Weighing the value of special card reward deals

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 CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Sometimes I get special offers on the cards that I have to get extra points when I shop at certain stores. Sometimes I see these on email, but often they come in the mail. Is there a way to see all of these offers in one place? – Kenny

Answer Dear Kenny,
One of the sweet spots for accumulating credit card rewards is receiving bonus points for spending money on something you were going to spend money on anyway.

Of course, the card companies dangle special offers in front of you in hopes of encouraging you to spend extra money or to switch your spending habits in pursuit of points.

As you point out, these offers can come in many different forms and in different ways. Usually, they are time-sensitive, asking you to, for instance, spend $100 on your card at a certain retailer before the end of the month to earn double points, or a $20 discount or something similar.

Unfortunately, each card issuer seems to have its own approach for advertising these offers. There is no big clearinghouse.

For instance, Barclaycard seems to rely a lot on mailers, while American Express goes a little more high-tech with emails and with offers on its website. I have an American Express card, and there are about 100 offers on the website that I can sign up for – everything from getting $10 off when spending $50 or more at Sur La Table to double points at The Gap and West Elm.

Citi also has special offers to save and earn extra points on its website.

A lot of these offers are targeted, and they vary depending on the kind of card you have. Typically, you need to enroll your card in the program. Then, when you use the card at the right retailer, the benefits show up automatically. They often come in the form of a statement credit or additional miles or points.

Sometimes these offers can make a lot of sense, especially if you are planning to spend money at these stores anyway. For instance, I don’t regularly shop at Sur La Table or The Gap. But if somebody on my holiday shopping list wanted clothes or kitchen equipment, it might make sense to at least enroll in the discount and keep that in mind when shopping.

The other factor to consider when viewing these deals is whether they are worth your time and mental energy. I find that small offers are sometimes not worth it. If you receive a $5 coupon off an oil change in the mail, do you keep it? Or do you throw it away?

If you don’t see any offers on a card you like, but you want to earn more points, one strategy you can use is to call your card company. Say you are thinking about canceling and ask if there are any retention offers. Sometimes you can shake loose some additional rewards that can make a card more attractive.

Especially if you have multiple cards, keeping up with the deals on each one can be overwhelming. You might consider sticking only to the bigger offers or ones that you know you can use.

See related: 8 creative ways to build credit card reward points quickly, Card-linked offers: Shopping deals you're not aware of

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Updated: 11-20-2017