Seven steps to earning points.
It can be daunting to know where to begin earning points, and without proper guidance all the fine print can be overwhelming. This site, and many others like it, are here to help you make sense of all the ins and out of the points world.
1. Identify Spending Habits
Write down how much you spend per month in the following categories:
Don't forget any annual spending; for example maybe you spend $150 on clothes every six months, or $300 on new electronics every year. Those all count and should be factored into your spending, but don't worry about capturing every dollar - just the big stuff.
2. Find Credit Cards to Maximize Earning Based On Spending
Start researching card offers and pay attention to which purchase categories they offer points on, i.e. gas, dining, or groceries. If you spend the majority of your money on gas and groceries, there's no point in paying an annual fee for a card that gives you extra points on dining. I've listed some of my favorite cards on this website, but it's always good to check with the issuing companies (Chase, Barclay, Amex, etc) to see what they have. Two great tools for this search are:
Card Match - Checks to see if there are targeted offers for you with higher sign-bonuses.
Worth the fee? - Helps you quantify the points and perks of a card to decide if the annual fee is worth it.
Typically cards that have annual fees will earn you more points and/or come with more perks like airport lounge access or statement credits towards certain spending. One way to compare cards with and without annual fees is to quantify the extra points and/or perks you would earn. For example, let's say you'll earn 30,000 points a year with a card that has no annual fee, but 40,000 points with a card that has an annual fee of $95. Assuming there are no other perks that differentiate the cards, you're paying $95 for 10,000 points, which is a rate of 0.9¢. Click here to see if that's a good deal.
I try to limit the number of cards with annual fees that I sign up for, and am always looking for alternate cards that offer similar perks with lower or no annual fees.
If this process seems too time consuming or confusing, you can submit your information here and you'll receive an individually tailored plan based on your spending habits, goals, and preferences.
3. Earn Sign-Up Bonuses
Once you've applied and received your card(s) it's time to meet the minimum spending requirement. Some cards give you the sign-up bonus after making your first purchase, which could even be a pack of gum. Other cards may say that you have to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the card. There are three main ways to accomplish this:
Use the card for large upcoming payments: car repairs, furniture, travel, medical bills, etc..
Move all recurring bill payments (cell phone, utilities, insurance) to your card and use it for everything: groceries, gas, etc., regardless of the bonus categories.
Manufactured Spending: Purchasing something such as gift cards or money orders to earn points and then cashing out or selling the purchased item(s) to pay off the credit card bill. Click here and here for a great guide.
Once you've met the spending minimum, you can relax a little and only use the card(s) for the categories you earn bonus points on. Most people report receiving their sign-up bonus after the billing cycle when they qualified, while others have seen it earlier than that. If you don't see the bonus within 90 days of qualifying, then you should contact the issuing bank for help.
4. Use Cards For Everyday Spending
The more you spend the more you earn, but it's important to know which card to use for each type of purchase so that you earn the most points possible. Keep in mind that the bonus points are determined by the merchant ID of the business (i.e. restaurant vs. grocery store). The My Wallet page shows you which cards I have and what they're used for, but my main categories are below:
Chase Sapphire Reserve - dining & bars
Amex Premier Rewards Gold (soon to be Everyday Preferred) - gas & groceries
Chase Freedom Unlimited - all other miscellaneous spending
5. Move Recurring Payments To Credit Cards
Login to all the account(s) for your recurring bills and set them to go to the credit card(s) that will earn you the greatest number of points. The majority of my bills go on the Chase Freedom Unlimited since I get 1.5 points per $1 spent, but my monthly bridge toll bill goes on my Chase Sapphire Reserve because it's coded as travel, which earns 3 points per $1 spent.
6. Watch Points Accrue
Each month, shortly after you pay your bill, you will receive the points earned. I personally haven't had any problems with being shorted points by the credit card company but it's a good idea to keep an eye out for it. Some sites like Chase and American Express provide forecasts showing how much you're on track to earn.
After about 6 months, you'll start to get an idea of how many points you earn on a monthly and annual basis. Not counting sign-up bonuses, I estimate that my fiance and I earn on average about 65,000 points per year just from our everyday spending. We earn even more by taking advantage of deals like Amex Offers, Jet Blue Points through Amazon, and many more.
7. Use Points for Cash Back and/or Travel Rewards
Now for the fun part, using your points! Depending on the type of card you have and whether you prefer cash back or travel, you can begin to redeem your points.
For cash back and fixed points, most cards let you apply your points towards the statement bill, which is pretty-straightforward.
For travel, there are a few different ways:
With loyalty program cards, including but not limited to American Airlines, Hyatt, Marriott, and Southwest, your points will be deposited directly into your account and can be used for airfare, hotel and/or car rental depending on the program.
With flex points you can use your points for the following:
Cash back towards your credit card statement
Combining points and cash through the travel portal where you search for airfare, hotel, and/or car rental
Transfer points to a loyalty program and redeem through them
Always make sure to pay attention to the cash value of what you're getting for your points. Sometimes the travel portal will be a better deal than transferring to a loyalty program and vice versa.
Additionally, remember that you don't earn points for flying on a ticket that you bought with loyalty program points. However, if you use flex points through a travel portal you will earn points for the flight since the credit card company is giving the airline cash on your behalf.