How to maximize travel credit card rewards

Written by
Maryalene Laponsie
Terms apply; see the online credit card application for full terms and conditions of offers and rewards

Travel rewards credit cards can offer hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars in value each year. From free travel to complimentary upgrades, the right card can make it affordable to have a truly memorable vacation each year.

However, you need to be smart about how you use your card to squeeze all the value possible out of it. Here are seven steps to maximize travel credit card rewards.

1. Earn the welcome bonus

Almost every travel rewards credit card offers some type of welcome or sign-on bonus.

For instance, the CardName gives new cardholders 60,000 bonus points – worth $750 in travel – after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening an account. If that feels like a lot to spend, the CardName, which awards 20,000 bonus miles after spending just $500 on purchases within three months of account opening, is another good option. Those miles are worth $200 in flexible travel rewards.

These welcome bonuses are the most lucrative way to earn rewards points and miles. Before applying for a card, have a plan for how you will meet the spending requirement so that you won’t miss out on these extra rewards.

You don’t want to simply spend money for the sake of earning a bonus either. Try to time an account opening to coincide with spending you already have planned – such as paying annual insurance premiums or making a large purchase.

>>SEE MORE: Best credit card sign-up bonuses

2. Maintain multiple accounts – responsibly

Different cards offer different perks. The CardName is great for its cell phone protection, airport lounge access and statement credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. But if you are booking airfare, you may want to use the CardName which comes with free checked bags for you and four companions. (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.) Or perhaps the CardName discontinued, which also offers a free first checked bag, if you’re more of a Delta fan. (American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.)

Fortunately, you can have multiple rewards credit cards, assuming your credit score makes you eligible. The key is to use them responsibly. Don’t open multiple accounts if you think that will result in your spending more than you can afford to pay back each month.

If you can limit your spending only to budgeted purchases, having several credit cards with different types of rewards can help maximize your earnings.

3. Match the right card to each purchase

Assuming you do have multiple credit cards, the next step to maximizing rewards is matching the right card to each purchase. Many travel credit cards offer additional points or miles for certain spending.

For instance, if you have CardName discontinued, it’s a good choice for booking flights directly with airlines or paying for flights or prepaid hotels through American Express Travel. In both cases, you’ll earn five points per dollar spent up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

But if you’re renting a car, you’ll only get one point per dollar spent. In that case, it may be better to use CardName which can pay out 10 points per dollar spent on car rentals booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

This requires some planning and research on your part since many cards offer bonus rewards on some categories but not others. If you have cash back credit cards, keep an eye open for rotating bonus categories each quarter that may be travel related, such as extra cash back for gas or dining. Make sure you opt into these and then shift spending to those cards as appropriate to get the most rewards possible.

4. Sign up for loyalty programs

Be sure to sign up for airline and hotel loyalty programs, particularly those associated with your travel cards.

In some cases, airline and hotel cards will offer additional perks or upgrades to members of an affiliated loyalty program. But another reason to join travel loyalty programs is that some cards allow you to transfer points from the card to a partnering program.

The CardName, for example, allows rewards points to be transferred to more than a dozen partnering programs, including JetBlue TrueBlue, Wyndham Rewards, and Etihad Guest. Transferring points can be a good strategy to access redemption options that may not be available directly through your credit card.

5. Stack your rewards

It can be a good idea to double dip your rewards, and this can be done with practically any card.

For starters, many cards have online shopping portals which allow you to earn additional points. Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Shopping, Shop Through Chase and Capital One Shopping are all examples. When you shop through these portals, you earn your regular credit card rewards plus additional points or miles from the portal.

If your card doesn’t have a portal or if the portal doesn’t have your favorite stores, you may be able to stack rewards by shopping through a site like Rakuten or Mr. Rebates. These websites offer cash back when shopping through them plus you’ll still receive your regular credit card rewards for every purchase. The cash back you earn from these sites can help offset your vacation expenses.

A final option is to use an app such as Ibotta or Fetch Rewards that offer cash back for claiming offers and uploading receipts. While many of these apps are for retail or grocery purchases, some – such as Checkout 51 and Upside – offer cash back for gas purchases as well. As with the website above, this cash back is in addition to rewards you earn by making the purchase with your credit card.

6. Redeem rewards and statement credits wisely

Once you’ve earned your rewards, don’t make the mistake of redeeming them for something of poor value. What’s more, you won’t want to let any additional perks offered by the card go to waste.

Some cards will let you buy merchandise with points, but this is generally a poor redemption choice. As a general rule, redeeming points and miles for travel is your best bet, and some cards will even boost your rewards when you do so. For example, CardName offers 50% more value for points redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

As for additional perks, many cards offer statement credits for specific purchases. For example, CardNameprovides up to $200 a year in statement credits to cover incidental airline charges, like baggage fees and in-flight refreshments, charged on the card with a pre-selected airline, as well as additional credits for Uber, streaming services, pre-paid travel and more. Meanwhile, the CardName offers a $100 Annual Hotel Savings Benefit which provides $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more each year.

Make note of the statement credits your card offers and then be sure to take advantage of any relevant benefits before they expire.

7. Pay off your balance each month

This final step may be the most important one.

If you want to maximize your rewards, you need to pay off your balance every month. Otherwise, you could end up paying interest that will easily outweigh the value of any rewards you’ve earned. Then, your credit card is actually costing you money rather than earning you money.

The only exception would be if you are intentionally financing a large purchase using a 0% APR or low-interest credit card. In that case, have a plan to pay off the debt as quickly as possible.

Ready to get started? Check out the best travel credit cards of 2022 to find a rewarding card today.

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Disclaimer:

The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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