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Cashing In

Each week, veteran journalist Tony Mecia answers questions from CreditCards.com readers about rewards points -- getting them quickly and spending them wisely. Ask a question.

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Cashing In Cashing In

Will changing my award ticket to Israel cost me? -- Whether it's missile attacks or bad weather, when problems arise that hamper travel, airlines often waive fees to change award tickets ... (See Cancellation fees)

How couples can pool miles, transfer points for award travel -- Some couples get the same rewards card to double up on points, but find combining them can be tricky. Check out our review of the fees and restrictions for some of the most popular programs ... (See Points)

Eat out often? Stuff yourself with rewards for dining -- If you dine out often, you may as well be earning extra credit card rewards on all those restaurant tabs. To choose the right card, consider the type of reward you want, the cost of the card and other reward-boosting options ... (See Dining rewards)

Giving miles or points through a gift registry -- Donating rewards points for that special day sound appealing, but gift registries are a poor deal compared with alternatives ... (See Gifting miles)

Is a smart-chip card needed when I travel to Europe? -- European countries added EMV chips to credit cards years ago. U.S. issuers are just now catching up with the anti-fraud technology. But is an EMV card a must for European travel? ... (See Chip card)

Now the fun part: Tools, tips for choosing a frequent flier destination -- Award tickets can be hard to come by, but some airlines run specials and have other features to help you book your free trip ... (See Choosing destinations)

Do United's frequent-flier changes devalue its travel card? -- United is following other airlines in changing the way you earn miles for paid flights. But it won't necessarily affect credit card points chasers ... (See MileagePlus)

How to keep points from a company credit card -- If you've racked up a lot of AmEx points on your company credit card, but are changing jobs, it's worth signing up for a personal card so you can keep your rewards points ... (See AmEx rewards)

When you can, can't transfer rewards points? -- Shifting points between programs often comes with restrictions. But outright transfers are not the only way to get more options from your points ... (See Transfer points)

Avoid companions' checked-bag fees with wise card use -- Many people have found a way around checked-bag fees but you have to know where to look to get the most bag for your buck ... (See Free bags)

Sign up, max out, cancel, repeat: Rewarding, but dangerous to credit? -- Some frequent flier mileage chasers cancel cards as soon as they've hit their initial spending targets to earn rewards. But the strategy carries risk ... (See Sign-up strategy)

How to nab scarce award flights -- Airlines and card companies love to tout the ease of racking up miles, but when it comes to spending them, it's often not so easy. Advance planning and flexibility help ... (See Spending miles)

Supercharging rewards from online travel agencies -- Online travel agencies such as Orbitz and Expedia offer rewards cards. Whether they're right for you depends on your spending and travel patterns ... (See Travel rewards)

Rewards card switch: from fee to no-fee -- If your rewards card's fee is too high, it's time to look for alternatives. Switching may put a temporary dent in your credit score but it's usually more important to get a card that fits your needs ... (See Going no-fee)

Banks' travel rewards search engines fare well in find-a-flight test -- Whether you're using credit card rewards points or cash, you may find the best flight deals by going through card issuers' travel search engines ... (See Travel search )

Learn the reward points double-transfer trick -- You may know your rewards program has transfer partners that let you shift points. But your partner partners have partners, too, so you can double-transfer to get the program you really want -- though at a lower rate ... (See Double transfer)

Paying your tax bill with prepaid cards -- Popular Vanilla Reloads are becoming harder to find, but credit card rewards seekers still have options to avoid hefty tax-payment card fees ... (See Tax points)

Finding the best rewards card for frequent Saudi Arabia travel -- For a businessman who will be traveling to Saudi Arabia a lot for work, the advice is similar to that for other travelers: decide on an airline and hotel chain that fit your needs, then find a credit card tied to them. And don't forget about fees ... (See Saudi Arabia travel)

Should I ditch my checking account to earn credit card rewards? -- It can be tempting when a credit card issuer offers extra reward points for opening a checking account, but watch out for hidden costs and credit score dings before you make the jump ... (See Checking)

Finding the best rewards card for airline and hotel upgrades -- There have been some important changes in recent years in how airlines handle upgrades. That, of course, changes the calculation for what kind of card you should have in your wallet if upgrades are important to you ... (See VIP seats)

