Credit card rewards and cash-back programs seem to be springing up everywhere. But sometimes they come with debilitating restrictions. Blackout travel dates (like holidays or weekends) can work against you, such as when you want to visit family for Christmas. And some points systems are so stingy you'd have to travel practically every weekend to reap significant benefits.
Enter Lewis, who says the system can work for you — if you know how the system works.
In addition to vacations, Lewis and her husband also take occasional buying trips for their business. They had tried a couple of rewards programs, but thought each required too many points to earn free lodging. Lewis says they found the right match for their lifestyle when they signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest program through American Express.
"Once we started using it, we realized how easy and how great it was, then we just put all of our bills on auto-pay," Lewis said. "We even bought a car with American Express. They wouldn't take the full amount, but they took a good chunk of it."
Using the card for more day-to-day purchases like groceries, insurance and gas also help boost their points each month. But, Lewis says, such credit cards are not for the reckless.
"We use it whenever we can because we just pay it off every month. You have to be pretty responsible."
Before signing up for a credit card deal, consider your individual needs and spending and bill-paying habits. Here's a look at a few of the many programs available
Capital One Venture Rewards: Earn two miles per dollar spent using the card; redeem miles for travel expenses. Spend $1,000 the first three months, get 10,000 bonus miles. Redeem for airline travel; no blackout dates, no limit on miles. Free for first year, then $59 annually.
Citi Platinum Select/AAdvantage Visa Signature: Earn one mile per dollar spent, or two miles on eligible American Airlines travel expenses. Spend $1,000 the first three months, get 30,000 bonus miles. Perks include one free checked bag and priority boarding. Free the first year, then $95 annually.
Starwood Preferred Guest (American Express): Earn two points per dollar spent. Get 10,000 bonus points with first purchase, another 15,000 for spending $5,000 within six months. Redeem for airline travel and lodging; no blackout dates. Free for first year, then $65 annually.