By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Credit cards that have airline miles or other rewards attached can make a consumer feel like they’re getting a bonus every time they shop. But as 3 On Your Side’s Jim Donovan finds, most users aren’t maximizing their card’s potential.

What consumer doesn’t love a bonus? That’s one reason offers for credit cards with loyalty rewards have become more popular. But Brian Kelly of says maximizing these programs takes more strategy than a swipe of the card at the grocery store or gas pump. No matter how great a sign-up bonus might look, he advises doing some homework first. Kelly says, “It may be a bit annoying to do some research and see what credit card is best for you and your spending, but once you get a really tight strategy in place, you’ll be amazed how quickly those free flights, free hotels, they can really add up.”

Some of Kelly’s other advice:

— Take advantage of airline’s or credit card’s online shopping portals to accumulate extra rewards with each purchase.
— Regularly seek out promotions that can earn extra points.
— Use an online mileage manager to keep track of multiple cards.
— Pay off the balance in full each month. Otherwise, interest paid can negate the rewards received.

While points and miles may be used like currency, they aren’t an investment, rules and fees can change at any time. That’s something to keep in mind as you earn and use those rewards and cash them in for a family vacation or a first-class ticket.

For more information on how to maximize your rewards credit cards click here.

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