39 Brilliant Ways to Earn More Points and Cash Back From Your Rewards Credit Cards
Two months after I got my Citi ThankYou Premier card, I used the points to pay for two plane tickets to Colorado and a car rental. I earned about 5,000 points from purchases, but most of the $675 reward was from the 50,000-point sign-up bonus.
The catch: You have to spend $3,000 within three months to get the bonus. That can be difficult, even if you use the card every day.
Plus, what if you also have other cards you want to use?
For example, you might want to keep using your Discover Card for the 5% cash-back bonus categories. You don't want to pass up the 5% cash back you get at office supply stores with your Chase Ink Cash card, either.
Plus, you might only have a few weeks left to hit the sign-up bonus spending requirement for another card -- I had three with deadlines.
How do you get all those points and cash back, and still meet your spending requirements for sign-up bonuses?
These 39 strategies to get more points and cash back include everything from using a credit cards to pay rent and income taxes to creating points with "manufactured spending."
1. Use the Right Card
The simplest way to earn points and cash back is using credit cards to pay for everything.
But be sure to use the right card for each purchase to maximize what you earn.
For example, if you have an American Express Blue Cash Everyday® Card (I just got mine), you get 3% cash back in supermarkets. If another card pays double or triple points at gas stations, fill your tank with it.
Label your cards with stickers to keep track of what to use where.
2. Choose the Right Redemption Option
Many cards offer more value for your points if you redeem them in certain ways.
For example, I just redeemed $208 cash back on my SunTrust Visa account. I redeemed the points for checking account credit at the same bank and got an extra 10% -- or $20.80.
Many travel cards offer discounts for travel expenses if you use your points to book through their program.
When I redeemed 55,000 Citibank ThankYou points for flights and a car rental, I got 1.25 cents per point instead of the 1 cent I would have received redeeming them for gift cards or other rewards. That’s an extra $137.50!
3. Transfer Unused Points
Transfer unused points into other accounts or programs and turn them into rewards.
I have about 54,000 Marriott Rewards points, mostly from a credit card sign-up offer. I've been having a hard time spending them on free hotel nights. But Marriott's RewardsPlus program lets me convert them into United MileagePlus miles, redeemable toward flights.
You can often combine points if you have several cards from the same issuer. If you only have a few thousand ThankYou points on each of your Citibank cards, transfer them to one card. It could get you the minimum needed to earn a gift card or other reward.
If you have a problem with a rewards program or the rewards -- say something.
On one of our free Hyatt nights in Miami (paid for with credit card points), we found something disgusting near the hot tub.
We mentioned it during checkout, the hotel desk clerk apologized and added 6,000 points to our account.
It might not always work, but it's worth a try.
5. Use Your Amex Offers
Login to your American Express account and look over the "Amex Offers" at the bottom of the page. These rewards are for certain purchases, in addition to the points you regularly earn.
Just click "Add to Card" to use an offer. A recent offer gave me a $15 statement credit for spending more than $15 on Amazon.com.
You can sometimes double up on offers, if you have more than one American Express card, although each card may also have unique offers.
For example, I used each of my three Amex cards to spend $10 on a Home Depot gift card, and got $10 cash back for each one. Net profit: $30.
6. Use a Credit Card to Pay Utility Bills
You can pay most utility bills with a credit card, though sometimes there’s a "convenience fee."
But if the extra fee for charging your cable bill works out to 3%, it would still make sense to use a Chase Ink Cash card, which pays 5% cash back on Internet and cable service charges.
It also makes sense to pay the fee if you need to spend more on a card to earn a sign-up bonus. Why worry about a $5 fee if the charge completes your spending requirement to earn a $200 bonus?
If there’s no extra charge, always pay with a rewards credit card to get points or cash back.
7. Pay Ahead on Your Bills
If you’re facing a spending requirement deadline, try paying ahead on your bills to put more charges on the card now.
I've done this with my water bill several times -- fortunately there’s no convenience fee in my city!
8. Buy Discounted Gift Cards to Pay for Regular Expenses
Buy discounted gift cards online to quickly rack up credit card points. The gift cards are either unused or have partial remaining balances. This strategy saves you money and helps you earn credit card points.
A 20% discount is common for Applebee's gift cards, so a $40 gift card might cost about $32. Buy the digital version and print it out if you're headed there for dinner. You'll save $8 and earn credit card points or cash back.
Buy more gift cards for places you're sure to shop.
I recently bought $200 worth of Walmart gift cards for $193 (Walmart cards have one of the lowest discounts). The charge helped me meet a spending requirement for a bonus that will cover two Southwest Airlines tickets.
Using $200 in Walmart cards will be easy -- that's a couple of weeks’ worth of groceries or part of my holiday shopping.
