Best way to track all those reward points?
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Dear Cashing In,
I have a few different reward credit cards, and it's tough to keep up with all the various points I'm earning. Some don't post until weeks later on my credit card statement, and sometimes there's no breakdown on how they were earned. Why don't the banks make it easier to track points? Are there any apps or record-keeping techniques that can help? -- Kristi
This problem is one of the realities of using multiple reward cards. Often, the ways to accumulate points and miles are complex. Especially if you have more than one card -- and surveys suggest that people do -- trying to track those points can be a confusing and time-consuming affair. How do you make sure you really earned triple points on gas purchases on Card A and received the frequent flier miles you were supposed to when using Card B at a certain airline's online shopping portal?
For the most part, you have to just trust the banks, or be super-vigilant in reviewing your account statements. For instance, in the two accounts I have with Chase, my monthly statements provide a summary of bonus points earned toward the top of the first page. If I go online, I can view individual transactions and how many points they earned. So if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can verify that your restaurant and travel purchases earned double points.
The problem is that if you have multiple cards, applying that level of detail to every transaction takes a lot of time. It requires familiarity with the websites of different banks.
As far as apps or websites that can help with rewards, there are a few different categories. The first set of apps we might refer to as reward maximizers. You enter information on what reward cards you have. Then when you go a store, the app recommends which one to use based on which offers the most rewards for that purchase. Sites in this category include Wallaby (CreditCards.com has a version of the Wallaby app called WalletUp), Reward Summit and Smorecard. These are free.
Then there are sites that help you track your award activity: earning and spending points or miles. These include AwardWallet, TripIt Pro, mileBlaster, Superfly, Traxo and Points.com. Some of these cost money and offer other features useful to travelers, such as making and tracking flight reservations and alerting you when points or miles are on the verge of expiring. They operate in a similar fashion: Enter all of your information from reward credit cards, frequent flier and hotel programs, and so on. Then, the sites collect the rewards data from those programs and present it on a single page. That approach helps solve some of the problem of repeatedly logging into different reward websites to glean information such as reward balances.
None of them, though, is able to analyze transaction-level credit card data to ensure you're receiving the correct points, however. At least not yet.
Alexi Vereschaga, co-founder of AwardWallet, one of the biggest and oldest companies in this category, told me that he expects his site will offer such capability in an upcoming version to be released in the next six months or so.
As of now, that information is available from individual bank websites, but it can be hard for people to keep up with, Vereschaga says.
"The problem is not that it's hard to see," he says. "It's that there is a learning curve for each loyalty program or credit card, where you have to learn the interface to get to the data."
Kristi, the best advice for now is to examine which cards to use in different locations to earn the most rewards, then examine your statements closely and use one of the tracking sites to help keep the process manageable.
Good luck!See related: Switching to a new card from the same bank, Avoiding your reward card's annual fee
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