How to find the best credit card reward programs

Credit card companies have used reward programs to attract customers for decades.

"The earliest programs were frequent flyer programs and the credit card programs that were associated with them were probably the earliest reward program credit card programs which were in the market place," said LoyaltyOne President Bryan Pearson.

Pearson is the president of the loyalty reward marketing firm LoyaltyOne. He says consumers earn about $48 billion worth of value off of reward cards, but one third of those rewards usually go unused.

"Most programs have some sort of an expiry or inactive policies which cause the points to lapse. The other thing is that a lot of them are earned and then consumers don't really think about making sure that they utilize the value they've obtained," said Pearson.

With the number of programs showing up in your mailbox, it can be hard to pick the best program for you.

"It's not always a one size fits all, but generally cash rewards - a good cash back credit card that in the long run is probably best for you," said Consumer Action spokesman Joe Ridout.

Ridout also says that the way you receive your rewards should play a part in which cards you choose.

"If you can get your rewards credited to you in the form of a statement credit, that's the easiest of all and if it can be redeemed for cash, that's the next best thing," said Ridout.

Also, if rewards are directly applied to your balance you don't have to worry about expiration dates.

The ease of cashing in your rewards has value too. Susan Kaiser from Seaside uses her cash rewards card to travel frequently.

"They call it miles, but it's actually cash rewards one percent back. I've managed to go to Africa on it and just returned from China visiting my daughter," said Kaiser.

Watch out for high interest rates that can kick into effect if you pay late. Also, with some cards you may not be able to accrue points if you don't pay the minimum balance on time.

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