How to maximize credit card rewards while holiday shopping

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Is there a good way to boost my rewards while doing Christmas shopping? – Lori


Answer Dear Lori,
As we enter the holiday season, shoppers will be giving their credit cards a good workout.

It is a reasonable question to ask: As you are picking up gifts for others, how can you translate that into additional reward points for yourself?

Obviously, you will be spending more than usual in the next month or so, so if you put those charges on a rewards credit card, that will provide a small boost over what you usually earn. The National Retail Federation projects that the average consumer will spend $936 this year on holiday gifts, food, flowers, decorations and greeting cards.

As has been the case for the past several years, gift cards top the list of gifts consumers say they would like to receive. Some 61 percent of survey respondents said they were interested in receiving gift cards, according to the NRF.

Gift cards present a special opportunity for people with rewards cards. That’s because many rewards cards give you bonus points for shopping at certain kinds of stores.

For instance, say you have a rewards card that gives you 2 percent back on gas and 1 percent on everything else. And let’s say you want to buy your niece a $50 Starbucks gift card for the holidays. If you use your credit card at Starbucks to buy the gift card, you would earn 50 points. But if you can find a gas station that sells Starbucks gift cards, you would earn double the points on that purchase.

Being mindful of these category bonuses that can boost your rewards around the holidays.

A second way to bump up rewards for yourself when buying gifts is to use online shopping portals. The NRF estimates that about half of all holiday shopping this year will be done online.

As with gift cards, the way that you buy online can make a big difference in the rewards you receive.

Most of the major reward programs have online shopping websites that can give you extra points.

For instance, say you want to buy your mother a $200 knife set from Using that same credit card above – the one that earns 2 points per dollar on gas and 1 point for all else – you would earn 200 points. But if you first go to the United Airlines online shopping portal and use that to go to, you would earn your 200 points plus 800 United miles. That’s because through the United shopping portal, you earn 4 points per dollar spent at

A handy site that I like to use is You enter the place you’d like to shop, and it calls up a list of shopping portals that give bonus points at that retailer. It includes information from the rewards programs of airlines and big banks, and you can easily compare which program offers the best deal.

If you can remember to use these sites when you shop online, this can be an easy way to pad your reward balances around the holidays.

See related: Video: 4 ways to save money shopping online for the holidays2016 holiday shopping and credit guide

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Updated: 02-19-2019