Switching to a new card from the same bank -- An issuer may conduct a hard pull on your credit record if you apply for a new card, even if you already have a card with that bank. But it's probably worth it if the card is a better fit ... (See Credit)

Delta changes award program; should you change your card? -- Delta's announcement that it will change the way flying customers earn miles doesn't affect how you earn on co-branded credit cards. Still, it may be worth reconsidering your rewards card strategy ... (See SkyMiles)

Must cards keep paying out at their original reward level? -- Cardholder agreements give issuers free rein to change reward programs. But if you think there's been an error, there are a few things you can do ... (See Shrinking rewards)

Reaping miles and points with everyday spending -- Lucrative sign-up bonuses are tempting but chasing them can be exhausting and fraught with credit risks. There are other ways to boost your credit card rewards ... (See Earn more)

Redeeming 'impossible to use' British Airways miles -- What to do with that stack of BA miles if you live in the U.S.? European award flights are loaded with surcharges but you still have lots of options ... (See Avios miles )

High-end reward cards offer luxury hotel perks -- Luxury hotel perks are not a reason to choose a credit card. But if you frequent top-end hotels, you may be able to squeeze some value from them ... (See Luxe perks)

How to score a rental car using a rewards credit card -- Scoring a free rental card with credit card rewards is not as straightforward as earning a free flight. But with a little know-how, you can do it ... (See Rental car)

How to destroy metal credit cards without killing your shredder -- The metal content in the Chase Sapphire Preferred card makes it hard to destroy with scissors or a shredder. So how can you safely dispose of it when it's time? ... (See Heavy metal)

Avoiding your reward card's annual fee -- You’ve banked the sign-up miles from your new card. Here’s how to escape yearly fees and keep your credit score up ... (See Annual fee)

How to get to that long-haul international flight for free -- A trip to the Middle East is expensive, whether you're paying with reward points or dollars. But combining a couple of credit card sign-up bonuses can nearly get you there for free ... (See Bonuses)

Which credit cards earn the most reward points at Wal-Mart? -- If you're a regular Wal-Mart shopper, maximizing your rewards earning potential can be tricky. The store slips through the cracks of many bonus-earning categories, but there are a few options ... (See Wal-Mart rewards)

Using credit cards to unlock elite airport lounges -- Credit cards that offer access to airport lounges tend to have high fees. But they're often the least expensive way in, and may be worthwhile if you're a frequent traveler ... (See Lounges)

Award charts are key when considering hotel cards -- Just because it's easy to rack up points on a hotel card doesn't mean you'll become a resort regular for free. If the points are worthless, you may be better off with a different card ... (See Hotel rewards)

Use a different card, but keep priority boarding privilege -- You have to request cardholder status when your boarding pass is issued in order to qualify for priority boarding privileges ... (See Boarding)

Defaulting on card may cost you your AmEx points -- If you have more than just a missed payment or two, American Express gives itself the right to cancel your account “for any reason.” If it cancels your account, you forfeit all of your points ... (See AmEx points)

Credit card perks can save you cash this Christmas -- From special rewards rates to price protection programs, a number of credit card perks can smooth your holiday shopping ... (See Holiday perks)

Earning rewards for telecom purchases -- AT&T offers two rewards cards that earn savings on your phone or Internet bill. But other rewards cards may offer a better deal ... (See Telecom rewards)

Cheap ways to renew soon-to-expire BA Avios points -- If you're not flying with British Airways anytime soon, you can still avoid losing your miles with the help of one of your rewards credit cards ... (See Renew points)

Do chip-and-PIN cards work in the US? -- A chip card issued in the U.S. will work here because point-of-sale terminals will read the mag stripe and ignore the embedded microchip. The same is true of cards issued overseas -- unless the issuer ignores the mag stripe, which is happening more often ... (See EMV in USA)

How do I redeem miles on alliance partner airlines? -- In most cases, you can book your flight in the same way you would a flight on the airline that holds your award miles. There may be some exceptions, though ... (See Miles)

Can you claim frequent flier miles after death of a parent? -- Airline policies on the transfer of miles after a death are often restrictive, but it's always worth calling and asking. You've got the best chance if the deceased left the miles to you in a will ... (See Miles)

