Credit cards: bring on the rewards!

Years ago, when Chase and I were dating long distance and flying cross-country every other week, I signed up for two credit cards that I thought could benefit us: the Delta Airlines SkyMiles American Express and the United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa. Just for signing up, I was given bonus airline miles, and I continued to accrue miles with our travel. At the time, I wasn’t really using the cards for purchases, and I was missing out.

Like many Americans, I use credit cards regularly. I still have the Delta AmEx and the United Visa. We are fortunate that we are not dependent on our cards to make ends meet, so I’ve learned to use the rewards associated with the cards to my advantage. We use the Delta or United card for online shopping and any in-person purchase we make over $200. I also have it set up so everything from our DirecTV bill to Clay’s preschool gets billed directly to one of the cards. I receive mileage credit for bills we have to pay and put those miles back to work for our family.

Chase’s office holiday party is next week and our friends reserved hotel rooms downtown. We wanted to join them, but I didn’t want to spend $200 with Christmas coming up. I thought about it for a week, then yesterday I remembered I could use airline miles for a hotel room. After a quick visit to United’s Mileage Plus web page, we’re staying at the same hotel as our friends – for free!

This is my first time using miles for a hotel room, but we use them for free plane tickets all the time. In October, we traveled to Tallahassee for FSU homecoming on free Delta tickets. We flew to Hawaii for our honeymoon on United frequent flier miles. I used an annual companion pass from Delta for another Florida trip earlier this year. The miles also come in handy when an emergency arises. When my grandmother passed away, I was able to meet my mom in Nebraska for the funeral with just two days’ notice and no out-of-pocket costs.

There is one caveat to using credit cards for rewards: you have to be disciplined and pay off your cards in full every month, or you will get yourself in trouble. Chase works for a non-profit credit counseling company and I know the evils of credit card debt. If you don’t think you will be able to pay the cards off each month, don’t use them. Interest charges will far outweigh the perks!

I mention the airline mileage cards because those are the ones we use. There are annual fees for both cards, but at under $100 per year they are worth it since mileage credit is not the only perk. I’ve also heard great things about the Costco American Express card, which gives you cash back every year.

I’m already looking to see where our miles can take us next year. How about you? What other credit card reward programs do you like? I’d love to hear other ways to cash in on credit card rewards!


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