Chasing points: What lengths will we go to for credit card rewards?

Chasing points

Nearly 1 in 3 of us spend money on our credit cards just to get their rewards or benefits.

Credit card companies can offer powerful rewards like cash back, free trips and discounts. But a card’s rewards can be so attractive, an estimated 71.7 million of us — or 29.2% of American adults — swipe, dip or tap just for the cash, points or miles our purchases earn us.

Our recent study reveals that Americans spend an average $2,453.10 a person chasing points, adding up to an estimated $175.8 billion in total. We’re most likely to spend this money on clothing and accessories (89.4%), but food and drinks (88.4%) and household items (62.0%) aren’t far behind.

Let’s break it down

Gender

At 30.9% of those surveyed, men are more likely than women to spend money just for a credit card’s rewards program, whereas only 27.6% of women do the same. They also spend almost double that of women, racking up an average $3,021.31 to a woman’s $1,852.87.

Women are more likely to spend this money on clothing and accessories (95.1%, compared with 84.0% of men) and food and drink (89.4%, compared with 87.3% of men). Men, on the other hand, are more than twice as likely to use their credit cards on tech — 66.7% of men, compared with 31.7% of women. They’re also three times as likely as women (10.6%) to spend on music at 27.7%.

Generation

Baby boomers are least likely to buy into this phenomenon. Only 24.3% have used a credit card simply for its rewards, compared with 30.2% of Gen Xers and 36.5% of millennials.

Unlike with gender, you won’t find a dramatic difference among generations in how much they spend on cards for rewards: Gen Xers splurge the most at $2,942.57 per person, followed by baby boomers ($2,201.37) and millennials ($2,047.18)

Baby boomers are most likely to spend for rewards on food and drinks and household items. But they’re least likely to spend on clothing — the category in which Gen Xers are most likely to spend.

Gen Xers are also most likely of the generations to use their cards to spend on tech and electronics, while millennials prefer to buy cosmetics and fragrances, literature and music.

LikelihoodAmount spentWhat they’re most likely to buy
Millennials36.5%$2,047.18Cosmetics and fragrances, music, literature
Gen Xers30.2%$2,942.57Clothing and accessories, shoes, technology and electronics
Baby boomers24.3%$2,201.37Food and drinks, household items

Household income

As for household income, you’ll find no surprises: Those with the highest incomes are more likely to spend on a credit card to take advantage of its rewards program. They’re also spending the most, with those earning a household income of $150,000 or more spending an average $4,601.90 per person.

Compare rewards credit cards

Are rewards programs worth it?

Rewards cards can offer incredible perks. But whether they’re the right choice depends on your financial needs, spending habits and goals. Weigh the pros and cons of your rewards card, and map out how much you need to spend to reap the biggest rewards.

When looking for a card, carefully read any limits and restrictions on how you can redeem points, and look for eligibility on bonus points at signup. The potential for travel perks, cash back and bonus points could cause you to spend more than normal, potentially resulting in high fees and interest on those purchases.

Apps to manage your credit cards

Need some help unlocking untapped rewards or hidden benefits of your credit cards? We rounded up a few apps out there that can track your spending habits, manage your credit card payments, suggest what card to use for specific purchases and more.

BrandFeatures
Wallaby
  • Connect your credit card accounts to track your spending, how much you owe, your total line of credit and when your next bill is due.
  • Get real-time alerts on where to shop and what credit card to use to maximize your rewards.
  • Categorizes your purchases to see exactly what you’re spending your money on.
  • Suggests better credit cards than the ones you have based on your spending to earn even more rewards.
  • Available for free on both iOS and Android devices.
Birch Finance
  • Connect your credit card accounts to get real-time recommendations on what card to use to earn the most rewards.
  • Find out where you’ve missed rewards in the past to better manage your cards and spending.
  • Track your spending by store and category to get a clear picture of your spending habits.
  • Get recommendations for other credit cards that will earn you the most rewards based on your spending.
  • Available for both iOS and Android devices for free.
Reward Summit
  • Tell the app which credit cards you have and get recommendations on what card to use to maximize your rewards.
  • Compare how many rewards you’ve earned with other Reward Summit users for instant motivation.
  • Get recommendations for other credit cards that could help you earn even more rewards based on your spending.
  • Available for both iOS and Android devices for free.
Tally
  • Connect your credit cards and bank account and let the app manage your payments for you to avoid late fees, lower your balances and maximize savings on interest.
  • Open a Tally credit line with a lower APR than your credit cards — between 7.9% and 19.9% variable — to help you pay off your high-interest balances faster.
  • Tally doesn’t charge any fees — period — but you must have a credit score of at least 660 to be considered for the line of credit.
  • Available for free on both iOS and Android devices if you live in one of 13 states, including: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah.
Sift
  • Connect your credit cards to unlock hidden shopping and travel benefits to save you money.
  • See what benefits you’re eligible for every time you buy something new, including price protection and extended warranties.
  • Automatically get a refund if the price drops on a product you bought that’s covered under price protection.
  • Know which card to use when booking flights or renting cars to secure travel insurance, lost luggage protection, rental car insurance and more.
  • Available for free on both iOS and Android devices.

Methodology

We analyzed data from a survey of 2,001 US adults commissioned by finder.com and conducted by Pureprofile in February 2018.

For media inquiries:

Jennifer McDermott

Consumer advocate helping people improve their personal finances.

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