It’s enough to make you want to swear off plastic: Between loyalty programs, frequent-flyer miles, shopper points, discounts, cash back and rotating categories, credit-card rewards can be confusing to say the least. If you’re not exactly clear about just what benefits you’re earning—or missing—or how you accumulate or redeem them, you’re in good company. Consumer information site NextAdvisor.com recently published a study showing that confusion about credit card rewards is by no means the exception to the rule. Its findings might help guide you to a better understanding of your own cards and how to maximize rewards…
Rewards programs are confusing, and especially travel-related cards. The study found that 45% of Americans are unclear about their credit card rewards in general. But that number is 54% when it comes to frequent-flyer program rewards. About 35% of people who have these cards don’t know how many frequent flyer miles they have…and 47% don’t understand their hotel loyalty programs and don’t know how many hotel loyalty points they have. Meanwhile, nearly one in four people who use travel rewards cards have no idea how to redeem their rewards.
A simple phone call can clear the fog. Your card’s online portal contains all the information you need to understand your rewards program, but many of these websites are themselves confusing, and they tend to give the most prominence to introductory deals and bonuses rather than the fundamental information you need. Believe it or not, according to the survey, a call to customer service often leaves cardholders feeling more knowledgeable and secure. Call your card issuer and ask the following questions: How do I earn rewards…how do things like points and miles translate into dollars…do rewards expire and if so, when…are there limits on points or other benefits I can accumulate…and what are the various ways I can redeem rewards.
Consider a simpler travel card. If a website visit or phone call doesn’t clear up the confusion or leaves you feeling your card isn’t right for you, it might be time for a change. The study authors recommend looking past juicy but temporary opening offers and other application bait to get a feel for what life with a new card would really be like. If you want to stick with a travel-focused card, consider one that’s straightforward and easy.
For example, the Discover it Miles card, which has no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, provides an unlimited 1.5 reward miles for every $1 in any kind of purchase on the card (and then doubles that at the end of the first year as a bonus). You can redeem every 100 reward miles earned for $1, either in the form of a statement credit to cover travel purchases made within the past 180 days…or cash deposited electronically into your bank account. And the reward miles never expire, even if your account is closed.
A cash back card might be best for you. If your goal is to use rewards to pay for travel, keep in mind that money earned with cash-back cards can be spent on anything, including travel—and cash back cards are often much simpler and less confusing. The Citi Double Cash Card, for example, pays cardholders 2% cash back on everything they buy (1% when they make a purchase and another 1% when they make a payment). There’s no annual fee and no limit on how many points you can accumulate, and the points never expire, as long as you keep using the card. When you’re ready to cash in, just request a statement credit, a gift card, a check or even a direct deposit into your bank account. No confusion!