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Maximizing card rewards after you've earned the sign-up bonus

To earn the most points, learn which card earns the most in what spending category

By  |  Published: July 4, 2017

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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Question Dear Cashing In,
For the past 10 years or so I had the same rewards card. Last year, my brother convinced me to get two new rewards cards. I finished the requirements for the sign-up bonuses. I still have the old card, too. I don’t want to get a new card just yet, but does it matter which of the cards I use going forward? – Dean

Answer Dear Dean,
Rewards programs are changing all the time. It is important to keep an eye on the different cards and offers that are out there, because one might come along that suits you. 

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to learn about cards and offers: websites, ads and family members such as your brother. Some rewards programs essentially give away money in the form of statement credits and travel. 

Just as important as what card to get is the question of what card to use. Many rewards cards have rich sign-up bonuses, but there is also ongoing value in using the right cards. 

The first step you want to take is to look at your three cards and see which of them give you extra rewards points for spending in different categories. Maybe one gives you double points at restaurants and gas stations and another one gives you double points on travel. Then make sure you use the correct card at the right place. CreditCards.com offers the Wallet app that points out which card is best for which purchase. 

Another step you should take – one that is often overlooked – is ensuring that your recurring payments are set up with the right card. If you have had the same rewards card for a decade, chances are that card information is stored with merchants that charge you monthly, or at least whenever you buy from them. 

This could be a diverse set of physical and online vendors that includes, for instance, you kid’s karate studio, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, Starbucks, Panera Bread, American Airlines, your gym and your electric company. 

With many of those vendors, it won’t matter which of your rewards cards you use. For instance, I know of no rewards card that offers bonus points for charging your electricity bill. 

But on other recurring expenses, the card could make a difference. Starbucks and Panera count as restaurants, and American and Uber count as travel expenses. So make sure those expenses are being charged on the card that gives you extra points. 

It’s probably worth spending some time scouring your old card’s statements to refresh your memory on which vendors have your card information. Then contact those vendors and update them with information on cards that give you the extra category bonuses. 

Making this switch probably won’t result in a big rewards bonanza. But over time, making sure that the right merchants have your most advantageous reward card information will add up and get you to your next reward more quickly.

See related: Build extra reward points with gift cards, Sizing up a credit card rewards scheme

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Updated: 08-23-2017

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