Living with credit, Rewards

Spend some of your points and treat yourself

Erica Sandberg

Why is it so easy for us to rack up rewards points with our credit card purchases, but so hard to redeem those rewards points?

It starts with the initial sign-up bonus. As a new cardholder, you may get 30,000 to 50,000 (or more!) rewards points if you spend a specific amount (typically a couple thousand dollars) in the few months. Thank you, credit card company!

If you keep charging, more points will be added to the pot, and watching those points grow is exhilarating. In fact, you may not want to spend them at all. However, this kind of hoarding can be, well, pointless. Your points are there to be used! So here’s what I want you to do — and I’ll do it with you.

Dream. What sounds delightful? If you’ve got 50,000 points in your bank, a round-trip domestic flight to see an old friend might be nice. Twice that and you could maybe pop for first-class seats. Or flip through your credit card issuer’s online shopping catalog and see if anything listed lights your fire. Maybe a new watch, headphones, or a toaster oven will catch your eye.

Let go. Psychologically it may be hard to dip into your points pool, and trust me, I know the sense of reluctance. But now is the time to enjoy (or be practical with) the fruits of your charging labor. Let go and live a little. Take that trip to visit a friend. Get that toaster oven. Do something for you.

Reassess. If you haven’t been quite so committed to keeping your debt to zero, and the interest you’re being charged on balances is eroding the value of your points, stop charging until your debt is under control. Consider trading in some of your points so you can make a big payment. I’m not just giving you permission, I’m begging you to do so. If you’ve built up 100,000 on points, that may be equal to $1,000 that you can apply to your bill.

Rebuild. After you cash in points, start over again. Focus your attention on the places you can charge that will double or even triple point accumulation — check your card issuer’s reward website or shopping portal. Maybe you can add an authorized user for an instant 5,000 points, or try some other creative ways to grow your points quickly.

Still not ready to dip into your horde of points? Follow my lead.

I’ve got 58,000 points in my United MileagePlus account. My sister lives in Chicago, and I’ve been meaning to head out to see her. On top of that, I have two passes to the United airport lounge that will expire in January, so I will allow myself the luxury of at least one visit to the lounge during the journey.

Done. My points pool now is about half full (or half empty), so that’s not too bad. In fact, that felt good!

Now I want to hear from you. What will you do with your rewards points, other than collect them like yesterday’s newspapers? Email me at or tweet me your tips at @EricaJSandberg.

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