Your Money

Here's how you're losing out on credit card rewards

Key Points
  • Many Americans are confused when it comes to their credit card rewards and frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, according to a new survey.
  • Lack of clarity around these programs also means that consumers are letting these benefits go unredeemed.
  • The good news is you can work to overcome your bewilderment by taking these three steps.
Damon Moss | Getty Images

Chances are, you are confused about your credit card rewards, frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs.

And that means you're probably leaving real money on the table.

Many Americans don't understand these programs, according to a new survey from NextAdvisor, which reviews online services.

More than half of those surveyed said they are befuddled by frequent flyer programs, followed by hotel loyalty programs and credit card rewards.

About 47 percent of survey respondents said they did not know how many hotel loyalty points they have. Meanwhile, 35 percent don't know their tally of frequent flyer miles, and 35 percent don't understand their credit card rewards.

Some consumers are not taking the time to sort through those rewards. That goes for 36 percent who are in frequent flyer programs; 33 percent in hotel loyalty programs and 24 percent with credit card rewards.

The problem comes from two sources, according to Julie Myhre-Nunes, an analyst at NextAdvisor: companies that do not make it clear how to redeem rewards and consumers who are quick to apply for cards that aren't necessarily the best fit for them.

Here are several steps you can take to avoid this confusion.

You could be hurting your budget by using the wrong credit card
You could be hurting your budget by using the wrong credit card

Read the fine print 

Make sure you understand exactly what rewards are being offered and how you would redeem them.

"Check out the terms and conditions to make sure everything in there is what you need," Myhre-Nunes said.

Make sure the rewards fit your lifestyle

Don't sign on for a frequent flyer rewards program for an airline you never fly.

And if you only travel once a year or once every other year, you may not need those rewards. A better alternative: a cash-back rewards card, which lets you redeems those rewards for almost anything, Myhre-Nunes said.

Take inventory of your existing accounts

If you have a rewards account now that you're not sure about, bone up on what's available to you by reading the fine print and/or calling customer service to find out.

Also be sure to revisit whether your accounts still match up with your needs at least every couple of years.

Three years ago, you may have been single and traveling frequently, for example, whereas now you're married and stay home more frequently.

"Especially around life changes, think about what your credit card is doing and if it's really the best fit for you," Myhre-Nunes said.

NextAdvisor's online survey was conducted in March and included 2,232 adults ages 18 and up.

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