Janet Alvarez
Executive Editor

As Executive Editor of Wise Bread & an anchor for WHYY/NPR, Janet Alvarez is a formidable consumer advocate, personal finance and investing expert. She appears frequently in national media, including the Today Show, Good Morning Washington, ABC and CBS News, Bloomberg TV, Cheddar TV, and more.

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3 Ideas for Maximizing Financial Rewards During the Holidays

Great tips to stay on track financially while enjoying an amazing holiday season

By Janet Alvarez, Executive Editor
Advertorial Disclosure

The holidays will be here before we know it. Soon we’ll be connecting with friends and family, but before that we should begin anticipating holiday expenses. Travel, gift-giving and parties are wonderful parts of the holidays and you can keep costs down with strategic spending and rewards redemption. By putting holiday purchases and travel spending on a rewards card, you’ll earn cash back during the busiest shopping season of the year. And, by leveraging other rewards programs, like a banking rewards program, you can boost your rewards earnings even higher!

Last year I discovered the Preferred Rewards program from Bank of America and enrolled as a member. This fall, Bank of America celebrated the fifth anniversary of Preferred Rewards and a milestone enrollment of 6 million members! The program has three tiers, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Honors, and as your qualifying balances grow at Bank of America and you move between tiers, your level of rewards increases! As a Gold Tier member, I receive perks and benefits across my everyday banking activities, including credit cards rewards bonuses of 3.75% with the Cash Rewards Card (more on that below!). As a member I also get a 2% discount on the current foreign currency exchange rate - which is a real lifesaver during my family’s overseas holiday travel!

Maximizing Rewards on Holiday Travel

When it comes to travel during the holidays, two things are nearly inevitable: crowds and high prices. However, there are things you can do to alleviate the emotional and financial stress of holiday travel.

If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can potentially reduce your travel costs. Here are a few of my favorite strategies:

  • Travel on a holiday such as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. It’s usually less crowded and cheaper — typically 20-50% less for airfare.
  • If you can’t travel on a holiday, can you shift your holiday travel to the last week of November or first week of December? These are some of the cheapest travel weeks of the year, since most people already traveled for Thanksgiving or are waiting until mid- to late-December to visit family. If you have the ability to telecommute during the holidays, heading to your destination in early December could save you money without draining your vacation days.
  • Finally, try to travel on Tuesday or Saturday, when ticket prices are typically cheapest; travel lines are usually shortest on those days as well.

Another tip: layer your banking, credit card and travel rewards when you book travel. Start by choosing a credit card that’ll give you the most cash back. My credit card of choice is the Bank of America Cash Rewards card. It lets me choose from six categories (including travel!) to earn cash back. Everyone earns 3% cash back on the category they choose, and as a Preferred Rewards member I get a 25% rewards bonus that pushes my cash back earnings up to 3.75%! The best part is that I can change my choice category once a month. For example, I switch my cash back category to travel in October when I’m booking my flight and voila — 3.75% cash back on my airfare. I always make sure to include my frequent flyer and hotel loyalty numbers when I’m booking to rack up points with those programs too, on top of the cash back bonus I get with Preferred Rewards.

Making the Most of Gifting

One of the great joys of the holiday season is gift giving. When you’re ready to start shopping for loved ones, set your Bank of America Cash Rewards card’s 3% category to online shopping. I typically choose travel for October (a great time to book my flight) and the online shopping category in November, taking advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. By the end of November, I’m squared away with shopping and travel booking, leaving me to enjoy family and friends in December. And - no matter which category I choose each month, my 3% cash back always gets boosted to 3.75% as a Preferred Rewards member!

Enjoying Stress-Free Experiences and Celebrations

The holidays give us time to enjoy family gatherings and shared experiences. My family enjoys volunteering and donating gift boxes during the holidays. It serves as a reminder of the generosity that is at the core of the holiday spirit and as an opportunity to spend quality time with each other.

My family’s holiday gatherings also involve A LOT of food — which means a lot of time spent in the kitchen together. The Bank of America Cash Rewards card helps me here, too; I earn 2.5% cash back on groceries as a Preferred Rewards member. You can also select dining as your category for the month to enjoy the additional cash back benefits for Preferred Rewards members on catered meals or dining out with family. And, don’t forget to layer your grocery store loyalty cards, coupon apps and dining programs on top, too!

Holiday expenses are inevitable, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy them with your family and friends. When you do need to spend money, use simple and rewarding tools like the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, airline and hotel loyalty programs and the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card to get cash back, travel rewards, deals and more during the season.

To learn more about Bank of America Preferred Rewards, click here.

This is a sponsored post by Bank of America as part of Wise Bread's continued partnership with them.