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Credit Cards Rewards Paid Off Big-Time for Americans in 2021

Survey reveals more than half of respondents used rewards for a nearly free vacation and first-time perks this past year.

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Credit cards have been around for decades, but they become a bigger part of Americans’ purchasing habits each year. Whether it was a result of the pandemic or just a cultural and economic shift towards a cashless system, credit cards are an ingrained part of daily life in America. 

Slickdeals and OnePoll recently surveyed 2,000 Americans to track credit card and credit card rewards habits this past year. The survey confirmed the heightened use of credit cards through the pandemic. It also revealed that Americans saved an average of $757 using credit card rewards this past year. Here’s a look at the findings of our latest credit card rewards survey. 

Travel and Other Benefits

woman on swing near waterfall
Credit: Pexels

If you’ve ever wondered whether credit card rewards were actually worth the effort, the numbers don’t lie. 55% of cardholders surveyed said they had used credit card rewards to almost entirely pay for a vacation, cashing them in on airline points for five-hour flights on average. 

As mentioned, on average, respondents saved $757 using credit card rewards in the past year. Some of the best redemptions recalled included free vacations, new TVs, gaming consoles, gas discounts and international flights to destinations like the Philippines and South America. 

Travel wasn’t the only reward earned this past year, according to survey respondents. More than half of those surveyed experienced other rewards for the first time in 2021, including fancy meals (54%), concerts (49%) and $100 gift cards (46%). 

Research Pays Off For Americans

Finding the best credit card requires doing some research, and that’s exactly what Americans have done this past year. 76% of those surveyed responded that they excessively researched credit cards before applying, spending an average of six hours researching one card. The majority of respondents also took advantage of attractive welcome bonuses, with 74% of them hitting minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus. 

Americans honed in on specific details when researching rewards credit cards this past year. Annual fees were the primary factor considered for 86% of respondents, with 78% of people weighing card benefits against the annual fee to determine the card’s value. 

How Americans Used Credit Cards in 2021

Nearly half (48%) of respondents applied for a new credit card within the past year. Americans had various reasons for applying for a new card: 

  • Take advantage of rewards programs: 61% 
  • Lower interest rates: 50%
  • Carry less cash: 46% 

The survey also revealed that Americans had increased their usage of credit cards this past year. Three in five respondents said they’ve used their credit cards more in the past year than ever before, often to delay payment or to collect rewards. Respondents also shared details of credit card spending over the past year, with everyday purchases being the most common usage.

  1. Everyday purchases                           52%
  2. Large purchases                                 52%
  3. Travel                                                47%
  4. Restaurant dining                               45%
  5. Vacations                                           43%
  6. Renting a vehicle/hotel stay                42%
  7. Emergencies                                       38%
  8. Special events                                     34%
  9. Work purchases                                  25%

Credit card rewards also factored into where people spent their money this past year. According to the survey, three in four people said they’re more likely to shop from a certain brand if they get better credit card rewards from shopping there.

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Kevin Payne
Kevin Payne
Kevin Payne is a personal finance, credit card, and travel writer. He is the family travel and budget expert behind Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and four kids. His work has appeared on several websites, including FinanceBuzz, Credit Karma, Millennial Money, Club Thrifty, Student Loan Planner and Slickdeals.

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