Playing the long game: Earn more rewards over time with these cards


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If your main consideration when comparing rewards credit cards in the past was significant sign-up bonuses, it may be time to take a second look.

Over the past few months, several credit card issuers have begun rolling out new rewards structures based on long-term customer retention. Many of these new structures reduce sign up bonuses in favor of extra annual rewards or higher earnings potential over time.

That’s not to say $500 welcome offers or 70,000 mile sign-up bonuses are gone. Rather, savvy cardholders can now enjoy even more choice in the ways they diversify their wallets to maximize rewards.

A hefty sign-up bonus can help you take that dream vacation or save during a spending-heavy move. But a card with a sign-up bonus that you don’t receive until a year of ownership or that offers higher cash back percentages on your spending in exchange for minimal upfront rewards may be more beneficial for your wallet over time.

We’ve rounded up a few new or recently revamped rewards structures that should be on your radar this year, plus more ways issuers continue to add value to rewards cards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase’s Freedom Unlimited card is already regarded as one of the best cash back offerings on the market thanks to its flat-rate 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases.

But Chase recently announced the card’s revamped rewards structure, which eliminates its previous sign-up bonus offer.

Before, new cardholders could earn $150 after spending $500 within the first three months of account opening. With the updated offer, new cardholders earn 3 percent cash back on all purchases made within their first year of ownership (on up to $20,000 in purchases). After that, the cash back rate returns to 1.5 percent.

We recently outlined how Chase’s new offer adds value to your wallet. If you spend the full $20,000 within the first year, you can earn $600, beating out the $450 you’d earn from the original bonus offer.

Loyal Chase customers can benefit even more by redeeming rewards through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal. The cash value increases by 25 to 50 percent when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve and redeemed for travel through the portal.

When it comes to rewarding loyalty and long-term value, Chase’s marketplace of cards is hard to beat, especially with this new offer.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

In January, Bank of America announced its new rewards structure, which offers Cash Rewards cardholders the freedom to choose rewards categories that best suit their spending. Once per calendar month, you can select the category in which you want to earn 3 percent cash back.

Options include travel, gas, online shopping, dining, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings. You’ll also earn 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1 percent on all other purchases. Cash back percentages apply to the first $2,500 spent on combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, after which they drop to 1 percent.

Bank of America adds even more value for Preferred Rewards program members, in another play for customer loyalty. Cardholders enrolled in the program can earn a 25 to 75 percent bonus on rewards. That bumps the 3 percent category to as much as 5.25 percent, which equals possible earnings of up to $525 annually on the 3 percent category alone.

If your assets are already held with Bank or America or Merrill Lynch and the card’s rewards categories align with your spending, then the Cash Rewards credit card can be a more lucrative way to earn than even the biggest sign-up bonuses.

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Citi’s recently-released Rewards+ Card boasts a unique rewards program designed to maintain its value year after year.

Instead of cash back, Rewards+ cardholders earn 2X ThankYou Points on purchases at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 in combined purchases annually (then 1X). What’s more, all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 Points. That means a $4 coffee will earn you 10 Points.

Each year, you’ll also earn 10 percent Points back on the first 100,000 ThankYou Points you redeem. While it’s not as simple a system as flat cash back, if you don’t mind converting your Points to cash or redeeming them through Citi’s ThankYou program (which you can pair with another Citi card for higher value), this card may help you earn hundreds back on your regular spending each year.

The extras

Travel rewards credit cards, especially those co-branded with airlines and hotels, already tend to offer extra perks aside from their points rewards, like lounge access, travel credits and concierge services.

Some issuers are beginning to employ the same value-adding tactics for their non-travel-focused rewards cards, which may also help you earn more on the things that you value.

Capital One, for instance, has started ramping up experiential rewards, like exclusive event access and dining experiences. Through partnerships with well-known brands like Postmates, Resy and the NCAA, Capital One brings value in more ways than standard points or cash back. The issuer says they plan to continue adding more experiential partnerships, a move which may be more of a reason to buy into the network than cash back or points earnings.

Additionally, many issuers leverage their entire portfolios of card offerings to inspire brand loyalty. You’ll often receive higher rewards values when redeeming points earned on one card with another card (like redeeming your Chase Freedom Unlimited’s cash back earnings with a Sapphire card or your Citi Rewards+ Card earnings with a Citi Premier℠ Card).

The next time you’re comparing new credit card options, consider their value beyond low or modest sign-up bonuses and determine which may offer more over time. It’s helpful to have a card in your wallet that will continue to help you earn even after you spend the sign-up bonus.

Before making any new card decision, evaluate your spending habits and cards currently in your wallet to see where you can add value instead of unnecessary extra plastic. Check out Bankrate’s guide to the Best Rewards Cards to find more options that may work for you.