How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards With Back-To-School Shopping

mother and son clothes shopping in store
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Back-to-school shopping can take a toll on your wallet if you're stocking up on school supplies, new clothes, or electronics. The National Retail Federation estimates that in 2019, a family will spend an average of $697 to send K-12 kids back to school. For parents of college students, the average climbs to $977. 

A rewards credit card could help ease the financial back-to-school burden. Use these tips to make the most of your rewards card. 

For your shopping, you have several kinds of cards to choose from:

Cash-back cards: These allow you to earn back a percentage of your everyday spending as cash or points. 

With them, you may earn in any of the following ways:

  • A flat percentage of cash back on every purchase. (For instance, 1.5% back on everything you buy.)
  • A combination of a quarterly bonus on select purchases and a flat percentage back on all other purchases. (For instance, 5% back at supermarkets one quarter, and 1% back on everything else.)
  • Tiered rewards, with some categories of purchases earning more cash back than others. (For instance, 3% at grocery and big box stores, 2% at gas stations, and 1% on everything else.

If you're primarily shopping online, a card offering higher rewards for online purchases could be a good fit. On the other hand, a flat-rate card may work better if you plan to shop online and off at a mix of different stores. 


Retailer cards
: Families can get enormous savings from good retail cards. Stores like Target and Amazon carry nearly everything your kids will need for the new school year. The Target REDCard offers a 5% discount on all Target buys, while the Amazon Rewards cards offer 5% cash back on Amazon purchases to Prime members. 

Or get 2% back from the Costco Anywhere Visa. The retailer offers everything from mega-sized snack packs, to pencils, to laptop computers, and can be a boon for larger families buying in bulk. If you’re sending kids off to dorms, investigate the homewares cash-back offered by the Pottery Barn Credit Card.  

Read the fine print before opening retail store credit cards for back-to-school shopping if you don’t plan to pay off your balance in full. While you may be able to get an upfront discount on your purchase, these cards tend to carry much higher APRs than traditional rewards cards.


Travel cards
: While you may not think about travel cards as great for back-to-school shopping because they generally earn bonus points on travel purchases rather than other types of shopping, you may want to consider how you can redeem the points that you do earn with them. You won’t reap the savings right now, but you can earn miles for future family spring-break trips or holiday travel. When kids go to college, earned mileage means you may be able to see them more frequently. 

Earn Sign-Up Bonuses

Opening a new rewards card just for back-to-school shopping could work in your favor if you're eligible to earn a sign-up bonus. 

For example, you may be eligible to earn a few hundred dollars in cash back, a large percentage discount on your first purchase with a retail card, or several thousand points or miles with your new travel card. Bonuses typically require you to spend a certain amount of money within the first few months of opening your account. For example, to earn a $150 cash-back bonus, you may need to charge $500 in the first 90 days. School shopping can help you meet that requirement quickly. 

Before signing up, first review all the card’s features and check the card's APR and fees so you know how much it will cost you, overall. 

Read the rules on sign-up bonuses before trying to open a new account with your current card issuer. Some credit card issuers will deny you a new card, if you’ve opened too many new accounts within a certain time period, or won’t allow you to claim a bonus if you’ve had one in recent years. 

Check Card-Linked Offers for School Savings

Your card may offer special rewards promotions for specific retailers. For example, you might earn 10 points per dollar spent at Best Buy (in person or online), instead of the usual 1 or 2 points per dollar spent. 

Not every card issuer has a card-linked offer program but American Express, Bank of America, and Chase are three that do. If you’ve got one of those cards, check out Amex Offers, BankAmeriDeals and Chase Offers to find (and oftentimes, activate pre-purchase) card-linked deals. 

Shop Your Card's Online Portal for School Savings

You can also look for additional bonus reward opportunities if your card offers an online shopping portal. You may be able to earn bonus cash back, points, or miles for making purchases with your branded card at online merchants partnered with your airline or hotel. Examples include United MileagePlus Shopping and American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping. 

For a one-stop resource to check the bonus points you could earn at retailers through multiple rewards programs, look at Evreward.com.

You may also be able to redeem points or miles you’ve already earned for merchandise through your card’s rewards program. For example, you might be able to spend miles on a laptop, headphones, or a printer. You might also be able to pay for merchandise with points or miles on Amazon or with Apple. However, ensure you’re getting at least one cent per mile. 

Stack Rewards With a Cash-Back App

A rewards card isn't the only way to earn cash back and save on back-to-school shopping. You can also stack your card’s earnings with rewards from cash-back apps to save even more. 

With some apps, you browse cash-back deals through the site, then select the deal you want to take advantage of. When you make a purchase using your rewards card, you earn returns through the deal site and with your card. 

Get more savings when you stack cash-back sites and your rewards card with promo codes from coupon sites like RetailMeNot or Honey.

These are some simple ways to get rewarded even more for the back-to-school purchases you were already planning to make.

Article Sources

  1. National Retail Federation: Holiday and Seasonal Trends, Back to School 2019 

  2. Amazon: Amazon Credit Cards 

  3. Target: REDcard 

  4. Citi: Discover One of Citi's Best Cash Back Rewards Cards Designed Exclusively for Costco Members

  5. United Airlines: Earn Award Miles for Every Dollar You Spend 

  6. American Airlines: Welcome to the AAdvantage eShopping Mall