The only thing better than a vacation is a free vacation. Sound too good to be true? Well, for many savvy credit card users, free, nearly free, or on-the-cheap vacations are a way of life. Using travel credit cards can help you earn that summer vacation of your dreams without putting a luxury-vacation-sized dent in your wallet. Read on for eight tips for using credit card rewards and perks for travel.
1. Plan Your Reward Use Now
The sooner you start planning the better, if you intend to use credit card rewards or statement credits to pay for all or part of your vacation. Find out how many miles it will take to book flights for your family, and see what the nightly points requirement is for the hotel you have your eye on. If you’re using cash-back credit instead of points, booking early can ensure you the best price on your travel and accommodations.
2. Be Flexible
You’ll likely get the most bang for your reward bucks if you are flexible with your travel dates. For instance, credit cards that use airline miles may have blackout dates or peak periods when points cannot be applied to travel. You may be able to save a bundle of cash-back credit by booking accommodations a few days before, or after your ideal travel time. If you’re flexible on destination that can be a boon, too. Some regions and zones require more points, while others can be visited quite inexpensively.
3. Peruse Sign-up Bonuses
If your credit card offers less-than-stellar travel rewards, it may be worth your time — and money — to apply for a new credit card with an amazing sign-up bonus you can use for travel. Some credit cards offer enough points or miles for two free domestic round-trip tickets, while others offer a few free nights at a hotel, and others still offer statement credits towards travel expenses. Make sure you read the fine print and can meet the bonus requirements before your big adventure.
4. Get Rewarded
Consider a card that makes the most of the money you charge on vacation, such as a card that offers twice the points for all travel-related charges. You’ll want to call your company ahead of time and find out how they define “travel-related charges.” It could be only for air and hotel booked through their website, or it could include everything from Uber fees to Airbnb stays. If you want to be a super-savvy traveler, double-dip on your rewards when possible, such as using your credit card in addition to a frequent flier card.
5. Get Perk-y
Not all cards offer the same benefits, so take the time to research your card’s benefits before you hit the road. Travel specific credit cards usually have more perks, such as delayed baggage coverage, access to airport lounges, pre-boarding privileges, and waived checked baggage fees when you use a co-branded airline card. But even the basic credit card you use at the grocery store and gas station could include benefits that come into play when you travel, like discounts on rental cars, free or discounted medical travel insurance, emergency evacuation insurance, concierge services, and more.
6. Look For a Two-For-One
Some credit cards let you add another person to your flight reservation or hotel booking at no extra cost or offer a steep discount. You may have to meet a spending threshold with some cards to get this benefit, but it’s worth a call to your credit card company to find out if you’ve got this perk. Or if you often travel in tandem, seeking out a credit card with this benefit could save you thousands of dollars.
7. Ask About Trip Cancellation Insurance
Before you pay for trip cancellation insurance when booking a vacation, check to see if your credit card offers the same benefit for free. This type of insurance gives a refund on nonrefundable airfare and other travel costs if you must cancel your trip due to illness or severe weather, or other pre-determined situations. Generally, cards with World MasterCard and Visa Signature benefits offer complimentary trip cancellation insurance.
8. Don’t Forget the Extra Fees
Free isn’t always completely free — even if you have a credit card that pays out in airline miles, you’ll still likely need to pay for taxes and fees. That could be a few hundred dollars or more, so budget accordingly.
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