Advertiser Disclosure

Americans to Leave $152 Million in Credit Card Rewards on the Table This Holiday Season

Dec. 1, 2015
Credit Card Data, Credit Cards
Americans to Leave Millions in Credit Card Rewards on the Table This Holiday Season
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

The season of giving can also be the season of getting, especially if consumers use their credit cards to earn points, miles or cash back. But about 1 in 8 Americans with credit cards say they don’t plan to use plastic when shopping this holiday season, which means they may miss out on up to $152 million in rewards, according to a NerdWallet poll and analysis.

In a survey of some 1,600 U.S. consumers, NerdWallet found that 13% of credit card holders who will buy gifts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day don’t plan to use their credit cards. These shoppers could have collectively earned $151,810,172 in rewards with a card that had the average rewards rate of 1.14%, according to the analysis.

Key findings

A budget just over $600. More than 85% of Americans with credit cards will buy gifts this holiday season, and spend an average of $601.70 each. That should be enough to buy a hoverboard, one of the hottest gifts this year.

Rewards for better credit. Not all shoppers use credit cards that earn rewards, since these cards typically require a good credit score or better to qualify. We estimate that if all shoppers with credit cards used a rewards card at the average rewards rate, consumers together would earn a total of $1.02 billion in rewards this season from holiday shopping alone.

If all holiday credit card shoppers were to use cards with a higher rewards rate of 2% instead of the average 1.14%, they would collectively get an additional $770 million in rewards.

Click here to see how much consumers in the nation’s largest cities are expected to spend on average this holiday season and the total rewards they would miss out on by not shopping with credit cards.

Maximizing rewards cards

If you plan to do your holiday shopping with a credit card, we recommend using a rewards card with the highest rewards-per-dollar rate to maximize your return. For example, pick a card with a cash-back rate of 1.5% or 2% instead of 1%. If you have a card that earns points or miles, here’s where to find the rewards rate for some of the most popular credit cards.

Additionally, pay attention to bonus offers. Some credit cards have higher reward rates for purchases at department stores, and others have seasonal bonus rewards for specific retailers or spending categories.

No rewards credit card in your wallet? NerdWallet analyzed and found the best rewards credit cards.

Credit considerations

Good-to-excellent credit is typically required to qualify for a rewards card — especially one with a rewards rate of 2% or higher.

But even with rewards, shoppers should avoid using credit cards for purchases that can’t be paid off quickly, since interest payments can neutralize the benefits of rewards, and carrying a large balance can damage your credit score.


This analysis was based on an online poll of 2,017 U.S. adults age 18 and older taken Nov. 2-4 by Harris Poll for NerdWallet. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the general adult population. Of the total sample, 1,654 adults had credit cards. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

U.S. population numbers for 2014 are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The estimated average credit card rewards rate of 1.14 cents per dollar was calculated by NerdWallet based on the “earn” and “burn” rates for credit card rewards and average American household spending.

NerdWallet staff writer Emily Starbuck Crone contributed to this article.

Image via iStock.