When it comes to traveling, your credit card can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy. If you don’t take advantage of the perks many card issuers offer, you could end up paying double — possibly triple — the price of your trip in interest.
Fortunately, many travel credit cards come with built travel rewards and perks that could save you hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars the next time you take a trip.
I chatted with Chris Lopinto, Co-Founder of flight research tool ExpertFlyer.com, to discover the tips and tricks he’s learned in his 11-plus years of experience as a frequent flyer extraordinaire.
1. Understand the different reward structures
“Basically, there are two types of benefits credit cards give,” Lopinto said. “One is earning points or miles directly in a specific air or hotel frequent flyer/guest program. The second is earning that card’s points currency.”
Before you open a new credit card for travel, ask yourself — will you be loyal to a single airliner you use frequently, or do you want the flexibility to redeem points across different companies?
2. Look for exclusive deals
Choosing between a specific airliner/hotel chain’s credit card or a general purpose travel rewards card is all about weighing the pros and cons. For example, the rewards you get with a specific chain could be a greater value than what you’d find with a card that has points redeemable anywhere — only downside is your lack of options.
“Some credit cards will offer reduced mileage awards for their affiliated airline, such as Citibank with American Airlines,” Lopinto said. “Some hotel credit cards will give you a free room night or two.”
3. Check to see if the annual fee is worth it
Many credit cards with travel rewards will come with an annual fee that could be as high as $500 or more, although it’s very common to see annual fees hover around the $50 range.
But are you getting your money’s worth with annual fees?
“That depends on what you get for it,” Lopinto said. “It’s simple math, take the annual fee and compare it to the value of the benefits of continuing to use the card. Some airline cards give you a free checked bag and/or priority boarding, which if you don’t have elite status on that airline already, has value. Other cards give you back some of the miles you redeem with the partner airline in a year, which itself could be more valuable than the annual fee.”
Want to start racking up travel rewards of your own? We have just the right cards for you.
Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.