Credit cards with rewards have continued to grow in popularity since their origins in 1989, when the first airline rewards cards were introduced. 

Nowadays you can be rewarded for every type of purchase, with your choice of airline miles, gas discounts, physical goodies or cash.

This fact makes rewards cards lucrative for virtually everyone. However, there are some pitfalls to watch for on your journey to making those flights or gift cards a reality. Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Choosing the Wrong Program for You
Cash-back rewards are a great option for many, but if you’re a globetrotting adventurer, then you may get more value out of your credit card by applying for travel rewards. Combine those rewards with an airline’s loyalty program for even more bang for your buck.

2. Paying With Cash Instead of Your Card
If you’re used to paying with cash for smaller purchases, you may be missing out on earning rewards points. Every little bit can help you reach your goal.

3. Failing to Take Advantage of Sign-Up and New Cardholder Bonuses
A new card might come with perks such as bonus points or a cash bonus for spending a certain amount within the first few months. Be sure to keep track of your spending so you don’t miss out on any of these new cardholder bonuses by just a few dollars.

4. Neglecting Rotating Rewards
Cards with rotating rewards will offer incentives (such as bonus points) for spending in specific categories (such as travel) during certain time periods. To take advantage of these bonuses, you may want to shift the timing of certain purchases.

5. Making Purchases Just for the Rewards
Think carefully—are you buying an item only because of the rewards? By not making the purchase at all, you could invest that money instead of earning just a fraction of it back.

6. Not Shopping in the Card’s Member Portal
Some credit cards offer online shops that let you buy from many of your favorite retailers, all while earning extra points or getting exclusive discounts. At Navy Federal, credit cardholders can shop our Member Deals online shop for special perks.

7. Using the Wrong Card for Your Needs
If you're planning to make a larger purchase and pay it off over time, you might want to use a lower-rate card without rewards to minimize the interest. Otherwise, the interest you pay may negate the value of any rewards you earn.

Rewards cards can pay off in big ways, but you’ll want to know all the ins and outs of your card to ensure that you’re maximizing your benefits. Ready to start earning rewards? Navy Federal offers credits cards to fit every lifestyle.