Do I need a chip card in Africa? -- It's a good idea to bring a chip card if you're traveling to Africa, especially if you plan to travel between regions. Adoption rate of EMV technology throughout Africa was 77 percent by the end of 2012 and continues to expand ... (See Chip card)

Which credit cards are best for expedited airport security screening? -- If you travel internationally a lot, you might consider one of the premium credit cards that offer to refund your application fee for Global Entry, the U.S. Customs program allowing expedited entry into the U.S. ... (See Global Entry)

4 free, underused card perks -- Free upgrades, refunds, companion tickets and museum admissions are just some of the card perks you may be missing out on ... (See Credit card perks)

Is an award flight taken for business tax-deductible? -- A flight taken for business purposes is covered under Section 162 of the IRS Code. But nowhere does it say that if you use frequent flier miles to pay for the flight you can deduct the expense -- which means you can't ... (See IRS)

What’s the best rewards card for parents with kids in school? -- If you have kids away at college you'll need a rewards card that can help pay for travel -- and everyday expenses. Several fit that bill, but you may have to pay an annual fee ... (See Parents)

Can I churn my Hilton credit cards for more sign-up bonuses? -- American Express and Citi credit cards that earn Hilton HHonors points are churnable -- meaning you can cancel them and later reapply to get a new sign-up bonus. But you need to know a few things first ... (See Churning)

What's the better hotel credit card -- Hyatt or Marriott? -- Choosing the best hotel card is a matter of weighing each card's perks against your travel needs, as evaluating the pros and cons of each is an apples-to-oranges comparison ... (See Hotel cards)

The best card for a long stay in Vietnam? -- A rewards card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and is widely accepted is the best bet for a three-month trip to Vietnam. Prepaid travel cards are an option, too ... (See Vietnam)

How does the Southwest Rapid Rewards card stack up? -- Domestic airline Southwest is often overlooked by rewards-chasers because you generally get more bang for your mile with international flights. But if you're primarily interested in U.S. flights, the Rapid Rewards card is worth a look ... (See Southwest Rapid Rewards)

Booking via travel website may affect reward miles, perks -- If you use a co-branded card to buy tickets through a third-party aggregator such as Travelocity or Orbitz, you may give up bonus miles offered for booking direct. But with a little work, you should be able to claim most of the perks ... (See Online agents)

How do I get rid of my dormant AmEx Green card without hurting my score? -- If you drop an inactive credit card to save on annual fees, should you ask for a credit limit increase on other cards to mitigate damage to your credit score? ... (See Rewards shuffle)

Groceries bought at Wal-Mart, Costco don't earn extra rewards -- Generally, processors do not count big-box stores (Target and Wal-Mart) or warehouse clubs (Costco) as grocery stores. If you do the bulk of your stocking up with those retailers, you'd be better off with a rewards card co-branded with one of them ... (See Rewards)

Have job, will travel, need points: Best bets for hotel rewards cards -- Marriott Rewards consistently wins travelers' awards for best hotel rewards in the Americas, but there are other cards to also consider if you'll be traveling a lot for business ... (See Hotel rewards)

What are the best debit cards for ATM withdrawals overseas? -- ATM fees overseas may come from the bank issuing the card, from the ATM itself, or from card networks like Visa and MasterCard. A few debit cards rise to the top when it comes to keeping these fees in check ... (See ATM fees)

When bankruptcy freezes an airline credit card, what happens to the miles? -- If a rewards card is frozen during bankruptcy, you may still have access to most of the points you've earned. It depends on whether the card is co-branded with a travel partner ... (See Salvaging miles)

Credit card churning: not a game to play while house-hunting -- "Churning" -- taking on new credit cards to get sign-up bonuses and then canceling the cards -- will ding your credit score. The hit is usually minor but it's not a smart idea if you're thinking of buying a house soon ... (See Card churning caution)

New card options let travelers avoid foreign transaction fees -- Most U.S. credit card issuers tack a fee of up to 3 percent onto purchases made overseas. Those fees can really add up but there are some new ways to avoid them ... (See Fee-free cards)

How to earn more travel rewards without getting a new card -- The fastest way to rack up credit card rewards is through sign-up bonuses. If you don't want a new card, there are still ways to boost your earning potential ... (See Maximize rewards)

