Living with credit, Rewards, Shopping

How to score more rewards with your holiday shopping

Jeff Herman

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of the offer.

In coming days – especially Black Friday through Cyber Monday – we’ll be filling shopping bags with gifts for family, friends, co-workers and even the family dog or cat.

How can you maximize your rewards on all this spending?

Start by checking the cards in your wallet. Which card rewards you the most for shopping at Walmart, Amazon, other online purchases and department stores? Know before you go shopping which card you should use to get the most cash back or points.

Here’s how I’ll be using my cards, and other cards that offer more rewards for the spending we’ll be doing this weekend and all the remaining weeks until Christmas. Create a similar strategy of your own to get the most rewards out of your holiday shopping.

Rotating category rewards cards
Chase Freedom: I’m earning 5 percent cash back at Walmart and department stores through the end of the year. If I buy gift cards this year, I’ll get them at Walmart to get 5 percent cash back with my Chase Freedom – unless I can score a better deal elsewhere (more on this later).

Other – and sometimes better – options: If you have a Discover it card (which has rotating bonus categories, like the Chase Freedom card), you could be earning 5 percent back on Amazon and Target purchases through the end of the year. First-year cash back is doubled with Discover, too, so new Discover cardholders could earn 10 percent filling their sleighs with gifts.

Citi Dividend and U.S. Bank Cash+ cards are also 5 percent cash back cards. Citi’s Dividend has rotating categories that the card issuer sets (Best Buy and department stores through December 31), and the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa lets you pick two categories for 5x rewards every quarter.

Online spending
Amazon Rewards and Amazon Prime Rewards Visa: I’ve got the Amazon Rewards Visa (earning 3 percent on Amazon purchases), and my other half has the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (earning 5 percent cash back on Amazon). For all things Amazon, these are the cards we use, and not just during the holidays.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Visa: If my online shopping is anywhere other than Amazon or Walmart, this is my go-to card. Having downloaded the Rapid Rewards shopping portal browser extension weeks ago, when I’m searching for an item online, the results will show sites where I can earn Rapid Rewards points by using the airline’s shopping portal to get that gift.

Your card issuer likely has its own shopping portal, or you could use an airline frequent-flyer program’s shopping portal. Use the shopping portals to rack up bonus rewards for the spending you’d do at online retailers anyway, and you’ll often get free shipping, too.

Other – and sometimes – better options: The 3 or 5 percent we’re earning on Amazon purchases can’t compare to the 10 percent first-year Discover it cardholders can earn on Amazon purchases through the end of the year

Another option: The new Uber Visa card from Barclays offers 2 percent cash back on online purchases. Since that’s all online purchases, if you’ll be buying gifts via Etsy or eBay (I once was chasing and ordering Zims the Elves Themselves collectibles on eBay for Christmas gifts), the Uber card might be more rewarding.

Card-linked offers
With my American Express Blue Cash Everyday card, I check the Amex Offers weekly and add to my card those I’m likely to use. For example, when I next go to a FedEx office, I will get a $5 statement credit when I spend $10, and I’ll get $5 back the next time I buy a bag of food for my dog Bobo at Petco.

I also added a card-linked offer for $10 back for spending $40 at P.F. Chang’s, $15 back for spending $75 or more at Pier 1, and $5 back for spending at least $20 at Five Guys.

Other – and sometimes – better options: Bank of America is another card issuer with card-linked offers, and with Masterpass, Samsung Pay and Chase Pay, you can get instant rewards with your linked card accounts. Groupon, Yelp and others offer card-linked offers at restaurants.

Stack your rewards
Combine card-linked and other special offers with your card rewards to stack your rewards on purchases.

For example, with my Chase AARP credit card, I earn 3 percent on restaurants (such as a spaetzle Thanksgiving buffet at Walburg German Restaurant). I’ve loaded the AARP credit card in Groupon, too, so if I select any card-linked restaurant offers via Groupon, I get up to 35 percent off the bill and the 3 percent from my AARP card.

Also, since I got a flu shot at Randalls (a Safeway supermarket), I received a 10 percent off coupon that’s good through the end of the year. I’ll get groceries, of course, but if I get gift cards at Randalls, that trumps the 5 percent I’d save on gift cards bought at Walmart through the end of the year.

Other – and sometimes – better options: For restaurants, the new Uber card offers 4 percent cash back and Capital One’s Savor card offers 3 percent cash back. There are also several other credit cards catering to those who dine out or a lot.

Draft your holiday shopping credit card game plan
Yes, it took a lot of work to figure out which card to use where for holiday shopping. Also, my cards are more cash back than higher-end (and higher annual fee) travel rewards cards. Create a game plan for how to best use your cards based on the cards you have in your wallet or digital wallet.

For the big shopping weekend ahead, you’ll likely find yourself in stores you hadn’t planned on visiting. When I’m not sure which card to use to earn the most rewards, I consult our free Wallet app. It’s not perfect – it doesn’t factor in card-linked or stacked rewards – but for the basics, it knows where I’ll get the most rewards with the cards I’ve loaded in there.

See related: Rack up card rewards with holiday bonuses, perks4 ways to stack your rewards at restaurants, Card-linked offers: Shopping deals you’re not aware of

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, we ask that you do not disclose confidential or personal information such as your bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc. Keep in mind that anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.