9. Buy Gift Cards on Sale Locally
Gift cards sometimes go on sale in local stores, another opportunity to save money and earn credit card rewards.
Our local Dollar General recently had several gift cards on sale for 15% off. I bought $20 gift cards for Domino's, Olive Garden and Subway -- all of which we frequent. I saved $9 total and got 2% cash back.
10. Buy Gift Cards to Earn 5% or 10% Cash Back
Suppose your card's 5% cash-back categories are "office supplies" and "home improvement," but you want cash back on gas.
Just find a Home Depot or Staples store that sells gift cards for gas stations -- most do.
I recently bought $300 in Shell gift cards at a Home Depot to earn 5% back -- and the cash back is doubled the first year on my Discover card, making it 10% total.
11. Make Your Mortgage Payment
Make mortgage payments with your credit card through ChargeSmart and other services. Fees vary, but always are displayed before you complete the transaction.
Decide for yourself if it makes sense to pay the fee to earn points or meet spending requirements.
12. Make Your Car Payments
ChargeSmart also allows you to make car payments with a credit card. To reduce the fee, make a partial payment using the card and pay the rest by check.
13. Buy a Car Using a Credit Card
Last year, my wife and I bought a used car with a credit card. We had the money in the bank, but the dealer didn't charge anything extra to put the car on my Hyatt card -- so why not?
I got enough points in one purchase for a free night at a Hyatt hotel and paid the full balance as soon as I got the credit card statement.
14. Charge Your Rent Payment
You can pay rent with a credit card through several companies -- RentShare even lets you split a payment between roommates. If a landlord doesn't want to sign up for direct deposits from these services, they’ll send a check.
A typical fee is almost 3% of the payment, but it makes sense if you need to meet a large spending requirement for a credit card bonus.
Suppose you need to charge another $700 in the next week to earn a $200 sign-up bonus, and you owe $800 for rent. Charge the rent payment for a fee of $22 (2.75%) and get $8 cash back (1%) -- $14 is your net cost to meet that requirement and get a $200 bonus.
15. Pay Your Income Taxes
The IRS actually has a list of approved payment processors to pay income taxes with a credit card.
The cheapest ones charge 1.87% of the amount, so you might even make a little extra if you have a 2% cash-back card. It’s another good way to meet large spending requirements to earn credit card sign-up bonuses.
16. Pay Your Property Taxes
Official Payments lets you pay property taxes using a credit card, but it doesn't work everywhere.
Fees vary, but there’s a calculator that allows you to check availability and cost in advance. Some localities have their own credit card payment processing service, possibly with a lower fee. For example, here in Sarasota County, Florida, the fee is 2.45%.
17. Pay Insurance Bills
Homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance typically cost hundreds of dollars. Paying them with your credit cards is a great way to pile up points or meet spending requirements.
18. Pay Other Bills
Pay any and all bills with a rewards-earning credit card if you can, unless you’re charged extra fees.
It may be smart to pay a small fee if the charge helps you complete a minimum spending requirement for a sign-up bonus.
19. Send Money Internationally
Several services let you send money to friends or family overseas with your credit card.
Xoom, which is owned by PayPal, lets you send $600 to Mexico for a $15.99 fee -- or 2.7%. That’s probably more than the value of any points or cash back you'll earn, but it’s another way to meet sign-up bonus spending requirements.
20. Charge Your College Tuition
Some payment processors let you pay tuition using a credit card. Plastiq charges a 2.5% fee for the service, and promises to cover any late fees if they don't get it done on time.
21. Pay Student Loans Using a Credit Card
Some lenders allow student loan payments by credit card -- for a fee.
It may be worth paying the fee to meet a spending requirement, but only if you normally pay the card off in full when the statement arrives to avoid interest. Credit card interest rates are typically higher than student loan rates.
22. Pay Child Support
Many states accept child support payments through services like GovPayNet. You'll have to pay a fee, and "child support" probably won’t show up as a category on any of your 5% cash-back bonus cards, so this may not be the best way to get cash back. However, it could help you meet a spending requirement.
23. Make Church Offerings by Credit Card
Swiping your card in the pew is one option, and some churches let you set up online credit card tithing.
24. Charge for Charity
Most nonprofit organizations accept credit card donations. You'll earn points or cash back, but remember the charity pays a processing fee. It will keep less of your money than if you donated by check or cash.
25. Buy Debit Gift Cards for Everyday Use
I shop at Aldi, where they don't accept credit cards. They do accept debit cards -- so I use a credit card to buy debit gift cards, which I then use at Aldi.
Worth it? Do the math.
I buy Visa gift cards at Staples using one of two cards that give me 5% cash back at office supply stores. The fee for a $200 card is $6.95 and I get $10.35 cash back on the total of $206.95.
