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How to Find the Right Credit Card Rewards Program for You

One of the best ways to put your purchases to work for you is to use a rewards credit card. There are a number of credit cards [3] out there that can provide you with cash back, free travel, discounts, and even merchandise.

The key is figuring out which credit card rewards program is likely to work best in your circumstance.

What Do You Use the Most?

When trying to figure out which rewards program is best for you, start with your spending habits. What do you use the most? If you fly a lot, it can make sense to look for the best airline credit card rewards [4]. If you stay frequently at hotels, you can consider getting a rewards credit card attached to a particular hotel program, such as Hilton Honors or Marriott.

The key with these types of credit card rewards programs is loyalty. In many cases, to get the best rewards, you need to be a part of a loyalty program [5]. This might mean flying with the same airline all the time, or staying at the same hotel chain on a regular basis.

If you aren’t willing to do that, then a credit card partnered with a loyalty program probably isn’t the best idea. You can, however, choose a more general credit card that focuses on travel rewards [6]. That way, you can stay at any hotel, or fly with any airline, and still receive great rewards.

Figure out which perks are most important to you, and then consider that credit card.

Go With Cash Back

One of the best ways to benefit from credit card rewards, though, is to choose a cash back credit card. Almost anyone can benefit from cash back, and cash back is often more valuable than points or miles [7].

When choosing a cash back card, though, you have to decide between a card that offers regular cash back, or that offers rotating categories. Depending on what the rotating categories are, it’s possible that your spending habits provide you with the ability to earn 5% some quarters. However, if you are more interested in saving a set amount each day, no matter what you buy (such as 2% on grocery purchases year-round), some credit cards like the American Express Blue Cash Everyday or the Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard can be good choices.

Another consideration is whether or not you’re going to remember to check the rotating categories each quarter — and remember to sign up. If you have a hard time registering for the reward categories, or you don’t want the hassle, a rotating cash back card might not be the right choice.

What about Fees?

Finally, consider all of the fees, particularly the annual fee. There are plenty of great rewards cards with no annual fee [8]. However, if you know you will use the card enough to offset the annual fee, it can make sense to turbo-charge your rewards. Many premium cards can offer great potential if you are savvy about your use.

Also look at other fees. Some cards don’t carry foreign transaction fees, which can be helpful if you travel overseas a lot. Other cards don’t charge for late payments or have flexible policies when it comes to waiving fees. Consider this as well.

What do you think makes a good credit card rewards program?

(Photo: Thomas Kohler [9])