It’s inevitable. Every fall Americans begin to panic as they realize that they will have to pay a premium to travel over the winter holidays. And it’s even worse for many who want to travel with the points and miles that they’ve earned from their credit cards.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. This summer is the perfect time to start earning rewards for your winter travel. Here’s how you can earn the points and miles that you can use to save on your holiday travel.
Start With a Great Credit Card Sign-up Bonus
While it can take a long to earn travel rewards through your daily spending, there’s a quick way to jumpstart the process in time for your holiday travel. The credit card market is so intensely competitive that banks are willing to offer you a lump sum of valuable travel rewards, just for opening a new account. Typically, these sign-up bonuses require you to spend a certain amount within a specified time period.
For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is currently offering new applicants 70,000 bonus points after they use their card to spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening, and paying the annual fee. You can earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase as well as 5% miles back to use towards your next redemption, every time you redeem.
Another interesting thing about this card is that you can redeem your miles for any travel purchases that you’ve made within the last 120 days. This allows you to book your holiday travel reservations soon after you receive your card, and then redeem your miles for a statement credit later using the miles you’ve earned from your sign-up bonus and other spending. There’s an $89 annual fee for this card (waived first year), and no foreign transaction fees.
Earn the Right Kind of Rewards
What makes Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® miles so valuable is that they can be used for any travel reservations with no blackout dates or capacity controls. Sadly, the traditional airline frequent flyer programs will offer very few award seats at the lowest mileage levels during most of the year, and virtually none during the peak travel periods such as the winter holidays.
To avoid the disappointment of not being able to redeem your travel rewards, holiday travelers should focus on programs that don’t impose blackout dates or capacity controls on award travel. For example, there are some airlines that have switched to so-called revenue based redemption programs. These airlines include JetBlue and Southwest. If you have a credit card that offers rewards from either of these two airlines, then you’ll be able to redeem your points for travel during the holidays. However, just keep in mind that as holiday travel reservations become more expensive, these airlines will require more points and miles as well.
Another example of rewards that are easy to redeem for holiday travel are hotel rewards. Many, but not all hotel programs allow you to redeem your points for free nights in any unsold standard room. Hotel programs with this policy include Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham, and the Starwood brands (Sheraton, Westin, and others). However, you should always make your travel plans as far in advance as possible, as you can’t book an award night if the hotel has already sold out all of its standard rooms.
Earning Flexible Rewards
Another way to maximize your chance of using rewards for your holiday travel is to earn flexible rewards that can be transferred to airline miles or hotel points, or used to directly book travel reservations. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each for reservations made through Chase’s travel center. Or, these rewards can be transferred to miles with seven different airline programs, or points with four hotel programs. Also, the Citi ThankYou rewards program lets you transfer points to airlines and hotels, or use them to book travel directly.
Traveling during the winter holidays is an American tradition, but it can also be very expensive. By planning your winter vacation now, you can use credit card rewards to make your trip more affordable.
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