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How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

You can maximize rewards by using your card for everyday purchases and paying your balance in full each month.

Pgiam / Getty

Rewards credit cards give you something back for each dollar you spend, usually in the form of cash back, miles or points.

As you shop around for a rewards credit card, you’ll notice how some provide flat-rate rewards for all purchases, while others give you more points or cash back for specific spending categories. Many cards also offer generous welcome bonuses you can earn in the first few months, and some come with useful cardholder benefits including consumer protections or even luxury travel perks.

Compare all the best credit cards to find the right one for your budget and spending habits. Once you’re ready to use your new card, here’s how you can boost your rewards and make the most out of its benefits.

How to maximize your credit card rewards

The best ways to maximize credit card rewards will depend on the type of rewards credit card you have. Here’s a rundown of tips that can help you earn more rewards for each purchase you make.

Use your rewards card for every purchase

Some rewards credit cards -- like the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card -- offer a flat cash-rewards rate that doesn’t change based on what you buy. The best way to maximize these kinds of cards is to use it for any purchase not covered by another card that has a higher rewards rate.

Other cash back credit cards have bonus categories with more rewards included. The Chase Freedom Unlimited®*, for example, offers:

  • 5% cash back on travel through Chase 
  • 5% back on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025) 
  • 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash back on other spending 

With this type of card, you’d want to use it for purchases where it earns the most, as well as for everyday purchases -- unless you have another card that earns more than 1.5% cash back on other spending.

At the end of the day, you’ll earn more rewards over time if you use a credit card for everything you buy. Some people choose to use a single card for all their spending, whereas others might trade out different cards to earn more points or cash back on specific purchases.

Earn the welcome bonus

Another way to maximize credit card rewards is to make sure you earn the welcome bonus offered by the card issuer. The strategy depends on which card you sign up for and how much you need to spend within a certain time period, so you’ll want to do the math to be able to reach the spending threshold via regular purchases and bills.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, you can earn 60,000 points -- worth $750 in travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards -- after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. This means you’ll need to spend an average of at least $1,334 for three consecutive months after applying for the card to earn the bonus.

If that spending threshold is too high for you, many other credit card welcome bonuses don’t require as much to earn a bonus. With the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, you can earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases within three months of account opening. That means you only have to spend an average of $167 per month for three months.

Don’t overspend to get more rewards

Track your spending and try to use your rewards credit card alongside a monthly budget or spending plan. After all, you won’t end up ahead in rewards if you find yourself spending more money on things you don’t need just because you want to boost your cash back.

If you use a rewards credit card that offers rewards for necessities like gas, groceries or utility bills, you’ll earn rewards for purchases you’re making regularly.

Get a card that matches your spending habits

Select a rewards credit card that aligns with your spending habits. For example, there are credit cards that offer more cash back or points in categories like travel and dining out, so pick a card that will yield more rewards based on your lifestyle.

In some cases, it makes sense to get a flat-rate cash back credit card. Many people actually prefer flat-rate cash back credit cards for their simplicity since they don’t have to keep track of any bonus categories. They also pair well with tiered rewards cards. Use the flat-rate card for everything the tiered rewards card doesn’t cover.

Understand the card’s fine print

Make sure you understand your credit card’s fine print and limitations, which vary from card to card. For example, you should know whether your rewards credit card offers unlimited bonus points or cash back, or if you only earn bonus rewards up to a certain threshold.

Also make sure you understand the fees your card charges, which could include ongoing charges like an annual fee or foreign transaction fees when traveling outside the US.

Pay your statement balance in full each month

Finally and probably most importantly, make sure you are only charging purchases you can afford to pay off right away and always pay your credit card statement in full each month. This step is crucial due to the high interest rates credit cards charge. If you carry a balance, the interest charges you owe could wipe out any rewards you earn.

The Federal Reserve lists the average credit card interest rate at 22.16% as of May. No rewards credit cards on the market today get close to matching that rate in cash back.

Cash back or points: Which is better?

As you compare rewards credit cards, keep the following in mind:

  • Cash back is generally always worth 1 cent per 1% cash back when redeemed for statement credits or direct deposit but typically has fewer redemption options than points.
  • Cash back can sometimes be awarded in points, but you’re still earning cash-back rewards. For example, earning 3X points on dining, eligible online grocery purchases and select streaming services with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card translates to 3% cash back in those categories if you choose this redemption option.
  • Points are typically more versatile than cash back, but their value may change depending on how they’re used. For example, according to TPG, American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points could be worth 2 cents each or more when transferred to airline and hotel partners for premium travel redemptions, but other forms of redemption -- like statement credits -- could net you less than a cent.

At the end of the day, some people prefer earning cash back, while others prefer points due to the versatility. Just remember that most cash-back credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, whereas credit cards that earn flexible points are more likely to charge an annual fee of $95 or more.

Which card has the best rewards program?

It’s impossible to say which credit card has the best rewards program, mostly because the best rewards credit card varies dramatically from person to person. 

Not only will you find multiple flat-rate cash back credit cards to choose from, but some cards have bonus categories that will work better for some people than others. There are also flexible travel credit cards, airline credit cards and hotel credit cards that tend to work best for frequent travelers.

The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card would be a good option for most people, if they can qualify for it, due to its exceptional flat rewards rate of 2% cash rewards. A grocery card like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can be ideal for consumers who spend a lot at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations.

For frequent travelers who want to earn rewards for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and other travel, flexible rewards credit cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points, Capital One Miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points are often best.

Should you have more than one rewards card?

You don’t have to have more than one rewards credit card, but there are benefits that come with using multiple cards to earn more rewards. For example, you can:

  • Combine a tiered rewards credit card with a flat-rate, no-annual-fee credit card in order to boost rewards in bonus categories while still earning the highest flat-rate rewards on other purchases. 
  • Use a travel credit card for its travel benefits, then pair it with a cash-back credit card so you’re earning a higher rewards rate on everyday spending.
  • Have a handful of credit cards that earn the most rewards in categories you spend the most in, then change them out for different purchases based on which card earns the most.

It’s important to remember that juggling multiple cards means there’s more to keep track of. Not only that, but applying for too many cards at once can have a negative impact on your credit score in the short term.

Ultimately, you should have multiple cash back or rewards credit cards only if you’re able to track your spending with ease and you have no trouble paying all your balances in full and on time each month.

The bottom line

Rewards credit cards can be a major boon for your finances by giving you something back for purchases you were going to make anyway. That said, the exorbitant interest rates credit cards charge can easily wipe away the rewards you earn -- and then some -- if you wind up carrying a balance from one month to the next.


Only use credit cards for purchases you can pay off right away. Avoid situations where you might feel you have to spend more simply to earn rewards and skip pursuing credit card welcome offers that require minimum spending thresholds you can’t easily reach. And always remember to pay your credit card bills early or on time each month.


The fastest way to earn rewards is through a credit card welcome bonus. After all, some credit card bonuses are worth $500 or more if you can spend a few thousand dollars on purchases within the first few months of account opening.

The smartest way to earn credit card points involves using a rewards credit card for purchases you can afford to pay off, then paying your balance in full each billing cycle with no exceptions. Using a credit card that earns rewards for gas and groceries can put money back in your pocket for purchases you have to make regularly.

The main types of rewards credit cards include cash-back credit cards, tiered rewards credit cards, rewards cards with rotating bonus categories, travel credit cards and business credit cards.

*All information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Holly Johnson is a credit card expert and writer who covers rewards and loyalty programs, budgeting, and all things personal finance. In addition to writing for publications like Bankrate,, Forbes Advisor and Investopedia, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of "Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You'll Love."