Not long ago, it was hard to find anyone at an airport flashing anything other than a corporate American Express card. It was also hard to find airfare under $200. Today, competition among credit card companies for frequent travelers has made perks and bonus programs commonplace. Discount travel options make it more affordable for families and other infrequent travelers to get out on the road more often. Blending both of these trends means saving big bucks on your next road trip, as long as you follow five simple tips:
#1: Imagine Your Worst Case Credit Card Scenario
American Express built their brand on convenience for business travelers. That often meant guaranteeing that a replacement for a lost or stolen credit card could arrive at your hotel within about a day. Not every card issuer can live up to that promise, so plan to carry a mix of cards to minimize your risk:
- Carry two credit cards on your trip, but not in the same place. If pickpockets boost your wallet, a backup card stashed in your carry-on can keep your journey going.
- Don't carry the same credit card you use to pay household bills. A fraud alert on that account could mean your lights and water won't work when you get home. Ask your credit card issuer for a secondary card with a different account number, or open a dedicated card just for travel.
- Ask your hotel how much they intend to hold on your credit card for insurance and incidentals. An overzealous front desk clerk can eliminate your available credit with a single swipe.
- Write down the local emergency contact numbers for each of the credit cards you intend to bring, especially if your bank requires you to collect call a special overseas phone line.
Preparing for an emergency saves you the money you'd have to spend on emergency cash transfers, phone calls, and overlimit fees.
#2: Let Your Credit Cards Help You Plan Your Trip
Many credit card issuers now offer travel planning and concierge services as special perks for customers. Basic credit cards often feature online travel discounts run through well-known partner Websites. You can often find special bargains or exclusive access opportunities, especially if your travel plans are flexible. Frequent travelers with higher status can call special concierge teams, who can hunt down special deals or make personal reservations with a card issuers' preferred providers.
#3: Maximize Your Affinity Credit Card Rewards
Marketing relationships between the banking and travel industries have become so close, it's nearly impossible to make a trip without getting some kind of credit card offer or frequent traveler invitation. Even if you don't travel very often, the savings you can enjoy from affinity programs really add up:
- Airline credit cards offer miles toward air travel when you meet eligible spend, may include mileage bonuses when you pay for your ticket with their preferred card.
- Hotel credit cards tempt you with bonus room upgrades, special in-room treats, and discounts on resort amenities.
- AAA-affiliated credit cards extend deeper discounts on meals, attraction tickets, and local transportation.
Of course, if you're lucky enough to qualify for a cash back credit card, you can earn between 1-5% as a rebate on every trip-related purchase.
#4: Scoop Up Last Minute or Advance Deals with 0% APR Credit Cards
The travel industry charges a premium for urgency. Expect to pay more if you've positively got to be somewhere on a certain date. However, travelers with flexible plans can use their credit cards to get huge discounts on airfares and hotel rooms. A host of websites track daily deals on resort stays with a simple catch: you pay for your trip in advance instead of at check-out. Float the upfront charge on a 0% teaser rate credit card that isn't due until your trip has ended, and you'll get the best deal without any strain on your bank account.
#5: Eliminate Foreign Transaction Hassles
Traveling overseas used to mean getting gouged at the currency exchange counter. Competition among credit card issuers has streamlined the process of spending money abroad, especially now that merchants in most major cities accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. Cards from Capital One and Pentagon Federal Credit Union feature no foreign transaction fees. You can even use your hotel's Internet kiosk to transfer cash from your bank account to your credit card balance, freeing up your credit line if you happen to spend too much.
Following all five of these steps may add a little complexity to your travel planning. However, you'll feel better about your obsession when you save up to half off the price of your airline tickets, hotel rooms, and restaurant meals.