This 'Black Friday' (23rd November 2012) - traditionally the prime holiday shopping day in the US marking the start of the Christmas shopping season - nearly half of rewards card holders are not planning to hit stores or online retailers, according to the Capital One 'Rewards Barometer' study. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

However, this surprising finding doesn't necessarily mean that consumers' holiday shopping budgets are down, as more than half of rewards card holders' budgets (58%) remain the same as in 2011 and 14% said they were planning to spend more in 2012 than in 2011. Interestingly, only 18% said they are taking advantage of credit card reward redemptions to help buy their holiday gifts.

More than one third of respondents said the economy has changed how they use rewards, especially women with 23% reporting that they now use rewards to offset essential expenses such as fuel and groceries. And more women plan on spending less than in 2011, compared to men (24% vs 18%). Thinking ahead to post-holiday shopping bills, men and women are on the same page with one quarter (25%) planning to use their cash rewards earned from holiday shopping as a credit on their statement to offset holiday expenses.

When it comes to holiday travel plans, more than one quarter of those who tried to redeem rewards for travel were unable to do so, with blackout dates being largely to blame. More than half of those surveyed said they would consider traveling during peak holiday periods (i.e. within 1 or 2 days of Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year) if they were guaranteed to be able to use loyalty rewards for their trip. Nearly 80% of respondents said they had not even tried to redeem for holiday travel, with many saying that they thought it was too much of a hassle (28%) or they didn't have enough time to plan (29%).

Additional trends highlighted by the Rewards Barometer included:

  • Since 2011, the top three credit card rewards have been cash, gift cards and domestic airline tickets.
  • Since the spring of 2012, 40% of rewards card holders consistently reported they prefer a simple rewards card offering the same rate across all purchases.
  • Approximately one-third of consumers remain unaware if they are charged a fee or additional expenses when using rewards to book travel.