7 Smart Ways to Use Your Credit Card Points During the Holidays

Source: @liza-summer | Pexels
Source: @liza-summer | Pexels

The holidays are here and with them come cozy nights with hot chocolate, nostalgic movie marathons, inspiring holiday decor, memorable times with friends and family, and of course, a whole lot of expenses. Not to be a downer, but as much as I look forward to the holidays and all the fun that they bring, I find myself stressing over how I’m going to pay for everything year after year.

A few years ago, I got really into finding alternative ways to make and save money, and one thing that came up over and over again was leveraging credit card points and taking advantage of their perks. I learned that once you have a credit card that works for you, you can sit back and rack up free gifts, travel, and cashback, and all of those things can be total lifesavers during this time. With the holiday season in full swing (read: the most expensive and wonderful time of the year), it’s time to cash in your points and see how much you can save! If you’re not sure how or you’re looking for a refresh on all the ways using your points can help you, ahead are some of my favorite ways to make the most of credit card incentives over the holidays.

1. Get subsidized (or free!) travel

Travel rewards are synonymous with credit card perks. There are so many great cards that can be used toward free flights, discounted car rentals or hotels, or luxury upgrades (business class for economy price? Yes please). If you have to travel a lot this holiday season, start looking at how many points or miles you have and see if there are any travel deals you can grab before everything gets booked up. It’s easier to make your points go further if you book in advance, so taking time now can score you some amazing discounts. As a bonus, if you’re in the market for a new credit card, this time of year can be one of the best times to snag a referral or sign-up bonus perk that can help cover your holiday travel plans or expenses.

2. Use discounts through travel rewards portals

In line with using your credit card points for free travel, it’s worth checking if you can get additional discounts by booking through specific rewards portals that your credit card offers or is affiliated with. For example, if your credit card company is partnering with Expedia to give you an extra 20% off if you book through them using your credit card, you’re instantly saving yourself money. Many credit card companies will partner with travel sites to leverage their existing infrastructure, so you can book the same plans that you were already intending to book for less, leaving money in your pocket for other holiday expenses. This also often works for experiences, like a guided tour of a city or an excursion on an island, which can make for memorable gifts to give especially if you have a trip coming up soon with friends or your significant other.

3. Use cashback or statement credits for free gifts

Putting all of the cashback rewards I’ve accumulated throughout the year toward gifts that I need to buy for friends and family is one of my all-time favorite ways to use my credit card perks. With my cashback card, I just buy the gifts as I normally would on whichever credit card has the cashback I want to use, and then select “pay with rewards” when I go to pay my bill so it gets applied to those purchases. For the past few years, I’ve used this strategy to cover ALL of my gifts, besides a few bigger ones for my husband. This means I don’t need to worry as much about saving up all year in advance of the holidays, and everyone I care about still gets what they want.

4. Purchase gift cards at a reduced price

Do you ever get those flyers in the mail from your credit card company advertising what you can do with your credit card points in their portal? I got one just last week, and before throwing it in the garbage with the rest of my junk mail, I stopped when I saw that they were advertising 30% off a selection of gift cards if they were purchased through their site using points. These weren’t just no-name gift cards either, they were to places like Sephora and Ulta, which is essentially getting to shop everything at 30% off (Sephora sale every day?!) It’s worth it to see if your credit card offers something similar if you plan to shop at big-name stores this holiday season so you can get gifts at even more of a discount than whatever percentage off the store may offer. Girl math says that if you get 30% off of the price of the gift card and then the store has 40% off during the holidays, what you’re buying is basically free, right?

5. Get discounted gifts (with more availability!)

In the same vein as being able to find reduced gift cards, your credit card’s rewards portal might also offer discounted physical products, especially for bigger items. (This is how our Senior Managing Editor got new AirPods this year!) Have your heart set on gifting a Dyson Airwrap to your girlfriend this year or finally buying a PS5 for your brother? You might be able to get it at a significant discount through your rewards portal, and as a bonus, they often have more stock available since not everyone can access their products like a regular store. Finding an in-demand item at a discount and then layering on your points to get it for free (or nearly free)? Genius.

6. Pay with your points at checkout

There’s almost nothing that thrills me more than getting to the checkout with a cart full of products and only paying $5.34 for like 30 items. How, you ask? By finally redeeming all of those loyalty or credit card points for free things. This is especially effective if you have a credit card that’s paired with one particular store so you’re getting extra points when shopping there (although be sure to do your research to make sure it’s actually more beneficial versus a generic cashback or rewards card!). I love to do this when I’m hosting family and friends for meals over the holidays and using the points to get free groceries or drinks. This way, the meal doesn’t end up taking a huge chunk out of my regular budget, and I still get to throw an epic dinner party. This tip can also work with non-food things like toys or clothing, which I’ve taken advantage of as well.

7. Use your credit card for all of your shopping to rack up points for next year

I know we haven’t even gotten through this holiday season yet, but believe me when I say that it is never too early to start preparing for next year. While you’re shopping and using your existing points for gifts, travel, holiday parties, and more this season, consider how you can responsibly pay with your credit card to earn points to use during the holidays next year. Before you do this, be sure to check out your rewards portal, as they may have offers that you can activate to earn more points while you shop during this season, so you don’t miss out on any extra perks. My credit card, for example, offers 5% back if I use it to purchase gifts at Amazon and Target right now through the end of the year, so you better believe that if I am buying a gift for a loved one, I am checking those retailers first to take advantage of my rewards.