How to boost your credit card rewards with holiday shopping

Take advantage of special bonuses and gift cards to boost your rewards earnings

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.

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How can I boost my credit card rewards on holiday shopping?

Gift cards are the way to go this season as most consumers like to receive them as holiday gifts, surveys show. 

Take advantage of any special bonuses your credit cards may offer by purchasing gift cards where you'll earn the most rewards, not simply where you'll see them first.

Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,

What are some good ways to boost my credit card rewards with holiday shopping? – Marcus

Dear Marcus,

The holiday season is upon us, and there’s a lot of spending going on: Consumers are expected to spend an average of $1,007 this season, up 4 percent from last year, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation and Prospect Insights & Analytics. 

With spending on the rise that also means that the opportunity to increase the amount of credit card rewards you earn is also heading upward.

See related: Should I apply for a store card this holiday shopping season?

Planning holiday shopping strategically

The main way to boost the rewards you earn is to try to use your rewards credit cards for as many purchases as possible, instead of paying by cash or check.

Of course that makes sense only if you are able to pay off your monthly bill on time and in full. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to load up on credit card debt.

Another important step is to take note of any category bonuses you have on your cards and to make sure that you use them in the stores where they earn the most points.

Few cards offer bonus points at department stores, but there might be other places where you shop – office-supply stores, Amazon, high-end grocery stores – where cards can offer extra points.

Of course, should you have a particular store’s card, use it there, since it probably offers discounts or enhanced rewards.


Tip: Also known as mobile gift cards, electronic or e-gift cards can now be sent via text and used instantly. You can store them in a digital wallet, personalize them to make one-of-a-kind holiday gifts and even buy them at a discount or using rewards points. Read "E-gift cards: 7 tips to pick the right digital present" to learn more.

Earn bonus rewards via gift cards

One area where you can almost certainly earn extra reward points is by being selective about where you shop for gift cards.

Surveys consistently show that gift cards are among the most popular holiday gifts.

The National Retail Federation’s annual holiday shopping survey found that 60 percent of consumers say they would like to receive gift cards as a gift. It’s the 12th consecutive year that gift cards have topped the list of most desired holiday gifts.

If you haven’t noticed, a lot of different kinds of stores and online retailers sell gift cards. And a lot of the places that sell gift cards happen to earn you extra reward points with some of the most popular reward credit cards.

For example, say you want to give your sister a Starbucks gift card. The kind of reward card you have should determine where you buy that card.

The big idea is to buy gift cards (and whatever other holiday shopping you have to do) at the places that give you the most rewards.

You shouldn’t just buy something because you see it somewhere. To get the most rewards, think about where you can buy something that gives you the most bonus points.

Happy shopping!

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Updated: 02-23-2019