If you're a credit card user, you should be getting more out of your card experience than simply swiping it and paying the bill.
While there are some perks that most people already know about, some really cool benefits and rewards are hiding in plain sight.
It's all about the fine print—where the perks await those who are curious and savvy enough to discover and take advantage of them.
If you weren't paying attention, you're probably missing out on benefits right now.
In fact, one in five consumers (18%) have let credit card rewards expire, according to TD Bank's second Consumer Spending Index survey, essentially leaving money on the table.
Lucky for you, we're listing all the potential perks, benefits, and rewards you can explore within your current credit card programs so you can cash in on all of them.
If you missed the opportunity to enjoy some of these sweet credit card perks in the past, remember it's never too late to start or to give your wallet a makeover by adding one or two perk-packed cards.
Check out these eight proven ways to maximize credit card perks, then start by selecting one or two that best apply to you.
Once you experience your first perk and start reaping some amazing bonuses, I'm positive you'll realize that owning and using credit cards has never been this rewarding!
You can definitely thank us later!
Understand The Fine Print
1. Squeeze more value out of the cards you have
Confession time: Do you know which perks and benefits your current card memberships have to offer?
If not, consider this your homework.
Log on and click around. If the only thing you ever do on your credit card website is pay the bill, I suggest you take a few extra minutes to explore and look around.
Most sites have a section that outlines benefits and offers, as well as a rewards area to see what you've earned.
One of the cards we have and use regularly as a family not only saves us at theme parks, but it also rewards us with free cash back to use at the theme park properties on virtually anything including tickets and passes!
Scroll through and have a read—you might be surprised at what you've been missing.
Call the credit issuer. If you don't understand any of the nitty-gritty details, like how the car rental insurance works, call the 800 number on the back of your card.
Customer service reps will be more than happy to explain how to activate a benefit.
Once you have a better handle on what your cards offer, you can start availing of them and taking advantage of the perks that are useful to you.
Or if you know better deals elsewhere, you can decide if it's time to shop around for cards with perks that are better suited to you.
2. Revamp your wallet to access perks you will actually use
If you're not happy with the cards in your wallet and you've managed to keep your credit standing strong, you should apply for a new card program that has perks you'll actually use.
Think about it: What good is your airline card if you haven't been on a trip in two years?
Follow this step-by-step guide to find the best rewards card:
Identify your spending style. If this is the first time you're exploring new credit card options, start by figuring out the types of purchases you tend to make the most.
Are you a big grocery shopper?
Do you like to travel?
Do you spend money on fine dining?
Thinking about your spending habits and priorities, while figuring out exactly how you'll be using the card, will help you decide if you're better off with a cash back or rewards card.
The key is to find a credit card that offers perks for spending in the categories you buy from most.
Work your way up to becoming a rewards hacker. Not everyone is going to score free exotic trips the minute they discover credit card perks.
The good news is you can get a feel for how points work by using one of the many no-annual-fee rewards cards that still offer solid benefits.
Many people new to credit rewards opt for cards that offer cash back on everyday spending.
But once you get comfortable with how rewards work, exploring cards with an annual fee (and bigger rewards) might start to look appealing and make sense.
But only if your credit score is in the "Good" or "Excellent" range, and you spend enough to make owning a higher-level card worthwhile.
Choose a specialty card. If you're a frequent traveler, instead of earning cash back, you might want to focus on cards that specialize in earning airline miles or hotel points.
You can choose cards that focus on a specific hotel chain or airline.
The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card or JetBlue card are great pics for brand-lovers.
Or, you can go with a more general travel card that offers a bit of flexibility, such as the Capital One Venture card.
Monitor your needs. There are credit card perks out there for every type of consumer, but people often outgrow their plastic.
Evaluate what's in your wallet and make upgrades to better credit cards as your needs change.
3. Avoid debt to make the perks count
To really cash in on the best credit card perks, you'll have to be diligent to never carry a balance.
Once you start paying interest on your outstanding balances, you're essentially negating most (if not all) of the discounts or rewards that you've earned.
Here are some responsible credit tips to keep in mind:
Don't spend more than you can afford. If you fall into the habit of overspending just to qualify for perks, you're defeating the purpose.
