Christian Hoffman, a 36-year-old father of two who works as a communications manager in Niagara Falls, New York, didn’t have a big budget for Valentine’s Day this year. In fact, he wasn’t planning to spend much at all, until he realized he and his wife could use their credit card rewards points to go on a three-day getaway.
His in-laws offered to watch their children and now the couple is headed to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the middle of a cold New York winter. “We absolutely never would have booked this trip without the use of reward points,” he says.
As long as you pay off your credit card balance each month like Hoffman does — so that you’re not paying any fees or interest — leveraging your credit card rewards or spending to help you celebrate with loved ones on Feb. 14 can be a smart money move.
Eric Rosenberg, a personal finance expert and founder of the Personal Profitability blog, is considering taking his family out to dinner using a credit card that earns double points at restaurants. “It won’t lower my costs this year, but it will help me save on flights and hotels in the future,” he says.
Here are some more Valentine’s Day-friendly strategies for getting the most out of your credit card this year.
“The best way to use credit card rewards for Valentine’s Day is to treat your special someone — and yourself — to an all-expenses-paid weekend away without paying out of pocket,” Rosenberg says.
He suggests putting accumulated rewards points toward free air travel and hotel nights. He also suggests checking on the additional perks offered by any premium credit cards in your wallet.
“You might be able to get coveted ‘Hamilton’ tickets or a restaurant reservation,” he adds, referring to the sorts of ticket pre-sales and concierge services that come along with premium cards’ hefty annual fees of $450 or more.
Use the right card for you
Make sure you have credit cards that match your spending habits or redemption preferences. If you travel a lot, consider a travel rewards card. If you routinely charge groceries, gas and other household items, a cash-back card can capitalize on that.
“We don’t do a ton of spending each month, so we try to focus on [earning] the points that are the most valuable,” Hoffman says.
Each time you make a purchase, you can decide which card to pull out of your wallet based on which one earns you the greatest rewards rate on that spending category.
Check on the best redemption options
Credit card rewards points can have varying values, depending on how you redeem them. If you choose to cash them in through a purchase on a card issuer’s web portal or bonus mall, you can often stretch your points further.
“Many credit card companies offer exclusive discounts for card members who shop through the companies’ online mall,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert. She adds that the discount could take the form of bonus rewards, like extra miles credited to your account, or an upfront discount.
Some cards occasionally advertise special offers you have to opt in to, so Woroch also recommends regularly checking for these online or through the card issuer’s app. Options often include online flower delivery companies and other gift-friendly retailers.
Maggie Lipman, a stay-at-home mother of two in Marietta, Georgia, says she’s seen Valentine’s Day-friendly offers pop up recently at a variety of card issuers, including discounted gift cards to SpaFinder; points-boosting offers at ProFlowers and 1800Flowers.com; and discounts at HarryandDavid.com, SimplyChocolate.com and Godiva.
Chocolate “sure wouldn’t be unappreciated if it showed up in my mailbox,” she says.
Think twice about gift cards
Cashing in rewards points for gift cards through a card issuer’s online portal can sometimes come with a discount, giving you more value for your dollar. But Rosenberg points out that you can often stretch your points even further by spending on travel instead.
“While [restaurant gift cards] save you money on a fancy dinner, it could end up costing you more in the long run than if you keep those miles in the bank for a future trip instead,” he says.
Rack up more points for future use
If a romantic celebration isn’t in the cards for you this year, you can postpone any revelry and save your points instead.
Rebecca Hutcheson, 26, a mom of two in Bethlehem, Georgia, says that because she has a newborn at home, she’s not planning on any big celebrations for Feb. 14. But that doesn’t mean she can’t plan for future fun.
She uses a credit card that accumulates 2% cash back on most of her purchases. Her plan, she says, is to someday use the rewards to go out to an expensive restaurant. And if any cash back is left over? “It can go toward paying the babysitter,” she says.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.