5 steps to get your rewards in order for the new year

Tony Mecia
Personal finance writer
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com

Best rewards practices

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The end of the year can be a busy and memorable time, filled with holidays, shopping and celebrations with family. But if you find yourself with some down time beforehand, it is also an appropriate time to take stock of your credit card rewards and make helpful changes you didn’t get to during the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year. 

Here is a checklist of five actions you might take to get your rewards house in order before the new year starts:

1. Review automatic charges.

You probably have bills set up to charge a certain card every month, such as a gym membership, Spotify or Netflix. Are those charges billing to the right credit card? Few such charges probably qualify for category bonuses, but make sure you are receiving the rewards you want from those charges. 

The same goes for card information stored with online retailers. For instance, if you use Amazon a lot and have received an American Express card in the past year, have you linked the American Express to your Amazon account? If so, you can pay for items using American Express reward points.

2. Make year-end charitable contributions.

A lot of people donate to charity at the end of December, so that those contributions can be deducted on tax forms that are due the following April. Any donations placed on a rewards card earn rewards, so make sure you are receiving rewards by using the right card.

Charitable contributions are also a smart way to meet sign-up bonus spending requirements on a new card.

3. Review spending and rewards balances.

Some card issuers send end-of-the-year statements allowing you to see how much you charged in each merchant category. You can use that statement as a report card to judge how well you did earning category bonuses.


Video: Credit card reward hacks

For instance, if you have one card that earns bonus rewards at restaurants and one that doesn’t, see how many times you used the one that doesn’t at restaurants. In those instances, you left reward points on the table.

You can also use the end of the year as a time to check and evaluate your reward balances connected to your credit cards. If you have airline miles, are you close to a reward threshold for a free flight? If you have a cash back card, is it time to request a statement credit (if your card doesn’t do that automatically)? Are any points about to expire?

Knowing the answers to those questions can help you plan how to allocate credit card spending.

4. Use any remaining credits.

As my colleague Summer Hull wrote earlier this month, you’ll want to use any outstanding travel credits before they expire. Those credits are usually only on high-end rewards cards with annual fees of $450 or more, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and American Express Platinum.

If you have an American Express Platinum card, you’ll also want to think about which airline you want to designate to be eligible for reimbursements: You can make that selection in January. 

5. Plan for new cards, purge old cards.

A lot of people make resolutions for the new year, and it is not too early to think about your reward card strategies for 2018. Take the time to explore new cards, and think about what kind of sign-up bonus might be best given your goals. Evaluate your cards when annual fees are coming due and consider canceling cards you seldom use. 

Accomplishing these objectives won’t take long. They’ll help make sure that you get the most out of your reward cards in the year ahead.

 See related: How to stack cards to save big, 7 ways to get the most from rewards credit cards

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Updated: 03-25-2019