If my oldest card's rewards aren't paying off, should I cancel? -- It's usually not worth shelling out for an annual fee if a card's rewards don't at least pay for it. But if that card happens to be your oldest one, will canceling the card hurt your credit score? ... (See Oldest card)

What’s the best low-hassle cash-back card? -- If you travel a lot by car, airline reward cards won't do you much good. You'll be better off with cash-back cards that offer rewards in driver-friendly categories ... (See Cash back)

Can I get more rewards by using my hotel's app? -- Hotel chains are creating smartphone apps that allow you to reserve rooms, find info and maybe even earn triple points -- all on the go ... (See Hotel apps)

How can I upgrade to a chip card before a trip to Europe? -- Customer service tells a traveler he won't need a smart-chip card in Europe. But many kiosks won't accept cards without them. There are a couple of avenues left to pursue to get an upgrade without having to apply for a whole new card ... (See Chip-and-PIN cards)

Are miles earned on my employer's credit mine, and are they taxable? -- A frequent flier wonders if miles earned on her organization's card are hers. And if so, how does the IRS treat them? ... (See Who owns company miles?)

AirTran, Hilton HHonors cards change; how it affects you -- An airline merger and reshuffle of Hilton's loyalty program bring changes for frequent travelers. If you have credit cards that earn rewards for those programs, here's what to expect ... (See AirTran, Hilton changes)

Canceling card, reapplying won't earn multiple sign-up bonuses -- Canceled your credit card and reapplied, hoping for a second sign-up bonus? You may be out of luck. It's not so easy to churn cards for rewards anymore ... (See Bonus churning)

Without my American Airlines credit card, how do I keep my miles from expiring? -- Most airlines require you to use (or lose) your miles now and then. But you don't have to take a flight to keep them from expiring ... (See Keeping miles active)

Is there any easy way to track points and miles? -- Third-party websites and apps are the way to go if you're looking to manage multiple rewards programs more easily. AwardWallet is one of the best tools around -- but it has a major limitation ... (See Wrangling points)

Best business credit cards in the $100 fee tier -- If you want more business card rewards than a free card, but balk at a massive annual fee, consider these mid-tier choices. Their sign-up bonuses and ongoing rewards help defray the costs ... (See Milking rewards)

How will the airline merger affect my US Airways miles? -- It's too early to know exactly how the merger will play out. But there are a number of changes you can anticipate and steps you can take to maximize your mileage ... (See Mileage lift)

Best reward cards to win top priority for early boarding -- Most airline rewards cards list 'priority boarding' as a perk, but that may not mean what you think. You'll get aboard before the hordes, but after premium seat holders and elite cardholders ... (See Priority boarding)

Travel rewards vs. cash back pits aspirations against practicality -- Cash-back rewards can be used to pay down debts, buy plane tickets, or any number of other things. But there is an aspirational value to travel rewards ... (See Choosing rewards)

How to boost rewards for Valentine's Day gifts -- If you play your credit cards right, you can score points from your honey and for yourself by using a rewards card running a Valentine's Day promotion ... (See Sweetheart deals)

Churning cards for multiple sign-up bonuses -- Canceling cards and signing up for them again to maximize bonus points is a practice known as "churning." Some banks make that easier than others ... (See Rewards churning)

Delta's revenue-based elite status system adds AmEx incentive -- Delta's rewards system adds spending requirements for elite status in 2014. But Delta AmEx holders may have a workaround ... (See Skymiles changes)

How to get elite status at hotels quicker -- This is an excellent time to get into a hotel loyalty program with a rewards credit card: Their seasonal promotions can help you achieve 'elite' status faster ... (See Elite status)

American Airlines cardholders lose elite boarding perk, gain opportunity to pay for others -- Citi AAdvantage cardholders will no longer get to board American Airlines flights with elite passengers, but they're still at the front of the Economy queue ... (See AAdvantage rewards)

Best card for small business gas rewards -- For small businesses that guzzle gas, it pays to look for the right credit card. The best rewards come from programs that aren't tied to one gas station. ... (See Best gas rewards)

Upgrading your account for higher rewards can pay off -- Upgrading from the Chase Southwest Visa Plus card to the Southwest Visa Premier gets you a better reward deal. But if the bank treats it like a new account, your credit score could take a hit ... (See Upgrading for rewards)

