Are you using credit card points correctly? If you haven’t taken a vacation on them lately, maybe not. We talked to Brian Kelly, a former Wall Street guy who now runs ThePointsGuy.com, a website devoted to the art of making the most of credit card rewards programs. Kelly regularly pays $5 for flights from Miami to New York, and once spent just $204 for a first-class Singapore Airlines ticket valued at $8000. “I’m an extreme,” he says, “but the rewards game is lucrative, and it’s real.” Here’s how to get in on it.
1. TAKE SIGN-UP BONUSES SERIOUSLY ...
Those offers of 10,000 or 20,000 points if you spend $3000 over the first three months of card ownership? Worth it, says Kelly. At one cent per point, you can make $100 or $200 out of your regular spending.
2. ... ESPECIALLY THE RIGHT ONES.
While most really great sign-up bonuses are targeted to consumers with high-spending histories, Kelly says that sometimes “offers can leak out through social media.” An American Express card once offered a 50,000-point sign-up bonus through its own website, and, at the same time, a 100,000-point bonus through CreditCards.com. Those who found the higher one just lucked out (or knew where to look).
3. SIGN UP ONLINE.
“Never sign up for a credit card in an airport,” Kelly warns. Or really, in person anywhere. The distractions and sales pressure make consumers vulnerable to accepting bad deals.
4. CHOOSE THE CASH-BACK OPTION.
Kelly advises that if you want perks that involve retail purchases, don’t try to score them redeeming points with stores. “You’re usually getting about 1 percent or less back, there.” Instead, go with a cash-back card that offers an extra bonus on whatever you spend the most money on (gas, groceries, travel, etc.). A good one should get you at least 2 percent.