Maximizing rewards cards

FRESNO, Calif.

With rewards cards shoppers can get much more for their money -- free flights, hotel stays, gift cards even cash.

Fresno mom Nicole Linder uses her Capital One rewards card for nearly every purchase, even the little things like her daily coffee.

Nicole Linder: "In the beginning we didn't use it enough. It took us awhile to get into the routine of using it and growing that balance."

The more she spends, the more she earns.

Nicole Linder: "Right now we have 78,000 miles."

Those miles can be converted to airline tickets, merchandise or gift cards to her favorite restaurants and retailers. She says she loves that flexibility.

Nicole Linder: "So for instance over the summer we needed a camera so we purchased with our miles a $250 Best Buy gift card and we were able to go in and just purchase a camera."

But the key to maximizing her money -- is to minimize any interest she might have to pay on her balance.

Nicole Linder: "My husband and I are really diligent in keeping track of how much we've charged on the card, so that we know we can pay it off each month."

Having that kind of discipline is the only way Clearpoint Credit Counselor Joshua Anderson says a rewards card really pays off.

Joshua Anderson: "Staying in control is the name of the game."

If you're doing that, the interest rate on the card doesn't make that much of a difference. What does is your credit score because the best rewards cards are reserved for consumers with excellent credit.

Your spending habits are key too -- for example, if you don't travel much this airline rewards card wouldn't make much sense.

Joshua Anderson: "You want something that's universal. Some will give you rewards if you shop online, some will only give you rewards if you dine at a certain restaurants. A lot of creditors are starting to do rewards, so you want to shop around to see what's best for you."

We found sites like HustlerMoneyBlog.com that make shopping for a card a lot easier, with reviews and terms clearly spelled out.

The site's pick for best travel rewards card is the Chase Continental One Pass Plus. No annual fee the first year. Earn up to 40,000 bonus miles at sign up. More than enough for a free round trip ticket. And get travel protection and perks like priority boarding and free checked baggage.

Low.Cards.com is a good resource too. Here, the Chase Freedom Visa is highlighted as the best gas rewards card. $200 cash back in the first three months for initial spending, unlimited 1% cash back on everything you buy and 5% cash back on seasonal spending categories that change with each yearly quarter.

For cash back cards, American Express Blue is one of the best, with no annual fee, but you have to be a big spender to get the maximum rewards, for things like gas, grocery purchases as well as drugstore purchases. You only earn about 1 percent but if you spend over $6,500 a year, that goes up to 5 percent.

Retailers are offering rewards cards, too, a good one is the Amazon.com rewards Visa card. It has no annual fee, pays 30 dollars back on your first purchase, and points are unlimited and never expire.

Nicole says it feels pretty good, to know she's coming out ahead when it comes to the credit card companies and her hard-earned money.

Nicole Linder: "I'm not sure what the incentive is for them to have me as a client, but I'm glad they do."

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