Travel credit cards can offer upfront incentives and ongoing rewards and benefits that can help you save money on your next vacation – or even score mostly free travel. According to U.S. News research, about half of travel credit card holders earn between $351 and $1,750 in redeemable rewards in a year, which could pay for some or all of your next trip.
Learning how to travel for free using credit card rewards and perks can help you work toward your next vacation without having to actually pay for it.
How Travel Credit Card Rewards Work
Travel credit cards offer incentives for consumers to open an account and use their card regularly.
When you first sign up, you’ll typically receive a welcome offer. Depending on the card, this sign-up bonus is typically worth between $200 and $1,000 in free travel, and sometimes even more. In exchange, you’ll need to spend a certain amount on the card within a set period – often thousands of dollars within just a few months. Some cards may give you bonus rewards after you make just one purchase.
In addition to this upfront incentive, travel credit cards typically also offer rewards on everyday purchases you make. How much you earn per dollar can vary. Some cards offer a flat rewards rate on every purchase, while others offer bonus rewards on spending in certain categories.
With the card’s sign-up bonus, ongoing rewards or both, you can earn enough rewards for free flights, hotels, car rentals and more.
How to Travel for Free With Credit Card Rewards
There are a few different types of rewards programs that travel credit cards offer, and the type you choose will determine how you can use your points or miles to get free travel.
General travel rewards. Points or miles earned in a general travel rewards program often have a set value. For example, you’ll get 1 cent per mile with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card on travel redemptions, and 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when you redeem points for travel through Chase. You can use rewards from a general travel card in one of three ways:
- Book travel through the card issuer. Some credit card issuers have booking platforms, similar to websites like Expedia and Orbitz, allowing you to use your rewards to book travel. With some cards, you’ll get additional value booking this way.
- Book travel through third-party merchants. With some programs, you can use your credit card to book eligible travel with an airline, hotel or other merchant, then use your points or miles to get a full or partial statement credit against the travel expense. This may offer more flexibility to find the best deals.
- Transfer to other travel programs. Some cards allow you to transfer travel rewards to a select list of partners, typically airlines and hotel brands. Sometimes, booking with airline or hotel loyalty programs can offer a higher rewards redemption value than issuer platforms.
Airline rewards. If you choose a co-branded airline credit card, you’ll earn miles directly with the airline instead of a card issuer’s general rewards program. Earn enough, and you can get free flights.
Unlike general travel rewards, airline rewards typically have a dynamic pricing structure, so the value of your airline miles will vary. While this means you may get less value on some redemptions than others, you have the chance to strategize and maximize the value you get every time you use your rewards.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to fly for free on your next trip and have a little flexibility with your dates. Here’s how you might compare two flights a week apart:
- Flight A. You can book using 50,000 miles or pay a cash price of $739. With this award ticket, your miles are worth roughly 1.5 cents apiece.
- Flight B. You can book using 35,000 miles or pay a cash price of $550. With this option, you’ll get about 1.6 cents per mile.
By choosing Flight B, you’re not only squeezing a little more value out of each mile, but you’re also spending fewer miles in total, allowing you to reserve some for your next trip.
Be wise about how you use your points. In some cases, an award flight may make sense, but for others, you could be better off saving your miles for a more valuable redemption.
“Sometimes if I can find a good deal, I don’t want to waste my valuable points on a flight that I can buy pretty cheaply,” says Jacquie Whitt, founder and U.S. director of Adios Adventure Travel, a tour agency. “But when I fly at night, and it’s a long flight, I look for business class seats, and I’m always willing to use my points for that.”
Hotel rewards. Like airline credit cards, co-branded hotel credit cards allow you to rack up points with your favorite hotel brand. Once you’ve earned enough for a free stay, you can use your points to book it directly with the hotel.
As with frequent flyer programs, hotel points programs have a dynamic pricing structure, so it’s important to compare different dates and properties in your destination city to find out which redemption will give you the most value.
Also, note that some hotel credit cards offer free anniversary nights when you pay your annual fee or when you meet a certain spending threshold. This award night is typically good for one night at certain properties in the hotel’s portfolio. You can either use it for a one-night stay or attach it to a longer trip……….Read More>>