My go-to to credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and I use 3 strategies to get as much value from it as possible

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  • When Cheryl Lock moved from New York to Colorado and started a family, she knew she'd need the right credit card to make multiple flights a year financially possible.
  • She found that card was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
  • To make the most of her Sapphire Preferred, she and her husband combine all of their expenses on one card, save up for major purchases before charging them, and pay off their card in full every month.
There's almost nothing I love more than free money, and obviously opportunities for free cash don't come around that often. There's a company match in a 401(k) (which I don't have as a freelancer) and winning the lottery (which only happens in my dreams).
Then there are credit card rewards which, if you play your cards right (pun intended), can be a pretty lucrative reality.

I started really thinking about how to max out the benefits of my credit card points when I had my first daughter, and then my second, and suddenly traveling back to my home state of New York from Colorado became a very expensive endeavor. If I wanted my kids to get to know their family back east, I was going to have to find some way to make multiple flights a year financially plausible for my family of four.

Thus began my search for the perfect travel rewards card.

I didn't have to search too long before landing on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. After spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the card we earned $750 toward travel by redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards, plus we earn double points on travel-related purchases like airfare and hotels, double points on restaurant purchases and one point for every $1 spent on everything else. The $95 annual fee is a bummer, but what we earn by using the card regularly more than makes up for that.

Finding the right rewards card for my needs and putting all of our travel-related expenses on it were just the first steps in making the most of my credit points, though. Here are three other ways I make sure that I'm getting the maximum benefit.

Step 1: We combine all of our expenses on one card

Even though my husband and I do keep certain personal expenses separate - I have my own credit card for things I want to buy for myself, as well as my own checking account, and vice versa - when it comes to joint expenses, we make sure we pay for everything with our Sapphire card so that the expenses really add up.

Anything that can be paid automatically from our bills goes directly onto our card, and any other joint items we need to purchase for the month - like groceries, or things for the house or the kids - go onto our joint Sapphire card as well.

My husband uses the Sapphire for his daily purchases, too (I have a separate business card that I use for most of my incidental monthly purchases), so we're able to max out what we put on the card each month even more.

Step 2: We save up for major purchases, then put them on our card

I'm not a huge fan of putting expenses on a credit card that we can't pay off, although I understand that sometimes this is a necessity.

When it's possible, though, we do our best to save up for any big expenses we see coming down the pipe, so we can charge them to our Sapphire card to get the points and then pay them off immediately to avoid paying interest.

Since moving to our house three years ago, we saved up to finish our basement and to put a new deck in the back, but we paid for both of those things with our card first, which earned us enough to help pay for at least one flight back to New York.

Step 3: We pay our card off in full every month

While this doesn't necessarily help us maximize rewards, if you're carrying a large balance on your credit card - and are therefore paying a lot in interest every month - any cash back that you earn isn't really cash in your pocket. While I'm a big advocate of putting most of your expenses on a credit card every month to maximize rewards and follow a budget, if you can't pay your card off in full every month, then this system probably isn't for you.
They say nothing in life is free, and while that's technically true of credit card rewards (you did have to spend money to make the money, after all), it's pretty darn close.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred from our partner The Points Guy »

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Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.