How to increase credit card rewards

Signing up for credit cards is, by far, the quickest and easiest way to get huge numbers of points and miles.  And, while most credit card offers have big spend requirements, there are many ways to increase credit card spend.  If you’ve run out of great offers to sign up for, or you’re not interested in signing up for lots of credit cards, another option for earning huge rewards is to get the most out of the credit cards you already have.

This page is a compendium of techniques to consider for increasing credit card rewards:

Shopping Portals

Online shopping portals provide a way to earn extra rewards for things you plan to buy anyway.  Some portals offer cash back, and some offer miles and/or points.  Before shopping online at a merchant, start your browsing session by logging into a portal, then click through to the merchant you had planned to shop at anyway.  In most cases, prices are unaffected by clicking through from a portal, but in a few rare cases prices can change so it’s a good idea to do price comparison research ahead of time.

Tips:

  • Use CashBackMonitor to find the best portal (including miles/points portals).
  • Subscribe to Frequent Miler’s Portal Alerts to discover stores that offer increased rewards
  • Subscribe to Frequent Miler’s Quick Deals to be alerted to portal offers that we find noteworthy
  • Buy Amex gift cards through a cash back portal to earn both credit card rewards and portal rewards, then use those gift cards for everyday purchases or to go through another portal to buy things you need.
  • Some merchants (but far from all) allow you to earn portal rewards for both buying and using gift cards.  In this way you can double rewards when buying merchandise.  Please see the Frequent Miler Laboratory to find out which stores have been reported to work (or not work) for various types of purchases.

Category Bonuses

Many credit cards offer extra points for certain types of purchases.  Within bonus categories, it is common to earn 2, 3, or even 5 points per dollar when using the right credit card for the right purpose.  You can find a thorough list here: Best Category Bonuses.  The best approach is to combine multiple credit cards and always use the best one for each situation.  More can be found in this series:

Tips:

  • Rotating categories: Chase Freedom and Discover It cards offer rotating 5X (5 points per dollar) categories. Don’t forget to register for those quarterly bonuses.  And, don’t forget to use those cards for qualifying purchases.
  • Gift cards: It is often possible to expand the use of a category bonus by visiting a qualifying store and buying gift cards to other stores.  For example, Chase Ink cards offer 5 points per dollar at office supply stores, and both Staples and OfficeMax/Office Depot offer a wide selection of merchant gift cards for sale.  So, go to an office supply store and use your Chase Ink card to buy gift cards to merchants you know you’ll shop at.

Big Spend Bonuses

A number of credit cards offer bonuses when you reach certain spend thresholds.  You can find the best of these bonuses here: Best Big Spend Bonuses.  Here are a couple of examples (these are meant to be illustrative, not recommendations):

  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card: Spend $25K in a calendar year, earn 10,000 mile bonus.  If you spend exactly $25,000 within a year, without going over, then you’ll average 1.4 miles per dollar, or more (more if some of that spend was for United flights in which the card earns 2 miles per dollar)
  • Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: Receive a free weekend night after $10K spend.  Earn Hilton Diamond elite status (top tier) after $40K spend within a calendar year.

Targeted Spend Bonuses

It has become fairly common these days for banks to incentivize customers to use their credit cards more by offering targeted spend bonuses.  Here are a couple of examples of targeted spend bonuses that I or my wife have received recently:

  • Spend $500 or more each month for 3 months and get 15,000 bonus miles (Barclaycard Aviator)
  • For the next two months, earn 4 bonus points per dollar at grocery stores, gas stations, drugstores, and commuter transportation. Max 2500 bonus points awarded (Citi ThankYou Dividend)

These can be great ways to increase rewards, but beware of strict limits.  For example, in the second example above note that they offer a maximum of 2500 bonus points.  That means that I can use that offer to increase rewards on a maximum of $625 worth of spend.

Retention Offers

When you call to cancel a card, it is common for banks to try to keep your business through retention offers.  Some retention offers are simple.  For example, they may waive the annual fee, or offer bonus points if you keep the card.  Often, though, retention offers are similar to targeted spend bonuses.  For example, here are a few retention offers I’ve encountered:

  • Earn 2 bonus points per dollar for the next 6 months (Citi Forward)
  • Earn an extra 4 points per dollar at supermarkets, drugstores, and gas stations for 6 months. Limited to 50,000 bonus points (Citi Prestige)
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after $5K spend in 3 months (Chase Ink Bold)

Combine some or all of the above

It is often possible to combine many of the above techniques so as to increase rewards even more.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Combine category bonus and shopping portal: Often, online stores qualify for category bonuses in the same way as their in-store counterparts. A great example is to click through an online portal to Staples or OfficeMax / Office Depot and pay with a Chase Ink card for any items you purchase. In this way, you’ll earn both the portal rewards and the 5X Chase Ink office supply category bonus.
  • Combine big spend bonus with portal bonus:  If you’re trying to spend enough with a credit card to earn a big spend bonus, you can increase rewards by shopping through portals as often as possible. Even if you don’t have many online purchases to make, you could go through cash back portals to buy Amex gift cards.  In this way, you’ll earn standard credit card rewards, a big spend bonus, and cash back.

See also: Stacking deals for fantastic points and savings.

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