pile of cash and coins

Covering Your Cash Back Bases

Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about money and how to manage my finances. Although I’ve found myself to be a “money nerd” who takes interest in even the most mundane of topics, one of my favorite aspects of personal finance has been figuring out ways to maximize savings on items I was going to buy anyway. This not only includes employing cash back credit cards but also apps, loyalty programs, and whatever else I can.

This week brought me two hotel-related wins. First, following my stay in Washington D.C. last week for #FinCon19, I decided to look at how much I earned in cash back. I already knew I was due 3% back on my stay thanks to my Uber Visa card but I was curious what my Hilton Honors points might mean. Let me back up and explain that I am a big fan of free loyalty programs. This isn’t to say that I’ll just dole out my email to any rinky-dink retailer or restaurant I randomly encounter but, if I’m flying an airline for the first time or staying more than a night or two at a hotel, I’m undoubtedly joining whatever program they have. Thus, I’ve had a Hilton Honors account in waiting for such an event.

One issue with these types of programs is that you typically need to save up a decent amount before you can cash them in. On top of that, sometimes your progress resets after a certain amount of time or your points expire. Because of this, I wasn’t sure if I would ever really be able to cash in my Hilton Honors points for a free night or anything so valuable. However, when I logged into the Honors site, I noticed an option to link my account to Amazon. Sure enough, after doing this, I learned that my 11,000 Honors points were worth $22 on the site. While I’m aware this is likely a lower exchange rate than I’d see if I used points for a room, to me, this makes much more sense — and provided me an unexpected bonus.

Sadly, one area where I seemingly missed out on my Hilton stay was with Rakuten. Apparently I could have earned 2.5% cash back when booking — although that would have only been on the deposit (one night’s stay) since I paid upon check-in, so I didn’t miss out on too much.

Speaking of Rakuten, I realized this week that I’m headed to Tokyo in just over a month and still hadn’t booked a hotel room (oops). After pinning down where I wanted to stay, I temporarily closed out Expedia so that I could open a shopping trip in Rakuten instead. To my surprise, the going cashback rate on a hotel booking right now is 8%! Add that to the 3% from my credit card and we’re up to 11%, which is pretty freaking incredible. By the way, I was also able to tap the 20-something dollars I had in Expedia points to make my reservations so between the three I nearly earned a free night on my stay.

Obviously these examples are pretty specific to the individual situations, but there’s a larger point here. With so many tools for scoring discounts or earning cash back, putting together the puzzle pieces in such a way that you maximize your rewards can be a surprisingly fun little game. At the same time, I can also see the potential for people to overspend with the hopes of getting “the best deal.” Thankfully, I don’t fall for such fallacies (at least not most of the time), so it’s all gravy.

With that, what are some of your favorite cash back hacks and double/triple/quadruple dip tricks?

Author

Kyle Burbank

Founder ~ Moneyat30
Kyle is a freelance writer - including being the head writer for Fioney.com. He also serves as editorial director for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and the founder of Money@30.com. In 2015, Kyle and his wife Bekah moved from Los Angeles to Springfield MO in pursuit of greater financial freedom. Together, the pair enjoy travel, coffee, and spending time with their dog Rigby. Additionally, as of 2023, they become first-time homeowners.

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