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Cashing in on credit card rewards

Posted at 5:04 PM, Oct 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-04 20:34:07-04

Just about every credit card boasts a rewards program, but which one is right for you?

Nick Clements of says the answer depends on which rewards are important to you.

He says there are typically three types of rewards categories: generic programs, airline miles rewards, and cash back programs.  Clements recommends starting with a cash back card if you aren't sure which to sign up for.

"Then you can start to compare other cards and other programs," he says. 

Right now, he says Citibank Double Cash card gives 2 percent cash back on all purchases, with no annual fee and no cap.

"You earn one percent when you spend, and one percent when you make your payment," he says.  

But he warns it's important to pay off the statement balance every month otherwise you are losing the reward in interest.

Something else to consider is where you already spend a lof your money, and which cards are rewarding you for it.

If you go out for dinner or lunch regularly a card that gives points for dining might make sense. Clements says the Uber Credit Card is paying 4 percent on restaurant purchases.  

If you spend a lot of groceries American Express Blue Cash Card is paying our 6 percent at supermarkets.  There is a $6000 cap and an annual fee but Clements says, "even with the fee, if you're spending $6000 dollars a year it's still over 4 percent (you get back) on groceries." 

Check out more specific cash back programs here.

If travel is important to you, he says airline miles cards can be great if for no other reason that the sign-on bonus.

"There is no better deal than an airline card in the first year," he says.

Often they will offer 50,000 to 60,000 points just for signing up. Once the honeymoon is over Clements says the perks alone make these cards worth it, especially if you're a frequent flyer.

"If you fly a few times a year but don't have status and you check bags, the annual fee to get the checked bag waiver, can more than pay for itself even if you don't do a ton of spending on the card," he says.

As for which airline card is better, Clements says there are too many variables to call one winner, but he has a breakdown of top cards for each airline here.

"You can transfer Amex membership rewards to Delta. You can transfer Chase ultimate rewards to United," he says.

Also, consider where you want to travel--and does the airline go where you want to be? He says getting a card for the airline which has a hub near you makes sense because that is what you'll fly most often and can rack up more points that way. For Phoenix-area travelers in particular, since American has a hub here Clements says there is an opportunity to double up on points.

"Both Barclay Card and Citibank have American Airlines cards," he says. "So having cards from both, you can get some pretty big sign on bonuses."