Another fine-print point that's easy to overlook: In order to score the highest percent cash-back, you might have to make certain purchases during a designated time period — or what companies call "rotating categories." For example, you might earn 5 percent on groceries from January through March, and then come April the 5 percent offer will only be eligible on purchases made at a certain retailer.
"This can be really confusing, and you've got to be pretty on top of the rotating categories — which most people simply don't have time for," Arnold says.
But Ulzheimer maintains that you won't get bang for your buck if you don't make an effort to redeem your rewards before they expire.
"By claiming rewards for small items, like a gift card, you know you're always getting the value of the program.
To help you distinguish between the two, we tapped Lobel and three other money pros to reveal some of the most common rewards card misconceptions — and insider tips for reaping the biggest benefits. Rewards cards aren't one-size-fits-all Credit card companies save their savviest marketing tactics for cards with the biggest bonuses, luring consumers in with promises of access to exclusive events and five-figure batches of miles — but the card with the most eye-popping deal may not be the card that's best for .
"A lot of people just sign up for the first card that sounds good," says Curtis Arnold, founder of Card
The result: a total of 90,000 points she cashed in to fly herself and five friends to Las Vegas — for free.
"To me, those benefits easily outweigh the annual fee." If you do find that your fee is teetering on the edge of canceling out your benefits, Arnold says you may have luck making a quick phone call to your credit card company to see if you can renegotiate an annual fee that's a little more manageable. You need to be flexible about time periods So you've signed up for a card that'll score you airline miles.
But when you go to book your family's flight home for Thanksgiving, you realize that you're stuck in a "blackout period" and can't use them. "The truth is you really need to be flexible in order to use rewards, especially when it comes to air travel," says Lobel, adding that racking up miles is usually best for those who often travel during off-peak times.
"I've always had good credit, and I pay my card balance in full each month," she says.
"So I figured I should switch to a card that gave something in return." When she did, Schroeder started reaping the rewards immediately.