Be honest with yourself. If you need help managing the credit cards you have, then focus first on learning to use credit responsibly, or you'll end up in over your head.
Keep tabs on your credit scores. Especially if you plan to open up new cards, you need to know where you stand.
The better the perks and rewards, the higher your credit score will need to be to qualify.
You can't really enjoy credit card benefits if you're in debt or developing poor credit habits, so make sure you're in a good place credit score-wise before pursuing perks.
If you feel you need to improve that credit score of yours to qualify for certain cards and perks, a small personal loan just might help.
4. Develop a spending plan to earn bigger rewards
Once you have the right combination of cards and healthy credit habits, it's time to spend!
But don't just pick a card at random when you're paying for things.
Here's how to spend purposefully, with perks in mind:
Earn those sign-up bonuses. The biggest points or cash boosts you'll get in one shot will be when you first sign up for a card.
But there is almost always a spending minimum you'll have to meet to qualify.
For instance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card requires you to spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
In return, though, you'll earn 50,000 bonus points (which translates to $625 that you can use for travel).
Tip: If you're applying for a card with a large spending minimum, try timing your application for when you have a big purchase to make or sizable bill to pay.
Use credit for purchases that earn extra rewards. Many cards offer perks or percentages off for certain types of purchases.
For instance, the American Express Blue Preferred is among the best cards for groceries thanks to the 6% cash back you'll get.
I actually got my first credit card at a gas station when the cashier informed me I could get 10 cents off per gallon if I used their branded card.
That savings at the pump was my introduction to the world of card perks, and I haven't looked back since.
Add an authorized user to boost your points. Many couples add a spouse as an authorized user to get a small points bonus up-front but also to increase their purchasing power.
Chase offers nice bonuses, including points after you add authorized users, as do many of the other issuers—so shop around.
Partnering up is a good strategy to maximize elite cards, which typically require a lot of spend to out-earn the hefty fees, which can reach up to $500.
Just be aware that as the primary account holder, you're on the hook, so make sure whoever you're adding to your account is someone close and trustworthy.
Juggle cards so each one gives you top value. Once you learn the rewards ropes, you can get even more value out of your spend by using two or more cards.
So you might use the Blue card for groceries, and the Citi ThankYou Premier card for a travel purchase since you'll get 3x points for that category.
Maximize rotating categories and bonus offers. Some cards reward higher points for specific categories or at certain retailers, but it changes each quarter.
For example, the Discover it card periodically gives 5% back on Amazon purchases.
Use a system to track it all so you don't miss out. The more cards you manage, the more complex it can get.
Luckily, there are rewards tracking services like AwardWallet and CashBackMonitor to help.
Or you can go old-school and create a spreadsheet, or even use sticky notes.
Find a system that works for you.
Choosing the best card for each purchase takes getting used to, but it's a habit that can translate into hundreds of dollars more in your pocket each year.
5. Research the heck out of every trip you book or purchase you make
You might think you're already getting a great deal, but using your credit cards wisely could make it even better.
Here are some card perks to review before you click "complete purchase":
Wrangle more savings with retail discounts. Some credit issuers offer additional bonus points or discounts if you click through to a merchant from their rewards mall or portal site.
Amex Offers gives its cardholders statement credits for certain purchases (e.g., $50 back if you spend $200 at Sunglass Hut), but you have to activate the offer on the website before you make a purchase in order to claim the credit.
Likewise, the Citi Bonus Cash Center lets shoppers earn up to 10% cash back when shopping various retailers through their portal.
Stack rewards. You don't have to stop at getting a bonus or discount.
Trycombining more than one strategy on a single purchase, such as going through a shopping portal like Ebates, choosing the card with the best points value for that purchase, and then applying a promo code at checkout.
Once you learn to avoid impulse shopping and get into the habit of comparing prices, checking portals, and looking for credit offers, you'll never pay full price again.
6. Get the timing right so you can cash in
You've heard the phrase "use it or lose it"?
That's definitely the case when it comes to credit card perks, which often have expiration dates and other limitations.
Get schooled on how to redeem your perks.
