Consumers use credit card "free money" to help cover summer vacation costs

By , CardRatings contributor
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Rewards credit cards will help Americans preserve their vacation plans in spite of rising travel costs this summer, according to a new survey commissioned by Capital One. In the spring 2011 edition of the credit card issuer's quarterly Capital One Rewards Barometer, consumers revealed a new hunger for high value bonus and redemption options.

Although more than half of survey respondents told researchers they would probably change their travel plans due to high gas prices, nearly two-thirds of the consumers polled said they refused to resort to "staycations."

Bonus points rule

Instead, consumers told researchers, they prefer to earn bonuses for their everyday purchases that help offset irregular costs, like vacation travel expenses. Three in five consumers see rewards credit cards as opportunities to earn "free money," according to the survey. Researchers collected other savings advice from survey participants, including:

  • Watch out for unexpected fees. George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, warns consumers to review reward redemption fees from airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies. Some travel companies have tried to dilute reward value by requiring higher cash fees for ticketing and reservations.
  • Check expiration dates and blackout periods. One in four survey respondents told researchers that blackout periods and frustrating last-minute redemption options prevented them from using their rewards to the fullest. Likewise, some hotel and airline points expire, forcing members to redeem rewards prematurely or lose some travel benefits.
  • Match earnings and rewards to travel habits. Mergers and route changes often force frequent flyers to shift allegiances between carriers. Some rewards credit cards allow customers to earn and redeem points on multiple airlines, maximizing flexibility.

According to Capital One spokesperson Troy Jamison, selecting the right rewards credit card can reduce household stress. The issuer offers a variety of rewards credit cards that allow customers to earn cash-back rebates or travel points that can be redeemed on any airline.

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