A $3.40 profit isn't much, but I don't like to carry much cash (the only other way to pay at Aldi).
Then there is this related strategy...
26. Take Advantage of Debit Gift Card Promotions
Both OfficeMax and Staples regularly run sales on debit gift cards.
Recent promotions I've taken advantage of included $15 off $300 in Visa Debit cards at OfficeMax, and a $20 gift card for buying two $200 MasterCard debit cards at Staples. I made $26.79 after fees using a $5 cash back card at Staples.
Some reports say Citibank cards sometimes treat debit card purchases as cash advances. Avoid using these cards for this strategy, since you might have to pay additional fees.
27. Buy PayPal Reload Cards
You can often buy PayPal My Cash cards with a credit card (it's up to the vendor).
I've bought them this way several times at CVS. The fee is $3.95, and you can load them with up to $500, which you then add to your online PayPal account.
Even a 1% cash-back card puts you ahead when you buy a $500 reload. But the real value is you have an easy way to meet spending requirements for sign-up bonuses.
Warning: There is a limit of $4,000 per month, and there are reports that PayPal may suspend or close your account if you do this too often.
28. Stock Up on Non-Perishables
Need those credit card points soon to get a free flight? Or maybe grocery stores are about to be rotated off the quarterly 5% cash-back bonus categories.
Buy non-perishable goods to get charges onto that card right now. Canned food is good for years, and paper goods last even longer, so buy these items on sale now to get your points and cash back.
But be sure you haven't already passed the maximum qualifying amount. For example, Discover only pays 5% back on up to $1,500 in bonus category purchases per quarter.
29. Buy Amazon Gift Cards
If you do a lot of Amazon shopping and need to pile up some credit card points fast or meet a spending requirement, buy Amazon gift cards.
There are no fees, they never expire and shipping is free even if you get the physical cards.
30. Add a User to Your Card
If your spouse is still pulling out cash to pay for purchases, add him or her as a user on your credit card.
One of the best reasons to use a credit card instead of cash is the rewards you get. When you double your spending, you double your points or cash back!
31. Pay for Collective Meals
The next time you're dining with friends and splitting up the check, collect everyone’s cash and charge the full bill to your best credit card.
(That’s the one that pays at least 2% back at restaurants.)
32. Shop With Friends Who Use Cash
If you have a friend who shops with cash, pay with your credit card and have them give you the cash.
Explain the advantages of the purchase protection that comes with the card (if you have that). Plus, you get the points or cash back.
33. Make a Microloan
Of course, defaults can happen, so don't loan what you can't afford to lose.
34. Fund New Bank Accounts Using a Credit Card
I made more than $1,000 in bank account sign-up bonuses this year, and sometimes funded the new accounts with a credit card.
In other words, I earned points and cash back just for putting money in the bank. Doctor Of Credit has a list of banks where you can try this strategy for yourself.
35. Use Point Promotions
Credit card companies sometimes offer extra point promotions.
My Frontier Airlines MasterCard just offered me 1,000 points to sign up for two recurring bill payments. I'll probably put my water and cable bills on the card to earn the bonus, and I'll still get the regular point-per-dollar for the charges.
36. Try Manufactured Spending
If you love to beat credit card companies at their own game -- and collect some nice rewards along the way -- try manufactured spending.
It's a tricky game: Use credit cards to buy cash equivalents you can "liquidate" (turn back into cash).
While you can’t load Bluebird and similar accounts directly with your credit card, you can use debit gift cards, then transfer the money back to your checking account.
Buy those debit gift cards with credit cards that offer rewards worth more than the costs you'll incur.
37. Get a Discover Card
Discover will double all of your cash-back rewards after your first year as a cardholder, which puts it in a class of its own.
It’ll even double the rewards from the 5% categories, so you can get a total of 10% back on those purchases.
38. Get a Sign-Up Bonus
Signing up for a new card is the quickest way to get credit card rewards. I made over $2,000 in sign-up bonuses this year.
Consider this: To earn $500 on a 1% cash-back card, you would have to spend $50,000.
But if you spend just $4,000 on a newly approved Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you get a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points plus at least 4,000 points for the purchases.
That 54,000 points is enough to cover $670 in travel expenses.
39. Use Credit Cards for Everything Else
Buying a 69-cent soda at the gas station? Charge it to your rewards card!
Then again, what other kind would you have? Even if you don’t want to pay an annual fee, you can still get a great cash-rewards card, like the Barclaycard CashForward World Mastercard, which helps you earn 1.5% on all purchases.
Unless you have trouble handling credit (some people do), why not get in the habit of paying with a credit card and earning points or cash rewards on everything?
Your Turn: How do you get credit card points and cash back?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Steve Gillman is the author of "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He's been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).