This site is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CreditCards.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. What is written in the article is the editor's opinion.
Yesterday, I was out with a friend for lunch. When the check came, I threw down my Chase Sapphire Preferred to get double points on dining. He put down a Barclays US Airways World MasterCard. I was kind of surprised, since I didn’t know he was into points and miles.
“That’s a pretty good card,” I said, thinking about how I’d just gotten it the week before.
“The points are useless,” he replied. “I never earn enough to actually go anywhere.”
Ummm… I definitely don’t have this problem.
- Trip Report: Lufthansa First Class YYZ-MUC
- Club Carlson-ing my way through Europe
- Just booked: A ~$20,000 Dollar Trip to Paris for FREE? You betcha!
- Just booked: JFK-LAX-NAN-AKL-SYD-MEL-AUH-CAI-JFK
- Dilemma of the Day: Which Caribbean Island?
My habit loop
Last night, it snowed here in NYC – first snow of the year. I was planning to buy some stuff for my second Airbnb, and strapped on my boots to traipse down to Staples. Why the devil would I do that?
To use my Chase Ink Bold Visa for Amazon gift cards to get the 5x office supply category bonus, of course!
I got not only got those, but a few other gift cards:
- Bass Pro (to give as an actual gift)
- Kohl’s (I’ll explain why in a sec)
If I’d gone to Amazon.com and bought the items I wanted at a cost of say, $500, I would’ve gotten 500 Ultimate Rewards points by using the Chase Ink Bold Visa. But by throwing in the Staples/Amazon.com gift card loop, I got 2,500 Ultimate Rewards points, which I personally value at $50. $50 to walk a few blocks? I’m not above it. But by combining multiple errands, I was able to get myself 3,500 points, which I value at $70 (yes, I spent $700 on gift cards – for things I was planning on buying anyway).
I got the Starbucks gift cards to load into the Starbucks app on my phone. I often buy coffee for clients, and get the 12th one for free through the app. On top of that, I’ll know I got 5X Ultimate Rewards points for it – instead of just 2x if I pay with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
As for Kohl’s… ah, Kohl’s, the infamous 10x Chase portal payout is loooong gone. Most portal payouts right now are 2-3x cash/miles back. But not for me! I still get 5x back no matter what.
This is true for for any of the gift cards for sale at office supply stores. They’re sitting there, waiting to be bought for 5 points per dollar. If the portal payout is 2x and you could instead earn 5x, it’s a no-brainer.
Other habit loops
These cards we all have are linked up to a lot of different networks, whether we know it or not. In the case of my friend with the US Airways MasterCard, how could he earn more points? He earned 1 point per dollar the restaurant yesterday. That’s an OK start, better than nothing, but there are other ways to earn. I covered this in depth in How To Keep It Going from the beginner’s guide.
For the restaurant thing, eh, there’s not much he can do. Unless he signs up for Dividend Miles Dining and makes an effort to eat at the restaurants on the list (and there are a ton of good ones!), then he’d get 5 points per dollar, including tax and tip.
Instead of ordering delivery through Seamless.com or delivery.com, I call the restaurant directly and give them my credit card number on the phone – if they participate in dining rewards. Why? So the charge is processed by the restaurant and not by Seamless.com. I want those points!
Another thing I’ve done is transition most things to online buying. The portals are just too good. US Airways has the Dividend Miles Storefront with payouts for pretty much every store you can think of. Some of them aren’t the best payouts around, but why wouldn’t you take 3x, 4x, or more instead of just 1 point per dollar? It’s as easy as one click – and then the miles are added to your account automatically.
Whenever I see people struggling on the subway with huge bags from Duane Reade, I think, “Tsk, tsk. Shoulda ordered from drugstore.com.” Then I get home and see the box waiting there for me with the exact same items that Duane Reade has. You can’t underestimate the convenience factor, especially in New York City.
Not to mention:
And that’s in addition to the 1 mile per dollar you’d earn with most cards.
I’ve also taken to trying things on at brick-and-mortar stores, then going back home and ordering the same products online. I do that with Gap all the time. That way, I know it fits, and I get my points. And it comes in a box to my door so I don’t have to lug it around the subway.
I always tell my friends who buy things in stores to simply buy it online, if only for the points!
Also, sign up for promo emails. Sometimes you can be targeted to earn some extra points simply for using the card for $X.XX amount in a month. Those are always a nice boost.
- Dining rewards (sometimes they appear when you don’t even expect them!)
- Transition to shopping online through portals when possible
- Sign up for promo emails
This is all pretty entry-level stuff, but it’s so easy to set up once and make it your go-to. I call it “forming a habit loop.”
A little more advanced
The stuff at the beginning about buying the gift cards at Staples… that’s admittedly more advanced. That’s taking advantage of category bonuses, which some cards offer as a built-in feature. Once you get a little more comfortable with the other stuff, you can start to focus on categories. Some people will never make it there, and that’s OK. Once you get into the habit of earning more points, it becomes something that’s fun to pursue. And even more fun when you redeem a trip!
At a minimum
Sign up for dining rewards (complete list found at the link – and some of the programs have signup bonuses!). Sometimes miles appear in my account from restaurants I didn’t even know were on the list. It’s an easy, automatic way to get some miles here and there.
And if you have a Visa or MasterCard, enroll in these programs:
Enrollment is free, and savings are automatically credited to your card at the end of each billing cycle. They don’t have a huge array of partners, but it’s literally mindlessly easy. Even if you only get $20 back a year, it’s worth the 5 minutes or less it takes to enroll your card.
If you can swing it, try buying stuff online through the portals. Complete list found here.
Some of us go to wild lengths to get our points. Other times, it’s as easy as entering in your card number one time on a website. Every time I hear someone say, “I’ll never earn enough points to actually go anywhere,” I think of the things listed above. And you know what? It really isn’t so much effort. Neither is sipping Mai Thais in Hawaii, I’d argue. 🙂
Don’t leave free points or miles on the table, especially when getting them is either quick, free, or both.
Did I miss anything? Any other super easy ways to get friends or family with points cards into the habit of earning even more?
BEST Current Credit Card Deals
- Chase Sapphire Reserve - 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points - My review of this card.
- Discover it® Cashback Match™ Card - $50 after 1st purchase within 3 months of account opening - Why I love this card!
- Hilton Surpass Amex - 85,000 Hilton points - Why I picked up this card.
- Chase Hyatt card - 40,000 Hyatt points and a free night at a Category 1 through 4 hotel each year on your cardmember anniversary - Here are 5 great hotels to redeem your free night!