This is the twelfth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously Transferable Points Program Basics.

Category bonuses are the bonus miles or points that credit cards give you for spending within certain categories like gas stations, restaurants, or travel. The most important thing I want you to know about category bonuses is that you should only devote 10% of your credit card brain to them.

Most miles and points come from sign up bonuses, so that should be your priority with category bonuses a smaller part of your strategy.

But along the way to clearing sign up bonuses, why not grab free miles from category bonuses?

Category bonuses are becoming more popular with card issuers. I think it’s because it’s seductive to a prospective applicant to see a big category bonus in an area in which he perceives that he spends a lot of money, but in reality it costs the issuer very little to offer, way less than a new sign up bonus.

The first step to mastering category bonuses is finding out which ones your cards offer. Refer to the materials you received with the card, or call the number on the back of the card to ask what category bonuses the card has.

Some cards I have with category bonuses include:

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 2x points on travel and dining

Chase Ink Plus: 5x points at office-supply stores and on phone, cable, and Internet bills. 2x points at gas stations and on hotels

All my airline cards: 2x miles on that airline. That is, my Citi American Airlines cards earn 2x American Airlines miles on money spent on American Airlines.

This is how I maximize category bonuses: First, I prioritize sign up bonus clearing over category bonuses.

Imagine I have two cards: a Citi American Airlines Visa, whose minimum spend I’ve met and a Delta SkyMiles AMEX, whose spending requirement I haven’t met, and I am about to purchase a ticket on American Airlines. I would use the Delta AMEX and earn one mile per dollar while clearing its sign up bonus. When you factor in the amount of its minimum spend I am meeting by buying the ticket, I’d come out far ahead of the two miles per dollar I’d get by using the Citi AA Visa.

Category bonuses can be a nice complement to your bonus clearing strategy and can net you thousands of miles you wouldn’t otherwise earn, so you should familiarize yourself with the specifics of your cards’ category bonuses. Just remember not to fall in love with category bonuses. The Free First Class is in the sign up bonuses.

Continue to Other Credit Card Benefits.

For more great posts like this, follow me on Twitter or Facebook. If you’re near Baltimore, let’s grab dinner on Saturday. The Los Angeles and Tampa dinners were a blast.

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