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Maximize Miles and Points With Your Back-to-School Shopping

Aug. 20, 2019
Reward Optimization, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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If you feel like you’re spending a lot on your kids as they head back to the classroom, you’re not alone. American families with children can expect to spend an average of $696.70 on back-to-school shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation. And those supply lists are a great opportunity to knock out credit card spending requirements to earn some big sign-up bonuses.

Even if you’re earning rewards on credit cards you already have, there are plenty of opportunities to generate extra points and miles. Here are some tips on how to maximize miles on back-to-school shopping.

Best cards to use at back-to-school merchants

Whether you’re buying snacks for the kids’ lunch boxes or a new outfit for the first day of school, you can make use of generous earning rates to get more miles out of your spending.

Office supply stores

Buying new school supplies can be quite rewarding with the right credit card. In fact, you could earn up to 5x the rewards on purchases from office supply stores. Here are our picks for spending in this category:

» Learn more: Chase Ink Cash review: A no-fee winner for small business

Grocery spending

Stocking up on snacks and lunch packs can add up, but luckily this is a lucrative rewards category. Here’s how far grocery shopping can take you in terms of points:

In terms of points, the American Express® Gold Card is a great option for your back-to-school grocery needs, with its 4x earnings on up to $25,000 per year in grocery spending. This is a great card if you want to earn flexible rewards too — Membership Rewards transfer to 22 airline and hotel partners, giving you plenty of redemption options.

Everything else

You don’t have to be stuck earning 1 mile per $1 spent on all other back-to-school essentials. Plenty of credit cards offer generous rewards on non-bonus-category spending. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

If you have another Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, you can convert your cash back earned on this card into points that you can then transfer to Ultimate Rewards partners, dramatically increasing the value of those rewards in some cases.

The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is another great contender for non-bonus-category spending. This card earns 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else. If you’re one of those Americans with nearly $700 worth of back-to-school spending, you could end up with around 700-1,400 points, which is a good chunk toward the cheapest PointBreaks award.

» Learn more: Chase Freedom Unlimited review: Eye-popping cash back in first year

Here are a few other cards to consider for your back-to-school spending in non-bonus categories:

AmEx Offers

With AmEx Offers, you can save hundreds of dollars every year on essential purchases, and back-to-school is no exception. Check your AmEx Offers throughout the month, and you may come across some deals that save you cash while earning bonus points.

For example, I was targeted for 10% back (up to $100) at Boxed and 2 additional points per $1 spent at Amazon. You could use these offers to save on school supplies, lunchbox essentials and even household items. The same goes with Staples; Amex Offers targeted me for 1 additional point per $1 spent, plus $10 off a $40 purchase.  

Shopping portals

Most major airline rewards programs have a shopping portal through which members can earn extra miles. All you have to do is log in and click on the merchant you want to shop with. The portal will track your purchases and issue bonus miles based on qualifying spending.

In addition to helping you earn rewards on back-to-school shopping, these portals sometimes offer bonus miles for meeting certain spending thresholds. Check to see if any are active when you need to shop:

MileagePlus X app

Shopping apps like United’s MileagePlus X are a great way to generate extra rewards on your back-to-school spending. Simply download and log in with your MileagePlus account credentials to earn bonus miles on every purchase through the app.

MileagePlus X is different from other shopping apps and portals, most of which require you to register a credit card in order to earn rewards on purchases. Instead, MileagePlus X acts as a gift card merchant: When you’re ready to make a purchase at a participating store, log in to the app and buy a gift card for the exact amount due. You will then earn miles on the gift card, which you can spend at the store.

The number of miles earned varies by store, but there are many popular merchants to choose from, most of which offer between 2 miles and 10 miles per $1 spent.

The bottom line

Back to school can be a costly time of the year. After you’ve set a budget to ensure reasonable spending, be sure to set a strategy for how to make the most of your spending by earning miles and points. If you keep up these habits, you may even have enough rewards to cover a well-deserved vacation by the time summer rolls around.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Best credit cards for groceries
Top 10 Credit Card Offers of 2019

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