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?
Also published on Medium.