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Using credit wisely is always a good idea. But an even better idea is using your credit wisely and getting airline miles. Win-win! An ever-increasing number of travel credit cards allow you to accumulate points, credits or dollars to be used for travel or travel-related expenses. Here’s what you need to know to get started with travel credit cards.
The premise is simple. For every dollar you spend, you earn credits, usually calculated as a percentage of what you spend. So, if you spend $100 and earn 1.5% you get $1.50 for every hundred dollars. That may not seem like much at first, but it adds up over time. Especially if you pay some of your routine expenses with the card. Imagine earning 1.5% of your annual utility bill or mortgage. That’s a lot of miles!
And some travel credit cards go even further. Maybe you’d earn 1.5% on all purchases but even more on, say, gas purchases. That’s great. But many travel credit cards give you the highest credit for travel-related expenses such as airfare, hotels, and rental cars. So that means that while you’re on vacation, you’re already earning your next vacation!
But wait! There’s more! Many cards also award introductory bonus points when you first open your account. So, it makes sense to check around and find the best deals. Since every inquiry into your credit score will temporarily affect that score, make sure to do your homework and find what works for you. The best card for you depends on your unique travel and spending patterns.
If you always fly the same airline, a card tied to that airline is a good choice. For example, maybe your home is best-serviced by one airline. Or maybe you are always traveling the same routes to the same places. You can be certain that you’ll be flying that airline.
Airline cards also often offer even more travel perks to their account holders. For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card gives holders 3,000 points each year on their anniversary. The United Explorer cards offer priority boarding and a free checked bag. And the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express offers SkyClub access. You can see how these cards really do reward loyalty.
Travel rewards cards give points, miles or credits that can be used at more than one—or all—airlines. Many also allow you to use rewards for things like hotel rooms and rental cars. Although they don’t usually have the perks of airline cards, they make up for it with flexibility. These cards are a good choice for people who fly a wide variety of airlines or who like to get off the beaten path. There are far more cards available than what we have room for here, but you can look at an overview of available cards here. When deciding which of the many travel credit cards to apply for, keep these factors in mind.
Each card will give you a different amount of points or rewards for your purchases. Find a card that awards the most points for the types of purchases you make. If you go out to eat a lot, then a card with extra points at restaurants is a great choice.
Many cards charge card-holders an annual fee. Although these fees are typically less than $100 per year, you certainly don’t want to pay more in fees more than you get in benefits. Before you get a card, make sure your rewards will exceed the annual fee. Since cards with fees tend to offer more benefits, it’s usually easy to realize value. But if you don’t travel much or never need extra baggage, consider a no-fee card.
Every card has its own method for redeeming points. Make sure the card you choose suits you. If the points are difficult to use, you may end up not using them. Or some cards have blackout dates when you can’t use reward points. If those blackout dates fall during your typical travel times, then choose another card.
The truth is, not everyone will qualify for every credit card. Cards with higher benefits typically require a better credit score for cardholders. Be realistic about your credit when researching travel credit cards. If you’re having trouble qualifying, you may need to work on your numbers. Click here for tips on improving your credit score. Or maybe you’re still learning how to use credit cards wisely. If you carry a monthly balance, you may end up paying more in interest fees than you get back in points. In that case, now might not be the right time. Put it on your goals list for the future!
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