Credit Cards

How to Make Sure You Don’t Waste Credit Card Rewards

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Here’s a startling statistic: The average consumer earns $622 per year in rewards and leaves $205 of that on the table.

According to a 2011 study by COLLOQUY, Americans accumulate miles and points that are worth about $48 billion annually. But a third of the rewards—roughly $16 billion—go unredeemed.

In a way, I’m not surprised. Many rewards programs are notoriously difficult to understand. It’s hard to track miles or points if you don’t know how the system works. The study also showed that the average household has signed up for 18.4 programs! Now, they only actively participate in about 8.4. But even so, the thought of keeping track of 8 rewards programs makes my head spin. No wonder money is being wasted.

If you’re only participating in one or two rewards programs you can always set up your own spreadsheet using Excel and track your rewards. You’d have to remember to check your accounts online and update the spreadsheet frequently, though. If you’re tracking several rewards programs, then consider using a website that specializes in tracking rewards points for you. Sometimes “outsourcing” a task you don’t have time for is the best way to go.

I reviewed some of these rewards tracking websites and a few of them charge an annual fee. I like freebies, so I focused on websites that offer the “basic service” for free. So here are a few websites that want to help you track—and take advantage of—your rewards:

Points.com

This website was founded in 2000 so it’s been around for awhile. On this site, you can trade, buy, redeem or give away points or miles. The site supports over 100 loyalty programs.

One thing I really like about this site is that if you find you can no longer use miles from a particular program, you can request a trade or exchange. For example, you can offer to trade your Delta SkyMiles for American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Your request will be posted to the trade board.

Now, I haven’t personally used this so I watched the demo that shows you how to trade and exchange your points. The process seems easy and you get access to others who are looking for trades. Note: The basic service is free, but there’s a $6.95 processing fee for each trade plus a trading fee that’s determined by the frequent flyer or rewards program involved.

AwardWallet.com

This one’s been around since 2004 and supports 425 loyalty programs, including credit cards, air, hotel, and more. You can set up your account so you’ll get notified when your balances change or when your points/miles are about to expire. There’s an active forum where you can chat and share tips with other loyalists. The site also has a smartphone app for Android and for iPhones so you can check your rewards balances when you’re on the go. AwardWallet.com is designed for individuals but there’s also AwardWallet Business, which is for members who are tracking miles or points for their businesses.

This site by far supports the most programs and it’s a user-friendly interface. The basic service is free but there are enhanced features you can sign up for. By the way, you can skip the introductory video—it’s basically just an advertisement.

MileTracker.com

This site is affiliated with USA Today. The site supports over 100 frequent flyer and loyalty programs. You enter your account information and the site automatically retrieves data and updates your accounts. It offers “multiple user support” so you can also set up accounts for family members and track their rewards. If you have a spouse or significant other who’s a little lax about using rewards, then this feature could come in handy.

There’s a forum but it doesn’t seem to be very active. There’s also a blog that offers travel news from USA Today. My main criticism is that the user interface isn’t all that great, and the FAQ page, especially, seems a little clunky.

Keep an eye on this site

myRewardsTree.com It’s not available to the public yet, but I’ve taken a look at the site and I like what I see. You’ll be able to set goals and track rewards for credit cards, loyalty programs and even gift cards. There’s a beta launch on December 23. If you’d like to participate in the beta program, sign up at myRewardsTree.com. The public launch is January 23, 2012.

Kitt Williams, the founder of the site, said her goal is to empower their members by consolidating all their rewards programs and helping them set goals and set up alerts. “Knowing what they’ve earned helps to ensure that they redeem all of their rewards. It’s real money and it should be treated that way,” says Williams. Hey, I couldn’t agree more!

Places to Chat About Miles and Points

If you’re looking for a spot to chat about rewards miles, check out FlyerTalk.com. You can’t track rewards on this site but you can get the scoop about particular airline programs, rewards tracking sites, making the most of your miles and more. There’s even a travel photography forum. I also like ThePointsGuy.com for information about the top deals. There’s an active blog, too, so you can keep up with the latest information. If you fly frequently, you’ll find both of these sites really helpful.

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