Dear Cashing In,

I'd like to do Christmas right this year, but my husband and I are tapped out after a series of expensive home and medical emergencies. Any tips for taking advantage of our rewards cards? We have a Freedom card, a United Mileage card and an AAdvantage Visa. I really want to get the best price I can find on everything. I'm not big on crowds and malls, but I'm ready to face Black Friday if necessary. 

- Lisa

Dear Lisa,

You may not have to actually hit the mall to take advantage of Black Friday with those cards. In fact, Black Friday is never a guarantee that you're going to get the lowest price of the season on everything. 

It's true the deals heat up in the week leading to Black Friday, but also the following week, starting with Cyber Monday. I start following the site Dealmac this time of year because they scout out best prices and short-run deals on things like camera gear, headphones and smartphone accessories. I like the fact that they tell you how each deal compares to recent sales on a particular item, factor in shipping, and let readers rate each deal in terms of "hotness." (If you see five green dots, jump on it.)

Sites like that help you find best prices on specific items, but they don't guarantee a better deal won't pop up a week later. That can be really frustrating with big-ticket items such as laptops, TVs or high-end games. One possible solution comes courtesy of your American AAdvantage card. Because that card is issued by Citi, you can take advantage of its Price Rewind program. 

Touted by Citi as "the only price protection program of its kind in the market today," Rewind lets you register an eligible item when you purchase it with a Citi credit card, which then searches hundreds of retailers' sites for the next 30 days. If Citi finds a price at least $25 lower than what you paid, you will be notified by email. Submit a claim and receipt, and you'll receive a refund for the price difference, up to $250. Citi claims Price Rewind has found lower prices for one in four registered items over $100, with the average refund being $80.

Citi is also offering special deals on Walmart.com every Tuesday from now through Dec. 17, 2013. If you ring up at least $100 in purchases on Walmart.com using a Citi card, you will receive a $10 eGift card from Walmart.com. 

As for your other cards, I offered strategies for taking advantage of Chase rewards over the holidays in the story Best ways to redeem rewards points over the holidays -- including using discount gift cards and shopping through online portals. Your Freedom card will get you 5 percent back at JCPenney, Sears, Macy's and Nordstrom this quarter and 5 percent back on Amazon this holiday season.

If you're shopping online, it pays to do it through one of the portals you can access via your cards' loyalty programs. You can compare rewards kickbacks for shopping via the AAdvantage or MileagePlus portals on evreward. AAdvantageEshopping.com just launched a new bonus: 15 miles per $1 spent at Walgreens, for example, three times more than any other airline or hotel shopping portal, according to evreward.

If you happen to live near Short Hills, N.J., or San Francisco, your United card will get you into the malls' VIP lounges. Chase and United Airlines just announced their holiday VIP Lounge experience. From Nov. 23 to Dec. 24, 2013, United MileagePlus cardholders -- and up to three guests -- can access the VIP lounges at two major malls and enjoy refreshments, complimentary gift wrapping, bag and coat check, café seating and flat-screen TVs.  

See related: 7 ways to prep for a lean holiday season , Beware: 7 retailer tricks that make you spend more, No thanks; 12 gifts that cost too much to receive