How I spent my summer...credit card rewards

Over the summer, we asked a sampling of our site visitors to tell us how they spend their credit card rewards. The results of our survey show that you're a frugal lot, with plenty of spending and traveling to do! Our respondents chose from five broad credit card rewards categories, with the rankings turning out like this:

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1. Cash back rewards

Nearly half of our respondents told us that cash rebates hold the most sway over their credit card decisions. Cash is easy to redeem and easy to track, especially when you're calculating your bonus at the checkout counter with cash back rewards cards like these:

  • <strong><a title="Chase Freedom® Visa $200 Bonus Cash Back" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=456&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Chase Freedom Visa</a>.</strong> Depending on your credit, you can qualify for up to hundreds of dollars in signup bonuses, along with seasonal spending categories that offer up to 5 percent cash back.
  • <strong><a title="Discover Open Road - $150 Restaurant.com Gift Certificate" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=281&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Discover Open Road</a>.</strong> Discover practically invented the cash back credit card, but its "Open Road" edition adds bonus rewards for gas and restaurant purchases.
  • <strong><a title="Blue Cash(SM) Everyday Card from American Express" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=44&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express</a>.</strong> AmEx offers up to 3 percent cash back on purchases with no limits or restrictions.

Mintel Comperemedia research shows that nearly a quarter of all credit card offers include some kind of cash back reward or signup bonus. That figure suggests that CardRatings.com readers are twice as likely as the average credit card holder to be taking advantage of the many lucrative cash back offers out there.

2. Travel rewards or frequent flyer miles

A little over a third of our survey group are still hitting the road often enough to make travel perks their favorite way to redeem credit card rewards. However, many of you have shifted your loyalty to cards that give you extra flexibility, like:

  • <strong><a title="Capital One® VentureSM Rewards Credit Card" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=21&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Capital One Venture Card</a>.</strong> One of the <a href="http://www.cardratings.com/frequentflyercreditcards.html?WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank">best travel rewards cards</a> on the market, Venture lets you find the best deal on your own, then reimburses your travel costs from your "miles" balance.
  • <strong><a title="Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card from Chase" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=461&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card</a>.</strong> Southwest revamped its fares and rewards to make casual airline travel even more affordable. This Chase credit card also lets you tap Southwest's network of travel partners to cover the gaps in its network.

Travel credit cards connected to United Airlines and the Starwood Preferred Guest program also remain popular among frequent business travelers who like to redeem miles and hotel stays for personal trips.

3. Gas rebates

Over 9 percent of respondents said that they drop their credit card rewards into their gas tanks. You can get the biggest discounts and rebates by paying at the pump with these popular gas credit cards:

  • <a title="PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards Card" href="http://www.cardratings.com/credit-cards/issuer/pentagon-federal-credit-union?WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank"><strong>PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards Card</strong></a>. If you have excellent credit, it's worth jumping through a few hoops to qualify for PenFed's 5 percent cash rebates on gas purchases.
  • <a title="TrueEarnings(R) Business Card from Costco and American Express" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=240&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><strong>TrueEarnings Business Card from Costco and American Express OPEN</strong></a>. Buy gas for your business at any of Costco's popular warehouse clubs, and you'll earn a significant annual rewards voucher.

While many gas stations still offer affinity credit cards, most CardRatings.com readers know how to find a great gas rewards card that doesn't require loyalty to a single brand.

4. Merchandise bonuses

About 8 percent of our readers really love to turn their credit card rewards into even bigger deals by trading points or miles for merchandise.

  • <a title="Chase Sapphire Preferred Card" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=371&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><strong>Chase Sapphire Preferred Card</strong></a>. Chase lets Sapphire Preferred cardholders redeem many merchandise deals from its Ultimate Rewards collection at a discount, offering even more value for frequent shoppers.
  • <a title="Citi Thank You Preferred Card" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=376&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><strong>Citi Thank You Preferred Card</strong></a>. Citi's robust partner network lets you earn bonus points when shopping at featured retailers.

Most credit card issuers now offer exclusive online malls that feature discounted deals from their merchandise partners. In some cases, you can save as much as 20 percent off retail prices when paying with points for showcased items.

5. Charitable donations

Only about one in a hundred readers who took our poll said that they turn their credit card rewards into gifts for nonprofit organizations. Before you think CardRatings.com visitors are a stingy bunch, it's important to remember that many of us now use credit cards to make cash donations to the churches and charities of our choice, often generating bonuses in the other four reward categories. Some credit cards also let cardholders help decide how to steer their corporate charitable giving programs, including:

  • <strong><a title="Platinum Card from American Express" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=450&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Platinum Card from American Express</a>.</strong> In addition to making it easy for cardmembers to give Membership Rewards points to charities, <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/topics/business/companies/american-express.htm" class="r_lapi">American Express</a> donated over $4 million through its Members Project.
  • <strong><a title="Slate from Chase" href="http://www.cardratings.com/common/click.php?id=350&amp;WT.qs_osrc=fxb-26838710" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Slate from Chase</a>.</strong> Chase used <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/topics/business/finance/technology/facebook.htm" class="r_lapi">Facebook</a> voting to determine the winners of over 400 grants totaling over $15 million during its Chase Community Giving program.

Whether you choose to give away your credit card rewards or keep them for yourself, the thrill of "found money" excites us all. As consumers look for more ways to stretch their budgets, expect to see even more credit cards feature these five reward options.

The original article can be found at CardRatings.com:How I spent my summer...credit card rewards