Vacations are something we often splurge on, spending more each day than we usually do. Still, there's no reason to spend more than you have to, and credit cards can help you save a lot of money.
Rack Up the Rewards
Rewards credit cards are your ticket to slashing travel costs. Many cards offer more than just the ability to earn points or air miles. Simply being a card member (or enrolling in one of their special programs) can open the door to even bigger savings if you play your cards right. Here's how:
- Concentrate to accumulate. Don't limit your point potential by spreading spending across multiple cards. And sign up for all major airlines' frequent-flier programs. They're free, and they come with member-only alerts.
- Look for alliances to redeem rewards with other airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and retailers. Official partners often offer more value per point.
- Keep track of your bounty, expirations, and deals. There are apps and sites that can help you do this.
- Don't let rewards expire. Read the fine print to see what you have to do to keep your bounty safe. It may be something as simple as redeeming a small number of points every so often (e.g., visiting your credit card's reward redemption website to get magazine subscriptions or iTunes downloads). And watch the clock if you want to transfer or consolidate miles among different account holders to reach the reward. Each program has its own window during which that's allowed.
- But don't cash in too soon. Tiered programs reward patience by offering bigger rewards to customers who wait and redeem more points per transaction.
- Top off to cash in. Some programs let you buy the points needed for a freebie through the airline or program. Or check out websites that let you augment, swap, redeem, or donate rewards.
- Use points to pay for the priciest perks. Sometimes, a free ticket isn't the best deal. For instance, using points to upgrade from coach to business class on an international flight may actually save you more than using them to get the coach ticket in the first place.
Before and During Travel
Having a great card or two isn't enough. You also need to use them effectively.
- Book through the card website: It's often smart to book your travel through your travel card's website (or app). You might get a better rate or earn extra points.
- Share your travel plans: Before you travel, call the toll-free number on the back of each card you're taking, and alert the company about where and when you'll be traveling so they don't deny any charges, suspecting fraud.
- Keep cards in separate places: It's smart to travel with multiple credit cards, as some cards might not be accepted in some places. Don't keep them all together, though, lest you lose them all, or they all get stolen. Take photos of their fronts and backs, too, and keep those in a safe place so you'll have account numbers and phone numbers.
- Know which card to use for what: Many cards levy currency conversion charges of 1% to 3%, while others charge nothing. Some charge less than others for ATM withdrawals. Also, in some places, especially Europe, some vendors won't accept credit cards with a magnetic stripe, instead favoring ones that use a chip and PIN. See if your card issuer can issue you one in that format.