The best credit cards for maximizing cash back and points on your holiday shopping

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Here are the best credit cards for maximizing holiday shopping:

  • Chase Freedom: Up to 5% back in certain categories, including PayPal
  • Discover it® Cash Back: 5% cash back up to $US1,500 in select categories, plus double your cash back at the end of your first cardmember year
  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 6% back on the first $US6,000 spent at US supermarkets each year (then 1% back)
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: 2% back on all purchases – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off
  • Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card: 3% back in a category of your choosing (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement or furnishings) and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on a combined $US2,500 in spending each quarter; 1% back on other purchases
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Only 1 point per dollar, but if offers purchase protection so it’s a good option for expensive items.

With the holidays well on their way and your time left to shop slowly dwindling, you’re probably looking for ways to save money and maximise your spending. It always makes sense to shop around for the best holiday sales and deals for Cyber Monday but how you pay for your purchases can also make a huge difference.

With the right rewards credit card, you’ll earn cash back or free travel for each dollar you spend. And many credit cards offer valuable consumer protections that can help you save money and protect you against loss or damage. So before you hit the stores or start browsing the web, it pays to figure out if you have the right card for your needs

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

What to look for in a credit card for holiday purchases

All the credit cards for holiday shopping below are good ones, but the best one for you offers the right type of rewards and a selection of perks you can use. Here’s everything you should look for if you’re searching for a new credit card:

Purchase protection and extended warranty

Make sure to check whether your credit card comes with consumer protections like purchase protection and extended warranties. Where purchase protection can replace or repair an item that is damaged or stolen within a specific length of time (usually up to 90 days), extended warranties can add an additional year of warranty protection or more on big ticket items that come with a manufacturer’s warranty.

Cards at every price point offer purchase protection and extended warranty – from the Platinum Card from American Express with a $US550 annual fee to the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom – though the more premium cards usually have higher caps for reimbursement.

A high rewards rate

Make sure to look at cards that offer the most rewards in categories you can use this year. Cards that offer bonus points for department store purchases and grocery store purchases often work best for the holiday season.

Not all purchases will be eligible for bonus rewards, and in those cases you’ll want a card that earns more than 1% back on non-bonus spending. The Citi Double Cash Card (up to 2% back – 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5% back on everything) are good options in this situation.

Welcome bonus: Cards that offer a sign-up bonus will leave you with a more generous rewards haul after the holiday season is over – making this period before the holidays an ideal time to apply and maximise your spending. Just make sure you can comfortably meet the minimum spending requirement in time. Check out our roundup of the best credit card welcome offers available now to see if anything catches your eye.

0% APR offers: Also check which cards give 0% APR on purchases for a limited time if you think you may need to carry a balance for a period – though we never recommend carrying a balance if you can at all avoid it, and you’ll want to pay off your balance before the introductory period ends to avoid steep interest charges. The Chase Freedom, for example, boasts 0% APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 16.49% to 25.24%.

Best credit cards for holiday spending in 2019

Chase Freedom

Welcome bonus: $US150 when you spend $US500 on your card within the first three months Earning rate: 5% back on up to $US1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter when you activate; 1% back on other purchases Annual fee: $US0

You can knock out the minimum spending requirement for the sign-up bonus of $US150 back if you’re planning to spend at least $US500 on holiday purchases. Make sure to activate (you’ll receive an email asking you to do so) the final 5% bonus category of this year (October through December), which includes department stores and purchases made with Chase Pay and PayPal.

Not only is the Freedom a good cash-back card for holiday spending considering the bonus categories including department stores like Nordstrom, but it’s also a great card if you want to earn travel points.

While you’re more limited in how you can use your rewards if you only have the Freedom, if you also have a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can combine your Chase rewards across accounts and use rewards from the Freedom to book travel with Chase partners or through the issuer’s travel portal. This option gets you more value than the standard 1 cents per point with cash-back cards, since Ultimate Rewards points are worth about 2 cents apiece on average.

Discover it® Cash Back

Welcome bonus: None, but Discover will double all the rewards you earn after the first year Earning rate: 5% back on up to $US1,500 spent in combined purchases in categories that rotate each quarter that you activate; 1% back on other purchases Annual fee: $US0

Through the end of December, this card lets you earn 5% back on up to $US1,500 in combined purchases at Target, Walmart.com, and Amazon.com. You’ll also earn 1% back on all other purchases – and remember that Discover will match all the rewards you’ve earned after 12 months. That means you’ll effectively earn 10% back on purchases that are eligible for the 5% bonus.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: $US250 when you spend $US1,000 within the first three months Earning rate: 6% back on up to $US6,000 in spending at US supermarkets each year (then 1%) plus select US streaming services; 3% back at US gas stations and on transit; 1% back on other purchases Annual fee: $US95

If you buy some of your holiday purchases at US supermarkets, this card could be a huge boon for your finances. You’ll earn 6% back on up to $US6,000 at US supermarkets each year, whether that involves buying food for holiday meals, buying store gift cards, or picking up gourmet gifts for all the foodies on your list.

Citi Double Cash card

Welcome bonus: None Earning rate: 2% back on all purchases – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off Annual fee: $US0

Since this card gives you 2% back for all your purchases, it’s a great way to maximise your return on spending without having to keep track of bonus categories. You can get a higher earning rate with another card like the Chase Freedom, but there are caps to the 5% quarterly bonus categories, and not everyone wants to keep track of category bonuses.

Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card

Welcome bonus: $US200 cash bonus when you spend $US1,000 within the first 90 days Earning rate: 3% back in a category of your choosing (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement or furnishings) and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on a combined $US2,500 in spending each quarter; 1% back on other purchases Annual fee: $US0

You’ll earn 3% back in a category of your choosing, which can include online shopping and drug stores – both good options for holiday shopping. Also make sure you spend at least $US1,000 within the first 90 days so you’ll earn the $US200 cash bonus.

How to maximise your holiday purchases this year

Picking up a new credit card can help you earn a big bonus and more rewards on all your holiday shopping this year, but there are more ways to maximise your spending. Consider these tips:

Maximise shopping portals: If you plan to do most of your holiday shopping online, take the time to figure out which online shopping portals you can use. If you have a Chase credit card, for example, you can click through the Chase portal to earn 1 to 10 additional points per dollar spent at stores like Macys.com, Walmart.com, and BestBuy.com. Most airlines also offer their own shopping portals as well, and all that’s required to double up on rewards is logging in to your account and clicking through a portal before you shop.

Check for bonus offers: Also see if you can utilise additional offers like Chase Offers or Amex Offers. Both work similarly, letting you get cash back for some purchases or, with Amex, earn more rewards at select retailers when you take advantage. With Amex Offers, for example, you can frequently get $US10 to $US50 back when you spend money at specific online stores or stay in a participating brand of hotels within a limited timeframe.

Take advantage of bonus categories: Make sure you’re maximizing any bonus categories your card offers, including ones that offer 5% back in rotating categories. These bonus points can add up in a hurry and leave you with a lot more rewards after the holidays have passed.

Pick up a card that offers more than 1% on non-bonus purchases: Finally, make sure you have at least one card that gives you more than 1% for holiday purchases you can’t earn bonus points on. The Citi Double Cash is always a good option since you earn 2% back for each dollar you spend – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off. Best of all, this card comes with no annual fee.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom.

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