I have a credit card that gives me rewards. I get a nice 5% cash-back on purchases from Amazon and a lower cash-back rate on other purchases. Sometimes, there are promotions that provide a rate of 10% or even 15%. But what are these rewards worth?
To simplify, there are two reward options:
Option 1 adds to my Amazon gift-card balance. It’s attractive. When I’m checking out at Amazon, it shows me my reward balance and it also shows me what the total cost of my purchase could be if I applied the gift card. It’s like they’re trying to pressure me to redeem my rewards in this particular way.
Option 2 is simply to transfer my rewards as a payment on my credit card or as a credit to my bank account (for the current purposes, they’re identical). Either way, the rewards translate to the same number of dollars.
Say that I spend $1,000 at Amazon. Whether I choose option 1 or 2 has value implications.
The calculation is simple. If I spend $1,000 at amazon this month, then I can spend another $50 in gift card credits at Amazon next month. That’s the end. There are no more relevant cashflows. I used my credit card one month, and then was rewarded the next month. The only detail worth adding is the time value of money, which at 7% per year*, yields a present value of rewards at $49.72. Option 1 is nice in the moment. It’s so enticing to have a lower Amazon check-out balance due.
But you should never select Option 1.
Option 2Continue reading