Make the Most of Rewards Credit Cards
When it comes to rewards cards, your first choice is the most important: deciding which rewards card is right for you. There are different types of rewards cards, with different costs and different benefits. Some offer points you can collect and redeem for just about anything, others offer cash back on your purchases.
To make sure you're not leaving money on the table, here's what to look for (and what to avoid) in credit card rewards.
Assess Annual Fees and Waivers for Rewards Cards
To begin with, take a look at the annual fees associated with the rewards credit cards. Rewards credit cards without any annual are available and generally speaking, those that do charge an annual fee keep the cost under $100, but there are always exceptions.
If you're interested in a premium travel rewards credit card, those can be pricier – with annual fees often ranging from $400 to $500 or more. When considering these kinds of cards, carefully compare their costs against their benefits packages. For frequent travelers, the $450 annual fee on an ultra-premium card might be justified if paired with an airport lounge club membership worth $500. Don't forget about annual fee waivers—many premium cards waive fees during the first year, a potentially valuable perk for new cardholders.
If you don't expect to take advantage of the most valuable benefits, opt for a low- or no-annual-fee card. Likewise, if earning rewards is your top priority, look for no-annual-fee cards with above-average rewards programs.
Important Credit Card Terms and Benefits
Beyond the annual fee, pay attention to key credit card terms - regular APR, the costs for cash advances and balance transfers, overdraft protection (if applicable), penalty interest, and late and returned payment fees. Look for cards with terms that align with your known spending habits.
Pay attention to cards' additional benefits too. Major issuers underwrite a slew of potentially valuable benefits, such as complimentary rental car protection, purchase protection, travel accident and cell phone insurance, enhanced identity theft protection and more. Spend some time looking through the benefits statements of a few different cards to determine what's included, important limitations, and potential out-of-pocket costs.
Accumulating Rewards Points
Look for cards that accumulate unlimited rewards points on everyday purchases - such as the Key2More Rewards® credit card. You'll earn 5 KeyBank Relationship Rewards® points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases, with no monthly maximum and the opportunity to earn bonus points based on your monthly spending.
You really want your focus to be on cards with optimal rewards that suit your needs and spending habits so that you're maximizing the benefit. By doing this, the rewards will add up quickly and be extremely valuable.
Understanding Redemption Options and Terms
Spend time researching the rewards programs and terms to better understand the optimal use of your points. Look for cards with a wide range of redemption options like cash back, gift cards, airline miles or general travel loyalty program currency, travel packages and experiences, and even merchandise.
Understand the mechanics of each redemption category. For instance, many points cards offer multiple redemption options, such as gifts, gift cards, travel, and event tickets. When deciding what to use your points on, pay attention to the values, minimum redemption requirements and processing times for each.
Likewise, know how much your points will be worth at redemption. Some cash back redemptions value points at $0.01 apiece, others, like a designated cash-back card, may give you a set rate such as 2% of purchases, so you can avoid collecting points and deciding how best to redeem them.
Last, but not least, don't let your credit card rewards expire. More than 30 percent of American credit card users fail to redeem credit card rewards before they expire.
Pay attention to expiration horizons and understand what you need to do to ensure that you don't leave money on the table. Then, add a recurring appointment to your calendar to make sure all points are redeemed before the expiration date. Choosing a rewards credit card isn't a decision to make lightly. Instead, it's better to take your time and choose a card that's right for you.