How everyday spending can charge up your rewards bank

Substitute cash, checks and debit payments with your credit card

Summer Hull
Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

Many people are already using their rewards credit cards for big-ticket items, travel purchases or when dining out, but beyond that, the less common or somewhat routine purchases you may not have thought of can make a difference in unlocking even more rewards.

With mobile payments, Square readers, Paypal, Venmo and more, you can use your rewards card to pay for almost anything. For rewards cardholders, that means that you can earn miles and points on everything from paying a dog walker to charging your kid’s preschool tuition.

Everyday charges can boost rewards
Any place that accepts a credit card is where you can, and potentially should, swipe your rewards card to earn miles, points or cash back. I swipe my credit card to pay at the doctor’s office, coffee shop, preschool, nail salon, dry cleaners, public library, hair salon and have even ordered Girl Scout cookies using my credit card. In fact, my second daughter earned us thousands of miles before she was even born as we made pre-delivery payments to the hospital each month with a rewards card.

At the other end of the spectrum, thanks to Square readers that can attach to mobile phones, I have even been able to use a rewards card to pay for small charges ranging from raffle tickets at our child’s school fundraiser to street vendor food in New York City.

While you can’t use a credit card everywhere, the more you do, the more you will be rewarded. Did you know that some rewards cards award points not only based on the amount of your purchases, but also on the number of purchases you make per billing cycle?

For example, the Amex Everyday Preferred * credit card gives you a 50 percent bonus on points earned during a billing cycle when you have 30 or more transactions. This means adding a few additional purchases to your bill each month can really ramp up the earnings on all your monthly purchases.

Take the no-brainer miles
In addition to swiping your rewards card at retailers large and small, the easiest miles earned are the ones that rack up every month. If you haven’t already set monthly bills, such as your car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, cellphone, cable, internet and more, to be paid via a rewards card, then you should, as those are easy ways to add to your miles and points totals just by shifting how you pay your bills.

Using credit cards where credit cards aren’t accepted
There are some things you still can’t typically pay for with a credit card, including rent, mortgage and car payments. To use credit cards to pay those bills and rack up rewards, some turn to third-party services, such as Plastiq, that make that possible.

I will give a warning that if you do involve a third-party for some of those high-dollar bills, just make sure that you pay well in advance and keep an eye on the account to make sure everything went through as scheduled. And, know that you’ll typically be assessed a fee of anywhere from 1.9 to 2.5 percent on each transaction.

When to reconsider using your card
When venturing into the world of using rewards cards in new and creative ways, be aware there can be downsides at some places. For example, if you are charged an additional fee (often called a convenience fee) for the privilege of paying with your card. This fee can sometimes be worth it if the charge is substantial, but you need to do the math to make sure the rewards you are earning are worth more than the fee.

Also, be aware that transaction fees, which are absorbed by merchants every time you use your card, can eat up profits. If you want to be sure to not add to the overhead costs of a charity or your favorite mom-and-pop store, then you may want to use cash instead of plastic.

Any time you find yourself spending cash, writing a check or swiping a debit card, just stop and think if you might be able to switch to a rewards-earning credit card to rack up miles and points in the process.

*The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: Tips for booking holiday trips using airline miles


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Updated: 11-21-2017