Five entrepreneurs share how they’re earning and redeeming rewards this holiday season – for gift giving, overdue reunions, self care and exotic travel.
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Credit card rewards can come to the rescue at any time of the year, but they’re especially handy during the winter holidays. Spending typically increases as people purchase gifts, decorate their homes, and travel to be with loved ones or to take much-needed vacations. In fact, the National Retail Federation predicts a record-breaking shopping year.
This holiday season is unique though. As the country slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, many cardholders are discovering they have accumulated excess points, cash, and miles on their accounts – and want to do something meaningful with them.
For motivation on what to do with your credit card rewards this holiday season, the following five cardholders share how they built theirs up and what joyful things they’ll be doing with them.
Kerry Botensten: Redeeming for gift cards then buying presents
Kerry Botensten travels the world with her adventure tour company Tripsha, and lives in both New York City and Santa Monica, California. To amass the most rewards, she uses her Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card wherever possible.
“If I’m going to spend money on something, why not get a reward from doing it?” says Botensten. “I barely use cash unless it’s a small item or if I’m in a country where it’s more acceptable.”
Botensten chose the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card because it’s affiliated with her favorite airline, and comes with a whole host of perks, such as complimentary upgrades, Delta and Centurion lounge access, Global Entry credit, free checked bag and pre-boarding.
So what’s she doing with all the miles she’s been racking up? “Gifts, gifts, gifts and a Starbucks latte!” says Botensten. “Delta lets you use your points for gift cards at retailers like Amazon, Ticketmaster, BestBuy and Macy’s. I don’t normally give out these gift cards but, instead, use them to offset the price of gifts for others.”
“If I want to buy a camera at Best Buy, I would use my points and gift cards to buy it. This Christmas may be ‘free’ for me.”
That’s not all. Like many people, the holidays are about reconnecting with family and friends, which includes going out for dinners and drinks. Botensten will be checking her card’s benefits to identify which places offer extra credits, such as Macy’s Wine Shop.
“If you spend over $30 on wine, you get a $30 credit on your statement, up to three times,” she says. “Basically that’s $90 off wine to serve or bring to holiday dinners.”
Lastly, Botensten will be taking her nieces on a trip with some of the miles. “I hope they don’t read this before Christmas!” she says.
Danielle Gray: Helping friends connect in real life again
Los Angeles resident Danielle Gray is a competitive gymnast turned personal trainer and fitness model. She has three cards earning Chase Ultimate Rewards, including her Ink Business Cash® Credit Card for her modeling work and another for her company, Train Like A Gymnast, which helps people explore their true capabilities. Her Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is for her personal use.
She chose these cards because they offer excellent rewards with relatively low annual fees ($0 for the business card and $95 for her personal card). “I’m frugal and don’t like spending a lot of money,” says Gray. “A card with a $450 annual fee isn’t for me.”
Her Ink Business Cash cards charge no annual fee and earn cash back, but because she also has the Sapphire Preferred, a premium Chase card, her Ink rewards can be turned into Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to her Sapphire account.
UR points are worth 25% more when she redeems them for travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Gray usually charges large amounts to generate huge rewards. Part of her business is hosting retreats, so there are numerous front-loaded costs, such as paying for airfares and accommodations for many clients. When they pay her, she immediately uses those funds to delete the balance on her credit cards.
“I typically use the rewards consistently and turn them into Amazon gift cards,” says Gray. “But when everything slowed down because of the pandemic, I was using the rewards to go straight to the bill.”
As the holidays approach, Gray recognizes that this year, too, will be different. “I’m trying to figure out how to use the points for experiences,” she says. “I’m going to use a lot of them to get restaurant gift cards. Priorities are shifting. So many people in my life don’t need more things.
“For the holidays, I want to create memories, conversations and human interaction. We need to connect with friends again, instead of, ‘Oh, here’s a purse.’
“I’m accruing rewards to buy gift cards that people can spend with someone else. We’ve been so deprived, people have become so disconnected with each other. They are reborn with this kind of gift. It’s better than a thing.”
Sarah Karakaian and Annette Grant: Ensuring experiences
Sarah Karakaian and Annette Grant are the founders of Thanks for Visiting, a Columbus, Ohio-based educational platform for vacation rental owners. These business partners share The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. They put all their expenses on it, from the cost of consultants, their podcast, membership fees, phones, to a whole lot of technology.
“During the pandemic we bought a lot of new equipment, so we could still teach,” says Karakaian, who aims to maximize charging without carrying over any debt. With this card they have 30 days to satisfy the balance in full. This card does offer an extension program but they avoid using it because interest would be tacked on.
The partners have been stockpiling their points, but the holidays are coming up and their intention is spend them all down.
“We will use the points for friends and family but also for business associates,” says Grant. “We will give gift cards to some people, but will also travel alongside friends and family, bringing them with us for experiences.
“After what’s happened in the past 18 months we don’t want to give one-and-done gifts. It’s going to be about travel and spending the time that was taken away from us.”
“People now understand how important it is to be with loved ones during the holidays. Being able to hang out with them is not guaranteed. Suddenly we were forced to stay home and reflect. It was a wild awakening.”
To make the gift of travel with points more festive, Karakaian and Grant tuck them into homemade cards, and make giant plane tickets with the recipient’s name on it.
“We will be tapping out all the rewards until the end of the year,” says Karakaian. “Then we’ll start fresh. What better way to use rewards than as gifts for people you care about?”
Tashieka Brewer: Rebooting for 2022
Tashieka Brewer is the founder of Pink Girls Rule the World, a blog and adventure company located in Trenton, New Jersey. Brewer is a savvy credit card rewards accumulator and spender.
“Before signing up for a rewards program, I consider how each aspect of the reward offering benefits my lifestyle,” says Brewer. “Travel is one of the most expensive aspects of my lifestyle, so I tend to look for rewards that are going to support my traveling by alleviating some of the costs. I use my credit card to pay for everything from my insurance to my monthly car note, so an awards program through a credit card makes sense for me.”
Brewer is on the road and in hotels for both business and personal vacations so the Hotels.com® Rewards Visa® Credit Card is her preferred account. She opened her Hotels.com card because it had no annual fee, came with two rewards nights after being accepted (2 reward nights, worth $250 total*, when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months) and the easy ability obtain more free hotel stays.
Holiday spending this year, for Brewer, will be about enhancing her wellbeing so she can better take care of others. “You can’t pour from an empty pot, so I am tapping into self-care and giving myself a trip to celebrate and reflect on 2021,” she says.
“I am using my rewards to travel to Ecuador this holiday season. What better way to prepare for 2022? Hotel accommodations are fairly reasonable in Ecuador and a perfect fit for redeeming my Hotels.com rewards.”
“Thanks to my rewards, I will only have to pay for my flight as my accommodations will be free. So excited that I am going to finally be able to check the Galapagos Islands off my bucket list before the end of 2021!”
*Maximum of $125 per night. Excludes taxes and fees. If a night costs less than $125, you won’t get the difference.
Create a rewarding new year
Due to the difficulties associated with the pandemic, the holidays celebrated from late November to the end of December may have special meaning for you now. Like the cardholders featured here, making the most of what you have and the people who are important to you can be achieved with wise use of credit cards. Then you can make 2022 even more rewarding.
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