Traveling can be cheaper if you leverage the money you’re already spending towards rewards points. Credit cards with ample rewards points can earn you free flights, hotel rooms, and cash back for spending. If you’ve got the card already, it’s time to start actively maximizing those points before your next trip. Since the only way to earn on a credit card is to use it, you’ve basically got to spend money to make money. The trick is manipulating that money and spending it wisely. The biggest key is knowing your card. We’ll break down four ways to take full advantage of your credit card rewards before a trip.

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Capitalize on category bonuses

Your rewards card is likely to have specific spending categories that earn more points than others. A business card is going to earn more points when buying office supplies than a travel card will. Spending categories commonly focus on dining (in the U.S. and abroad), hotel stays, airfare, general travel, groceries, or gas. Some credit cards have charitable donations as a permanent bonus category, like the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Card which earns you two points per dollar.

This is a tip you’ll want to keep up on, too. There are cards that change their bonus categories on a quarterly basis. The Chase Freedom card, for example, offers bonus rewards from April 1 through June 30, 2019 on home improvement store and grocery store spending. Remaining aware of current bonus spending categories will make it easier to earn more points.

Meet your thresholds

For many credit cards, there’s a minimum spending threshold that you have to meet before you can earn its best rewards. That minimum can be pretty steep (upwards of $4,000). You can get there by using your card to pay your rent or mortgage, cell phone bills, gas, utilities, charity donations, tuition, even when paying your taxes. Once you’ve hit that minimum, you can start reaping the rewards.

On the flip side, cards also limit the number of points you can earn in a specific category. Once you’ve hit that, you aren’t getting rewards for your spending. For example, a card might state that you can earn 3% cash back on grocery stores up to $5,000 in a year. Once you hit that limit, you may still earn 1% back but might be better off leveraging that spending in another category or using another card. Our general advice here — stay on top of how much you’re spending and where to take the best advantage of your credit card rewards.

Add authorized users

Capture double the points by adding another user to your account. An authorized user is entirely your responsibility and so is their spending, so choose wisely. It’s essentially your card but with their name on it. Any spending they do will add points to your account and you may even earn an additional sign-up bonus for adding them on. This is a great option for couples and also an easy way to help younger family members start building good credit (as long as you pay it off on time.)

Know your perks

The best way to redeem points will depend on the type of card you have — they’re usually directly related. A cash back card offers its best value as cash. A travel rewards card offers its best value when redeemed for airfares or other travel expenses. When it comes to merchandise redemption for things like gift cards or electronics, we’d recommend skipping this option. The value is often much lower than other alternatives. Research the conversion ratio for the rewards on your particular card before cashing in.

Many of the best credit cards will offer benefits that go beyond just points or miles.

  • Use your card’s online shopping portal. These are basically virtual malls where you can earn bonus points on top of regular rewards, simply by shopping through those vendors.
  • Pay for travel expenses on a travel rewards credit card. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, will cover meal and hotel expenses if your flight is delayed for long enough or you miss a connection (and you purchased the flight with your card).
  • Take advantage of travel credits. Your card may offer credits for a range of travel expenses, like baggage fees, lounge access, in-flight Wi-Fi, or Uber trips. For example, Capital One Venture® Rewards Credit Card will give you $100 credit to go towards the application fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓ ($85).

There’s a lot to read when you sign up for a credit card, and there’s a fair chance you may have skimmed over some benefits. We encourage you to read up on all the benefits your credit card offers to maximize its value.

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