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Americans will spend an estimated $1.15 trillion this holiday season, according to eMarketer. Many of those purchases are made on credit cards and this time of year gives consumers the a great opportunity to earn a swath of credit card rewards.
Headlines around supply-chain issues have created some hysteria for consumers to get out and start shopping now. But, before visiting your favorite retailer or shopping online, be sure to analyze which credit card you plan on using for your purchases. When you use the right card(s) you can quickly score rewards worth hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in either cash back or travel.
Below are some tips to help you maximize your spending this holiday season by using credit cards to your advantage.
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1. Sign up for a new card with a large welcome bonus
The easiest way to give your points balance a quick boost is by signing up for a new credit card. Credit card issuers typically offer a welcome bonus when opening a new card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is currently offering 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership. Those bonus points are worth $750 in travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal.
Some bonuses can be worth up to thousands of dollars in rewards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is currently offering 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $8,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of card membership. Terms apply. Many value Amex points at 2 cents each when transferred to travel partners, meaning this offer is worth around $1,600.
However, before jumping at the first offer you see, be sure to analyze these points first before you apply for a card.
- Credit score: Before applying for a new credit card, it's wise to check your credit score. Credit cards typically have a minimum credit score requirement to be approved, so you can quickly figure out if you have a chance of being approved. And while there is a myth that checking your credit score hurts your credit, this is not true. In fact, using a credit monitoring system is a great way to ensure your credit score is accurate and protected from fraudulent activity.
- Cash back or travel rewards: While a credit card is primarily for spending, it's also a financial tool that can help you towards your goals. It's important to ask yourself which type of rewards would benefit you the most. If you're simply looking to save money on your purchases, a cash-back credit card is a great choice. Or, if saving up travel rewards for your next vacation is a higher priority, there are plenty of travel credit cards to choose from.
- Spending bonus requirements: Before signing up for a card to earn a welcome offer, be sure to analyze your upcoming spending. While the holidays are a great way to get ahead of the game, it isn't recommended to spend more for the sake of earning credit card rewards. If you have upcoming bills or large purchases such as a vehicle or tuition, paying with a new credit card can be a strategic move to meet the minimum spend requirements of a sign-up bonus.
2. Work together with friends and family
Many of your friends and family will also be joining you in the holiday shopping spree. While they may opt to pay with cash or a debit card, you may want to ask them politely if you could pay for their purchase to earn even more rewards.
In fact, I recently did this as I needed help completing the spend requirement for a welcome offer and had my mom use my credit card for a few purchases. Afterwards, she quickly sent me the funds via Venmo.
3. Plan out your purchases ahead of time and select a card that earns big
With several weeks to go before the holidays are here, there is still time to plan out what you're going to buy, and where you're going to buy it from. If your purchases fall into one or more of these categories below, a new credit card may benefit you this holiday season:
- Large purchase(s): If you have plan on making one or more purchase(s) of over $500, there is likely a card available that will get you close to earning a credit card welcome offer. For example, if you plan on making a few large purchases this holiday season, a card like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express will be beneficial as it comes with a $250 statement credit welcome offer after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership. In addition, if the purchases aren't able to be returned, you will be covered with return protection.
- Shopping at one retailer: If you are spending a large amount of money at one retailer like Amazon or Costco, there are specific cards that will benefit you more than others. For example, if you have Amazon Prime and plan on doing the majority of your holiday shopping at home, the Prime Visa may be a great fit for you. You will earn 5% cash back on all Amazon.com purchases and a $200 Amazon.com gift card upon approval for the card.
- Cards with customizable categories: There are also several cards available, like the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card, that allow you to choose the categories you anticipate shopping at. With the Cash+ Visa card, you can earn 5% cash on up to $2,000 in purchases each quarter. And for the shopping season, you may choose department stores, electronics stores or select clothing stores.
Don't forget to check out our list of best credit cards for 2021.
4. Shopping Portals
If you plan on making purchases online, consider using a shopping portal. A shopping portal is a website that gives extra rewards or cash back for simply clicking through it to make the same purchase.
For example, you can use a website like CashBackMonitor to look at various retailers and what their current rewards offers are. From there, you can choose which shopping portal you want to click through and then you will be redirected to the retailer's website you wish to shop at. By just making a few additional clicks you will earn additional rewards.
For example, if you to wanted to shop at Macy's, Chase is currently offering an additional 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent. And all you need to do is click through Chase's website first.
Additionally, you can connect your credit card to cash back apps like Payce and Dosh to earn even more rewards on your purchases. This is on top of what you get from travel portals and the credit card itself.
Stepping into the world of credit cards can be daunting as there are dozens to choose from. But as you begin researching cards that are best for you, keep one point in mind: which is going to benefit me the most in my holiday shopping, and beyond?
When looking for a new credit card, consider the initial welcome bonus, ongoing spending categories, annual fee and perks like travel and return protection.
Here are a few of the best credit cards for this holiday season:
$50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 3X points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
21.49% - 28.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Foreign transaction fee
Read our Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstore purchases and on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), 1% cash back on all other purchases
Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 5% cash back on combined gas station and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers
20.49% - 29.24% variable
Balance transfer fee
Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee
Member FDIC. Terms apply. Information about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Read our Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.
Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate.
20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
Introductory fee of 3% for 120 days from account opening, then up to 5% ($5 minimum)
Foreign transaction fee
See rates and fees, terms apply.
The holiday season can be stressful for a multitude of reasons, with a large one being shopping for presents for loved ones. However, while a shiny, new credit card with valuable benefits can be exciting, along with embracing the holiday spirit amid a difficult year and a half — over-shopping is likely to occur.
Before picking out your gifts and running to the store, it's imperative to set a budget for yourself to ensure you don't start the new year with unanticipated debt. Use a credit card to earn rewards, but don't go out of your way to earn points or cash back on things you didn't plan on buying initially.
Information about the Prime Visa has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication; if you purchase something through Select links, we may earn a commission.