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Shoppers preferred buying gifts online this holiday season—here's how to use your credit card to save when shopping

Holiday shopping sales rose 3.4% this season with shoppers favoring the convenience of online stores over visiting retail locations.

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Holiday shopping sales rose this season with shoppers favoring the convenience of online stores over visiting retail locations. Total U.S. retail sales for Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 grew 3.4% from last holiday season, according to a Mastercard SpendingPulse survey that tracked retail spending trends across all payment types, including cash and check.

The area that had the greatest spike in sales was e-commerce, rising 18.8%, up from 18.4% in 2018. And holiday e-commerce sales made up 14.6% of total retail spending.

"Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season," Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard, said in the press release.

Department stores saw overall sales decline 1.8% but online sales grew 6.9%, which emphasizes shoppers' e-commerce preference.

How to use a credit card to your advantage when online shopping

If you're still shopping for gifts, a credit card is a great asset that can earn you rewards for holiday shopping and help offset the cost of presents. Here's how to use a credit card to your advantage when online shopping.

  • Check for free shipping perks. American Express and Citi are two issuers that offer cardholders free two-day shipping at over 100 online sites with ShopRunner. This is a great way to get gifts fast and avoid rush shipping costs.
  • Be mindful of bonus rewards categories. Many credit cards offer bonus rewards in select categories, such as Amazon, Target and department stores (which include online purchases). Make sure you use the best credit card for each site and activate bonus categories as needed.
  • Look for exclusive shopping discounts. Your card issuer may provide special deals on eligible spending that typically give you either a percentage or set dollar amount of cash back, credited to your account. Check your account and load any offers before completing an eligible purchase.
  • Only shop on verified sites. Holiday fraud is common, so make sure you pay attention to the links you click on. Before entering any credit card info online, make sure the site's URL starts with "https."

Here are some credit cards CNBC Select recommends for holiday shopping:

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

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

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

  • Regular APR

    13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

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

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points on restaurants (including takeout and delivery, plus, Uber Eats purchases) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% 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

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

 

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.