The holidays are a big deal in my household. My husband waits all year long to be able to decorate our house and pick out the “perfect” Christmas tree. We bake cookies and binge-watch all the holiday Hallmark movies (I’m not ashamed to admit it). But, although we love this time of year, we don’t love all the sneaky expenses that come along with the holidays. Between gifts for work friends, our own family and friends, and our love for traveling around the holidays, our bank account depletes fast.
A couple of years ago, we decided to put all the credit card tricks I always talk about to work and see if we could find a way to enjoy the holidays, give some great gifts, travel and save money at the same time. We came up with a great system to use three credit cards to pay for almost every single expense that we have all year long so that we could rack up a ton of points for holiday gifts and travel.
Read More: These States Spend the Most on Holiday Gifts
Since then, we’ve almost never paid for holiday gifts. Instead, we get gifts and gift cards using points that we’ve earned with the money we’re spent throughout the year — and it’s not as hard as it seems.
Our 3-Card System
For you, it could be two cards or one card, etc., but for us, a three-card system works magically to score points in lots of different ways. We use these three cards to pay for just about every expense we have each month — groceries, car payment, shopping, subscriptions, utilities (some companies will charge you a fee to use a credit card, keep in mind), Target sprees and more — and then pay them off each month to keep our credit utilization rate low, since that’s one of the things that can kill your credit score. By doing so, we can rack up massive points, cash back and other bonuses throughout the year that we turn into gifts and travel rewards during the holidays.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred — We use this card for regular monthly purchases because through Chase’s reward center we can choose to use our points for gift cards, restaurant gift cards and cash back. We can also book travel and save up to 25 percent off the purchase price.
- Starwood Preferred Guest (American Express) — We use this card for all my business purchases and love all the rewards and discounts that American Express offers. Points with this card enable us to turn them into hotel stays during holidays. They even have a unique feature where you can book a room with points and cash, which I love.
- Citi AAdvantage — This is our go-to card for booking any of our airline travel because we save money on those ridiculous baggage fees, get preferred check-in and boarding and can use our points for upgrades on longer flights to Europe and beyond.
Related: Best Cash-Back Credit Cards
How We Use Our Points
Last year, we ended up spending around $200 total for all our holiday gifts, a couple of excellent meals out for us, as well as a five-night stay and airfare to New York in January. I’d consider that a win. Every year is a bit different, depending on our spending level throughout the year, but it’s important to note that we’re not making any big-ticket purchases to rack up these points. We’re just using our credit card system for our everyday purchases and reaping the benefits.
Some of the Ways We Use Our Points
- Gift certificates and gifts
- Holiday dining and entertainment
- Holiday travel
- Staycation for New Year’s
More on Saving: 40 Ways to Save Money Over the Holidays
There are always risks using your credit cards to pay for virtually all your expenses. You could end up in debt, risk credit card theft and more. However, if you commit to paying off your credit cards each month as if they were a debit card, and find the right credit cards for your lifestyle goals, you can’t beat a bunch of points at the end of the year. Those points are worth value to you and save you a ton of money when you’re budgeting for the holidays.
More From Our Smart Money Squad
- I’m Using My Credit Card Now to Earn Rewards for the Holidays
- Why My Family Stopped Giving Each Other Pricey Gifts
- How I Used My Credit Card Rewards to Give Myself the Gift of a Kitchen Upgrade
- Watch: Money Matters: Cash vs. Credit
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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.