Airline exclusions - aka No, you can't earn rewards on a free rewards flight -- Airlines' exclusions policies limit where you can use frequent flier miles, and that prevents you from earning extra miles while using your free ones ... (See Exclusions)

Which credit card will get me home for the holidays next year? -- Choose the right rewards card now to earn a free cross-country trip in a year. ... (See Travel for free)

NZ the EZ way: Flying to New Zealand using points, miles -- Earning enough points for a US-New Zealand flight takes patience, but some airline deals now can make it easier ... (See New Zealand deals)

When buying airline miles is worth the investment -- Buying airline miles usually doesn't pay off, but with some of the soon-to-expire deals, now could be a good time to top off your balance ... (See Buying miles)

Exchanging rewards points for miles is rarely a good deal -- Trading points for miles may get you a free trip faster. However, there are usually significant trade-offs -- unless you can find the right promotion for your points ... (See Swapping points for miles)

Best ways to 'top off' your frequent flier miles, earn enough points to fly free -- Want to head home for the holidays but short a few points for a free flight? Here's how to top off your frequent flier account with enough air miles to go ... (See Top off )

Basic frequent flier perks shrinking as airlines push top-tier programs -- Airlines are now more interested in luring us to second-level elite status (50,000 EQMs), so they're taking some goodies away from base-level elite members ... (See Frequent flier perks)

Cheap ways to keep frequent flier miles active -- Spending a $1.29 per song at the iTunes store is one cheap way to keep your miles active. There are plenty of others ... (See Keeping miles active)

Generic miles card vs. airline-specific rewards: Know when to use each -- Either a generic rewards card or an airline specific card could be best, depending on your schedule, the flight and its cost ... (See Airline rewards)

Find the best credit cards to get flights to Peru -- When searching for the best reward card bonuses to rack up free miles to faraway lands, you need to do a little research before you apply ... (See Airline rewards programs)

Travel insurance on credit cards -- The flight you purchased with your airline card gets delayed: will the company cover the costs created by travel hiccups? ... (See Credit card trip insurance)

Ooh, leftover business air miles. Can I use them? -- A CFO with a company credit card finds that his predecessor left a bunch of unused accrued rewards. Can the new guy eat the leftovers? ... (See Leftover rewards miles)

Best ways to find good deals on frequent flier flights -- What's your best bet for arranging reward travel? Skip the travel agent and go searching yourself ... (See Frequent flier)

Chip cards necessary for charging overseas? -- With magnetic-stripe credit cards being phased out in Europe, how necessary is it for Americans to get the new chip-and-PIN variety while traveling? ... (See Chip cards overseas?)

Bequeathing frequent flier miles in your will - Cathleen McCarthy -- When your time is up, you can't take your frequent flier miles with you, but you may be able to bequeath them to friends and relations ... (See Bequeath your miles)

Redeem reward miles for in-flight meals and entertainment? McCarthy -- Some travelers would rather fly more comfortably than more often. Can they use accumulated miles for in-flight expenses such as food, movies and drinks? ... (See Miles as in-flight cash)

Getting the card with the most travel perks for employees - McCarthy -- Reward your employees with a small business credit card that rewards them with quality travel perks ... (See Card perks for employees)

Credit card rewards that don't require points or miles -- The talk of credit card rewards is all miles and points, but what other perks exist to entice you to one card over another? ... (See Credit card perks)

Occasional traveler? Hoard your credit card rewards for international flight -- If you take just a handful of flights a year, it could take years to get enough frequent flier miles to redeem for a domestic flight, so consider holding out for international travel ... (See International flight reward)

Why don't miles show up on my credit card statement? Cathleen McCarthy -- Purchases made with an airline credit card can get you reward miles, often at one mile per dollar spent, but why can't you see an up-to-date tally on your credit card bill? ... (See Where are my air miles?)

