Traveling is an adventure, but it comes with expenses. Airfare, hotels, rental cars, food, entertainment, and more all add up quickly. But with travel credit cards, you can finance your travels, take advantage of cardholder perks, and even earn rewards that can save you money.
Zero Percent Interest Travel Credit Cards
Many travel credit cards have zero percent APR introductory offers for purchases. Most zero percent introductory offers are good for the first 12 months, but they can be between six months to 15 months or longer depending on the card.
Of course, using a credit card for travel expenses comes with the risk of debt. Using a credit card to pay for travel is especially risky if you don't budget your expenses and make a plan for paying off your balance before your introductory period expires.
To get the full benefit of a zero percent APR introductory offer, you should plan ahead. Make a budget and determine how much you can reasonably spend on your trip and pay off each month, ideally before the zero percent APR expires. Then, stick to the plan and pay down your balance to avoid accumulating debt.
Taking Advantage of Cardholder Benefits
Travel credit cards often come with cardholder benefits. These benefits are perks offered to cardholders that can save you money or make your traveling experience more comfortable.
Travel benefits frequently offered by credit cards include auto rental insurance, travel accident insurance, trip cancellation insurance, concierge service, and roadside assistance. Insurance coverage is particularly valuable, as you can potentially save twice. First by not spending money to purchase the coverage, and second by using the coverage if you have an accident, vehicle damage, or have to cancel your trip.
Cobranded airline or hotel travel rewards credit cards often have brand-specific perks that can be especially useful. With airline credit cards, you will often get a free checked bag and priority boarding. Some airline credit cards offer airport lounge access, free or discounted companion tickets, and discounts on in-flight purchases.
Hotel credit cards have their own set of perks for cardholders. Often, hotel credit cards give cardholders benefits such as free room upgrades when available, early check-in, late checkout, and free breakfast. With some cards, you'll get a free night stay with bookings of a specific length, such as a free fifth night when you stay for five nights or more.
Earning Rewards with Travel Credit Cards
Travel credit cards typically earn rewards, such as points, miles, or cash back that can be used to reduce the cost of your travel or help you save for your next trip.
Cash back travel rewards cards earn cash back on all purchases and usually earn cash back at a higher rate when you make travel purchases or purchases in bonus spending categories. For example, a cash back travel rewards card may earn 3 percent cash back on travel purchases, 2 percent cash back at restaurants, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
With travel credit cards that earn points or miles, you will usually earn points or miles at a rate of one point or mile per dollar, more for brand or bonus spending categories. Airline or hotel cobranded travel cards will typically earn points or miles at a higher rate when you spend with the brand, such as two points per dollar for airfare. Some cards earn rewards at a higher rate for other categories, including dining and everyday expenses such as gas or groceries.
Travel credit cards frequently offer sign-up bonuses, which allow you to earn cash back, points, or miles at a higher rate within the first few months of opening your account. For example, you can earn $250 cash back when you spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account. Or, you can earn 50,000 points (with a value of $500) when you spend $4,000 within three months of opening your account.
New Trip, New Credit Card?
Some of the best features of travel cards are only extended to new cardholders. A zero percent APR offer on new purchases may only last for 12 months, and a sign-up bonus that earns extra points can usually only be earned within the first three months of opening an account.
If you're a frequent traveler and take multiple trips per year, you probably shouldn't open a new credit card for each trip. But if you take one big trip each year, a new card may be a good idea.
With a new credit card, you can start a new zero percent introductory APR offer, which can save you significantly on interest when compared to an existing credit card that you'd pay interest on. You may also have the opportunity to earn a new sign-up bonus. Cards that charge an annual fee may waive the fee for the first year as well.
However, it's not a good idea to open a new credit card for each trip if you can't manage existing credit card accounts. For example, you shouldn't open a new credit card account if you're still carrying a balance on an old one. While you may be able to transfer a balance to a new card and take advantage of a zero percent APR introductory offer on balance transfers and purchases, it's best to simply pay off balances rather than shuffle them around.
If you have multiple travel credit cards, you should carefully assess which accounts you should keep open and which ones you should close. If you're not using a card to earn significant rewards, but you have to pay an annual fee, it may be a good idea to close the account and not have to pay the annual fee. But keep in mind that closing older accounts can negatively impact your credit score, as the age of your credit history is a factor.
Managed responsibly, travel credit cards can offer excellent value. You can finance travel interest free, use rewards to reduce the cost of travel, and use cardholder perks to save money and travel comfortably. Make the most of each credit card offer by taking advantage of zero percent APR offers, sign-up bonuses, rewards, and cardholder benefits.