Key takeaways

  • After you earn and redeem your credit card welcome bonus, you might be worried that you'll never see that many points in your account again, which might impact the value that your credit card holds for you.
  • But a welcome bonus isn't the only way to earn big when it comes to points or cash back rewards.
  • You can earn extra rewards by being strategic about your everyday purchases, signing up for affiliated rewards programs, using certain shopping portals and even by referring family and friends to your issuer.

Credit card welcome bonuses are a great way to give your point balance a substantial boost. There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing a welcome bonus of 50,000 points or higher post to your account after meeting the spending threshold.

But that excitement fades a bit after your first award redemption, even more once your annual fee is due. Depending on how much you charge to the card each year, you might wonder whether it’s even sustainable to keep a credit card after redeeming all of your welcome bonus points and rewards.

But by being strategic about your spending and maximizing your card’s points value, you might find that your card is still worth carrying, after all. Here are six ways to keep earning lots of points beyond credit card welcome bonuses:

1. Maximize credit card category bonuses

Credit card category bonuses are one of the most lucrative ways you can keep earning lots of points on daily spending. After all, if you can maximize your expenses by earning two to five points per dollar spent, that can add up substantially.

The largest spending categories for most people include grocery, gas and restaurant spending. Plenty of credit cards offer bonus points in these categories that can add up over the course of a year.  But not all points are valued the same, so you’ll want to assess which rewards program offers you the best value.

Cash back cards or cards with transferable rewards currencies like Citi ThankYou points will be most lucrative when it comes to category spending bonuses. Cash back cards allow you to earn a set amount of money that isn’t dependent on how you redeem it, but transferrable rewards points could be more valuable than cash back if you take advantage of transfer partnerships.

Here’s a look at some of the credit cards offering the highest rewards rates in these spending categories:

Gas

Using one of the best credit cards for gas spending will translate to more points earned at the pump. Here are some cards to consider if you put a lot of miles on your vehicle:

Grocery

Grocery spending is a significant expense for most people, and credit card issuers know it. That’s why you can find boosted earnings for grocery spending on many cards that earn points, miles and cash back. American Express typically dominates this category with generous rewards rates, but other cards are worth considering, too.

If you don’t yet have a card that earns rewards for grocery spending, check out the following:

  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1 percent).
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then 1X point per dollar spent). These points can be transferred to travel partners.
  • Citi Premier® Card: Earn 3X Citi ThankYou points at supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants. These points can be transferred to travel partners.

Dining

Whether you’re living on takeout or treating yourself to a nice restaurant every few months, dining can be a lucrative spending category for earning bonus points. Some of the best credit cards for dining offer up to 6X points when you swipe your card at restaurants, drive-thrus and other dining establishments.

Here’s a look some cards that let you earn big on restaurant spending:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card*: Earn 6X Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants. These points can be transferred to partner airlines.
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 4X Membership Rewards points on dining, takeout and delivery. These points can be transferred to travel partners.
  • Capital One Savor Credit Card*: Earn 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on dining. These points can be transferred to travel partners.

2. Add an authorized user (or two)

Whether you’re the head of a household or a business, you could benefit from having other trusted people carry your card as authorized users. Adding an authorized user to your credit card account can help you earn tons of points beyond the welcome bonus. American Express, Bank of America and Citi all periodically offer bonus points for adding authorized users.

For example, Citi often targets its Citi Premier Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®* cardholders with bonus point offers. Previous offers have typically been for 2,500 points per authorized user. Sometimes spending requirements are attached to these bonuses, though they tend to be reasonable.

Opting in to receiving promotional offers from your issuers ensures you’ll be targeted for deals like this so you can continue earning thousands of points beyond your credit card welcome bonus.

3. Spend money through shopping portals

Shopping online is easy and convenient. Thanks to airline- and hotel-affiliated shopping portals, it can also be rewarding. Nearly every major domestic airline (and a few hotel chains) now have shopping portals where you can earn bonus points at popular retailers. You’ll earn at least one point per dollar spent, and sometimes there are bonus incentives when you meet certain spending thresholds. These bonuses are in addition to the rewards you earn for charging to your credit card.

The best way to figure out which portals pay out the highest bonuses is to head to Cashback Monitor and enter the name of the merchant you want to shop with. Cashback Monitor will populate a list of all shopping portals and their current payouts at that merchant. Results include airline, hotel and cash back portals so you can decide which one is more lucrative.

Shopping portals can help you earn lots of miles and points beyond your credit card welcome bonus. They’re great for earning rewards on essential purchases and keeping miles from expiring if you don’t have an airline credit card.