Use Worldpoints to buy Walmart gift cards? Cathleen McCarthy -- One reader wants to use her card's points on Walmart gift cards, but depending on the point total, cash back may be the way to go. ... (See Worldpoints redemption)

Airlines charging family-unfriendly fee for aisle, window seats - Cathleen McCarthy -- If you want to fly next to your young children, get ready to be zapped by airlines with fees for window and aisle seats ... (See Airline seat fees)

Can transferring miles between two cards get you more miles? Cathleen McCarthy -- Some credit card companies allow you to transfer accrued airline miles from one of their cards to another for bonus miles. Does yours? ... (See Transferring flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: The battle of generic versus frequent flier miles -- A primer on how both generic credit cards and airline-specific cards offer and redeem travel miles -- and which is best for you. ... (See Generic vs. frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Wide body traveler seeks credit card for first-class seat -- A horizontally blessed traveler wonders which frequent flier credit card would give him the best deal on upgrading to the larger, first-class seats ... (See Frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Trading in unused credit card rewards -- Scout around before you cancel a rewards credit card that doesn't suit you now. Your deal may get sweeter and third-party websites offer another option ... (See Unused credit card rewards)

Consumers traveling this summer plan to use rewards, survey says -- Summer is the time to get away for a little while, and according to a survey, consumers are cashing in on those credit card rewards to do so ... (See Vacationers using reward points)

Keep things simple with a cash back credit card -- Want an uncomplicated, easy-to-use rewards card? Instead of killing yourself keeping track of rotating rewards programs, try a simple cash-back card ... (See Cash-back credit cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to get points for small town hotel stays -- If your job takes you to small-town America, you can still find a rewards credit card that gives you big points for frequent motel stays ... (See Earning small-town hotel rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Is trading credit card reward points for product a good deal? -- Keeping up with rotating rewards points programs takes time and energy, so is buying stuff with your points instead a better option? ... (See Cashing in rewards points)

Cathleen McCarthy: Are business card flier miles taxable? -- When cashing in on miles acquired through business card use for personal travel, is there any risk of having to pay taxes on those miles? ... (See Frequent flier miles)

Credit score impact of pumping and dumping rewards cards -- Applying for big bonus rewards cards, racking up points and then canceling the card requires a credit score and a lot of discipline ... (See Rewards credit cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Is airport lounge access a true credit card perk? -- A newbie business traveler questions the value of airport lounge access if she decides to apply for a new frequent flier credit card ... (See Airport lounges)

Cathleen McCarthy: Transfer miles or buy outright to gift flights? -- Want to present a special someone with the gift of free airfare? What a sweet idea -- but watch out for those fees! Find out the best ways to cash in your extra miles before you act ... (See The gift of flight)

Cathleen McCarthy: Do you lose rewards on returned purchases? -- You racked up a boatload of points on that new TV, but now you're having second thoughts? Be prepared for bad news ... (See Points and returned purchases)

Cathleen McCarthy: Want a rewards card with an annual fee? Run the numbers first -- If you're wondering whether it's a good move to pay the annual fee with that new rewards credit card, a little bit of math can help clear things up ... (See Annual fee)

Cathleen McCarthy: Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card? -- The company pays, and an employee flies, but who gets the miles for that flight? It turns out that neither party will end up empty-handed ... (See Corporate cards and frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Which rewards card is the best for travel upgrades? -- Looking to pay for travel upgrades with rewards points? We'll lay out some of your best options ... (See Rewards upgrades)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to steer clear of frequent flier blackout dates -- Blackout dates drive many frequent fliers mad, and they can vary between airlines. These tips will help you navigate around these restrictions and fly away ... (See Rewards blackout dates)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to maximize the value of your rewards card -- Can't decide on which rewards card to get? The most important thing to do, our expert says, is make sure the card is a good match for your spending habits ... (See Maximizing card rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: What to consider before canceling your airline miles card -- Before you cancel your airlines miles credit card in a frustrated huff, stop, take a deep breath, and consider the impact on your credit ... (See Canceling rewards cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Want elite miles from your card? Be sure to shop around -- Most credit cards won't help you get elite status with an airline, but there are some that do. Our expert helps a reader in search of the card that's best for him ... (See Credit card elite miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: If you close a card, you often lose your points immediately -- Closing a credit card? In most cases, you should you use up all your points or miles before you close the card. Otherwise, your hard-earned rewards will vanish before you can enjoy them ... (See Canceling rewards cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: What to consider before applying for a cash back credit card -- One percent cash back for buying this, 5 percent back if you buy that -- how do you figure out which of the many cash back cards out there is the one that's right for you? ... (See Cash back credit card)

