worth more than the annual fee and the interest you’re paying. If you aren’t earning more than you’re paying, you may want to rethink your choice of credit card.

Check exclusive shopping portals

Many loyalty programs are associated with online shopping portals, like Navy Federal Member Deals. (Think of it as an online shopping mall for cardholders only.) The credit card issuer partners with retailers (like well-known clothing outlets, department stores or hotel chains) to offer additional perks. These could include discounts, enhanced warranties, additional points or other bonuses when you purchase through the portal.

If your credit card issuer offers an online shopping portal, check to see if they partner with your favorite retailers and how much more you can earn when using their site.

Find the right card for you

Your credit card should fit your personal finance and spending patterns. Here are some features to look for:

  • A “welcome bonus” when you sign up
  • Bonus rewards on everyday items
  • A long time to redeem points or a “rewards never expire” policy
  • Online shopping portals

Navy Federal Credit Union offers a variety of credit card options that can help you maximize your rewards earnings.

Credit Card Rewards Example
Spending CategoryPoints per DollarMultiplied ByMonthly SpendingEqualsPoints Earned
Gas stations/ supermarkets3x$700=25,200
Everywhere else1x$1,000=12,000

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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.