4 Ways to Maximize Travel Reward Credit Cards

October 16, 2012

creditcardI’m a big fan of responsible credit card use. I personally prefer cash back rewards because I can spend cash on anything I want.

But I know a lot of people that prefer to rack up travel reward points with their credit cards. I’m okay with that, but you really have to be careful to maximize the benefit of choosing reward points over straight cash. Here are some tips to keep you on track.

1. Accept Flexible Travel Plans

One of the best ways to stretch your travel reward points is to place a healthy dose of flexibility into your travel plans.

Being flexible on trip dates or end locations can really be beneficial in stretching those points as far as you can. Want to go to Myrtle Beach in March? The hotels participating in your rewards program will likely be booked well in advance at high rates for Spring Break. If you could be flexible and end up at another beach nearby in the middle of April you are likely to see lower point costs for those hotels.

In other words: It is really difficult to get a bargain if you are stuck on going to a certain location at a certain time.

2. Consider Total Travel Costs

Another important factor of using your travel rewards is to consider the overall cost of the trip.

Sure you might be able to get two free nights at a nice hotel in Hawaii, but if you’re flying from Boston and plan to stay an additional four nights you’ll still be paying a ton of money out of pocket just in airfare and those extra hotel nights.

Consider things like:

  • Airfare
  • Additional hotel night costs
  • Eating out 2-3 meals per day if your accommodations are not all-inclusive
  • Sightseeing costs
  • Travel costs between airports and hotel – cab fares can easily add an extra $100 to your trip

If you got the rewards card specifically to fund a trip to Hawaii and knew it would cost more, fine. But if you just want to take a nice vacation while using your points just remember to consider the cost of the trip you’ll end up paying.

3. Target Trips You Value

The bottom line is don’t settle. If you really prefer to stay in nicer hotels that cost 30,000 points per night, don’t waste time blowing 10,000 points on a lesser hotel. You will likely be underwhelmed with your accommodations and spend a chunk of your “relaxing” vacation thinking about how you should have upgraded to something nicer.

Either wait until you have the points or the money saved up to take the trip you really want to take.

4. Use the Travel Rewards Credit Card While on Your Trip

My last tip for you should be something that I hope is fairly obvious. Most travel credit card programs give you especially high rewards when you utilize companies within their network. Companies such as hotels, airlines, and car rental firms. You’re going on a trip and will likely be spending some of your own funds on the trip with firms like these. Make sure when you do that you utilize that same travel card so you can rack up additional rewards for later use.

Obviously you have to be careful in targeting these in-network travel partners. If you’ll get reward points for using a partner airline, but end up paying $200 extra for the flight, you will probably be better off not going after the points.

Be smart about it, and know your reward program inside and out. Only then can you make wise decisions as you try to maximize your credit card’s travel reward points.

How do you save money with credit cards? Leave a comment!


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Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for RothIRA.com, Discover Bank, ING Direct, and many others.

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