Money Matters - Simplified

Understanding Credit Card Reward Programs

Credit-card rewards are one of the many marketing strategies adopted by credit-card companies to lure customers. The Money Times tells you how to select and make the most of them.
While deciding which credit card to choose, select the one which delivers the best mix of a reward program most suitable to your lifestyle and has lowest penalties or interest rate.

Typically, credit-card companies try to lure their customers by linking their credit-card purchases to certain attractions or benefits. These reward programs are therefore extremely desirable even from the customers’ point of view, provided a little vigilance and prudence is used while choosing them.

Co-branded Cards
- Co-branded cards are an interesting way of deriving the most from your credit cards.

- The co-branded cards carry the name of a third party, which may be a retail outlet, airlines and so on. Such cards will have benefits whenever you purchase products from the third party. They may also be co-branded with a charity that will receive a fraction of every payment you make with the card.

- Co-branded cards are more likely to carry significant fees. Make sure that the benefits they provide outweigh the costs.

- Read the fine print and ask questions when it comes to benefits. The descriptions provided are often vague and you need to clarify the details to make sure that the benefits you get are worth the annual costs.

- The usual warnings about credit cards apply to these cards as well. So, avoid getting caught in the debt trap by using them wisely.

In this age where most financial gurus discourage the use of credit-cards, credit-card reward programs have emerged as one of the finest examples of smart marketing, having the potential to create a win-win situation for both the credit card company and its customers.

Read on to get to know more about these credit-card reward programs and understand which one is designed to suit your needs:

Before Enrolling for a Credit-card Reward Program
Today, credit-card users have a wide array of alternative rewards to select from. But before they decide which one to sign up for, it is imperative that they evaluate different credit-cards on the basis of the rewards, rebates and other benefits associated with their usage.

As not all credit-card reward programs are the same, a potential credit-card user must compare and contrast the charges, procedures as well as accumulation and redemption of points before taking the plunge.

It is also essential that one finds beforehand as to whether the credit-card of his choice automatically enrolls him to the benefits of its reward programs or it necessitates adherence to certain laid down procedures or payments to become eligible for the advantages.

But once they are enrolled, they have a wide assortment of credit-card reward programs to choose from.

Types of Credit Card Reward Programs

Here is a list of the different credit-card reward programs available to a credit-card holder:

1. Cash Back/Rebate Cards
The ‘cash back/rebate cards’ are the most sought after reward programs for the simple reason that these enable users to get a part of the payment made by them, either in cash, check or by the way of a discount of the said amount, thus increasing their practicality.

However, selecting a credit-card that offers the best cash back may not be that easy. It requires one to evaluate each card closely to find out the hidden costs such as annual fees, balance transfer fees and grace period apart from the list of stores where it can be used.

2. Frequent Flier Reward Cards
The ‘frequent-flier reward cards’ are ideal for those who frequently travel by air. Such a card enables user to collect air miles for the distance traveled and subsequently redeem these air miles by getting free air tickets.

There are a few cards that offer hotel rewards entitling its users free stay in hotels either in conjunction to their frequent-flier card or separately.

Once again you need to check the various airlines and hotels available on the card’s list before you decide to travel. Read the fine print and pay special attention to the list of services included and excluded from travel arrangement before opting for this reward card.

3. Points Reward Cards
The ‘points reward cards’ help you earn points on each of your purchases. You are required to collect these points and redeem them later by choosing merchandises from their list, for free. Often the list of merchandise that you can select is available beforehand. So make sure that you check this list and get enrolled only if it has something worthwhile.

4. Gasoline Reward Cards
Lastly, the ‘gasoline reward cards’ entitle you to free gas once you have accumulated a certain number of points.

All said and done, one must not forget that non repayment of the amount due for your credit card purchases comes with penalties, and exorbitant interest rates. So, while deciding which credit card to choose, select the one which delivers the best mix of a reward program most suitable to your lifestyle and and has lowest penalties or interest rate.

Also, do not forget reading the terms and conditions before signing-up for one, as a reward program might be nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

This story was originally published on 02/01/2011.