Although Valentine’s Day has a long history, it has been celebrated as a day of love and romance for at least the last century (a time that, not uncoincidentally, coincides with the origins of the Hallmark card company). And, while the number of people celebrating the holiday has declined over the last decade, those still taking part are expected to spend more than ever.
With an average per-person Valentine’s spend of over $160, many folks are likely looking for ways to get that number down — all the way down. Luckily, as with many purchases, your Valentine’s Day buys can be made more affordable with the smart use of credit card rewards and cardholder perks.
Plan a Special Trip with Points or Miles
This Valentine’s Day, instead of falling back on the go-to clichés of candy and flowers, why not celebrate your romance with a special trip to a faraway place? Or, if a long-distance dream won’t fit into the schedule, how about a night of luxury at a nearby five-star resort — sans enfants?
Whether you want to take a long weekend to explore a foreign country or just take a night to spend some time together, redeeming points and miles toward airfare and hotel stays can be a great way to not only keep the Valentine’s budget low, but also to get great per-point value out of your rewards.
That’s because points and miles usually give the best redemption value when used to pay for travel or when transferred to an airline or hotel partner. And this can be especially true for peak pricing times — you know, like Valentine’s Day? — when in-demand hotels tend to charge a higher cash price for their rooms.
The current options for travel rewards cards are abundant, and most offer big signup bonuses that can get you on your way to a romantic destination in no time. Plus, many travel cards offer additional perks, like airport lounge access, that can make your trip extra special.
Redeem Rewards to Pay for Gifts
If travel isn’t in the books, don’t fret; your credit card rewards can still be used to offset some of your Valentine’s Day spending, particularly if you like to use cash back cards. The beauty of cash back is that it is typically redeemed as a statement credit that can cover any purchases on your credit card.
Basically, cash back makes it easy to buy the gifts you want, from anywhere you want to shop, then redeem your cash back rewards to cover the charge. What’s more, because the purchases are still being made with your card like normal, you’ll earn cash back on your gifts, too.
Most points rewards programs will give you the option to redeem your points for cash back, usually at a rate of 1¢ per point. While this isn’t often the best value — most programs offer better per-point value when redeeming for travel — it can be a convenient way to reduce the cost of buying a Valentine’s Day gift.
Similarly, many points rewards programs will allow you to redeem your points for gift cards or merchandise, or to pay for purchases at checkout through a retailer like Amazon. In most cases, this is a bad use of points, as the per-point redemption value will often be 1¢ per point — or less.
If you want to use your points for a special gift but aren’t looking to transfer them for travel, consider using them toward a unique experience. Many points rewards portals offer hard-to-find experiences, like exclusive tours or sold-out shows, that can be purchased with points, typically at the same rate you’d get if you redeemed them for travel through the issuer’s portal.
Use Card Benefits to Boost the Experience
These days, the credit card world is full of top-tier cards that offer all kinds of perks and benefits that can be used to make any experience more special — so long as you remember to use them, of course. For example, most co-branded hotel credit cards (and a few top-of-the-line rewards cards) offer elite hotel status that can unlock perks like upgraded rooms and late check-out.
Another oft-overlooked card perk is the various concierge services offered by many cards. Depending on the card and service, your issuer’s concierge could help you find a romantic dinner spot, plan a city-wide scavenger hunt, or even scare up sold-out tickets to the latest hot show.
Save by Shopping Through Issuer Portals
Beyond perks and rewards, simply being a cardholder is often enough to unlock some serious discounts on a wide variety of products. That’s thanks to issuer shopping and deals portals, which allow you to find discounts, rebates, and bonus rewards offers for tons of popular merchants.
Nearly every major issuer has a deal or shopping portal, but they do all work a little differently. For example, American Express has special offers that you can attach to your card account; the deal is then automatically applied when the purchase is posted to your account. Other discount portals will only work for online shopping, as they use browser cookies to track your purchase.
The best part of most issuer deals is that they’ll stack with your credit card rewards, so you can enjoy the deal plus earn your regular purchase rewards. However, it’s important to note that these deals may not stack with merchant promo codes for things like free shipping. Read through the portal’s fine print before making a purchase to ensure you get your full deal.
Give the Gift of Financial Freedom
The social and commercial pressure to spend big on Valentine’s Day can be tough, but you don’t have to go into debt to show your loved ones you care. For instance, selecting the right credit card and using your purchase rewards to save are good ways to reduce the cost of everything from a night at a luxury hotel to a whirlwind weekend trip to Aspen.
No matter how you choose to use your rewards, be sure to do the math before you redeem. Not all redemption options will offer the same value — travel is often a better deal than cash back — so it can be worthwhile to see what you’re actually getting for your rewards.
Of course, you may want to consider a less traditional route to make your sweetheart feel special. This Valentine’s Day, instead of splurging on an expensive night out or costly gift, you and your partner should consider investing in yourselves by paying down outstanding debt, starting with any high-interest credit card debt.
If you’re already debt-free, consider giving the gift that keeps on giving — by putting money into a savings or retirement account. Because nothing says true love like compound interest.
Editorial Disclaimer: Information in these articles is brought to you by CreditSoup. Banks, issuers, and credit card companies mentioned in the articles do not endorse or guarantee, and are not responsible for, the contents of the articles. The information is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted; however, all credit card information is presented without warranty. Please check the issuer’s website for the most current information.