Maximize savings on in-store shopping using rewards cards
These tips will help you rack up cash back, discounts on in-store shopping
whose work has appeared in TheStreet, Mic and elsewhere
The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Some of the offers mentioned below may no longer available. Please review our list of best credit cards to find our current offers, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.
If you think you can only maximize rewards and cash back savings while shopping online, think again.
Shoppers can score some pretty sweet deals using plastic at a brick-and-mortar store and may be missing out on special incentives and deals offered by merchants
Despite news about store closures, The National Retail Federation (NRF) anticipates more stores will open than close in 2018, but with an added twist.
As reach expands into the digital world, brick-and-mortar stores add capabilities such as online ordering and in-store pick-up and mobile wallet acceptance, plus other e-commerce-type tools to enhance the in-store shopping experience.
Want the inside scoop on how to leverage your credit card to make the most of your in-store shopping experience? Read on.
In-store shopping tips
- Choose a credit card that matches your shopping habits. Cash back at department stores? Yes, please!
- Take advantage of card-linked offers and in-store promotions. Several issuers, including American Express and Discover, feature special promotions.
- Use technology to maximize savings at the register. Explore cash back bonuses offered by mobile wallets.
- Tap into online saving tools and apply them at the register. Some of your favorite e-coupon sites also offer in-store discounts.
- Consider store-card promotions, too – but consider the pros and cons of signing up for a retail store credit card first.
Choose a card that matches your shopping habits
Before you decide which card is right for you, have a good idea about your shopping habits and preferences before choosing a credit card.
Do you crave cash back for your purchases? Do you regularly shop at department stores?
- Cash back cards with a great flat rate can be perfect for in-store shopping, as they reward you on all purchases, without having to sign up for any rotating categories.
- Flat-rate cash back options include Citi Double Cash Card (1 percent cash back when you shop, 1 percent extra if you pay your bill on time), Capital One Quicksilver Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5 percent cash back).
- If shopping at department stores is more to your liking, check out Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express ($95 annual fee). Cardholders can earn 3 percent cash back on select U.S. department stores and 1 percent on all other purchases – in addition to 6 percent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, 1 percent thereafter).
- If you’d rather opt for a no-fee card, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 2 percent cash back at select U.S. department stores – plus 6 percent at U.S. grocery stores (up to $6,000 annually, 1 percent thereafter).
Take advantage of card-linked offers and in-store promotions
Some credit cards offer rewards that can be applied when you shop at a physical retail location. Here’s how you can save:
- Amex Offers. Log into your American Express account and hit Amex Offers to see the latest discounts and promotions. Add your card to the offer you’d like to take advantage of. Pay at the store using your card and receive a credit statement in the amount of the promotion’s value. A current example: Get $20 or 2,000 points when you spend $100 at J. Crew.
- Targeted offers. Every now and then card issuers will target some cardholders with special offers. These targeted offers are usually sent to you by email. Be on the lookout for emails from your card issuers with the subject “Special offer.” A recent targeted offer allowed Chase cardholders to earn 10 percent off Starbucks purchases using a Chase Freedom card.
Use technology to maximize savings at the register
Here is how mobile wallets such as Chase Pay, along with other technologies, are offering promotions to entice cardholders:
- Chase Pay has been part of Chase Freedom’s rotating categories for the first six months of 2018. While not widely accepted, you can use Chase Pay to pay for gift cards from myriad retailers at Best Buy – in Q2, grocery and PayPal purchases also earn bonuses. (From July to September, Walgreens, gas station and Lyft purchases will earn 5 percent cash back as part of Chase Freedom's Q3's rotating categories – up to $1,500 in purchases combined.)
- Score an in-store pick-up discount when you order and pay for eligible merchandise online through Walmart. Discounts vary per individual item.
Tap into online saving strategies and apply them at the register
Beyond the typical card rewards and conveniences, you can also find ways to save even more money and get cash back through in-store electronic rebates.
