Key takeaways

  • To earn more credit card rewards, consider putting recurring bills (like utilities) on a credit card, utilizing your card’s partner programs and buying gift cards at retailers that earn boosted rewards rates
  • If you’re thinking of closing a credit card account, consider asking your issuer for a retention offer first
  • In addition to earning a credit card sign-up bonus, consider earning referral bonuses or adding an authorized user to your card

Earning rewards is one of the great things about using rewards credit cards. Usually, you’ll earn these rewards by spending on popular items like flights, gas, food and more. While there are plenty of traditional ways to earn credit card rewards, there are a few unconventional ways to earn them as well. These more underrated ways to earn credit card rewards won’t always be the first thing advertised on your card’s issuer website, but they can still be lucrative.

1. Pay utility bills with a credit card

Utility bills are recurring charges you have to pay anyway. Why not put those charges on your credit card to earn rewards? One downside is that some utility services may charge processing fees when you pay bills with a credit card. But paying your utilities with your credit card can help build a positive credit history.

Additionally, tools like UltraFICO and Experian Boost use and record bill payments as a contributing factor to your credit history, creating new avenues to build up credit beyond just responsible credit card use.

2. Utilize partner programs to earn more rewards

Many credit cards are co-branded or have partner programs that offer rewards when you spend. Partner programs span many categories, including dining, airlines, retail shopping and more. If you enroll in a partner program like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program or the American Airlines AAdvantage program with your card and spend at any participating merchant within that program, you’ll earn rewards on your card that can be used toward any of your card’s redemption options. Read up on your card’s program partners so you know all the places where you can maximize your earnings.

3. Ask your issuer for a retention offer

A retention offer could be on the table for people who already have good to excellent credit. Card issuers want to retain cardholders in good standing, so you may have some leverage to negotiate a retention offer, or an incentive to keep your account open. These incentives may be in the form of a refunded annual fee or credit card rewards that will be added to your account.

You can often negotiate incentives when you call an issuer to cancel a card, or if you have a complaint about your experience with the card itself or with the brand associated with the card. For example, if you experience flight delays with your co-branded airline card, you could ask to have extra rewards added to your account to compensate for the inconvenience.

4. Buy gift cards for your favorite retailers

A concept called manufactured spending is another interesting way to get your hands on more rewards. This process involves using your credit card to purchase gift cards that can earn you rewards on your credit card, as well as the cash incentive that goes along with the gift card you purchase.

For example, if your card only earns elevated rewards and cash back at grocery stores, buy gift cards there for restaurants, Amazon, rideshares, streaming services or other places you normally spend at anyway. Technically, you could even purchase a Visa gift card. However, some issuers may find this kind of activity to be a red flag and could cancel your account or revoke any rewards you’ve already earned.

5. Earn bonus rewards in traditional and creative ways

A popular way to earn a lot of rewards at once is by meeting the spending requirement to earn your credit card’s sign-up bonus. You could easily do this by making one big purchase on your credit card, such as a new laptop. Just pay off this purchase at your next billing cycle closing date to avoid any interest charges.

However, there are other ways you can earn a large rewards bonus. For instance, you can earn referral bonuses when you refer a friend to apply for your credit card and their application is approved.

Further, another way to earn bonus rewards is by adding an authorized user. This user has the ability to spend on your card’s credit line, and your account will earn rewards for their purchases. Make sure you have someone who is responsible or who you trust as an authorized user on your card as you will be responsible for covering the purchases they make.

How to maximize your rewards value

  • Leverage issuer portals. If your card has a travel or shopping portal, like Capital One Travel or Chase Ultimate Rewards, use them to maximize your earnings. These portals often offer boosted rewards rates when you book travel or make purchases through them.
  • Watch which redemption options you utilize. Not all redemption options are created equal, and you could be unintentionally diluting your rewards value. For example, cards that offer travel rewards will often have their highest redemption rate when you redeem them for travel-related purchases. Redeeming travel rewards for other things like a statement credit or gift card purchase could cut your rewards value in half.
  • Stack cards in the same rewards program. Using multiple cards from the same issuer will help maximize your rewards earnings and boost their overall value. A good example of this is the Chase trifecta. The overarching goal is to strategize your spending by using multiple cards and then pool your reward earnings into one account for maximum amount and value.
  • Transfer rewards to airline partners. Travel cards that have airline partners usually allow cardholders to transfer rewards to these airline loyalty programs. In some cases, transferring your points or miles to a different airline partner can boost the points or miles values significantly.
  • Look out for spending limits. Be cognizant of the fact that some cards with lucrative bonus categories have spending caps. Once you reach these spending limits, the bonus category value most often goes down to the lowest rewards rate. The spending limits and timeframes before these limits reset will vary by card.

The bottom line

By using all the options available to you, a windfall of credit card rewards could be yours in multiple unique ways. Read all the fine print about your card, enroll in partner programs and think critically about how you want to redeem your earnings. As always, keep up with responsible credit habits and you’ll open up even more earning possibilities over time.