Earn While You Shop: Find the Right Reward Program for You

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Point-based reward programs are proliferating. You can earn enough miles to fly to Paris just by using your credit card or you can accumulate points that can be spent like cash merely by shopping at your favorite stores. But with so many options available, how do you know you're getting the biggest bang for your buck?

The following tips will help ensure that you pick the right program for your needs.

* Know your lifestyle. Choose a reward program that fits your priorities and lifestyle. If you travel a lot, try air mile travel reward programs like www.milesource.com.

Similarly, if you like outdoor activities, look for a credit card like the Cabela's Club Visa, found at www.cabelas.com. You can earn points, in the store and online, that can be redeemed for all types of hunting, fishing and camping gear.

* Reap your rewards. Select a reward program that doesn't add an expiration date to your hard-earned points. If it does, make sure you know the date and use the points before you lose them.

* Look for flexible rewards. Avoid choosing reward programs that tie you into redeeming points only at specific vendors. Look for more flexible options like FreeStyle Rewards, found online at www.freestylerewards.com. It lets you build points by shopping online at more than 175 participating merchants. You redeem your points for a debit card that can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted, online or offline.

* Click 'n' save. Select online shopping reward programs that provide gateway access to your most frequently visited stores. You'll find everything you need, save money while you shop and build points as you go.

* Share the wealth. How would you like to make point donations to family, friends or charities? Select a reward program that allows you to do so.

* Compare. Just like you would compare merchandise prices, compare point-based reward programs by considering what's important to you and determining which ones will fit your needs.