- Ebates’ in-store credit card linked promotions allow you to earn cash back on in-store transactions. In order to get these discounts, you need to link your credit cards to your Ebates account. Look for in-store offers on the Ebates website and link them to the card you’ll use to pay. Recent in-store offers include 4 percent cash back at Sally Beauty, 3 percent back at Office Depot and Office Max, and 4 percent back at Sephora.
- Coupons.com allows you to link your credit card to receive in-store discounts and offers, which eliminates coupon tracking or codes. Deals are based on your location and may also include retailers and restaurants.
- Alaska Airlines also offers in-store card-link offers. Select the offer you want to activate, link your credit card – which should be associated with your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping account – and the miles you earn will be credited to your Alaska Mileage Plan account.
- United’s MileagePlus X app allows you to earn miles on in-store purchases by letting you purchase electronic gift cards from a variety of merchants you can use to pay at brick-and-mortar stores. See “MileagePlus X: A unique, mobile way to earn miles on United” to learn more about United’s shopping app.
How to get the most from your in-store savings
Although you can earn discounts and deals any time of the year, be on alert around the holidays, advises Michelle Madhok, founder and CEO of the online shopping site SheFinds. This may include summer holidays such as Fourth of July or Labor Day.
Also, don’t forget to use coupons, even if your card already offers a deal. “Some credit cards won’t allow you to use coupons with the discount; however, AmEx does,” Madhok says. “Make sure you check the deals before you shop in order to maximize your discount or offer with coupons, too.”
Websites to check for valid coupons include ibotta and RetailMeNot. RetailMeNot's shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll explains that the site offers online discounts, cash back offers and discount gift cards from up to over 50,000 different retailers nationwide.
Sale hunters can currently get 20 percent off their in-store purchase at Bed Bath & Beyond or 15 percent off in-store at Gap Factory, for example.
Store cards can offer savings, too – but consider your options first
Finally, Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with DealNews, says shoppers should also consider opening an in-store credit card from their favorite retailer to hike savings.
“Many stores will offer special discounts and coupons for cardholders,” Sakraida says. “The best offer tends to come when you newly register for the card, but it’s very common for stores to release a steady stream of offers afterward to encourage shoppers to keep and use the card.”
Typically, she explains, you can save 15 to 30 percent off during select times with a cardholder coupon.
However, you shouldn’t apply for a store card before considering the pros and cons first:
Pros and cons of shopping with a store-based credit card
If you think retail store card offers are the best option to maximize purchases at brick-and-mortar stores, you might want to check the pros and cons of store cards first.
- In-store cards may offer deep discounts and rewards. At least 25 card retailers adjusted rewards since 2016 to boost program interest, according to a 2017 CreditCards.com retail store card survey.
- The more you spend, the bigger the rewards for about 52 programs.
- Twenty-seven cards have an introductory APR or a special financing deal involving deferred interest (make sure to understand how deferred interest works before signing up, as it can significantly increase the cost of your purchase if not paid in full before the promotional period ends.)
- Retail credit cards can be a credit building option if you're looking for your first card as they typically come with low credit limits – but you might have other options, including secured and student credit cards.
- Retail credit card APRs rose from 2016 to 2017 by 1.15 percent to an average of about 24.99 percent, according to CreditCards.com's 2017 survey. By comparison, cash back cards have an average APR of 17.21 percent.
- In-store cards can be particularly expensive if you can’t pay off the balance each month. Sky-high interest rates may sink you into debt.
- If your retailer goes belly up, your rewards may quickly vanish and you will still be on the hook to pay off the balance.
- Calling all foodies: Best credit cards for restaurants – Is eating out part of your everyday routine? Score cash back or rewards points by paying with the right card at restaurants; these cards can help ...
- How to offset pharmacy expenses by using credit cards – Cash back, rewards and travel cards can help bear the cost of pharmacy expenses. The choice will depend on where you usually shop for pharmaceuticals ...
- 'FOMO,' 'likes' and card debt: How Facebook might lead you to overspend – Facebook's business model makes it easy for advertisers to know almost everything about you, increasing the chances you overspend. Here's what you can do ...