Riding the Credit Card Rewards Wave

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When you’ve got even a semi-decent credit score, you’re inundated with credit card offers — and the rewards can certainly be tempting.

The key to good credit card karma is to keep your total number of cards low. Just like your weight or your spending habits, when you keep things lean, you’ll always be in better shape. Some experts recommend keeping your total number of credit cards under 10, others even less.

But no matter how many total credit cards you maintain, never carry all of them in your wallet at once if you can help it. This way, even if you’re traveling, leave at least one home and consider taking two. Then each day that you’re out and about, put leave one behind in your hotel room safe (or if you’re not traveling, in a hidden spot at home), so you’ll always have your own back in case of theft, loss or fraud. In fact, it’s always a good idea to keep at least one spare account open for emergencies of any kind.

Remember to be diligent about managing your cards responsibly, preferably simply using them instead of cash, and regularly paying them off. Sign up for your card’s auto-pay, online access to quickly monitor your account, Manilla’s bill and account manager, and other free services to stay on top of things no matter where you are.

When you’ve got your credit card house in order, you might find you can’t resist the offers of free loot. Once you’re good to go, there’s no reason you can’t take advantage of the best of the very best credit card offers coming your way. Then whatever freebie, cash back or reward is on the line, you’ll add to your arsenal of credit in good conscience. Naturally, you might be enticed by the magnitude of credit card rewards programs that many companies offer:

  • Free items at Victoria’s Secret — a $15 credit for new card holder gets you at least one pretty pair of undies and a monthly passport of additional discounts and goodies
  • A discount on purchases at Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Piper Lime and Athleta — new card holders typically receive a discount upon first purchase and an additional 10 percent or so off at all the stores, on and offline, for the first 60 days of the new account
  • A bevy of mileage points that provides at least one round-trip — check out specials on American Airlines (Citi Platinum Select), Southwest Airlines (VISA) or Jet Blue (American Express) or
  • Cash rewards and/or exclusive items from your alma mater — available with MasterCard and VISA through various college alumni associations.
  • Cash rewards and points for purchases toward dining and entertainment using the Citi ThankYou Card

But what happens when you sign up for one of these cards and soon after, you see the same card offering better terms, a better bonus, or a combination of better perks of any kind? When your credit card karma (or at least your timing), seems to have soured, there is a better way. Here’s what to do:

Call Customer Support. The first step is simply to make your voice heard. A mere phone call is your quick ticket to righting what might seem like an irreversible wrong. Yes, you might just call up your new credit card’s toll-free customer service number only to be told it’s too late… “The offer you’re now seeing isn’t the offer you signed up for,” which you already knew anyway.  

Speak to a supervisor. When you respectfully, calmly and politely explain your concern to a supervisor, you’d be amazed what you can achieve. Not only can you get late fees lifted (imagine, as much as $40 gone in seconds), but you can also change the conditions of the card you signed up for in the first place. Simply ask the supervisor to match the better bonuses now that you’re a customer. Even if your new card hasn’t arrived yet, or even if you haven’t started using it yet, you can simply point the supervisor to the online ad that caught your attention.

This plan might seem farfetched but it’s actually not. During a recent call, although the first customer service agent I spoke to had no interest in matching the new and better offer I spotted, I immediately upgraded the call to a supervisor. And he matter-of-factly explained this concern comes up all the time. Within minutes, my request yielded double my new card holder bonus miles.

It was that simple. The bottom line to improving your bottom line? Provide an online link to the exact offer you’re seeking. Be polite and be prepared.

Of course, it’s worth spending a few minutes online before you apply to land the best deal from the get go. But if it’s too late, and none of these tactics work, you can always cancel a card.

Overall, do your research. Visit sites like CreditCards.com, where you can review and search cards to get the best deals possible. You’ll be able to compare which rewards programs make sense for you and your lifestyle.

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is an expert Manilla.com blogger, author, public speaker and coach. She has written for The New York Times, Fodor’s, Forbes, Shape, Huffington Post and many other publications. 

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