Cathleen McCarthy: Airlines offer better elite frequent flier deals -- Airlines may have made it easier for people get miles without ever setting foot in an airport. However, those who earned the miles the old-fashioned way get special perks ... (See Elite frequent flier status)

Cathleen McCarthy: Rewards card holders' biggest mistake? Not using their miles -- Sure, rewards programs can be complex and confusing. However, the biggest mistake rewards cardholders make is one that's amazingly simple ... (See Rewards mistakes)

Cathleen McCarthy: How to maximize your 'mileage run' to elite flier status -- Panicking because you're just short of getting elite status on your favorite airline? There are ways to get there without breaking the bank ... (See Mileage run)

Cathleen McCarthy: Credit card rewards options abound for sports junkies -- From the NFL to the PGA, credit card companies offer rewards card to suit most every sports fan. Our expert lays out some of the best options ... (See Sports rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: 5 easy ways to get more credit card rewards points or miles -- Issuers offer countless ways for miles-hungry customers to get their fix. Here are some of the easiest methods for getting all the miles or points you desire ... (See Get more miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Changing airline cards shouldn't cost you your miles -- Transferring the balance from one airline's credit card to another airline's card won't impact the miles that you've already earned ... (See Changing airline cards)

Cathleen McCarthy: Are rewards card sign-up bonuses just for new customers? -- A Chase cardholder wants to upgrade his old card for a new Chase card with a great sign-up bonus. Our expert says he might lose his old card's points in the process ... (See Rewards card sign-up bonus)

Cathleen McCarthy: Be mindful of your card's hassle-to-rewards ratio -- Is your rewards card more hassle than it's worth? Our expert lays out how you can figure that out for yourself ... (See Are rewards cards worth it?)

Cathleen McCarthy: Authorized users can't access rewards without special permission -- If you're an authorized user on someone's credit card, the only way you can access the rewards points for the purchases you've made is if the primary account holder gives you special access ... (See Authorized users and rewards)

Cathleen McCarthy: What to consider before getting a hotel credit card -- If you travel a lot and you've got all the airline miles you need, getting a hotel credit card could be wise, our expert says. Here's what you need to know before you pick one ... (See Hotel credit cards)

Cathleen McCarthy Q&A: Short a few air miles? Negotiating won't work, but there are options -- Our expert says don't expect to talk your way into paying 25,000 miles for a 35,000-mile seat. However, if you're flexible and willing to do some homework, you should be able to find a deal ... (See Negotiating frequent flier miles)

Consider your credit when pursuing card sign-up bonuses -- Rewards card sign-up bonuses are a great way to build up more and more miles. However, if you overdo it, it can hurt your credit. Our expert tells how ... (See Sign-up bonuses)

Cathleen McCarthy: Sharing or selling airline miles can be risky, pricey -- Giving your miles away may be noble, and selling your miles may sound wise, but it's important to know that neither move is free of risk and cost. Our expert lays out the details ... (See Selling, sharing frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Frequent flier? Opt for airline card over cash back -- Our expert says that if you fly regularly, you're better off with a miles card than with cash back -- especially if you're loyal to one airline ... (See Miles or cash back?)

Cathleen McCarthy: Bankruptcy and frequent flier air miles - are they an asset, or protected? -- With 300,000 miles and $60,000 in debt, a reader fears his air miles might be seized if he files for bankruptcy. Our expert says his concerns are justified ... (See Bankruptcy and frequent flier miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Too sick to use ticket bought with frequent flier miles? You have options -- If an illness is likely to keep you from using your award ticket, don't panic. Our expert lays out what you can do to ensure you don't lose those miles ... (See Canceling award tickets)

Cathleen McCarthy: How do generic miles stack up against airline rewards? -- Our expert breaks down the differences between airline-specific miles and generic miles rewards, from how they're earned to how they're redeemed and beyond ... (See Generic miles vs. airline miles)

Cathleen McCarthy: Cashing in miles? Make sure it's worth it -- Be sure you're getting the most bang for your frequent flier miles when you redeem them. Our expert shows you how to do the math ... (See Cashing in flier miles)

Want to be elite? Know that all miles aren't created equal -- Miles earned by spending on an airline credit card can get you free flights and more, but they likely won't get you elite status with the airline ... (See Elite qualifying miles)

