Rewards credit cards resolutions for the New Year
Here are the rewards card habits you should adopt, those you should leave behind and those card resolutions it's OK to break in 2019
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A new year is a chance to wipe the slate clean. If you use a rewards credit card, it’s a good time to reconsider how you’re using it.
Making new rewards card resolutions and doing away with some old ones can help you get the most from your card.
Ready to make your list of rewards credit card resolutions for 2019? Let’s get started.
Card rewards New Year's resolutions guide
- Stack rewards to increase miles, points and cash back.
- Offer to pay the tab to earn more rewards.
- Get a slice of the bonus pie.
- Match your rewards card to your spending habits.
- Don't miss out on quarterly bonuses – activate them!
- Use your card's deal portal to shop.
- Stop carrying a balance.
- Don't earn rewards without a plan.
- Don't assume your card is the same year over year.
As you make your rewards card resolutions, consider including these on the list:
1. Stack rewards to increase miles, points and cash back.
If you’re not stacking rewards using cash back sites or rewards apps, that’s a missed opportunity to double or triple your rewards earnings, says consumer savings and personal finance expert Andrea Woroch.
- Woroch is a fan of Swagbucks, which features offers such as earning 10 percent cash back at Amazon.
- Ebates, Ibotta and TopCashback also offer cash back rewards when you click and shop through their sites.
- Card-linked offers are another way to stack; these are special deals or promotions that apply automatically when you use your card to shop at participating merchants.
You can get even more stacking value when you use your card with a cash back app and plug in a coupon or discount code at checkout. RetailMeNot, Promocodes.com and Coupon Sherpa are some of the coupon sites you can use for extra savings.
2. Offer to pay the tab to earn more rewards.
If you normally stick to paying your own way when out with friends, make a resolution to cover the entire bill to fast track rewards in the new year. Just make sure it’s easy for everyone to pay you back so there’s no hassle to get the money you need to pay off the balance, says Woroch.
She recommends using Zelle or a similar payment app – options include Venmo, PayPal and Google Pay – to allow friends and family to transfer money to you electronically in minutes. “It’s a fast, safe and easy way to settle up with your friends to cover your rewards card bill,” says Woroch.
3. Get a slice of the bonus pie.
Resolving to snag one or more generous bonus offers is a smart move if you’re a frequent traveler. Qualifying for the bonus puts you closer to free flights, hotel stays and car rentals faster.
Current sign-up options include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express has an introductory offer of 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
- A 70,000 mile bonus is available with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard when you spend $5,000 in the first 90 days.
- Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve offer 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Just make sure you aren’t signing up for every card you’re offered, says Woroch. “Otherwise, they may not work hard enough for you and you may get stuck paying annual fees across many different accounts, costing you more than you’re earning in rewards.”
4. Match your rewards card to your spending habits.
If you have multiple rewards cards, consider weeding out the ones that don’t align with how you spend or don’t offer a high enough rewards rate to justify using them regularly.
“It’s safe to say that purchase history often looks drastically different depending on your life stage,” says Bank of America credit cards executive Jason Gaughan.
If you’re planning to travel more in the new year or you’re starting a family, your spending habits may be completely different compared to previous years.
“Switching up your credit card to match your spending is crucial to maximizing points and rewards,” says Gaughan. “Think about where you spend the most and if your current card supports those spending patterns.”
See related: What’s in my wallet: My cash-back strategy
5. Don't miss out on quarterly bonuses – activate them!
Quarterly bonuses are a simple way to get a higher rewards rate on spending – as long as you remember to opt in for them every quarter. Some options include:
- Discover it® Cash Back: See Discover’s category calendar for 2019.
- Chase Freedom: See Chase Freedom’s quarterly category calendar.
Both cards offer a 5 percent cash back bonus on the first $1,500 in combined purchases in the bonus category each quarter. After you hit the $1,500 spending cap, you continue earning unlimited 1 percent cash back on those purchases.
Sign up for email reminders so you never miss an activation date.
6. Use your card’s deal portal to shop.
If you don’t frequent your rewards card’s online shopping mall or deal portal, resolve to use them more often.
“Most people don’t use portals when shopping online,” says consumer education expert Janice S. Lintz, who says she was guilty of missing out on rewards this way for years. “Using a portal takes a few extra seconds and it’s easy to accumulate rewards for doing minimal work.”
- Card issuers that allow you to earn up cash back bonuses of up to 15 percent via shopping portals include Bank of America through BankAmeriDeals, Citi through its Bonus Cash Center and Chase via its Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
- You can also take advantage of shopping portal bonuses if you are a member of your favorite frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program.
- Frequent flyer programs that offer shopping portals include Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage, United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards.
- Hotel loyalty programs that offer a shopping portals include Marriott Rewards and Hilton Honors.
See related: Best travel cards
There are some things you might be doing with your rewards card that you’ll want to curb in the new year.
1. Stop carrying a balance.
Thanks to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, credit card APRs are at an all-time high. With the Fed calling for additional rate hikes, even higher APRs may be on the way.
Putting large purchases on credit is convenient, says Woroch, but “no matter how many rewards you earn, the interest you pay on a revolving balance will outweigh any cash back or miles you receive, resulting in a wash.”
Monitoring what you spend can keep you from charging up a too-high balance that you can’t pay off right away and incurring interest charges. “Sometimes, the action of just seeing how your dollars are being spent is enough to stop you from making bad buying decisions,” says Woroch.
If you’re carrying a balance into the new year, consider a 0-percent balance transfer to help you clear your debt faster, while avoiding interest charges.
2. Don’t earn rewards without a plan.
Racking up rewards is pointless if you have no idea what to do with them, or how to get the most value from them.
“Always review your rewards before planning a trip or making a purchase, as you may have enough to cover it for free,” says Woroch.
Pay attention to expiration dates if your rewards have a limited shelf life and review rewards valuations for different redemption options.
3. Don’t assume your card is the same year over year.
January is a great time to review your card’s terms and benefits to make sure you understand its finer points.
“By reading the fine print on your credit card agreement, you’ll know when reward bonuses times are, if there are spending thresholds or if they cap the amount of rewards you can earn,” says David Vogel, president of Vogel Retirement Solutions in Roswell, Georgia.
It’s also a chance to see what’s changed with your card since the previous year, says Vogel, since benefits and features aren’t always set in stone.
For example, card issuers are increasingly doing away with card perks like price protection and extended warranty benefits. Knowing what your reward card does or doesn’t offer can help you evaluate whether it’s a keeper.
Breaking rewards card resolutions
Rewards card resolutions are meant to be kept, but that’s not always realistic.
Lintz plans to stop chasing rewards when it proves too time-consuming. That includes using cash back sites that require her to track down rebates or wait months for rewards to post to her account. “It’s just not worth the time,” she says.
If you’re not sure whether to keep a rewards card resolution, ask yourself how it benefits you.
For example, you might be resolved to take advantage of a big bonus offer with a new card. However, that could conflict with your resolution to maximize rewards based on your spending habits if the new card doesn’t really fit your lifestyle.
And you might have to spend more than you normally would to get the bonus, which could make it harder to pay the card in full.
Looking at the short- and long-term impacts can help you decide whether a rewards card resolution is worth keeping or breaking.
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