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This may be the season to be jolly and it may be the season of goodwill to all men but more than anything else it’s the season to spend money. A lot of money. Like it or not November and December are the months in which most of us splurge more than we do the rest of the year so it should also be the time of year when we’re making sure not to leave any easy points, miles or rebates on the table.
There are a number of things everyone should be doing to make sure that they’re getting the most from their holiday spending:
- Using the correct credit cards when making purchases (maximizing bonus categories)
- Using credit card offers to maximize returns and to maximize rebates
- Using shopping portals to maximize returns and to maximize rebates
- Using the correct method of payment when making purchases
Using The Correct Credit Cards
Different credit cards offer different category bonuses and you should always be making sure than you’re making the most of these when you’re out shopping.
Cards like the Amex Everyday credit cards give good bonuses for spending at Grocery stores (great for holiday food shopping), cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Prestige give good bonuses for dining out (there’s a lot of socializing at this time of year) and travel (good for buying tickets to visit friends and relatives) and the Chase Freedom Card is currently offering 5% cash back (or 5 ultimate rewards points) per dollar spent at Department Stores (great for gift buying).
These aren’t the only credit cards that offer good category bonuses but I’m just using them as an example of what you should be looking out for when choosing which card to use when making a purchase.
Make sure you know what bonus categories each of your credit cards offers before you go shopping.
Using Credit Card Offers
A number of credit card issuers will have offers on their cards (like spend X and get a rebate of Y) but the most obvious example are the American Express cards.
Amex’s bonus offers are one of the biggest perks of having an Amex card and they can often be enough to earn you back whatever annual fee you may have paid for the card.
Right now there are targeted offers like 3x Membership Rewards points on spend at Amazon.com….
…numerous travel related offers (these are just a small example)….
…and offers at various stores….
…and all of these can really add up if you’re spending with these merchants anyway.
Don’t let these offers dictate where you spend your money (you should still be looking for the best deals) but you should always load these offers to your cards just in case you find yourself dealing with one of these merchants.
Using Shopping Portals
Most of the big travel providers (Airlines, Hotels etc…) have their own shopping portals that offer you loyalty points for clicking through their portals while on your way to most retailers you’ll be using this holiday season.
United Airlines, for example, has the MileagePlus Shopping portal where you’ll earn miles for shopping at stores like J Crew, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Kohls and more…..
…..so, if you’ll be shopping online anyway, why not maximise the points/miles you earn by using one of the many portals out there.
To help you along there’s a great website called evreward.com which will show you how many points the various shopping portals are offering for the stores of your choice.
So, for example, if I’m looking to shop at Nike the site will show me what points I will earn by clicking through the various shopping portals:
This means that I don’t have to visit each portal to make sure I’m getting the best deal.
The one downside to evreward.com is that it doesn’t show the cashback you can earn from Topcashback.com and, on a couple of recent occasions, I found Topcashback to be offering a better return than the other portals….just be sure to check before you choose your portal.
Using The Correct Method Of Payment
Hopefully you already know that if you really should be paying for anything with cash or with a debit card if you’re serious about this hobby….so that just leaves credit cards and gift cards.
In a lot of cases paying with a credit card will earn you the most points (although be aware that purchases through payment processors like PayPal will mostly not earn you any category bonuses) but there are definitely times when you should be using gift cards.
Two examples of when to use gift cards:
- You have a credit card like the Chase Ink card that earns 5 points/dollar at office supply stores where you can buy gift cards to any number of retailers. 5 points/dollar is more that you would be able to earn by simply using your credit card at these retailers so you’re better off buying gift cards at Staples/Office Depot and using those to do your shopping.
Examples of such retailers are Macy’s, Nordstrom, GAP and Banana Republic…all stores that readers are likely to be frequenting in the next few weeks.
- You have a credit card that offers a good points bonus or cashback at a grocery store (another good place to get gift cards) that exceeds what you would earn by using your credit card at the retailer where you’ll be using the gift card.
Make sure you’re also on the look out for websites offering discounts on gift card purchases – if you can buy a $100 Macy’s gift card for $90 (for example) that’s a cash saving worth having.
The one downside to using gift cards is that they don’t offer the same level of purchase protection as a credit card does – bear that in mind if you think it could be an issue.
“Think before you spend” should be the motto for this season.
Don’t spend money you don’t have – that’s just plain old dumb – and don’t leave cash or points on the table if you are going to be doing some spending.
Use evreward.com to check which portals have the best offers, check Topcashback to make sure you can’t do any better, make sure you know which bonus categories your credit cards offer, check that you’ve loaded up any Amex offers that interest you and don’t forget to consider gift cards as a payment option that may earn you more points than if you used your credit cards.