[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners if available here — Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi Prestige and American Express’ Starwood Preferred Guest. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Credit card rewards can be extremely valuable, but most people tend to redeem them for some rather boring options. Common credit card rewards include cash back, gift cards, merchandise and travel reservations. Nevertheless, the credit card industry is extremely competitive, and it’s always looking for new and interesting ways for customers to redeem their rewards.
Here are seven of the more unusual ways that you can redeem your credit card rewards.
1. Pay Your Mortgage or Student Loans
Citi offers ThankYou points to holders of its ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier and Prestige cards. In addition to many of the traditional ways to redeem these rewards, there’s also the option to use your rewards to repay your mortgage or student loans. Points are worth one cent each towards this option, which requires you to call Citi’s ThankYou rewards center. If your loan is not held by Citi, it will actually issue a check to your lender. (Full Disclosure: Citibank, as well as Capital One, and American Express, advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
2. Donating to Charity
Some credit card users like to use their rewards for good, and several card issuers offer the option of charitable donations. For example, Capital One’s No Hassle Giving site works with the Network for Good to process and distribute donations the cardholder’s favorite charity. In addition, Capital One waives merchant processing fees to ensure that 100% of the donation is received by the charity.
3. Saving for College
The UPromise MasterCard offered by Sallie Mae and Barclaycard is designed to help cardholders save for college tuition. Cardholders earn cash back that’s deposited into a qualifying college investment plan, and they earn bonus cash back for making purchases from featured merchants.
4. Concert & Event Tickets
If you are looking to use your rewards to get tickets to a show or a sporting event, then you are in luck. American Express allows cardholders to redeem rewards with Ticketmaster, which even offers preferred seating for cardholders. In addition, Citi allows you to use your ThankYou reward points to purchase tickets from Live Nation.
5. Bid on Unique Experiences
Several different credit card reward programs allow you to use your rewards to participate in an auction to win unique experiences. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express (currently Credit.com’s best hotel credit card in America) offers points that can be used to bid on SPG Moments, such as announcing “play ball” before a Chicago Cubs game, joining a private tennis clinic with Andy Roddick, or scoring Luxury Suite tickets for Women’s Finals at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
6. Build Your Retirement Savings
Another way to use your rewards is to save up for your retirement. For example, the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card offers unlimited 2% cash back when your rewards are deposited into an eligible Fidelity account, including retirement accounts and brokerage accounts.
7. Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before
Finally, fans of the Star Trek television shows and movies can use the Star Trek credit card issued by the NASA Federal Credit Union. The Star Trek Platinum Advantage Rewards credit cards can be ordered with designs for Starfleet Academy Alumni, Starfleet Command, United Federation of Planets, and the Captain’s Card. With these cards, you earn reward points that can be redeemed for exclusive Star Trek merchandise and experiences.
Shopping for Credit Cards
Remember, it’s in your best interest to read a card’s membership agreement before applying so you know for sure it’s the right one for you. And, keep in mind, rewards credit cards are really best-suited to be people who don’t carry a balance — otherwise, what you earn will get eaten by interest. Finally, you typically need a good credit score to qualify for cards that offer points, miles or cash back, so it’s a good idea to check your credit before applying. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and see two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) You don’t want to risk incurring a hard inquiry (typically generated by all credit card applications) if you’re just going to get denied the plastic.
You can improve your credit, if necessary, by paying down high credit card balances, limiting new credit inquiries or waiting for negative information to age off of your credit report. And you can keep you credit in tip-top shape for the long haul by paying each and every loan bill on time, keeping your debt levels low (experts recommend generally below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit limits) and adding a mix of new credit accounts (installment vs. revolving loans) over time.
At publishing time, the Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi Prestige and American Express’ Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. 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.