How high is too high for a rewards card's annual fee? -- When determining whether a rewards card's annual fee is too high, the most important thing is to know thyself -- or rather, thine travel habits ... (See Compare rewards cards' annual fees)

Cathleen McCarthy: Late credit card payments may cost you rewards points -- If you're late paying your credit card bill, you may end up losing some rewards points. But the good news is that they likely won't be gone forever ... (See Lost rewards points)

Cathleen McCarthy: Beware of opening, closing cards quickly to get rewards points -- Signing up for a bunch of new credit cards and getting all the sign-up bonus points may sound like a fast, easy way to a free flight. Your credit may pay a price, though ... (See Rewards points)

Cathleen McCarthy: Cash back or miles? Ask yourself these 6 questions first -- Cash back or miles? Cash is more straightforward and the better deal for most people. But if you travel frequently, miles can give you more bang for your spend ... (See Cash back or miles?)

Pitfalls of pumping, dumping sign-up bonus cards -- The "pump and dump" strategy of taking advantage of huge bonus sign-up reward points or miles can really mess with your credit if you're not smart ... (See Rewards)

Are your air miles at risk if you fall on hard times? -- A reader wonders what would happen to his miles if he closes his credit card account, settles with the card company or goes bankrupt. ... (See Miles)

Be wise when cashing in rewards points -- To reap the most out of credit card rewards programs, it's important to pay attention to which rewards give you more bang for the buck ... (See Points)

The greatest gift of all: free travel -- When offered someone else's frequent flier miles for travel, there are some rules of the road that you should follow. ... (See Free!)

Your rights when dealing with canceled flights -- When your flight is canceled, you might be surprised to find that the airlines aren't legally required to do much to accommodate you. ... (See Canceled)

Who owns the rewards on a company card? -- If you are given the option to pay for the AmEx rewards program membership, then most companies should cede ownership of those perks to you ... (See Rewards)

Finding rewards cards with local customer support -- When searching for a rewards credit card program, some consider outsourced, foreign customer support a huge detractor. ... (See Rewards)

Comparing value of cash back cards vs. rewards -- The value of credit card rewards programs are as different as their participants. Free travel may have more appeal than cash back or vice-versa. ... (See Cash)

Multi-airlines cards versus single-airline cards -- Both multi-arlines rewards cards and single-airline cards have pluses and minuses, and which is right for you depends on what kind of frequent flier you are. ... (See Perks)

Do you lose your miles when canceling a card? -- When canceling a frequent flier credit card, make sure you know how your miles are cached or you just might lose them. ... (See Cancel)

Determining value of rewards redemption -- While typically not the best value for your rewards points, redeeming for merchandise can be handy when real "money" is more important in your pocket than any amount of miles or point ... (See Merchandise vs. miles)

Canceled flight? Want your miles back? Good luck! -- A poor flight experience doesn't mean you can dispute the charges on your credit card and get your miles reimbursed. ... (See Miles)

Using frequent flier miles for tax-deductible business trip? Figure fair market value -- Using frequent flier miles for a tax-deductible business trip? Careful: There are two ways to determine their value. ... (See Miles)

Tricks and tips to keep frequent flier miles from expiring -- You don't have to book a ticket to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring -- you just have to shop. ... (See Expiration)

Tracking rewards program changes before they happen -- Credit card rewards programs change all the time, but if you keep on top of things and are flexible, you can cash in those miles or rewards before you lose them. ... (See Rewards)

How to find the best airline rewards bonus miles deal -- In the market for a new rewards card? Make sure you scour Google to make sure you get the best bonus miles deal out there. ... (See Free miles)

Debunking myths about frequent flier programs -- Even with flights being cut back, now is the time to redeem your frequent flier miles. Competition for once-rare seats has lessened and airlines have made it easier to comparison shop. ... (See Cashing in)

How the IRS treats frequent flier credit card rewards -- are they taxable income? -- When cashing in frequent flier miles, it's important to know whether the IRS considers them gifts or taxable income. ... (See IRS)

Online credit card applications: FAQ about CreditCards.com and your card application -- If you're wondering whether it's safe or smart to apply for a credit card here at CreditCards.com, it's both. Here are answers to frequently asked questions ... (more)

Tony Mecia template --

Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Dear Cashing In, Dear Reader, See related: Switching to a new card from the same bank, Avoiding your reward card's annual fee
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