Credit cards are the backbone of the financing industry, driving profits to those institutions who manage their programs well. Competition for customers is fierce and, although consumers typically hold 4, 6, even 8 or more cards, getting them to use one card more than the rest is where profits can be found.
It doesn’t hurt that you run a monthly balance either, for the credit card issuer that is.
One of the most popular lures of credit card issuers are “rewards cards” those credit cards which offer incentives when used. Airline affinity cards were some of the earlier and most popular rewards cards created, but today that category has expanded as issuers contrive different ways to hook customers.
While some consumers still like to accumulate airline miles which can be used toward free flights, upgrades, even hotel stays and car rentals, their popularity has decreased over time. Airlines have made it more difficult to redeem accumulated points and points tend to expire faster than they can be redeemed.
Perhaps the best rewards card out there is the one you can tailor to your specific needs. These cards offer cash back or points toward other rewards, which typically include household items, sporting equipment, hotel stays, restaurant meals, etc. But, the rewards card game only becomes worth playing when you keep the following “rules” in mind:
No fees, no expenses, no monthly balances — Rewards cards should be obtained for free, with no annual fees, and they must be paid off monthly in order to reap the benefit of having one. As most rewards cards charge a high interest rate, carrying balances will serve to cancel out the benefit of accumulating points.
Free points — Oftentimes, to sweeten the deal, a credit card issuer will deposit a large sum of points in your account following the first time you use the card. This means that if you charge your breakfast at McDonald’s, you could be rewarded with an extra 2500, 5000, or even 10,000 points by using the card. From the start, you probably already have enough points to get a free gift, but resist that temptation and keep on accumulating for bigger and better things.
Cash in before they expire — Cards with points that never expire are a rarity as many programs start to remove points after two or three years time. Keep track of your points and save up for the bigger ticket items or cash rewards when you patiently wait to hit the next plateau. Many issuers offer further incentives if you keep accumulating; just don’t lose sight of those points which could start expiring if you wait too long.
Compare offers — Not all offers are the same, though most will pay one to three cents (points) for every dollar spent. Some will pay up to five points on select purchases, such as gas station fill ups, pharmacy visits, and grocery store purchases.
What is the best way to play the game? Answer: familiarize yourself with the credit card issuer’s rewards programs including the occasional program changes which are included with your monthly statement. Look for monthly specials too as that is one way for issuers to move discontinued or slow redeeming merchandise.
You can play the rewards card game and win: just follow the rules and you could score big!
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