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How to Earn Travel Rewards While Holiday Shopping

By Eric Rosen

Nov 20, 2020

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As packages pile up this holiday season, so will the travel rewards.

Photo by Wicked Monday on Unsplash

As packages pile up this holiday season, so will the travel rewards.

Rack up points and miles by buying all your gifts with the right travel credit card.

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At this time of year, the act of gifting certainly feels rewarding in and of itself. But by using the right travel credit cards and taking advantage of earning bonuses, you can rake in points and miles toward your own future trips . . . all while making your loved ones happy during this festive season. Here are the best ways to use travel credit cards to earn rewards on holiday shopping this year.

1. Meet minimum spending limits

In the past few months, many credit cards have offered their best-ever introductory bonuses, including the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and the American Express® Gold Card. However, to earn the tens of thousands of points or miles these cards are offering, you usually have to spend a fair amount of money within a short time.

For example, if you were to apply for the Platinum Card® from American Express, it’s currently offering 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 within the first six months of card membership (plus 10 points per dollar on up to $15,000 in combined purchases during the first six months at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, in case you’re hitting the road). That’s a hefty haul of points that can come in handy for flights or hotel stays sometime in the future. Why not use your holiday shopping as an opportunity to work toward that $5,000 threshold? Buying gifts can be an excellent way to hit the minimum spending requirement for a card you’ve recently applied for, all without breaking a sweat, or your budget.

2. Take advantage of limited-time earning bonuses and statement credits

Given how unusual 2020 has been and how dramatically the COVID crisis has shifted consumer spending, many travel rewards credit cards have launched limited-time earning bonuses so cardholders can continue to rack up rewards even if they don’t make travel plans this year. Which benefits are available will depend on the specific cards you carry. Here are a few of the major ones to be aware of.

If you have a Chase cobranded airline or hotel credit card, you might be able to register to earn five bonus points or miles per dollar on Amazon purchases, and either three or five bonus points or miles per dollar on grocery shopping (this depends on your exact card). These rates are good on up to a combined total of $1,500 spending now through December 31.

Here are some specific cards extending these bonuses: 

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You might also be eligible if you have a hotel card like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card or the World of Hyatt Credit Card. The Amazon category includes purchases made on Amazon.com itself, including everything from Prime membership fees to your Amazon Fresh orders. What’s more, though, items sold through the Amazon.com marketplace are also included, so you can patronize individual third-party sellers and small businesses, too.

Folks with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, meanwhile, can log into their accounts online and enroll in an Amex Offer to earn six bonus points (for a total of eight) per dollar on up to $3,500 in total spending at Walmart, Target, and Amazon through December 27. Big spenders with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card should see an Amex Offer of their own to earn 500 bonus SkyMiles (the kind you can redeem for award flights) and 500 Medallion Qualification Miles (these count toward Delta elite status) after spending $1,000 on purchases up to a maximum of 25,000 miles and 25,000 MQMs.

Speaking of Amex Offers, if you have these or other American Express cards, log into your account and check your personalized promotions to see if you can save money anywhere you plan to purchase gifts. You might be able to get $25 back on orders of $125 or more at online furniture store Wayfair, or earn up to two bonus points or miles per dollar spent at Tiffany & Co. Chase has also started extending similar offers to folks with certain cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card. Both Chase and Amex Offers can vary widely based on your particular cards and spending habits, and they change all the time, so be sure to check them periodically or you could be leaving points on the table.

3. Use your secret weapon: shopping portals

Regardless of whether your particular travel credit card has spending bonuses this holiday season, you can always count on earning extra points and miles by using an online shopping portal. These are basically malls in website form with hundreds of retailers ranging from Columbia Sportswear and Apple to Rimowa and Casper. 

Various frequent flier programs, including American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, and United MileagePlus, as well as hotel chains like Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards, host their own online shopping portals. When you log in and click through to a particular store, you earn bonus points or miles on what you buy. These tend to range from an extra 2 to 30 points per dollar. So depending on how much you’re spending, you could positively rake in the rewards.

You can often earn bonuses simply for signing up and shopping as a new member, and then bank even more points or miles for hitting a certain spending threshold. For example, if you’re new to United MileagePlus Shopping, you can sign up and earn 500 bonus miles after spending $125 within two weeks, or 1,000 bonus miles after spending $150 within two weeks. Now through November 22, you can earn up to 5,000 more bonus miles when you spend $1,000 (plus, you’ll have your shopping done before Thanksgiving!). So if you don’t already use your preferred airline or hotel’s shopping portal, visit now to see what new-member enticements might be advertised.

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You can usually find the shopping portal on a loyalty program’s “partners” page, and then sign in using your membership credentials. From there, you can browse the stores and see which ones are proffering bonuses. Rather than scouring each loyalty program’s individual online shopping portal, though, EVReward.com will let you search for individual stores and see what bonuses on the various portals are currently available. That should make comparison shopping quicker and easier.

Alternatively, you can sign up for an account with Rakuten, which is another online shopping portal that allows you to earn either cash back or American Express Membership Rewards points (if you have an eligible card like the Amex Gold Card) on your purchases with hundreds of merchants. Now through December 25, it’s even offering $40 cash back to new members who sign up through a friend’s referral link and make a purchase within 90 days. At the end of each quarter, Rakuten will either send you a check or make a deposit into your PayPal account for the amount of cash back you’ve earned in the previous three months.

4. Go for gift cards

If your family and friends are, shall we say, picky, buying them gift cards is a great way to ensure they get what they want. The key here is to get gift cards at a place—like a supermarket or a gas station—where your rewards credit card earns a category bonus.

So let’s say you have the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which earns 6 percent cash back on up to $6,000 in purchases per year at U.S. supermarkets, or the Amex Gold Card, which earns four points per dollar on up to $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets. Head to your favorite grocery store and peruse the gift card options there. Perhaps a Starbucks gift card for your favorite caffeine fiend, an iTunes card to put toward entertainment content, or an Uber card to use on takeout orders. By charging them to a credit card like the ones above, you can pocket its earning bonus while still giving the recipient money to use at another merchant. It’s the best of both worlds. That said, gift cards do not always code as category purchases, so do a test case or two before you spend a lot of money this way.

5. Pick a card with purchase protections

Finally, if you’re making some larger-than-usual purchases for the lucky loved ones in your life, don’t forget to use a credit card with good purchase protection. Purchase protection can help you repair, replace, or receive reimbursement for an item that is damaged or stolen. However, the eligible time frames and claim maximums vary a lot from card to card.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve covers purchases as far as 120 days out, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year. With the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, you can only count on coverage up to 90 days from the date of purchase and up to $1,000 per claim and $50,000 per card. So double-check your dates and dollar amounts before deciding which card to whip out.

Some say that the best gift is giving to others . . . but you might as well earn something you’ll enjoy in the meantime. By using the right credit cards, taking advantage of introductory and category spending bonuses, and shopping savvily through online portals, you might just earn enough points and miles this year for a holiday vacation in 2021.  

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

>> Next: The Best Travel Rewards Cards Without Annual Fees

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