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    16 Things About Credit Card Rewards That I Wish I Knew Sooner

    Free flights and more money? No-brainer.

    Credit cards can give you some pretty ah-mazing perks. I mean, free flights or hundreds of dollars of cashback?? Yes, please.

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    But getting those perks requires knowing how to maximize your credit cards. Here are some tips for getting the most bang for your buck with your credit card of choice:

    Keep in mind that these tips may not all work for you, depending on your credit card, spending habits, or interests. Always take your personal needs into account before making any financial moves.

    1. Itā€™s still a credit card, so make sure youā€™re paying it off each month and not accruing interest.

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    Credit cards have an average interest rate of 16.15%!! If youā€™re paying interest charges every month, that totally negates the benefits of your rewards. But if you always pay off your card in full, you can sidestep those charges and enjoy your points, perks, and cashback.

    It's easy to go off the rails with credit cards so make sure you're using them responsibly. Pay your card in full to avoid interest and improve your credit score ā€” missing even one card payment will hurt your score, but making consistent, on-time payments will help you increase it.

    2. Decide if you want a credit card that gives you cash back, travel rewards, or store discounts.

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    In general, most credit card rewards fall under one of these categories. If you looove getting free flights, then a travel card could be up your alley. But if your Superbowl is seeing money go back into your bank account, then a cash back card might be the best option! So think about what you want to get out of a rewards card before you apply.

    3. Sign-up bonuses matter a LOT, so make sure you can easily reach the spending requirement.

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    A big part of what makes a credit card ~good~ depends on the sign-up bonus. Credit cards often offer thousands of points or a high cashback amount as long as you complete a spending requirement.

    Of course, don't overspend just to earn a reward. You can avoid this by looking at those requirements before you even apply for a card and comparing them to your regular spending.

    If a card wants you to spend $5,000 on groceries in three months and you normally spend $500 a month, that's not the card for you.

    4. And don't forget to look at annual fees.

    Screenshot of Amex card with a $550 annual fee
    American Express / Via americanexpress.com

    A lot of credit cards have a nice, round $0 annual fee. Others can be...a lot higher, like the Amex Platinum CardĀ®, which will set you back a whopping $550 every year just to own the card.

    Is an annual fee worth it? That ultimately depends on how you use the card, but here are some ways to tell if it might make sense in your specific situation.

    5. Check out credit card rewards besides points.

    Bags in baggage claim
    Mongkol Chuewong / Getty Images

    Besides the points, see if there are other perks that you can get with your card. For example, the CitiĀ® / AAdvantageĀ® Platinum SelectĀ® World Elite MastercardĀ® offers one free checked bag on domestic flights. That's a savings of about $30.

    Plus, most travel cards already offer travel insurance, so you donā€™t need to get the add-on thatā€™s always offered to you at checkout. So check out all the perks that a card has to offer, and factor them into your decision too.

    6. When you're choosing a card, think about what you already spend the most amount of money on.

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    If you donā€™t travel often, then getting a travel credit card is, umm, probably a waste.

    Instead, determine where you spend your money, and choose a card that will reward you for buying things you were going to get anyway.

    If you breathe Amazon, then the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card can give you 5% cashback on Amazon purchases. If you don't shop at Amazon, this card is completely useless to your life. The best credit card for you should fit with your habits and lifestyle.

    7. Make sure you're aware of reward limits.

    Screenshot of 5% cashback up to $1,500
    Discover / Via discover.com

    For example, the Discover itĀ® Cash Back card offers a sign-up bonus of matching all the cashback you earned from your first year with no reward limit.

    But that card DOES have a limit elsewhere: It offers 5% cashback at certain places, but only up to a $1,500 spending limit.

    A big deal? Maybe not, but it's important to read the fine print to avoid any unpleasant surprises. It would suck to think you were earning rewards on a purchase, only to get nothing.

    8. If you like flexibility when you travel, go for a more general travel card.

    Photo of three travel credit cards
    Charis Barg

    Cards like Chase Sapphire PreferredĀ® or Capital One Venture Rewards arenā€™t tied to a single airline. You can mix and match depending on who you want to fly with or what hotel you want to stay at. Plus, having flexibility means you can book whatever is most affordable at the moment and still get rewards.

    9. But if you have a preferred airline or hotel, get their specific card to double down on benefits.

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    Most major travel companies have their own credit card that offers perks specific to them.

    So if youā€™re Delta or bust, then their Delta SkyMilesĀ® Platinum American Express Card offers 3X points on Delta purchases. Although the card has a good point value, it's not worth it if you rarely fly Delta.

    10. Certain travel cards can transfer points to specific travel partners.

    11. Get a travel card based on your preferred airline alliance.

    Screenshot of the airlines associated with the 3 major airline alliances
    Charis Barg

    There are three main airline alliances:

    ā€¢ OneWorld (American Airlines, Finnair, etc.)

    ā€¢ SkyTeam (Delta, Air France, etc.)

    ā€¢ Star Alliance (United, Lufthansa, etc.)

    The benefit is that points with one airline can be transferred to another airline within the same alliance. So adding a credit card that also transfers to your preferred airline or alliance will make those points rack up fast.

    12. Take advantage of reward deals from making specific purchases.

    Screenshot of limited-time deals and reward options
    Barclays / Via cards.barclaycardus.com

    Credit cards often have ~deals~ to get more points or more cash back if you shop at certain stores. For instance, Barclays offers the chance to get more miles for every $1 spent, but only for a limited time and at select stores.

    These deals are often found somewhere in the rewards or redemption section of the credit card website, so it can require a bit of digging to find them.

    13. Try to get credit cards in the same ā€œfamily.ā€

    Screenshot of Chase credit card options
    Charis Barg

    Chase Ultimate RewardsĀ® allows you to transfer points among your different Chase cards, and to family members as well.

    No more wondering what to do with that card you no longer use that doesn't have enough points to do anything with. Instead, you can just move those points to another Chase card you DO use.

    14. Apply for credit cards often but not ~too~ often.

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    To get great sign-up bonuses, you should try to apply for credit cards relatively frequently.

    Try to wait about six months in between applications to take advantage of sign-up bonuses. If that's like, way too frequent, then one new card every one or two years is a good way to get new bonuses without feeling overwhelmed.

    Keep in mind that requesting and getting new credit cards will negatively impact your credit score for a bit, so don't go overboard.

    15. Store credit cards can be helpful if you have a lower credit score.

    Screenshot of getting approved for a credit card
    Charis Barg

    Store credit cards are generally easier to get approved for than some of the more premium credit cards, which can require a credit score of 700+.

    If you're just starting out, these cards can be a good way to get a first or second credit card to improve your credit score.

    16. But in general (not always), store credit cards don't offer the best rewards.

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    Although they can be helpful for raising your credit score when used responsibly, store card benefits sometimes aren't great.

    The Victoria's Secret card gives you a sign-up bonus of $15 off your first purchase. The Nordstrom card doesn't offer anything. Sorry, but when compared to sign-up bonuses giving you $200 cash back or $500+ flight points, that just feels sorta insulting.

    Plus, store credit cards tend to have higher interest rates, so it's extra important to pay them off every month.

    Do you know of any other tips for maximizing your credit card rewards? Share them with us in the comments below.

    And for more money tips and tricks, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.