Gen Zers’ big plans for travel with credit card rewards

Curtis Arnold
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Curtis Arnold
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Millennials and Gen Zers have gained a reputation as having good money management skills (in comparison to older generations). Perhaps most notably, both age groups are known for loathing credit card debt. For example, Gen Zers, carry less card debt than any other age group according to a recent survey.

While I know older generations can learn from younger generations when it comes to using plastic responsibly, I was surprised by a recent survey by American Express that suggests Millennials and Gen Zers are savvy about using reward or rebate credit cards to book their summer travel.

My surprise was not because I didn’t think that young adults couldn’t use rewards cards wisely, but rather because I have always heard that they prefer debit cards over credit cards. To my shock, however, I discovered that 43% of young adults are shifting more spending to credit cards.

This statistic and the survey prompted several related questions. In particular:

  1. What can the rest of us (older folks) learn from younger generations regarding how to more effectively use reward cards?
  2. What can older generations teach younger generations about the same?

The bottom line is that I’ve always been a firm believer that older adults can learn from young adults and vice-versa!

FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT: I have been impressed with how young adults have learned from the financial mistakes of their parents. If you’re a parent, I hope you will be open about your mishaps and use them as teaching opportunities. Remember, early financial education at home matters!

I practice what I preach and have tried to openly share my struggles with card debt after college with each of my six kids. Such open communication can be empowering for our children (and grandchildren if you’re as old as me)!

Curtis Arnold,

Travel rewards reign supreme among young adults

I’ve never been a huge fan of travel credit cards as I’ve always liked the flexibility and cost of no-annual-fee cash-back cards, but planning a recent summer vacation to Oregon has caused me to rethink my approach.

Two factors challenged my thinking:

  • I quickly realized while comparison shopping that airline tickets are significantly higher than I remember them being pre-COVID. CNBC claims airline ticket prices have surged 36% in the past couple of years alone.
  • I was inspired by how young adults are using rewards to lower travel costs according to the AmEx survey.

The survey claims Millennials and Gen Zers are eager to travel and plan to use “travel hacks” to make the most of money spent on travel.

In regard to plastic, the top tips among those surveyed include:

  1. Using a credit card with travel benefits (62%)
  2. Paying with credit card points to book a trip (57%)

Rebate credit cards provide unique travel experiences

The vast majority of respondents (87%) claim they are willing to spend more money on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This desire for unique experiences is fueling wanderlust among young adults.

The secret some young adults are discovering is that rebate credit cards are increasingly providing such unique perks. This has been driven by competition among card issuers that are seeking to provide cardholders with exciting benefits.

“Most major issuers have added exciting experiences to their some of their cards,” explains Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst and author of The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself from Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt-Free. “For instance, American Express card members receive ‘Entertainment Access’ benefits, which includes special access to events like NBA games, Broadway plays, fashion shows and more.

“Chase has its version, Chase Experiences, which offers special [airport] lounge access, preferred seating at concerts and tickets for major sporting events,” Harzog continues. “In particular, the CardNamediscontinued gives cardmembers access to VIP experiences with celebrities, grounds passes for the PGA Championship and reservations at exclusive restaurants.”

Many cardholders are not aware of such rewards. Herzog stresses that taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your card’s benefits can pay big dividends.

“It’s important to understand how your card’s reward program works,” Harzog advises. “Perks differ by card, so you have to read the fine print [in order to take full advantage of lesser known rewards].”

Besides redeeming points for your travel, remember there are multiple money-saving built-in benefits that most cards offer just for being a card member.

6 tips for maximizing credit card rebates

Harzog if she had any tips for young adults when it comes to travel rewards and reward cards in general. While these tips are targeted toward young adults, they apply to any age group.

  1. Throughout the year, use cards strategically. Use the right rewards card at the appropriate time. For example, many travel cards offer dining rewards. When dining out, use the card that gives you [top rewards] on restaurants.
  2. Similarly, when booking flights, use your travel rewards card. Note that some issuers have their own travel portal and some of these might give you more value per point. You can also save by using a travel card for car rentals.
  3. If you plan to travel abroad, check out cards that waive foreign transaction fees because they can add up quickly.
  4. Get a card that matches your spending patterns and levels. Some people prefer a simple rewards program, such as getting two miles per $1 spent on everything. Others prefer a card that offer a variety of rewards categories, such as restaurants, streaming services or grocery purchases.
  5. Consider using multiple cards to stretch your rebates further. Harzog says she uses four different credit cards to cover a variety of expenses. “Every time I buy something, I’m earning rewards.”
  6. Consider using a combination of cash back, miles and points cards. “I just booked two, first-class roundtrip tickets to Maui by just using rewards!”


The last two tips require extreme discipline and aren’t recommended for some consumers as it’s more complicated than just using one card and can lead to overspending. Exceeding your monthly budget just to earn more rewards is NEVER a good idea.

“When it comes to travel rewards cards, you have to pick the card that you’ll benefit from the most,” Harzog adds. “Most cards offer such a variety of perks it isn’t difficult to benefit no matter what your age is.”

Final thoughts

I hope this article inspires you to look at credit card benefits differently, specifically travel rewards, and to profit as much as you can from your card(s). I love learning new rebate/travel tips and think that all generations can learn from each other.

If you’re savvy, your rewards can really add up fast. Harzog says the “key is to earn rewards everywhere you can. Set a goal and track your rewards. I make about $4,000 a year in rewards without trying very hard!”

I would love your feedback on your personal experiences with card perks. Who knows, I may include a tip from you in a future article. Finally, if you travel this summer, safe travels and I hope this article helps you save big.

Curtis Arnold
CardRatings Founder

Curtis founded in 1998 and, in so doing, helped pioneer the concept of rating credit cards. He has been a nationally recognized expert in consumer credit for well over 20 years. He is the author of “How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using...Read more

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