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Editor's Note: We sat down with Jason Steele, an expert in credit cards, credit, and travel rewards. Jason writes for Experian and other top personal finance websites and produces the CardCon Convention, which is focused on credit and credit cards.
There are entire websites devoted to rewards credit cards and how to maximize them, so there's no shortage of advice. But how can the average person take advantage of these offers and points without making it a full-time job? Jason shares his tips here in this podcast:
1. Pay off Balances and Don't Make Late Payments
Before you start getting into rewards, it's a good idea to make sure you pay off your credit card debt first. If you carry a balance, the money you pay in interest will cancel out the value of your rewards.
2. Keep an Eye out for Special Offers and Promotions From Major Companies
Different companies roll out targeted offers. For example, Chase and Southwest Airlines sometimes runs promotions depending on where you live.
Jason mentions one recent offer (since expired) for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card where California residents could earn a Companion Pass—essentially a buy one, get one free plane ticket—after just one purchase! You usually pay a small tax and fee for these passes, but it can run as low as $5, so is definitely worth it.
They've offered similar promotions for residents of Atlanta, Denver, and Phoenix as well and if you're a member of Southwest's Rapid Rewards loyalty program, you'll get emails when you qualify.
3. Take Advantage of Sign up, Bonus or Intro Offers
There are plenty of introductory credit card offers that tack on 50,000 miles or more when you open a new credit card and make a certain amount of purchases in a certain timeframe.
With a typical business class ticket to Europe in the 100,000 to 150,000 point range, if you combine one or two sign up bonuses with your regular spending, all of a sudden you're pretty much at that level. Rewards card bonuses can change so keep an eye on them to maximize them.
4. If You Own Your Own Business, Use That to Your Advantage
If you're an entrepreneur or self-employed, you put a lot of time and money into your business. Find a credit card that can help you leverage the money you spend for your company to get points for something fun like a family vacation.
If you have a small business and have increased spending in that regard, you can also rack up rewards if you're a very skilled credit card user and are comfortable getting multiple sign-up bonuses.
5. Get a Card Based on How You Spend
Everybody spends a bit differently, so there isn't one perfect rewards credit card. If you carry a few cards, you can also spend based on which one offers the best rewards or points for that category.
For instance, a card like the Amex EveryDay Preferred® Credit Card can give as much as 3x points per dollar spent at the grocery store. Then you may use a card like Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which gives you 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
And what's the one thing Steele wished he knew when he was younger? "I wish I had learned about credit card rewards earlier than I did," he says. "I grew up in a family where they hammered into me every day, pay your bills on time, don't carry a balance, don't pay interest."
That's good advice to follow, of course, but "I wish I had known [about rewards] earlier," Steele adds. "I wish I had not been a skeptic."
Read more from Jason Steele here on Experian and check out various rewards credit cards on Experian CreditMatch.