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Here are the best ways to maximize credit card rewards

CNBC Select provides tips on how you can get the most value from your credit card rewards by maximizing cash back, points and miles.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers, but not all offers on Select are from affiliate partners.

The Chase Freedom® is not currently available to new cardholders. Please visit our list of the best cash-back cards for alternative options.

Credit cards can provide an array of benefits, from 0% interest financing to free shipping access, but perhaps one of the most lucrative perks is the potential to earn rewards.

Rewards cards come in all shapes and sizes, providing you with cash back, points or miles that you can redeem for statement credits, travel, gift cards and much more. But if you take certain actions, like carrying a balance, you may negate any rewards you earn.

In order to ensure you get the most value from your credit card rewards, CNBC Select provides tips on how you can maximize your cash back, points and miles.

How to maximize credit card rewards

  1. Use the right card
  2. Earn the welcome bonus
  3. Check for limited-time offers
  4. Combine points
  5. Pay your bill in full

1. Use the right card

Using a rewards card for all your purchases can help you earn cash back, points or miles. And if you use the right card at the right time, you can maximize the amount of rewards you earn.

Let’s take an example where you have the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Here are the rewards you earn with each card:

Citi® Double Cash Card: 2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill. 

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    For a limited time, earn $200 cash back after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    16.24% - 26.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    For balance transfers completed within 4 months of account opening, an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies; after that, a balance transfer fee of 5% of each transfer ($5 minimum) applies

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash back is received in the form of statement credits.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $350 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers from the date of account opening

  • Regular APR

    16.24% - 27.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

If you want to earn the most amount of rewards possible, you should use the Blue Cash Preferred Card for groceries, streaming subscriptions, gas and transit. Then use the Citi Double Cash Card for everything else. By using the right card for the right type of purchases, you’ll earn the highest amount of rewards.

This tip only applies if you have more than one card, but even if you only have one, you may want to consider opening another card with different rewards rates. 

Check out five questions to ask yourself if you're unsure about applying for a new credit card.

2. Earn the welcome bonus

Most rewards credit cards offer a welcome bonus after account opening that can help you jump start earning rewards. Rewards cards typically provide bonuses worth over $150 and some cards even provide the chance to earn $750.

Welcome bonuses typically require you to spend anywhere from $500 to $4,000 within the first three months after account opening in order to earn the bonus. For instance, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within three months from account opening. That's a generous bonus for such a low spending requirement.

But while welcome bonuses can be lucrative, you shouldn't overspend just to earn it. The interest you'd get charged for carrying a balance isn't worth the extra rewards, which we explain more about below.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

On Capital One's secure site
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash back on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    16.49% - 26.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

3. Check for limited-time offers

Card issuers often run limited-time offers that can provide elevated rewards rates. Check that you're signed up for marketing emails from your issuer so you get the latest news.

Recently many issuers provided bonus rewards on groceries and food delivery to meet consumers' increased spending. You may even receive targeted offers that allow you to earn extra rewards for a certain time period.

It's a good idea to take advantage of these offers since they often run for a short amount of time, but can help you optimize rewards.

Check out our list of the best limited-time credit card bonus offers, which is updated on a regular basis. Plus 9 fitness, streaming and other premium memberships you can get for free with select credit cards.

4. Combine points

If you have multiple cards from the same card issuer, there’s a good chance you can combine rewards. This lets you pool points and redeem them for a bigger reward. Typically, you can only transfer or combine rewards with cards from the same issuer and between the same type of cards, such as a point card to another point card.

For instance, Amex allows you to transfer rewards between cards that earn Membership Rewards® points, such as the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. Terms apply.

Meanwhile, Chase provides you with the flexibility to transfer points between Ultimate Rewards cards. So you can move points from the Chase Freedom® (earns cash back) to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (earns points).

5. Pay your bill in full

Making on-time payments is the most important factor of your credit score and essential to getting the most value out of your credit card rewards. Since credit card interest rates are in the double-digits and rewards rates are typically single-digits, carrying a balance can offset your earnings.

To avoid missing out on rewards and accruing debt, pay off your statement balance in full every billing cycle.

Don’t miss:

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card , click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.

Information about the Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuers of the cards prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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