card rewards, rewards program, credit card rewards

An attractive rewards program is the single-most compelling reason consumers choose one credit card over another. Chances are you probably know the basics about redeeming points for the things you and your family want. But are you really getting the most bang for your rewards buck? If you’re not using the right strategies to exploit all of your program’s special offers and benefits, it’s like leaving money on the table.

According to Mercator Advisory Group, an independent research firm focused on the payments and banking industries, approximately 72 percent of general purpose credit and charge cardholders now participate in a rewards program. These programs are becoming increasingly competitive. Card issuers are not only making their rewards programs deeper and richer – they’re also investing millions in platforms and technology to make redeeming points an easy client experience.

If you have a great FICO score and investment assets exceeding $100,000, marketers especially want your business. But just because you’re in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean you can’t get lost. Here’s a “rewards GPS” to help you make the most of your rewards program:

Make Sure You Have the Right Card

This might seem like a no-brainer. It’s easy to see which cards offer cash back, airline tickets or discounts at the gas station. But you should also, for example, examine the extent of your card’s flexibility and weigh the value of the privileges on which it’s harder to put a price tag.

  • Is your card widely accepted, here and abroad?
  • Does your program reward you generously for your biggest and most frequent expenditures?
  • Is there plenty to choose from when it’s time to redeem your rewards?
  • Does your card come with any exclusive perks – for example, access to sold-out concerts and sporting events, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, VIP treatment at hotels and resorts, and a 24/7 concierge service that connects you immediately with a real live person who can help you quickly and effectively?

Read the Small Print

Program rules can be layered and convoluted. Make sure you understand them. Don’t take anything for granted.

  • Do you start accruing points right away, or is there a waiting period or spending threshold before rewards start kicking in?
  • Is there a cap on the number of points you can earn?
  • Do they ever expire?
  • Are your travel choices hamstrung by blackout dates?
  • Does your card charge foreign transaction fees?
  • Do your points have strong purchasing power?

Play the System

The better you understand your program and how it works, the smarter you’ll be about enhancing its value.

  • Does your program offer bonus opportunities that allow you to double or triple your rewards earning power, particularly during peak summer and winter spending seasons?
  • Do the retailers you use partner with your card company to offer special perks, discounts or bonuses?
  • Can you combine points for personal and business credit cards that come with rewards?
  • Are there special strategies that help you get more for your points, for example, booking flights that leave mid-week to increase the likelihood that the seats are available and that they’ll cost you fewer points?
  • Do you register every month to take full advantage of rotating offers (if registration isn’t automatic)?

Keep an Eye on Things

Gone are the days of “set it and forget it.” Keep tabs on your program so you can take advantage of temporary opportunities and, just as importantly, note changes in the terms of your program.

  • Do you read special mailings and online updates as soon as they arrive?
  • Do you implement actionable advice carefully and promptly?
  • Do you make changes assertively to gain an advantage? Laissez-faire can cost you.
  • Do you use all the tools and reports your rewards site provides? For example, do you analyze your year-end spending statement to calculate the cost of each reward point?

Demand the Best

You deserve the kind of service that not only meets your needs and helps you guard against fraud, but that also makes you feel valued, cared for and appreciated.

  • Does your card have the latest EMV chip technology to enhance your security and ensure you can use it in many countries?
  • Does it give you access to VIP airport lounges and rebate global-entry fees that expedite your return to the U.S. from foreign travel?
  • Does it have family card functionality that allows you to establish and manage individual spending limits, and monitor transaction activity for each additional card issued on the account?
  • How straightforward is the rewards redemption process? Is the technology easy to use?
  • Can you redeem points in the manner of your choosing – for example, using a mobile phone app, going online at your desktop or talking with a customer service representative?
  • How clearly and often does your credit card provider communicate with you?
  • How quickly and effectively are problems resolved?

Consumers have accrued billions of dollars in rewards. Yet, according to industry estimates, cardholders forfeit between 10 percent and 20 percent of the rewards they earn, putting the losses somewhere over $1 billion.

Be smart, proactive and strategic, and you’ll reap the rewards you so richly deserve.

Find Out More

City National offers three personal credit cards, including City National Visa® Platinum, City National Visa Signature® and City National Crystal ® Visa Infinite® Card, which offer varying menus of reward opportunities. If you are a City National client, contact your Relationship Manager to discuss whether one of these cards is a good fit for you and your family. Or, to learn more about the broad range of benefits that City National clients enjoy, give us a call at (800) 773-7100.