By Mike Faden | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
4 Min Read | March 18, 2020 in Cards
Dreaming of soaking up the sun with a beach vacation this summer? As desirable as that may sound, costs can add up quickly when you factor in flights, hotels, meals, and other travel expenses. Fortunately, with travel credit cards and some careful planning, you may be able to avoid some of the cost and perhaps even earn yourself a beach vacation that’s almost free. Here’s how.
With travel credit cards, you earn points as you spend with the card; then you can redeem those points towards travel and related perks. You generally earn one point for every dollar you spend, with some cards offering higher earning rates of several points per dollar for travel-related expenses. Some cards offer sign-up bonuses of tens of thousands of points—which may be enough for some round-trip domestic or even international flights—if you spend a certain amount within the first few months of getting the card. Travel credit cards generally have annual fees.
When it comes to redeeming points for travel, experts estimate that the credit card points in many rewards programs are worth between 1 cent and 2 cents each.1
There are three main flavors of travel credit card:
Airline miles credit cards. You generally earn miles (“air miles”) if you’re enrolled in the airline’s loyalty program. You can convert those air miles into free flights with the airline or its partner airlines, although you’ll still have to pay taxes and government fees. Airline miles credit cards may also include other perks that cut the cost of your beach vacation:
Hotel credit cards. You earn points if you’re enrolled in the hotel company’s loyalty program, and you can redeem those points towards free stays in the company’s network of properties, although you may still have to pay resort fees and local taxes where applicable. That network may include thousands of hotels and resorts worldwide, operating under several brand names. Some hotel credit cards also have features that cover other beach vacation costs:
General-purpose travel credit cards. You earn points if you’re enrolled in the credit card company’s membership program, and you can usually use them to pay for different kinds of travel expenses, including flights and nights at participating hotels. Other pros may include:
Think about where you want to go for your beach vacation and the kind of accommodation you’d like. Armed with an understanding of how travel credit cards work, you can think about which types of credit card work best for you, and how you can use the points and perks to pay for your beach vacation. Depending on your plans, one or more different travel credit cards might help cover the costs:
If you get multiple types of travel credit cards, you’ll have more options for earning and redeeming points—but you’ll need to balance that against the additional annual fees.
Although it makes sense to focus your strategy on the biggest expenses, like hotels and flights, look for opportunities to use travel credit cards to pay for other beach vacation expenses too:
Car rental and ride-share services: Need a rental car to ferry you from your hotel to the beach, or even to drive from your home to your destination? With some travel credit cards, you can pay for a rental car with points. Some credit cards may also offer a rental car insurance benefit, even if you’ve rented the car using points. And some travel credit cards also provide credits for free trips on popular ride-share services.
Baggage fees: You may be able to avoid the checked-baggage fees that most airlines charge. With some airline miles credit cards, your first checked bag travels free; other travel cards give you credits towards checked-bag fees or other airline fees.
Foreign Travel Expenses: Maybe you fancy an exotic location for your beach vacation. If so, travel credit cards can you help you avoid some of the additional fees associated with foreign travel. For example, some credit cards eliminate the foreign transaction fees that are commonly charged on each purchase. Some credit cards also give you credits against the cost of government pre-screening programs, which are designed to whisk you through passport control a little faster.
It pays to start planning your points-earning strategy and accumulating points as soon as you can. This gives you more time to earn sign-up bonuses and enough additional points for flights and hotel stays. An additional incentive: many airlines and hotel chains are moving to “dynamic pricing” in which the number of points you need for flights and hotel stays is based on the cash price of those flights/rooms, which varies depending on demand and availability.2 Generally, the earlier you book, the greater the availability and the lower the price.
A beach vacation is all about de-stressing—so you shouldn’t have to worry about the financial stress of paying for it. With careful planning, you can use credit cards to cover the biggest costs, like flights and hotels, and maybe even earn a beach vacation.