There was a time I ignored—and even avoided—the rotating cash back bonus categories on my credit card, sure that any rewards wouldn’t be worth the trouble of keeping track of all the categories. That cash back was simply a little extra money each month that I could mindlessly apply back to my balance. However, once I finally dug in, I realized I could be applying a lot more to that balance if I did bother to pay attention—and actually activate the rewards. Here’s what to know about rotating bonus categories and how you can use them to maximize your cash back rewards.
What are rotating bonus category credit cards?
First things first: How do rotating bonus category credit cards work? These credit cards offer bonus cash back on purchases that fall into certain categories, which change (or rotate) on a quarterly basis. These rewards are typically 5% cash back in bonus categories like gas stations, grocery stores, and popular online retailers. For anyone who likes to turn maximizing rewards into something of a sport, these rotating bonus categories are a great way to flex your muscles and earn extra rewards. The key is that you need to remember to activate the new bonus categories every quarter.
How to maximize your cash back
Here’s what to know about the rules of the rotating bonus category game: With rotating bonus category cards, you usually need to activate new categories before you can start earning cash back. Make sure you set a reminder to activate your new bonus categories each quarter, or else you’ll miss out on the cash back window. To stay on top the rotating categories, make a note in your phone about the best time to make different purchases.
You should also be sure to understand the rules and exclusions of your credit card. For instance, as Experian explains, if digital wallets and one of your favorite online retailers are two bonus categories at the same time, don’t expect to get a double bonus for paying with a digital wallet at the retailer. Similarly, some categories might have exclusions and restrictions, like only certain chains qualifying for the “groceries” bonus category.
If the idea of maximizing cash back appeals to you, you should look into the best rotating bonus category cards for your spending habits. Compare your options with different best-of lists, like this one from Nerdwallet or this one from Bankrate.
Finally, it’s worth noting that you should resist the temptation to make purchases simply because they fall under the bonus category that quarter. Don’t fall in the trap of accidentally spending more to save.