Credit Cards

6 Ways to Use Your Credit Card Rewards During the Holidays

If your holiday budget is stretched, consider buying gifts with your credit card points rather than with cash. Here are six ways you can do that.

Is your bank account balance less robust than you’d like before the holiday season? Are you worried about blowing past your planned budget for gifts? Consider redeeming your credit card rewards to take the sting out of your holiday spending. Here are six ways you can do that.

Keep in mind that some of the following ways may not maximize the dollar value of your rewards. But they do prevent shelling out too much hard-earned cash at a time when you’re stretched financially.

Amazon

Many credit card rewards programs have a partnership with Amazon allowing cardholders to pay for their purchases with points at checkout. American Express, Chase and Citi all offer this perk with their rewards programs. Additionally, you can use your Amex rewards to pay for online purchases at Staples—a good place for teacher gifts. Citi also allows similar point purchases at Best Buy and 1-800-Flowers.com, but you must first pay with your card; the points are then deducted, and the money you spent is returned as a statement credit, within two to three days of purchase.

Gift cards

Gift cards have consistently ranked as the No. 1 requested gift for the past 11 straight years, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, three out of five consumers hope to find one tucked in their stocking. In many cases, you can buy gift cards from major stores using credit card rewards, sometimes at a discount.

Merchandise

Credit card issuers offer their own merchandise catalog, where products like luggage, jewelry, electronics and even toys can be purchased using rewards or points. While this can be convenient, it’s likely you’ll pay more in point value for the products than you would if you bought them at a regular retailer. But if you have no other immediate use for your rewards, especially if you plan to close the card soon, and you need a way to buy gifts without spending too much money, this is an option.

Experiences

Trying to buy for someone who already has everything? Use your rewards points to give them an unforgettable experience. For instance, Bank of America cardholders can cash in 15,000 of their WorldPoints for two tickets to Smucker’s Stars on Ice. Alternatively, you can get tickets to a concert or other live event from Live Nation using your Citi ThankYou rewards. American Express has a similar partnership with TicketMaster.

Travel

The best gift during the holidays is often just being together. Using your rewards points, you can book a hotel near your home or fly family and friends to spend time with you. Even if you don’t have enough rewards to buy a flight, you can still use your Citi or American Express rewards to pay for all or part of your purchase on Expedia.com. Here’s another way: Capital One cardholders can retroactively apply rewards earned during the holiday season to pay for travel expenses 90 days after the purchase.

Charity

Instead of giving, consider giving back in the name of a loved one. Most issuers allow cardholders to donate their rewards points. Some programs are broader than others. For instance, Citi cardholders can use their points to donate to just three charities: American Red Cross Disaster Relief, American Red Cross International Services, and Smile Train, a non-profit providing cleft repair surgery in developing countries. But American Express has more than 1 million registered charities in its Members Give program. In addition to feeling good about your gifting, the value of your rewards donations often are tax deductible, too.

Of course, since it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use points for all your holiday purchases, here’s a way to earn points as you make the inevitable cash purchases, at least online. Rather than browsing your favorite online retailer, go through your credit card’s online shopping portal, where you can buy from mainstream stores like Best Buy and Gap. The bonus is extra rewards points when you purchase through the portal rather than directly from the retailer. Those can be redeemed later for a statement credit to offset your spending.

Janna Herron

Janna is a Senior Writer at ValuePenguin covering banking, credit cards and credit scores. She has spent more than a decade writing and reporting on personal finance, real estate and business, and has received three journalism awards for her work.