4. Sign up for dining rewards

Similar to shopping portals, dining rewards programs offer a way to earn points and miles beyond your credit card welcome bonus. Many airlines and hotels currently offer their own dining rewards programs, making this one of the easiest ways to earn points and miles with minimal effort.

All you have to do is sign up for a program and register a credit card — preferably one that earns bonus points on dining. Then simply use that card to dine at participating restaurants and wait for the points to post within a few weeks. Sometimes you’ll have to fill out a brief survey about your dining experience to earn the points.

In addition to earning points for every dollar spent, some dining rewards programs offer new member bonuses of 500 to 6,000 points when you spend a specified amount on dining or takeout within a certain timeframe.

Available programs and rewards rates

Here’s a breakdown of some airline and hotel dining programs currently available, along with their new member bonuses:

Dining Program Rewards Rate New Member Bonus
American AAdvantage Dining up to 5X miles Earn 500 bonus miles after spending $25 within 30 days and then submitting a review.
Alaska Mileage Plan Dining Up to 5X miles Earn 500 bonus miles after spending $30 within 30 days and then submitting a review.
Delta SkyMiles Dining Up to 5X miles Earn 500 bonus miles after spending $30 within 30 days and then submitting a review.
Free Spirit Dining Up to 5X miles Earn 500 bonus miles after spending $30 within 30 days and then submitting a review.
JetBlue TrueBlue Dining Up to 3X points Earn 500 bonus points after spending $25 within 30 days and submitting a review.
Hilton Honors Dining Up to 8X points Earn 500 bonus points after spending $25 within 30 days and submitting a review.
IHG Rewards Club Dining Up to 8X points Earn 1,000 bonus points after spending $30 within 30 days and submitting a review.
Marriott Eat Around Town Up to 6X points, depending on status level Earn up to 6,000 bonus points total: 1,000 bonus points the first time you spend $30 or more, 2,000 bonus points the second time you spend $30 or more, 3,000 bonus points the third time you spend $30 or more (must meet the requirements within the first 60 days).
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining 0.5 – 3X points Earn 500 points after spending $25 within 30 days and submitting a review.
United MileagePlus Dining Up to 5X miles, depending on status level Earn 500 points after spending $25 within 30 days and submitting a review.

All these dining rewards programs are part of the Rewards Network, which tracks the credit cards you register with different programs. So, while you’re free to join all these programs, you can’t register the same credit card with more than one program.

If you have multiple credit cards for dining out, simply register each one with a different program to ensure you earn bonus points with minimal effort. And remember to time your registration with a first-dine bonus promotion so you don’t miss out.

5. Earn the annual spending bonuses

While a credit card welcome bonus is the most significant points haul you’ll get from a single credit card, it’s not the only way to earn points in bulk. Some credit cards allow you to also earn an annual spending bonus. If you can manage to hit a certain spending threshold every year, you can earn thousands in bonus points or miles.

Here’s a look at some credit cards that offer an annual spending bonus at the time of writing:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn a $200 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in one year.
  • IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card*: Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $20,000 on purchases each year and making one additional purchase after the account anniversary.
  • SKYPASS Select Visa Signature Credit Card*: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $35,000 annually.

6. Refer a friend or family member

Having friends and family members can pay off — quite literally, if you’re trying to earn more cash back, points or miles. Several issuers offer bonus points to existing cardholders who refer their friends and family members. Bonuses typically range from $50 to 20,000 points per successful referral, though you may be targeted for higher offers depending on your credit card and standing with a particular bank.

While there are often limits on the number of people you can refer to a specific card, the total you can earn each year is often equal to a credit card welcome bonus. You can earn credit card referral bonuses with American Express, Capital One, Chase and Discover. To find out more about which issuers are currently offering referral bonuses, check out our credit card referral bonus guide.

The bottom line

It might be hard to justify carrying a card once you start to run low on points, but before you give it up, make sure you see what happens when you maximize its value. While you can only earn a welcome bonus once, you can still get pretty large points, miles or cash back hauls when you use your card strategically.

Pay attention to category spending, as well as what shopping platforms you’re spending on. You can push your points and miles even further by signing up for affiliate programs and by transferring points to high-value travel partners. If you feel that others could also benefit from your card, consider referring the card to a friend or adding authorized users to your account. Doing so can earn you a points bonus or boost your earning rate.

If you still find that the card isn’t valuable enough for you even when maximizing the rewards you can get, consider finding a new credit card that better aligns with your lifestyle, rewards goals and spending habits.

*Issuer-required disclosure statement
The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, the IHG Rewards Premier Card and the SKYPASS Select Visa Signature Credit Card have been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.