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The holiday season is upon us, and Americans plan on spending an average of $1,048 on gifts, food, decorations and more, according to research from the National Retail Federation. That's a good chunk of money, and if you use the right credit card to make all these purchases, you could also earn some significant rewards.
The best credit cards can earn you at least 2X rewards on all you holiday shopping. For example, the Citi Double Cash® Card earns an effective 2% cash back: unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. Plus, for a limited time, earn 5% total cash back on hotel, car rentals and attractions booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through 12/31/24. This can earn you roughly $21 in rewards on holiday shopping, assuming you spend $1,048 and you pay off your balance at the end of your billing cycle.
Below, Select breaks down the best ways to make the most of using your credit card this holiday season.
- Best for simple cash-back rewards: Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees.)
- Best for grocery rewards: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Best for gas rewards: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
- Best for luxury travel: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Best for restaurants and dining out: American Express® Gold Card
If you're looking to use a credit card to earn rewards with this holiday season, there are hundreds of options. The best credit card for you depends on what type of holiday shopping you plan on doing — there's no one size fits all card. We've listed some questions below to help you decide which credit card is the best choice for your upcoming spending.
- Are you going to be entertaining guests with home-cooked meals? Consider a grocery rewards card, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express which earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- Will you rack up miles on the road or in the air? Opt for a gas rewards card, such as the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card with 5X points on gas purchases at the pump, or a travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® with 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit) and 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide.
- Do you plan on ordering takeout or catering meals? Check out the best credit cards for restaurants and dining out, such as the American Express® Gold Card with 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants. Unlike typical credit cards, the Gold Card allows you to carry a balance for certain charges, but not all.
If you already have a hoard of credit card rewards — whether it's cash back, points or miles — now can be a good time to use them for all your holiday purchases. Rewards can be redeemed in a variety of ways, from gift cards to travel.
The value of cash back, points or miles varies based on how you redeem them, but we've outlined four common redemption options below so you can choose the best one(s) for your needs.
Gift cards are one of the simplest redemption options. And that can be a smart way to use your rewards in part because gift cards are the number-one wish list request for nearly six in ten (59%) consumers, according to the National Retail Federation's annual holiday survey.
Card issuers typically set minimum redemption amounts for gift cards, usually at least $25. Many rewards portals allow you to get gift cards for major department stores, such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's; electronics stores such as Best Buy; restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory; and more.
Statement credit redemptions can be a good choice since it can reduce the overall cost of your bill. Just remember that when you redeem your rewards or cash back for a statement credit, you're still required to make the minimum payment. Beware that statement credit redemptions are the best choice for cash-back credit cards but not necessarily rewards credit cards. You'll typically only get a 70% value with rewards card points or miles that are redeemed for statement credits versus cash-back cards, which offer a 100% value.
Travel is a good redemption choice, especially if you have certain travel cards that offer bonus value on points redeemed through the card issuer's portal. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 50% more value on points redeemed for travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruise reservations when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This is a great way to maximize the value of your rewards.
Merchandise is generally not the best choice for rewards redemptions since it often takes more points or miles to cover the cost of an item than buying it in stores or online. It can be more cost effective to redeem rewards for a gift card, then use that gift card to purchase the merchandise. Or you can apply rewards as a statement credit after making the purchase.