New Study: 55% of Rewards Cardholders Are Leaving Money on the Table

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So you’ve signed up for the latest and greatest credit card rewards program? That’s great.

But are you actually getting all the rewards that you hoped you’d get?

Among rewards credit cardholders who pay their bills in full each month, more than half (55%) are missing out on rewards, according to a new survey. And it has to do with the way consumers pay for purchases in two important categories.

Most Often Missed: Credit Card Rewards on Grocery Shopping and Restaurant Dining

The study, which analyzed the spending habits of nearly 3,000 adults in December of 2019, determined the areas in which consumers are most likely to be missing out on credit card rewards are grocery shopping and restaurant dining purchases.

Consumers are paying for groceries with a debit card 44% of the time and restaurants 43% of the time, according to the study. That means that those consumers are forgoing credit card rewards opportunities nearly half the time they purchase food.

“It’s disappointing how many people are missing out on earning rewards for purchases they would have made anyway,” said analyst Ted Rossman. “As long as you’re avoiding credit card debt and refraining from overspending, you should be using a rewards credit card for everything as it can make a big difference. Credit cards also offer better consumer and fraud protections than debit cards and cash.”

These food purchases had a much higher debit card usage rate than other categories observed. For example, consumers overwhelming preferred to pay with a credit card for travel expenses. They used credit for airfare 85% of the time; hotels 84% of the time; and gas 63% of the time.

How Many Rewards Are Being Missed In These Categories?

The short answer is that it depends on the rewards card being used and how often you’re pulling out your debit card instead of a credit card. But the study took a look at a few of the more popular credit card rewards programs, so we have an idea of what the ultimate annual cost is for missing on these rewards.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that the national average for annual spending on groceries was $4,464 and dining was $3,459.

If a rewards card was used to make all of those purchases, there are potentially hundreds of dollars to be claimed each year. Here’s a look at how many rewards are on the table for the Discover It Miles (3% cash back in first year) and Citi Double Cash (2% cash back) cards each year, based on the average annual spending numbers:

Discover It Miles (3%) Citi Double Cash (2%)
Groceries $134 $89
Dining $104 $69

According to the study, approximately 72% of all rewards cardholders have redeemed some type of reward in the last year. But only 35% of those cardholders have redeemed rewards valued at $300 or more.


Putting an emphasis on making purchases like groceries and dining with your rewards card — and paying the balance off each month — will put you on the fast track to being among the 35% of lucrative rewards redeemers.

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