Personal finance journalist with an eye for industry news
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Football is back, and passionate fans are gearing up for another season of thrilling victories, stinging defeats and big spending.
Being a super-fan can be pricey. According to data from Team Marketing Report, the average price for an NFL game ticket in 2016 was $92.98, while the average premium ticket cost $277.29. Factor in food, refreshments, parking and souvenirs, and the final bill to attend a game can be downright daunting, especially if you bring the family.
Even armchair quarterbacks who watch all their football on TV can find themselves spending a lot on merchandise (authentic NFL jerseys cost $100 and up), cable packages and home tailgating supplies over the course of a season.
But there are many ways to save on those expenses using credit card rewards, cash back and other perks. Here’s how a few football fans have done it.
How fans score big with rewards
Rewards cards can help you save big on travel expenses if you regularly attend games and your favorite team’s stadium is in another city.
Former NFL player Chris Gronkowski uses travel rewards to save on trips to watch his brother, Patriots superstar Rob Gronkowski, play on Sundays during the NFL season. Chris Gronkowski, now an entrepreneur living in Dallas, has racked up thousands of reward points by using his Chase Ink and Southwest Rapid Rewards cards to fund his Ice Shaker business venture.
Gronkowski said he’s earned enough points on the latter card to obtain a Southwest Airlines companion pass, which allows him, his wife and their infant son to fly for free.
“We fly quite frequently – we go to about eight games a year,” he said. “Every time we fly, I’d say we’re saving $400-$800.”
Gabe Lumby, chief marketing officer at CashCowCouple.com, uses reward points to travel to at least two Kansas City Chiefs games each season. Lumby and his family live about three hours away from Kansas City in Springfield, Missouri, so each game trip includes a long drive and a hotel stay. He said the points and cash back he earns with his Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, Sallie Mae Mastercard and Discover it Balance Transfer cards typically cover all the travel expenses to games for himself, his wife and his son.
It takes a lot of rewards and cash back to cover several weekend trips each football season, but you can do it without going outside your budget. Lumby said he avoids engaging in “manufactured spending” just to rack up rewards.
“We try to keep it simple,” he said. “We try not to spend any money that we wouldn’t spend otherwise.”
College football fans are getting into the rewards game as well. Matt Casady, a marketing manager for a storage company in Rancho Cucamonga, California, used cash back to score tickets to a September game between USC and Texas in Los Angeles. He said he uses his Citi Double Cash Card – which gives you 1 percent cash back on each purchase and then another 1 percent when you pay it off – on routine expenses such as food and gas.
“I treat it like a debit card and pay it all off at the end of the month so I always get the full 2 percent back on every purchase,” Casady said.
Alex Onaindia, a Miami-based marketing professional, said points earned from his American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card enabled him to travel to the Alabama versus Florida State game that took place in Atlanta during the 2017 Labor Day weekend.
“I’m doing it by redeeming 25,000 Starpoints, which I transferred to Marriott to get an awesome redemption in downtown [Atlanta] for the weekend,” Onaindia said. “Rates were close to $500 a night at the hotel when I booked the points.”
The right cards for \u2018elite’ fans
The most devoted fans buy season ticket packages that include all eight or so of their favorite teams’ home games. Season tickets can easily run into the thousands of dollars, depending on how many you buy for each game and how good the seats are.
If you have the cash to spend, buying a season ticket package with an elite credit card can help you earn tens of thousands of bonus points that you can use for other expenses. Cards such as Chase’s Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Platinum require you to spend several thousand dollars within the first three months of membership to earn their generous sign-up bonuses.
If you can earn those bonus rewards, you can use them to pay for game-day goodies or even buy tickets and travel to one of your team’s away games. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 bonus reward points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That amounts to $750 in travel if you book it through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal. The Sapphire Reserve carries a hefty $450 annual fee, but it also offers up to $300 in statement credits for travel purchases each year.
In addition to a 60,000-point bonus that can be used for travel, the American Express Platinum card offers $200 per year in Uber credits. It can help you save on rideshare fares if you fly or you want to keep your car parked at your hotel while attending an out-of-town game.
Cash back for armchair quarterbacks and tailgaters
Bank of America said in a 2016 report that its credit and debit card account holders’ spending on typical “football experience” categories – including grocery and liquor stores and bars – grew 3 percent last September year-over-year. Consumers also spent 23 percent more at wholesale clubs and 6 percent more on cable and satellite TV during the first full month of the 2016 football season, compared to the previous year.
If you host regular tailgate parties or just like to grill and eat snacks during each game, a card that offers cash back for grocery store purchases can save you a bundle. Many cards offer a flat cash-back rate on all purchases, and they can help you save on sports-related cable TV packages or souvenirs and refreshments at your team’s stadium.
Build your rewards game plan
Being a devoted football fan can be expensive, and so can accumulating a lot of credit card rewards. As with building a football game plan, maximizing rewards is about being opportunistic and using your resources when and where they offer you the biggest advantages. And cashing in on a load of points to see your favorite team in action can be as exhilarating as a last-second touchdown to win the Super Bowl.