Cashback and other rewards credit cards are excellent tools to save big throughout the year. But rotating spending categories can make it challenging to maximize your points, especially when they’re outside of your everyday purchases.
One quarter you might collect a mountain of cashback while hardly earning anything in the next. But with some creative thinking, you can get the most out of your credit card rewards, even with rotating categories that don’t align with your regular purchases.
In some cases, the trick is simply taking stock. In others, you have to learn how to play your cards right.
CreditCards.com offers a few ways to maximize rotating spending categories — even if they don’t match your habits.
If you want to get the most rewards possible each quarter or month, Charles Rotblut, the vice president of the American Association of Individual Investors, told CreditCards.com, “It’s helpful if they can budget to think about ‘What do I need over the year or longer.’”
For example, between January and March 2018, Chase Freedom cardholders could earn 5% for each dollar on the first $1,500 spent on their internet, cable, and phone bills. Customers who used a service year-round and could cover a large portion of it could earn tons of rewards during those three months.
Similarly, if you want to buy a new phone in 2021, you could use a credit card that rewards you for the purchase. You could also browse products you need at retailers you usually don’t patronize.
Suppose your credit card offers 5% cashback at wholesale clubs one quarter. At the same time, you need to purchase printer ink and paper for your home office. Instead of heading to the office supply store, you might check out Sam’s Club or Costco instead. After all, “A ream of paper or printer ink is not going to go bad anytime soon,” Rotblut noted.
However, he also warns that cardholders should do their research to make sure they’re benefitting. “Is that price justified by the extra points?” If ink and paper cost more at a wholesale retailer, don’t overspend just to earn points.
If you have multiple credit cards and struggle to remember their bonus categories, Rotblut recommends using stickers. Whenever you check for rotating spending categories, take note on a sticker (such as file folder labels) and keep it on the back of your card. This way, you never have to worry about mixing up your cards and categories and earn the most points possible.
Use Your Card To Get Ahead On Holiday Shopping
It’s January, and the last thing you want to think about is holiday shopping. But according to The Simple Dollar founder Trent Hamm, rotating spending categories give you an advantage for gifting.
So how can you maximize your credit card rewards? Consider purchase gift cards or certificates to your friends’ and family’s favorite retailers, venues, restaurants, and more. Of course, make sure you check the expiration date so they can use them later on.
If supermarket purchases are a quarterly category, you can pick up gift cards from dozens of popular brands and still earn big.
This trick also works if you don’t have a car and don’t want to lose out on rewards for gas station purchases. Although groceries cost more at gas stations, you can find gift cards for various popular retailers.
However, Zach Honig, the editor-at-large for The Points Guy, warned that some transactions in the convenience store part of the gas station will be counted as a retailer and won’t count as gas station purchases.
So before you go all-in by buying a bunch of gift cards, make a smaller purchase like a coffee so you can determine how the transaction is categorized.
If you don’t like the idea of giving people gift cards, spending categories also provide chances to find some great presents. For example, many credit card issuers offer bonus categories aimed at holiday shopping during the fourth quarter of the year.
So if you find a few presents in October, Hamm said, “save the item in your closet until the gift-giving occasion.”
Make The Most Of Online Retail And Digital Wallets
Some retailers only accept certain credit cards, which can make it difficult to earn rewards. For example, Costco only takes Visas. If you have a Mastercard offering triple cash back at wholesale clubs, you might feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick. However, there’s a way to get around this.
First, you can use a Discover and Mastercard credit card on Costco’s website. You can find everything you need online, schedule pickup or delivery, and still get points. And if you’re not a fan of online shopping, you can use your Mastercard to purchase Costco gift cards online, collect your rewards, then use the cards in-store.
- Dratch, Dana. “When Rotating Categories Don’t Match Your Spending Habits.” CreditCards.com, 9 Mar. 2018, www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/maximizing-rotating-categories-discover-chase-freedom/.