The Best Credit Card Perks for Holiday Shoppers
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By Sheryl Nance Nash,
The Fiscal Times
November 29, 2012

Conventional wisdom says to leave your credit cards at home when you do your brick-and-mortar holiday shopping. But using plastic can actually be more than just convenient. If you’re savvy, you can get while you give.

According to Capital One’s recent quarterly rewards survey, 25 percent of reward cardholders say they plan to use their cash rewards from holiday shopping to offset holiday expenses. Twenty-five percent said they plan to use the rewards earned from holiday shopping toward spring or summer travel next year, and 44 percent plan to redeem credit card rewards for gift cards.

While it’s always important to read through all the fine print to make sure you understand the nuances of any deal, here are a few ways to make the best use of credit cards this holiday season.

Card-Specific Shopping Portals
Make sure you take advantage of the benefits your card offers – and if you’re on the hunt for a new card, see who’s offering the sweetest deals. Some exclusive online shopping portals allow you to earn an extra 5-10 percent cash back on your purchases. For example, Discover’s exclusive shopping portal, ShopDiscover.com, offers cash back rewards all year at over 200 online retailers like DSW, Sephora and Saks Fifth Avenue, but they up the ante during the holidays, with many stores offering additional bonuses. Cardholders are able to receive 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases from department stores and online retailers from October through the end of December.

Price Matching
Citi cardmembers who sign up for the complimentary Citi Price Rewind can take comfort in knowing that Citi will search hundreds of retailers’ sites for 30 days after a purchase is made. If a price is at least $25 less than what the cardmember paid, Citi will refund the difference in price – up to $250 per item and up to $1,000 annually. The benefit is available year-round, but it’s particularly useful now when you may be too busy or too tired to shop for the best deals and instead just grab what you can without focusing on price.

RELATED: The Hot Holiday Shopping Trend: Selfishness

Special Holiday Offers
Many cards offer special holiday promotions for existing cardholders. American Express cardholders can redeem points for selected merchandise at a 20 percent discount through November 30. Chase Freedom Sapphire and Ink cardholders can book rewards airfare or hotel accommodations without restrictions, earn bonus points for holiday gift shopping at the Ultimate Rewards Mall, or use existing points to acquire unique experiences, such as a meet-and-greet with the Radio City Rockettes. Chase Freedom cardholders with Ultimate Rewards will also receive $10 or 10 percent off select gift cards purchased with points.

Buy Now, Pay Later
Can’t pay your entire bill? The Citi Diamond Preferred Card offers 0 percent interest on new purchases for 18 months – and there’s no annual fee.

Cash in on Holiday Travel
Erik Larsen, president and founder of the consumer site NextAdvisor.com, touts the Chase Freedom Visa as the best card for travel purchases. This card gives 5 percent cash back on all hotel and airline purchases through the end of December. It also gives $100 cash back after a cardholder spends $500 in the first three months, which can be helpful in paying off those holiday travel bills, he points out. The 5 percent cash back categories rotate each quarter and cardmembers get 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

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Retail Cards
Many stores offer their own cards with special discounts and reward opportunities. Target offers a store debit card that offers the same rewards as its REDcard, but “without the worries of being hit with future bills, added interest and debt,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney.

Airline Card Perks
According to Brian Kelly, a credit card and travel rewards guru who runs ThePointsGuy.com, certain airline credit cards offer extra points with select retailers, like 10 points per dollar at NorthFace through the United Mileage Plus shopping portal. Three American Airlines cards from Citi are also offering 50,000 bonus miles in exchange for minimum spending requirements until December 13.

Points for a Good Cause
Make an impact with reward points. Citi cardmembers can use ThankYou points to contribute to the Sandy relief effort online. Capital One’s Giving Site lets you donate points to charity, and in most cases, the donations are tax deductible as well.