Understand what you have to opt into, and what's automatic. Some perks are activated if you use your card for a certain type of purchase, while others require you to manually sign up for them.
For example, the American Express Platinum offers a $200 airline fee credit, but you have to select the airline first in order for it to appear on your statement.
Keep track of expiration dates and bonus periods. Setting up a calendar notification to remind you when a program is expiring can be helpful.
Get the most value for your points. Not all redemption rates are created equal.
In other words, you might have enough points to redeem for a $50 gift card, but if you shop for merchandise, those same points might only pay for an item worth $35.
Generally, redeeming for travel discounts tends to offer the best value.
But if you're not a jet-setter, your next best option is to go for gift cards or statement credit.
Experiment with points transferring. This is an advanced technique, but if you get it down, you'll save even more on travel.
Credit cards that use hotel and airline transfer partners give you the flexibility to use points in a variety of ways.
So if you're already a member of a hotel chain's loyalty program and you can transfer credit card points to it, it can amplify the savings you were already getting.
Educating yourself on points value before you redeem and not letting earning opportunities slip away means more money in your pocket.
Don't Forget the Extra Benefits
7. Save big with consumer protections and discounts
Besides cash back and miles, credit cards offer many perks that translate into savings for you.
Here are three:
Get extended warranties at no cost to you. If you've plunked down extra cash for extended warranty coverage, you probably didn't have to.
Many cards offer an extra year or more of warranty protection automatically, as long as you make the purchase with that card.
Check the terms and conditions so you know how much is covered for repair or replacement, and if there's a maximum annual limit.
Never miss out on a price drop. Did you ever make a purchase only to see the price reduced a couple of weeks later?
Some card programs, like Citi Price Rewind, keep tabs on qualifying purchases and notify you if a price drops, making it seamless for you to submit a claim for the difference.
Trip cancellation protection can help you recoup losses. Losing money because you have to delay or cancel a trip for reasons beyond your control can be frustrating, but your credit card might come to the rescue.
Whether your flight is canceled because of a snowstorm, or your child gets sick, some cards will cover you for travel losses (if you booked with that card) up to a set amount.
There is usually lots of fine print to go through for this type of benefit, and you will likely have to submit documentation when you make your claim, but the amount you can recoup can be worth your time.
Whenever making a big-ticket purchase, look into the consumer protections that your cards offer.
8. Get tons of travel perks and savings
There are so many credit card travel perks beyond just having no foreign transaction fees that help travelers have a worry-free trip and even a VIP experience.
Turn to your card for emergency assistance or concierge help when traveling. From lost luggage to a stolen wallet, it can be hard to deal with such unexpected situations when you're away from your home base.
Chances are your credit issuer can help.
Some cardholders have access to a 24/7 travel assistance hotline to help them deal with anything that might happen while they're away.
Those who have the Barclay Arrival Plus Elite World MasterCard can call upon their travel concierge to help with itinerary planning, booking reservations, and more.
Never pay for rental car coverage again. Many credit cards provide free secondary rental car coverage, a.k.a. the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) that the clerk usually talks you into.
VIP upgrades could be yours. From airport lounge access and priority check-in to free hotel breakfasts and late check-out times, some credit perks not only take the hassle out of travel, but make it a pleasurable experience.
For instance, the Citi Prestige offers cardholders a $100 credit for Global Entry, which expedites return trips into the United States.
While many of the luxury travel perks are reserved for hotel and airline specialty cards or top-tier rewards cards, there are still other perks to be had with general cards, too—so don't travel without them.
Be proactive and claim your perks
Here's the bottom line: No matter which type of credit card you have, chances are there are benefits you aren't using or rewards you could be earning.
With a little research, a few minutes of reading, or a phone call or two, you can begin leveraging credit card perks and cashing in on great benefits you've always been entitled to.
Since 1998, we at CreditLoan.com have been helping to educate consumers like you on financial issues, while providing the tools and solutions they need to effectively manage their money and lifestyle.
So I do hope you find some insightful tips and useful suggestions after reading this post.
Have you heard about any of these benefits before?
Which ones are you taking advantage of on a regular basis?
Let us know in the comments below!