For example, from now through December, the Chase Freedom offers 5 percent back on both the spending you do at department stores and the purchases you make via PayPal or Chase Pay (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases, then 1 percent). Millions of online stores, from big merchants like Best Buy to small Etsy shops, accept PayPal. If you max out that bonus category, you put $75 back in your pocket — and when you pair the Freedom with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you could earn as much as 7.5 percent back. We explain how in our review of the Chase Freedom card.
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Transfer your loyalty points to hotel and airline programs
Some travel credit cards, like the Platinum Card from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, let you transfer your points to hotel or airline loyalty programs. Although some loyalty programs, like Hilton’s, are priced dynamically — which means that traveling at peak times, like Christmas, generally requires more points than off-season traveling — not all are. For example, rewards nights at Hyatt hotels require the same number of points every day of the year, whether you stay in Times Square on New Year’s Eve (yikes) or book a room closer to home on a random Wednesday in August. For more, read our guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.
If you want to maximize the value of your points and miles, consider booking your holiday travel with a loyalty program that doesn’t price dynamically, such as HawaiianMiles (the frequent flyer program for Hawaiian Airlines) or Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club.
Invest in money-can’t-buy-experiences
Some card issuers let you redeem your points for V.I.P. experiences, many of which can only be booked with rewards. Although typically pricey, these experiences can also be memorable and unique gifts.
The Chase Experiences portal, which is available only to people with certain cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve), currently offers access to the 2020 Sundance Film Festival with a V.I.P. package that includes reserved seating at screenings and tickets to private cast parties. Priced at 690,000 points (worth $6,900), this could be a dream gift for the movie buff in your life. Foodie fanatics might appreciate the 55,000-point private kitchen tour and five-course dinner at New York City’s Per Se restaurant (worth $550).
Skip shopping portals
More often than not, redeeming your rewards for merchandise via a card issuer’s online shopping portal isn’t a good idea.