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September often represents the "eve" of the busy, bustling holiday season to come. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to plan ahead, it’s still possible to anticipate some upcoming expenses, from winter-proofing your home to prepping for travel.
Before you get swamped with Halloween to-do’s or Thanksgiving feast planning, take advantage of this time to map out which of your credit cards can offer the most savings.
Earn more value on Labor Day purchases
Labor Day may look and feel different this year in an uncertain economy, but it can still offer a chance to spend time with loved ones. If you’re planning activities for the holiday, certain credit cards can offer more value for your spending.
You can get more value on your groceries for your socially distanced cookout with a rewards credit card, especially if it offers elevated rewards at supermarkets. Take the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example. This card earns an industry-leading 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year in spending (then 1%), among other rewards categories. Terms apply. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $95.
If you're looking to avoid an annual fee, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is offering new cardholders 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year you have the card. The annual fee is $0.
If you’re planning a local getaway, check to see which credit cards in your wallet are generous with gas rewards.
Keep in mind that some travel credit cards — like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® — are offering elevated rewards on gas for a period of time. Terms apply.
If you’re still in back-to-school shopping mode, Labor Day can mean sales across many retailers, whether you’re looking for a desk, a computer or fall clothing.
Any such sale presents three opportunities that you can "stack":
The Labor Day discount itself.
Rewards earned from your credit card.
Cash back through a website like Rakuten.
Get your home winter-ready
Before you’re faced with holiday expenses and responsibilities, consider using your time and money to start winter-proofing your home. You might even find some Labor Day sales at Home Depot, Lowe's or elsewhere.
If it’s a big project with a hefty price tag, a 0% intro APR credit card can offer some breathing room on interest charges. The introductory annual percentage rate may even come in handy for the holiday shopping season as well, but aim to pay off any home improvement purchases before then to avoid accumulating debt. Take a look at the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which offers a 0% intro APR for 20 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.
Otherwise, look to the credit cards in your wallet for potential savings on home improvement purchases. A flat rate of 1.5% or more on a credit card can still add up. The $0-annual-fee Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, for example, earns 2% cash back: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay it off.
If you need to stretch your budget, you might be able to redeem rewards to cover home improvement costs in the form of cash or statement credit. Through Sept. 30, 2020, for example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are allowing redemptions at home improvement stores and elsewhere for a value of 1.5 cents per point.
Plan for flexible holiday travel
If you’re planning to travel during the holiday season, start crafting your strategy now to prevent any headaches or fees. COVID-19 restrictions have introduced plenty of uncertainty, and emergencies happen. Look for a flexible cancellation policy on airfare and hotel accommodations to save money. This might mean temporarily pulling away from your favorite airline or hotel and any co-branded credit cards that earn points for booking travel with them.
For air travel, some full-fare airlines in the U.S. are offering flexible change and cancellation policies for new bookings made within certain time frames. If you’re booking a hotel or Airbnb stay, you’ll also want to know that you can cancel at the last minute without hurting your wallet.
Think carefully about which credit card you’ll use to book travel as you keep an eye on travel prices. Holiday airfares may look different this year.
If you have a cash-back credit card and a travel credit card, for example, weigh the redemption values against the travel protections. If you need to redeem rewards immediately to pad your budget around the holiday season, your cash-back credit card might be the better choice, although some travel credit card issuers are temporarily allowing cardholders to redeem statement credits toward purchases other than travel. If you can afford to bank your rewards in anticipation of future travel, sticking with your travel credit card might make sense.
Information related to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.