How to use your credit cards to get free stuff

They're in your mailbox, online and on television. Credit card offers promise big rewards, but which ones are really the best?

We found the best three cards for travel, cash back, and gas or restaurant rebates.

Michele Putman is an avid traveler who doesn't pay for airline tickets.

Putnam scores free travel using her American Express card. She has traveled to South Africa and Spain by using the rewards points she earned from her American Express Green Card.

Bill Hardekopf is the owner of Lowcards.com , which reviews the best cards with the best benefits.

Hardekopf suggests consumers find a card that will fit their needs.

There are airline rewards cards geared toward people who like to travel.

If you like to work in the yard, there are cards that can help you earn points toward home improvement expenses.

You can earn points toward hotels, too. There are even cards that will earn you cash back.

BEST TRAVEL REWARDS CARD

The Capital One Venture card has one of the most generous offers on the market right now for travel. You get two airline miles for every dollar you charge and you can earn unlimited miles, which never expire. The annual fee for this card is $59. So you'll need to charge $3,000 annually for it to pay off.

BEST CASH BACK CARD

The Chase Freedom Card offers 1-percent cash back on purchases with no limit. If you charge $10,000, you'll earn $100 back.

BEST GASOLINE/RESTAURANT REBATE CARD

The Discover Open Road card gives you a 2-percent cash back bonus at any gas station and any restaurant.

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Remember these card companies want to make money, not lose it. Make sure you understand how the card you choose benefits your financial needs. You must pay off the balance every month, and on time, in order for these cards to work for you. Otherwise the interest will wipe out any benefits. Many of these rewards cards also carry higher interest rates than other credit cards. Many require good credit to qualify. Make sure you understand it and read the fine print.

Watch out for points that expire. There are many rewards cards in the market that offer no expiration dates.

Some other things to watch out for are limits. Do research on how many points you can earn.

In addition, find out how you can spend your points and what the limits are.

Lastly, watch out for those annual fees. If the card you want has one, make sure you will be charging enough to cover that fee.

When it comes to earning the most points, there are many strategies you can use.

Some examples of how to use those cards to your benefit:

Redeeming your points if your card allows it, apply them your credit card bill.

Don't use the credit card company's catalogs to purchase things. Often the prices on their items are much more than if you went straight to the retailer to purchase those items.

Another example, to earn and save with rewards is to not buy a plane ticket online from your credit card company's website. Instead go to the airline directly and charge the ticket to your credit card.

At the end of the month apply the points to the balance. That way you are earning rewards points for that ticket because you charged it to your card and you take the cash value off of your bill.

Of course it depends on the type of rewards card you have. Capital One Venture card is one card that will allow you to do this.

Below are links to help you get the most points and find the best ways to spend the points:

6 ways credit card rewards work for you

Ten great ways to use credit card rewards

WEBSITES TO HELP YOU NARROW YOUR SEARCH

Lowcards.com and Bankrate.com

 

 

 

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