Tips to Maximize Your Rewards During the Holidays

Dec 17, 2021

700x253 - holiday shopping blog

When you consider holiday spending, there seems to be no shortage of expense categories, from food and holiday decorations, to gifts, travel, and even activities to amuse your out-of-town guests. Although the National Retail Federation cites the projected average holiday spending at $997.73 per person in 2021, it will probably come as little surprise that experts consider a reasonable holiday budget for individuals in many California communities to be more than twice that amount.

For a solution on how get more for your money this holiday season while keeping your budget in check, a good place to start is your credit card rewards program. A strategic approach to earning and using your rewards can go a long way toward enjoying guilt-free spending, and a holiday filled with abundance and joy. For an effective approach to get the most value out of your rewards during the holidays, aim to incorporate at least a few of the following pointers into your plan of action:

Redeem points for gift cards to bolster your spending power

There are a number of important advantages for choosing gift cards as a redemption option when deciding how to use your credit card rewards. Not only do gift cards continue to top the holiday wish-lists of kids, teens and adults alike, but they are also highly convenient— allowing you dodge supply chain issues, save money on shipping, and snap them up easily at the last minute with email delivery. Gift cards are also a great way to offset costs on food and entertaining, since they can be used for takeout, catering and even holiday décor. But perhaps more importantly, you tend to come out ahead from a value perspective by choosing gift cards over merchandise, regardless of whether you’re shopping for yourself or others. In general, you’ll have to use more rewards points if you were to buy an item directly with your points, versus redeeming your rewards for a gift card, and then purchasing the same item. When it comes to earning points over the holidays, also keep in mind that buying gift cards with your credit card counts, unless your card’s terms of service states that gift card purchases are not eligible for rewards.

Use the online shopping portals connected to your credit card and check out special deals available at retail partners

You can often earn more rewards and stretch your points further by shopping through your credit card provider’s online shopping portal. Available exclusively to card holders, this platform offers the opportunity to earn bonus points and discounts by logging in, and using your credit card to make purchases on gift cards, merchandise and travel from scores of retailers and popular brands. In addition, you can earn bonus points and take advantage of special offers in-store by shopping at merchants that partner with your rewards program.

Find out whether your credit card offers revolving rewards

While many credit cards offer the same rewards throughout the year, others offer bonus rewards for certain purchasing categories that change each quarter. For instance, a card may provide a higher-level reward (like additional points or 5% cash back) on purchases made at departments stores one quarter, and then on restaurants the next. Other typical bonus categories might include specific retailers, home improvement, fuel, groceries and entertainment. Especially in a time of year when you’re doing more spending than usual, it can pay off to learn what the bonus categories are. Just note that in many cases, there is  a cap on the amount of bonus rewards you can earn per year or quarter.

Use your points for holiday travel  

Airlines aren’t the only credit cards to offer travel rewards. Many general credit card rewards programs enable you to redeem your points for a number of travel-related purchases and discounts, from airfare and hotel stays, to rental cars and cruise reservations. Your credit card may also provide travel and rental car insurance, or even access to an airport lounge. But as cautions, be aware of any blackout dates and note that travel-type rewards tend to require that you save up more points than other redemption options.

Consider giving points or gift cards to a charitable nonprofit

If the holiday spirit moves you, a great way to contribute to a worthy charity or important cause is to exchange rewards points for gift cards to be donated to the organization. Gift cards can be a helpful resource for shelters, holiday drives, food banks and other nonprofits that use them to purchase needed materials. Some rewards programs even allow you to donate rewards directly to charitable organizations by logging in to your account through the program’s charity page.

Don’t let your points expire

Keep in mind that some rewards programs have a “use it or lose it” policy, so be sure you’re aware of any expiration dates so you don’t lose out on opportunities. As NerdWallet has pointed out, expiration dates are more common among co-branded airline and hotel credit cards, because they must adhere to terms set by frequent flyer and hospitality loyalty programs. In most cases, more general credit cards (with notable exceptions) offer points that don’t expire as long as your account is in good standing. However, you can’t take the rewards points you have accumulated with you if you close your account.

Use your credit card for all your major purchases — if you know you’ll stay within your holiday budget

For those with a strong track record for living within their means, a great strategy for leveraging purchasing power through credit card rewards is to put virtually all your purchases on a credit card. But if you take this approach, you’ll want to be sure you can avoid carrying a balance from month to month, not just to avoid accumulating interest charges, but also for the benefit of your credit score. In fact, if you are aspiring for stellar credit and use your credit card for nearly everything you buy, it’s actually best to make multiple payments on your cards throughout the month in order to keep your credit utilization low.

Credit utilization measures the amount of revolving credit you are using as compared to how much credit lenders have extended to you. Put simply, it is the ratio of your outstanding credit card balances to your credit card limits. After paying your bills on time, keeping your credit utilization low is the second most important way to positively impact your credit standing. Conversely, a higher credit utilization ratio means a lower overall credit score. It’s generally advisable not to let your credit utilization exceed 30%. For superb credit, some experts say you should aim to get your credit utilization below 10 percent.

For the sake of you overall financial health, it’s critical that you stick to a reasonable budget if you plan to use your credit cards for the vast majority of your purchases this holiday season. But if you’re adept at maintaining a budget, putting almost everything on a credit card can be an excellent way to leverage your spending into greater rewards, discounts and special deals. Need some help in creating and managing a budget?  Consider taking advantage of The Police Credit Union’s free and secure online tool, MoneyTrac, which takes the guesswork out of the process, and makes it simple to track and monitor spending across all of your accounts.

Finally, if you have a Platinum Visa® from The Police Credit Union and have yet to enroll in the CU Rewards Program, the holiday season is an opportune time to start racking up points for every dollar you spend toward rewards like travel, gift cards, and a wide range of brand-name merchandise. Points are redeemable starting at 2,500, and you can earn bonuses and special offers by using your Platinum Visa to shop through the online CURewards Mall, or in-store at participating retail partners. What’s more, CURewards points do not expire as long as your account remains open and in good standing. Find details and enroll here.

Don’t have a credit card issued by The Police Credit Union yet? Along with a generous rewards program, our Platinum Visa features competitive rates as low as 9.25% APR* and secure online account access for payments and point redemption. Other benefits include no cash advance fees, payment and price protection, travel accident insurance, identity theft coverage, lost luggage reimbursement and more. Get the details about our contactless cards here.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. All new applications are subject to terms, conditions and credit approval. You must be at least 18 years of age to apply, and show ability to repay future balances or apply with a co-signer if you are under the age of 21. Rates, fees and terms are subject to change at any time, for current rates or other information, call us at 800.222.1391 or visit our rates page. 9.25% APR is the best rate and not available to all cardholders. Your Platinum Visa variable rate: 9.25%--18.00% will be based on your creditworthiness and may adjust with the market based on the Prime Rate as published in the Wall Street Journal (“Index”). For complete disclosure, click here.

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APR = "Annual Percentage Rate". Actual APR is based on your credit profile and may be higher than the lowest rate available. Posted rates may include promotional discounts and other terms and conditions. APY = "Annual Percentage Yield". Rates are subject to change without notice.

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