Choosing a solid rewards credit card can help you reap a slew of benefits during the holiday season, in addition to earning cash back or rewards points on purchases. But the earlier you snag a good credit card deal, the better. With holiday spending on the horizon, you can more easily meet welcome bonus requirements, plus get essential protections and perks on travel and purchases.
Here’s what to consider when choosing the best rewards credit card for the holidays, and how to make the most of it.
Aim for the Bonus
Many rewards credit cards offer a welcome bonus for new cardholders who spend a certain amount within the first few months of card opening. Holiday spending can make it easier to earn a credit card sign-up bonus because you’re more likely to spend a large amount in a short period of time.
And if you need a little more time to earn the bonus, a handful of credit cards offer a longer bonus period, such as the Discover it card which gives you up to a year to qualify.
Maxing out rewards earnings is best when you pay your full credit card balance each month. Otherwise, interest on the balance will negate the value of rewards earned.
As you shop for a credit card to use for the holidays, pay attention to the rewards program. Check if it offers rotating bonus categories for merchants where you might be buying gifts (Amazon or department stores) or gift cards (grocery stores). Flat-rate cash back rewards can also be a good choice. These cards pay the same rewards-earning rate, no matter where you shop. Just be aware of maximum spend amounts in some bonus reward categories—for example, if only the first $1,500 of category purchases are eligible for bonus cash back.
Use the Bonus for Holiday Shopping or Travel
Earning a welcome bonus quickly—easier if the bonus has a low spending requirement—gives you the opportunity to use bonus rewards for holiday travel or shopping. Even a small bonus can help offset holiday costs.
Note: It can take up to two billing cycles for the bonus to be added to your account. You’re responsible for making at least the minimum payment while you wait, and the account must be open and not in default to receive it.
Earn Rewards on Holiday Travel
If your holiday plans include travel, look for a credit card that rewards travel and travel-related expenses. Miles flown or points for airline tickets can add sizable rewards to your stockpile, but even road trips are fair game for earning travel points, since Airbnbs, hotel stays, and tourist outings are often considered travel purchases.
Make the Most of Benefits
Make the most of credit card perks and benefits, which include a range of consumer protections and waived or reduced fees.
Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
Travel insurance can save you money if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip due to unforeseeable circumstances. You can file a claim to be reimbursed for non-refundable travel expenses due to covered events (such as a medical emergency), up to a certain amount for each traveler on your itinerary. This benefit can save you hundreds of dollars in trip costs.
Unless you get sick, your credit card’s travel insurance benefit probably won’t cover you for travel cancellations due to Covid-19. If you have to cancel or postpone your trip because of COVID-19, check with the airline or hotel for rebooking or cancellation options.
Waived Baggage Fees
Are you packing for a long trip or bringing gifts with you? Checked baggage fees can add up, increasing the cost of holiday travel. Look for a travel or co-branded airline rewards credit card that waives baggage fees to save on checked luggage. Several Delta credit cards offer the first checked bag free for up to nine travelers on the same reservation.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
Foreign transaction fees are charged on purchases made in currencies other than U.S. dollars, even if you’re buying a flight on an airline based in another country. If your holiday travel is taking you out of the country, look for a travel rewards credit card since most don’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
Extend a manufacturer’s warranty when you use a credit card with extended warranty protection to make qualifying purchases. This gives you extra coverage if you have trouble with your purchases after the original warranty expires.
If purchases are damaged or stolen, purchase protection can repair or replace those items for no additional charge. Purchase protection benefits may last 60-180 days past the original purchase date depending on your credit card.
If the price of an item drops after you’ve purchased it, credit cards with a price protection benefit can refund price differences, with restrictions. For example, the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express card protects purchases up to 30 days beyond the original purchase date, and the advertised item must be identical to the one you purchased. Other cards may offer more generous protections, up to 60 or 90 days.
Credit cards have restrictions and qualifications (that often differ between issuers) for using benefits—check the fine print on your card agreement for details. Also, be aware that you must use the card offering the benefit to purchase the item for which you want the benefit to apply.
You can get more out of your rewards by shopping through airline, hotel, credit card, or online shopping portals, which may offer additional cash back, miles, points, or discounts. Rather than go directly to a retailer’s website, start at a portal, such as Chase’s Ultimate Rewards shopping portal or Wells Fargo’s Earn More Mall.