Holiday shopping can be painful for your budget, but picking the right credit card can offer big returns on your spending.
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The holiday season is the season of spreading cheer – and that, unfortunately, often comes with significant costs. Between buying gifts and decorations and booking holiday travel, you need to make sure you’ve adjusted your budget to be up to the task.
On the flip side, increased spending boosts credit card rewards. If you play your cards right (see what I did there?), you can make your holiday purchases earn you tons of cash back or get you so much closer to your next vacation.
Let’s talk about how to pick the right credit card for your holiday shopping and use it to maximize rewards.
Picking the right credit card this holiday season
To choose a credit card that will yield the best return on your holiday shopping, it’s a good idea to figure out what you want that return to be.
Are you aiming for maximum cash back or a nice chunk of travel rewards to pay for your next trip? Or maybe you’re worried about going into debt to have the holidays you want, and you’re trying to save as much as you can on interest?
When you know the kind of card you’re looking for, it’s much easier to find the right option.
Discover it Cash Back: Best for cash back on online shopping
The pandemic has made online shopping the new norm. If you’re planning to do all or most of your holiday shopping virtually this year, the Discover it Cash Back is an excellent option to consider.
The card earns 5% cash back in quarterly rotating bonus categories after activation (up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%). This quarter, the Discover it Cash Back earns this rate at Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com.
If you use this credit card and maximize the bonus categories (meaning you reach the full spend cap) before they expire on Dec. 31, 2021, you’ll earn $75 back. Plus, if you’re a new cardholder, Discover matches all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year with the card, effectively turning $75 into $150.
That’s one of the most generous cash back offers out there.
Wells Fargo Reflect Card: Best for paying off holiday debt
Going into debt to feel a desired amount of jolliness is probably not the best idea, yet 41% of U.S. adults are planning to do it anyway this holiday season.
If that’s your plan too, I’m not one to judge, but I highly recommend figuring out a solid repayment strategy before you take on debt. A 0% APR credit card with a long no-interest introductory period can be a useful tool that will offer added flexibility and plenty of time for you to pay off the balance.
Currently, one of the best offers in the market is the Wells Fargo Reflect Card. This product offers up to 21 months from account opening of 0% introductory APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening with an intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro and extension periods). After the intro period, a 12.99% to 24.99% variable APR applies.
With the Reflect, you can put all your holiday shopping on the card and have up to 21 months from account opening to pay it off. Alternatively, you can transfer a balance from another card and also have up to 21 months from account opening to pay it. The main thing is to finish paying the debt during the intro period – otherwise, it will get quite expensive.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best for travel in the new year
More and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of traveling again. According to new data from Discover, 32% of people are planning to travel this holiday season, compared to last year when only 23% traveled. Further, of those traveling, 43% plan to use credit card points to help pay for their trip.
With or without travel, holiday expenses tend to run high. One way to take advantage of that is to use that spend to earn a sign-up bonus that will pay for your future vacations.
This season, my favorite sign-up bonus offer is from the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. This exciting new card can earn you 100,000 bonus miles for spending $10,000 on purchases in the first six months. That’s $1,000 in travel when you redeem through the Capital One Travel portal.
The offer is perfect for planning your 2022 travel plans, especially considering the card comes with up to $300 annually in statement credits toward travel booked with Capital One and, for a limited time, up to $200 back in statement credits for vacation rental bookings within the first 12 months with the card.
On top of that, you’ll get desirable premium travel perks, including:
- 10,000 bonus miles every account anniversary (worth $100 when redeemed for travel)
- Unlimited access to Capital One Lounges
- A complimentary Priority Pass Select membership offering access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide
- Up to $100 in statement credits for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
- Complimentary Hertz President’s Circle status
The card charges an annual fee of $395, which is lower than its competitors in the premium travel credit card space. If you’ve been considering a credit card in this class, but high annual fees have made you hesitant, the Venture X may be an excellent choice.
See related: Is the Capital One Venture X worth it?
Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature: Best hidden gem cash back card
I’d have to doubt my integrity if I didn’t mention the Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature* on this list.
It’s a rewards credit card from a credit union, so don’t expect fancy benefits or a sleek credit card app. I keep this card in my wallet purely to get good cash back at bookstores (one of my main spending categories).
However, my Affinity Cash Rewards has been continually surprising me with its rewards rates, and I’ve been using it quite a lot.
The card earns:
- 5% cash back at Amazon and eligible bookstores
- 2% back at supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations
- 2% back on streaming and rideshare services
- 1% cash back on everything else
That’s pretty impressive for a $0 annual fee card, especially considering credit union cards are generally more available to those with less than perfect credit.
Besides these base reward rates, however, the card also offers so-called “hi5” extra rewards that work similar to those on cards with rotating 5% cash back categories but require no activation. With this offer, you get 5% bonus cash back on up to $3,500 in combined purchases in eligible categories.
In this quarter, Affinity cardholders are earning 5% bonus cash back at Amazon and bookstores, at discount stores – including Target, Walmart and Marshalls – and at supermarkets.
This means that overall, through Dec. 31, 2021, cardholders can earn:
- 10% back at Amazon and bookstores
- 7% back at supermarkets
- 6% back at discount stores
The $3,500 spend limit is very generous, and if you can maximize it on Amazon and bookstore purchases, you’ll get $350 back.
Apologies to my beloved Discover it Cash Back, but this holiday season, I’m an Affinity girl.
Holiday shopping can be a source of joy. What could be better than buying new Christmas decorations and splurging on gifts for your loved ones?
At the same time, it can be a painful time for your budget.
To soften the financial blow of the holiday season, make sure you’re armed with the right credit card. Head over to CardMatch to see card offers tailored to your credit profile. Checking your matched cards won’t impact your score, and you’ll be able to browse offers you’re likely to qualify for.
Happy holiday shopping!
*All information about the Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
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