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How to Maximize Your Holiday Shopping Credit Card Rewards

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Will you be using your credit card for holiday shopping? Most Americans will use plastic for its security and convenience, and many will earn rewards in the process. But while some will only be earning rewards worth 1% back, others will enjoy much higher levels of bonus rewards from their cards. The key is to use the right credit card where it is eligible to earn a higher level of rewards. Here are the three different ways to maximize your cash back and points from holiday shopping.

1. Use Credit Cards With High Rewards on Common Holiday Purchases

Some credit cards offer additional rewards for purchases from merchants where people do much of their holiday spending. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred Card From American Express offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases and 3% cash back at select U.S. department stores. This can work out great when you are shopping for a holiday feast, or when you visit the department stores to get pictures with Santa or cross items off your gift list. In addition, supermarkets are also a great place to purchase gift cards when you don’t know what to get someone on your list. This card also offers 3% cash back on gasoline, but it has a $75 annual fee.

2. Make the Most of Rotating Bonus Categories

Two of the most popular rewards credit cards offer bonus levels of cash back for purchases at select stores and categories of merchants. Between now and the end of the year the Chase Freedom (read a review here) is featuring 5% cash back up to $1,500 spent at Amazon.com, Zappos.com, Audible.com and Diapers.com. Nevertheless, cardholders must log in to their account and activate their bonus categories before the end of the the year. Thankfully, the bonus cash back can be earned retroactively on purchases made on or after Oct. 1. In addition, Chase Freedom cardholders receive access to the Blueprint program, which allows them to save money on interest charges by paying off some purchases in full while carrying a balance on others. Cardholders receive 1% cash back on all other purchases, and there is no annual fee for this card.

Like the Chase Freedom, the Discover it card (read a review here) offers 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent each quarter on eligible purchases, and 1% elsewhere. For the fourth quarter of 2015 (October – December), the featured categories are Amazon.com as well as all department stores and clothing stores. Cardholders also need to log in to their Discover account and activate their bonus categories. All other purchases with the Discover it card earn 1% cash back, and there is no annual fee for this card.

3. Shop With Credit Cards That Have Holiday Promotions

Some credit card issuers run promotions during the holidays that can be quite attractive. For example, MasterCard just launched a new promotion in partnership with IHG Rewards Club, the loyalty program for Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inn and other brands. The “Priceless Surprises” program is offered to travelers who use a MasterCard to book and stay at any IHG hotel in the world between Nov. 15, 2015 and Feb. 15, 2016. Guests receive 1,000 IHG Rewards Club bonus points after their first stay, and after their second, and subsequent stays, they will receive a Priceless Surprise gift each time, including a $50 prepaid MasterCard, a free night at any IHG hotel, or a free trip to New York City, Orlando or Paris. While you can use any MasterCard to be eligible for this promotion, IHG offers its IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card From Chase. New cardholders earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first three months after account opening, and earn 5 points per dollar spent at IHG properties. Double points are earned for purchases from gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. There is a $49 annual fee that is waived the first year, and cardholders receive a free night certificate each year when they renew.

Another popular promotion is AmEx Offers, which are available to all cardholders when they log in to their account. While these bonuses vary per cardmember, popular offers include $20 off purchases of $199 or more at Best Buy as well as discounts for purchases from specialty retailers that sell gifts such as Godiva and Sur La Table.

Before you run out and apply for a credit card just to earn rewards on your holiday shopping, it’s important to compare credit cards that you’re likely to qualify for based on your credit score to make sure you don’t apply for cards that you’re unlikely to get. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.

At publishing time, the Blue Cash Preferred Card From American ExpressChase FreedomDiscover it, and IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card From Chase are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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