In the last decade, credit card companies have stepped up the rewards they offer to cardholders, providing everything from cash back to points toward travel discounts.
Surveys have found consumers like these rewards, and the offers often sway a decision on whether or not to apply for a card.
But once you have a card in your wallet, what do you do with the rewards? A new report by financial website Bankrate.com addressed that question and found 31% of consumers with a rewards card have never redeemed the rewards.
In fact, most of us fall into one of two categories: either we are nearly obsessive about redeeming rewards or we don't do it at all. Bankrate's Robin Saks Frankel says it's hard to figure out.
Not gaining value
"Credit card rewards don't usually gain value over time," Frankel said. "In fact, they're more likely to lose value as companies require more points or miles for the same perks. Your best move is to cash them in regularly."
Bankrate found that when consumers do take advantage of their rewards, nearly half prefer to get cash back. That's actually a very savvy choice.
It might be hard to place a quantitative value on other types of rewards, such as airline miles or hotel points. But cash is money in the bank. It can be accumulated to pay for a purchase or can be applied each month to pay a portion of the bill.
Of all the types of rewards, cash seems like the most useful. Millennials favor it over older consumers by a wide margin.
Airline miles a distant second
The Bankrate report found airline miles were a distant second, with only 17% of consumers opting for this perk. Twelve percent of consumers prefer to get their rewards in the form of gift cards.
One drawback to some of the more generous rewards cards is a sometimes hefty annual fee. With so many other rewards cards available with no fee, it's wise to carefully consider all offers before selecting a card that charges a fee.
"The credit card market is very competitive right now, so if you're not happy with a fee, you can either shop around to find another card that doesn't have one or you can see if the issuer is willing to waive the fee to keep your business," Frankel said.
In fact, as we recently reported, a study found more than 80% of cardholders were able to get an annual fee waived or reduced just by asking.