With issuers competing for consumers’ dollars this holiday season, limited-time card-linked offers are a great way to stack savings. The key is to read the fine print before jumping in and use the cards in your wallet wisely.
I recently received three particularly interesting card-linked offers. Here’s what each promotion is offering and how I plan to take advantage of all of them.
See related: Holiday shopping and credit card guide 2019
Bonus points on grocery purchases
My Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card will give me 10 bonus points per dollar on my next grocery purchase (through December 15). After activating the offer and making the purchase, I’ll receive up to 4,000 bonus points.
Those are worth $40 in cash back, and potentially up to $44.44 if I redeem for a gift card. That’s because Wells Fargo is currently running a different promotion that gives 10% off select gift card redemptions for a limited time. Eligible merchants include The Home Depot, Kohl’s, Fandango, Applebee’s and a handful of others.
Back to the grocery offer: It’s capped at $400 in spending (a very generous limit for a single transaction). Over the past three months, I’ve spent an average of $218 per week on groceries.
If I hit that number when I apply my Propel offer, I’ll get $23.98 in cash back or $26.64 applied toward a gift card (I also added in the card’s standard 1 point per dollar return on grocery spending). For maximum impact, I should stock up on gift cards, toiletries and nonperishable food items and get as close as possible to the $400 limit.
My usual go-to grocery card is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. That gives 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in spending per calendar year, then 1% cash back after that). On a typical $218 weekly shop, I get $13.08 cash back.
It’s also worth noting the Blue Cash Preferred charges a $95 annual fee and the Propel Card does not charge an annual fee. Plus, I’ve already hit the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual $6,000 supermarket spending limit – so right now my best grocery card is the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card.
That no-annual-fee card gives 1.5% cash back on all purchases (which works out to just $3.27 on a $218 bill). The Propel promotion hit me at a very good time.
Extra points for ‘tapping’
Chase will give me 500 bonus Ultimate Rewards points if I make three contactless transactions with my Chase Freedom card between November 20 and December 31. There’s no enrollment necessary. The only requirement is that each purchase needs to be $1.75 or more.
The best way for me to earn this bonus is probably going to be during my commute on the New York City subway. Each ride costs $2.75, so if I make three contactless payments, I’ll spend $8.25 and get $5.08 cash back (500 Ultimate Rewards points are worth $5 in cash back, plus I’d get the normal 1% cash back on each purchase). That’s about $1 per ride, roughly what the subway charged in the late 1980s!
I love making contactless payments on the subway because it’s so quick and easy. The way this offer is designed, it makes sense for me to redeem via small purchases.
The Chase Freedom only gives 1% cash back on most transactions. Cardholders get 5% cash back this quarter at select department stores and via PayPal and Chase Pay (after activation, up to $1,500 in spending, then 1% cash back after that). I’m planning to use PayPal for most of my holiday purchases, so tapping my Chase Freedom on the subway will yield an outsized return on that spending.
Not so coincidentally, I also have an Amex Offer for 4% cash back on contactless NYC subway rides (up to $10 in cash back by December 31, which is $250 in transactions).
These companies are clearly trying to get us in the habit of paying with their contactless cards, especially for things like transit which are daily expenses for many people. They’d really love it if I saved their card as my preferred “Express Transit” payment method in Apple Pay.
It would make more sense for me to save the Blue Cash Preferred because it normally gives 3% cash back on transit, whereas the Chase Freedom only gives 1% outside of special promotions. Of course, a sticky customer would be even more valuable to Chase, given their lower payout.
See related: Activate Chase cash back categories for Q4 2019 now
Read offers’ fine print before jumping in
The Propel grocery promotion has an especially high spending cap, and the Amex subway offer is generous, too. The biggest limitation I see on card-linked offers is that the bar is often set much lower.
Earlier this year, I passed on a Chase Offer that would have paid 5% cash back on an Airbnb rental (up to $28 in rewards, which would have been a $560 purchase). The problem was that I was booking a property for about $2,000. It made more sense to pay with my Propel card to earn 3% cash back on the full amount (which yielded roughly $60 in cash back). If I hadn’t read the fine print on the Chase Offer, I would have missed out on some rewards.
You should definitely include card-linked offers in your rewards strategy, but make sure to consider the total cost/benefit analysis before committing.