Living with credit, Rewards, Shopping

5 tools I’m using to up my credit cards ‘rewards game’

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

Once you dive into the credit cards rewards game, you start finding ways to score savings almost everywhere.

Here are five tools I began to use during my first year scoring cash back by using credit cards – and how much I have saved so far by using them.

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

MileagePlus X app1. MileagePlus X app

United Airlines’ mobile-only app is unique – no other airline or hotel program has launched a similar tool to rack up miles while shopping yet.

This is how it works:

– Before you pay at your favorite brick-and-mortar store or online retail, entertainment or dining outlet, log into the app and buy an electronic gift card for the exact amount of that purchase, or the minimum set by each store.

– Then pay with that gift card – some merchants will scan the barcode on the e-card; online, you type the card details as you’d normally do with a gift card.

– For each dollar you spend on the app, you can get up to five miles – or even more, especially around the holidays or during back-to-school season – depending on each retailer’s promotion.

I began to use MileagePlus X last August. So far, I’ve earned 6,611 MileagePlus miles, which according to’s estimates are very valuable: worth 1.52 cents per mile.

So, while I haven’t flown United in the last 16 months, I’ve earned more than $100 worth of miles in only seven months!

Ebates app2. Ebates

Shopping portals and electronic-rebate sites have also become a key part of my rewards game.

While I’ve tried other options, including Top Cashback and BeFrugal, Ebates remains my favorite and the only one I use now. I’d advise you to stick to one shopping portal, if possible, too; that will help you transfer your savings balance to your checking account sooner and maximize savings.

The way Ebates and other shopping portals work is simple:

– When you’re ready to shop online, log into Ebates and look for your favorite store.

– If the shopping portal has partnered with that store, you’ll see how much cash back you’ll earn and a button that says, “Shop Now.”

– Click on that button and you will be transferred to the store.

– Shop as you regularly do and your cash back will be reflected on your Ebates account.

– Ebates will send you a check or transfer your earnings to your PayPal account every three months, as long as you’ve earned at least $5 in that period.

Last year I shopped at different retailers and travel booking sites through Ebates – from Gap to Orbitz – and earned $94.20 in cash back.

3. An .edu email address

While my wife’s not as enthusiastic about the rewards game as I am, she’s contributed a key tool to our strategy.

Because she is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin, she has an .edu email address – which has allowed us to unlock a fair amount of savings:

– Newspaper subscriptions: Using her UT email address, last year we switched to academic rates on The New York Times ($3.99/month versus $8-$16/month for the regular rate) and The Washington Post (50 percent discount on the regular rate of $10/month).

– Spotify: The student rate costs $4.99 per month versus the regular premium rate of $9.99. However, we’re only paying only $2.50 a month as I’m charging this subscription on my Capital One Quicksilver card, which is offering a 50 percent discount on Spotify through April 2018. Bonus: Spotify Premium for Students now also includes Hulu.

Amazon Prime: You can sign up for the student rate of $49/year instead of $99/year if you have an academic email address – and, yes, it also comes with Prime Video.

Acorns– Acorns: As part of my rewards game I also opened an account on Acorns, an app that rounds up any purchases you make with your credit cards and puts those rounded-up dollars in an investing account. It costs $1 a month but, you guessed it, the service is free for up to four years if you register with a valid .edu email address.

Savings we’ve scored so far using my wife’s .edu email address? Worth around $328.

4. Loyalty programs

This one’s also a no-brainer and one I now wonder why I didn’t jump into before.

I signed up at the end of last year for three loyalty programs that aligned with my spending habits: Starbucks Rewards, AMC Stubs and Regal Cinemas.

Starbucks Rewards app– Starbucks Rewards: It’s free and you get 2 stars per dollar spent at Starbucks if you pay with a gift card linked to your account (I use the mobile app for convenience). Every time you earn 125 stars, you get a free drink or food item. You also get other perks, like a free drink on your birthday. So far I have enjoyed two free drinks worth more than $10 – even though I visit Starbucks no more than twice a week and stick to a “tall,” $3-$4 latte or tea on each visit.

– AMC Stubs and Regal Cinemas: Ever since I signed up for both programs, my family and I have gone to three movies at each theater chain. The score: $25 worth of rewards – which you can redeem for free popcorn, drinks or upgrades – just by showing your loyalty card every time you buy a movie ticket or make a purchase at the concession stand. (Regal’s subscription is free, but the AMC Stubs premium membership runs $15 a year – which you can make up for in as few as three visits. AMC Stubs gives you free upgrades on drinks and popcorn – great if you have teenagers who never seem to have enough popcorn! – plus waived online ticketing fees and other perks.)

Savings on lattes, popcorn and movie tickets in only three months? $35.

5. Stacking up rewards

As every savvy rewards gamer knows, the key to scoring even greater savings is to combine tools.

I, for instance, shop through Ebates with an e-card bought on MileagePlus X using my Capital One Quicksilver, which gives me 1.5 percent cash back. And I load my Starbucks Rewards account with an e-card bought through MileagePlus X with my Costco Anywhere Visa card, which gives me 3 percent cash back on restaurants.

A little legwork pays off

In my first year playing the rewards game, using these tools alone I scored savings worth almost $560.

Of course, this strategy requires adding a couple of extra steps to your daily routine and a good deal of discipline – if the prospect of scoring more rewards leads you to overspend, this strategy’s not for you.

To me, not only is it fun, but it is also worth it. What tools do you use every day to up your rewards game? Share them with us in the comments section!

See related: How to stack your rewards to save on big purchases, 4 easy ways to stack your rewards

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