Let’s face it. As the holiday season creeps up on us, you will be spending plenty of money on gifts. That’s why quarterly cash back credit cards are boasting 5% cash back at your favorite gift-shopping destinations. But, we’ll show you how you can actually earn even more cash back — 10% or more — on your Christmas shopping.

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Discover it®, Chase Freedom® and Citi Dividend are the three rotating cash rewards credit cards that offer 5% cash back back on categories that change every quarter (enrollment required!). And for the final quarter of 2014, the cards are targeting Christmas shoppers with categories that are ideal for gift purchases.

To help you earn even more cash back (and therefore save you more money), we’ll show you how to earn more than 5% cash back with these cards.

But first, look at the 5% cash back categories for the Q4 2014:

CardDiscover it®®Chase Freedom®Citi Dividend
5% cash back categoriesOnline shopping and department storesAmazon.com, Zappos.com and select department stores (see list)Best Buy, department stores and toy stores
Quarterly limit$1,500 in spending in the above categories for a max of $75 bonus cash back per quarter (Still earns unlimited 1% cash back on everything else)$1,500 in spending in the above categories for a max of $75 bonus cash back per quarter (Still earns unlimited 1% cash back on everything else)None. ($300 cash back annual limit - includes 5% cash back categories and 1% cash back on everything else)
Enrollment deadlineDec. 31, 2014Dec. 14, 2014Dec. 31, 2014

There is not one category in that table that isn’t focused on shopping!

How to max out on 5% cash back

Getting 5% cash back on a purchase — that you’re going to make anyway — is already a great deal. However, there are ways to either earn additional cash back or circumvent those categories to earn 5% cash back on things other than shopping.

– Use the online shopping portal. All three card issuers — Discover, Chase and Citi — have an online shopping portal that provides bonus cash back on top of your card’s regular cash back program. They have partnered up with hundreds of online retailers — you just have to visit the retailer websites by clicking a link from the online shopping portal. Then, you can shop as you normally would and remember to pay with the card (not PayPal or some other checkout method).

For instance, Discover it® is already giving out 5% cash back for online shopping. If you shop at Apple.com through ShopDiscover, you’ll earn an additional 5% cash back — for an impressive total 10% cash back (a great deal for a retailer that rarely offers discounts).

Also, many of the popular department stores are actually participating in the online shopping portals of all three cards, so you’re likely to earn more than just the 5% cash back if you shop through a department store’s website.

A great example would be Chase Ultimate Rewards, which is giving 10% bonus cash back at Saks.com, a retailer of luxury and designer goods. Stack that cash back on top of the regular 5% cash back for a combined 15% cash back at Saks.

– Buy gift cards. Even if your intended purchase doesn’t fall under the 5% cash back categories, don’t let that stop you! By buying gift cards, you’ll capitalize on one key loophole when it comes to cash back credit cards: You earn bonus cash back based on where you shop, not what you buy.

For example, you can use your Citi Dividend card to buy Amazon and Apple iTunes gift cards at Best Buy. You’ll still get the 5% cash back for making the gift card purchases. Or use the Chase Freedom® card to buy branded gift cards from Amazon, where you earn 5% cash back.

Using gift cards will allow you to expand the number locations that you’ll effectively earn 5% cash back. Bought a gift card for your favorite restaurant? Essentially, you got 5% cash back at that restaurant.

You can use these gift cards to buy your presents. Or, just use the gift cards as Christmas gifts!

– Take advantage of ambiguity.

With Discover it®, the “online shopping” category is extremely ambiguous. In the fine print, Discover said that the category is defined as “the purchase of goods at online merchants, and excludes: purchases made online for government products, education providers, utilities or travel.”

That definition leaves plenty of room for creativity. You could pay for your gym membership or order pizza — and earn 5% cash back, as long you used your Discover it® card to pay online.

And it gets better. Nearly every single retailer partner in the Discover ShopDiscover online shopping portal will fall under “online shopping.” So, you’re getting the 5% cash back for “online shopping” in addition to the bonus cash back from ShopDiscover.

Because it is impossible for me to confirm which online merchants will be classified under “online shopping,” it would be best to make a small purchase first to test the waters if you are unsure. Once you find that some odd transaction with your Discover it® card was able to earn 5% cash back, please share that information with us — and your fellow savvy consumers — in the comment section below!

Enroll early

From a cardholder standpoint, it does seem rather tedious when you have to sign up to earn your 5% cash back. All three cards — Discover it®, Chase Freedom® and Citi Dividend — require enrollment to earn the 5% cash back on this quarter’s categories. Otherwise, you’ll just get the standard 1% cash back on everything.

Discover it® and Citi Dividend cardmembers will earn 5% cash back only after they are enrolled. Meanwhile, Chase Freedom® has a friendlier policy of rewarding all eligible 5% cash back earned throughout the quarter as long as you enroll by the deadline (so you could have forgotten to sign up early, but still earn 5% cash back).

Each of the three cards will allow you to sign up for this quarters 5% cash back categories after logging into your online accounts.

Once you’ve done that, be sure to use the above tips to maximize your bonus cash back for the quarter.

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