The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that Americans will spend an estimated $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion on their holiday purchases in 2019. This estimate doesn’t even include extra expenditures on gas, dining, or holiday travel.
This means that, like it or not, most of us are spending a hefty sum of cash on gifts for family and friends. And many of us are paying the high costs of holiday travel on top of that, whether it’s for a road trip, a flight across the world, or a holiday soirée with extended family closer to home.
If you’ve set money aside all year long, this may not surprise you or throw your budget far off track. However, it would be a shame not to maximize the extra purchases you’ll need to make anyway — especially since you can leverage holiday bills to earn more points and miles.
Use holiday spending to earn major points
By and large, the best way to earn more cash back or travel rewards is by using a rewards credit card for everything you buy. Most of the top rewards and travel credit cards give you one to three points for each dollar you spend, making it easy to rack up more and more points when you have big upcoming expenses, like the holidays.
However, you can boost your rewards quite a bit if you leverage holiday spending to earn a sign-up bonus on a new card. Many of the top cards offer 50,000 points or more if you can spend a few thousand dollars within a few months, and holiday spending could easily help you reach the required threshold.
Also note that you could use holiday travel bills to start racking up another type of rewards if you’re ready to diversify. You could sign up for an airline credit card that doles out airline miles, for example, a hotel credit card, or a card that earns flexible travel credit.
Earn more points on holiday dining
Like it or not, holiday shopping and other events can easily cause families to dine out more than normal. If you want to capitalize on your extra meals out, you can always sign up for an airline dining program like Delta SkyMiles Dining or Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining.
These airline dining programs and others let you earn miles each time you dine at a participating restaurant and pay with a credit card connected to your account. Some also offer a “sign-up bonus” of sorts. With Delta SkyMiles Dining, for example, you can currently earn 3,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $30 at three participating restaurants and complete online reviews for each within 30 days.
Use shopping portals for all your holiday shopping
If you shop online, you’ll absolutely want to figure out which portals can help you earn the most points and miles — or at least the type of points and miles you want to earn. Most major airlines have their own shopping portals, but hotel brands and bank-based loyalty programs have them too.
While you can earn airline miles or hotel points through shopping portals without having a co-branded credit card in most cases, you’ll need to have the right credit card to earn bank-based rewards.
Regardless, shopping portals all work in the same way. To earn bonus points, all you have to do is log into your account and “click through” the portal before you shop online with a participating store. You’ll find common big name stores such as Kohl’s, Macys, Home Depot, and Best Buy. And remember, the bonus points you earn by shopping in a portal are offered on top of rewards you earn by paying with a rewards credit card.
Take advantage of category bonuses
Remember to check if any of your rewards cards offer bonus categories that might line up nicely with your holiday shopping or travel plans. Credit cards with rotating categories generally have popular stores for their 4th quarter bonus categories.
Use portals when you book holiday travel
Finally, don’t forget that you can earn extra points and miles when you book and pay for holiday travel for yourself and your family. You’ll just have to get creative and do some research to figure out the best way to make the most of your plans.
Let’s say you want to rack up more points in the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, for example. In this case, you’ll probably be delighted to know that you can earn Southwest points if you log into your account and use their portal to book rental cars, vacation packages, hotels, and more. In fact, most airline programs let you earn miles when you use them to book rental cars, hotels, and other travel accommodations, so make sure to check with your favorite program.
Keep in mind that a handful of hotel booking websites let you earn airline miles for booking hotels. PointsHound and Rocketmiles are two of the most popular, both letting you earn thousands of miles per night in programs like Etihad Guest, Air France/Flying Blue, and Southwest Rapid Rewards.
And make sure you have a rewards card that will give you extra points when you fill up your gas tank, particularly if you’re planning a holiday road trip. A handful of cash back credit cards offer bonus points for gas purchases each year with no annual fee, making them a no-brainer.