Many credit cards offer travel perks as rewards. Whether you’re a jet-setter or just looking for a way to lighten up costs for your next family getaway, these eight tips can help you get the most from the travel rewards offered by your credit card:
- Know the rules. The rewards program may have expiration dates on points, blackout dates for redeeming travel rewards, caps on the amount of rewards you can earn or spending thresholds — sometimes within a certain time frame — to begin earning rewards. Whatever the rules, it pays to understand and follow them. Tip: Look for a card that offers points that don’t expire.
- Check where you can redeem rewards. Some cards offer rewards good for travel with any airline, hotel or rental car, but many are restricted to certain companies. Evaluate whether those companies are a good match for your travel habits.
- Watch for bonuses. You may find opportunities to earn extra points at certain times of year or when using your card for specific types of purchases, such as gas or restaurants.
- Use the card issuer’s online shopping portal. You may find discounts, bonuses, and special offers and deals.
- Pay off your balance each month. Most card issuers fund their rewards programs by charging higher interest rates on rewards card balances. If you carry a balance from month to month, you’re paying for your own rewards program — not much of a reward!
- Don’t miss a payment. With many rewards cards, you forfeit any rewards you’ve earned if you miss a payment.
- Use the card regularly. With some cards, you’ll forfeit rewards if there is a long period of no activity on the card. Even if that isn’t the case with your card, you won’t earn rewards unless you use the card.
- Redeem your rewards periodically. You’ll get the full value without the risk of losing them if the rewards program changes suddenly or you accidentally miss a payment due date.
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Credit cards often provide some form of travel insurance as a benefit to cardholders. If your card offers any of these benefits, they’re automatic when you use the card for travel purchases, and you don’t have to pay extra for them. Travel insurance may include:
- Trip cancellation — Some or all of your trip costs may be covered up to certain limits if the trip is canceled for a covered reason (usually illness, injury or death of you, a close family member or a travel companion).
- Trip interruption — If you have to abandon your trip and return home immediately for a covered reason (usually illness, injury or death of you, a close family member or a travel companion), some of your trip costs may be reimbursed up to certain limits.
- Travel delays — You may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses for meals, accommodations and transportation when you’re delayed by a specified amount of time due to a specified reason, such as bad weather or a lost or stolen passport.
- Rental cars — Collision and theft coverage on auto rentals. You may be able to save money on car rentals by declining the collision damage waiver coverage offered by the rental company.
- Lost baggage — You may receive reimbursement for your checked luggage or carry-on baggage and/or its contents if it’s lost.
- Accident insurance — Accidental death and dismemberment coverage for you and family members traveling with you.
- Emergency assistance — You can get help when you don’t know where to turn. You can receive assistance finding emergency medical, legal, translation and other services. You’re responsible for the cost of the services.
Additional Travel Benefits
Your credit card is a secure and handy way to manage expenses when you travel. Most cards offer zero liability protection for unauthorized transactions, which can ease your mind if your card is lost or stolen.
In addition, credit cards may offer special benefits that can make travel more convenient, enjoyable and economical. For example, concierge services can help with booking tickets, making dinner reservations, arranging transportation and more. Some cards provide discounts or special deals on dining, family attractions, sporting events and a host of leisure activities. You may also gain access to exclusive airport lounges or be able to board airplanes earlier when you use some credit cards. Some card issuers have partnerships with hotels, airlines, car rental agencies and other travel providers that offer special deals to their cardholders.
When you travel — especially if you’re traveling abroad — you should call your credit card company a few days before your trip to notify them of your travel plans. If your credit card is a chip card and you’ll be traveling abroad, be sure to request a PIN. Failure to alert your issuer can result in a hold being placed on your account due to suspected fraud because your card use doesn’t match your usual pattern of activity. This can leave you in a bind when you need your card the most. Let your issuer know exactly where you plan to travel and how long you’ll be staying.
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