How to Use a Credit Card for Your Summer Trip
For most people, the summer months are a perfect opportunity to take a well-deserved break from the grind of working life. Temperatures increase, office responsibilities slow and travel deals abound. But what if you don’t have the cash on hand to take that epic summer sojourn? You may find your solution in the form of a credit card.
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If you have been using a credit card to earn miles or rewards, it may be an easy way to subsidize or to cover a summer trip entirely. These types of cards are often specifically designed to earn points redeemable for travel. If you plan to travel, using a credit card that earns rewards that can be redeemed for miles may be a smart way to finance a trip without changing your day-to-day spending.
Find the right travel rewards card
There are many credit cards on the market, so finding a place to start when picking a new card can be a daunting task. Doing a quick online search for phrases like “miles credit cards” or “travel credit card rewards” is a good first step. Doing so may present some popular options for you to compare.
Ideally, you want to find a card with a travel rewards program that both makes it easy to earn rewards on your regular spending and has rewards that are easily redeemed for travel at a high point-per-cent value.
“Rewards programs can get pretty complicated — when finding a card that’s good for travel, you’ll really want to explore exactly how a given card’s rewards can be redeemed,” says Michael Bonfigli, co-founder of CardCruncher, a credit card recommendation website. “Just because a card earns travel points doesn’t necessarily mean that those rewards can be redeemed easily for your regular travel expenses,” says Bonfigli.
“For example, one card might earn two travel points per dollar spent at restaurants, but those points might only be worth a half-cent when actually redeemed for flights and hotels — and that card’s definition of travel might not include cruises, rental cars, theme parks and other expenses people might interpret as travel,” says Bonfigli. “Looking at the actual redemption value is key when picking any rewards card.”
One way to predict how a particular card’s rewards program will work for you is to simulate your spending on that card by determining how you will use your card and estimate how much cash back you would earn by using it. Most issuers offer specific details on rewards and redemption value on their website, if not in the terms and conditions. You can use this information to predict how many travel points you’d earn based on your own spending history.
Another consideration is making sure that a card’s rewards program will allow you to easily use points on the travel of your choosing. For example, if you regularly fly a certain airline, you’ll want a card that earns points or miles redeemable for that carrier. The same goes for other regular travel expenses like hotels, cruises and rental car services.
Take advantage of sign-up bonuses
Many popular travel cards offer sign-up bonuses, but beware of annual fees that could make the card undesirable. Ensure that you are earning rewards or benefits that can help counterbalance an annual fee. Applying for a card that offers a bonus may take a big chunk out of your cost of travel. But make sure you plan out enough time to actually earn the bonus.
“Sign-up bonuses take anywhere from six to 12 weeks to show up in your account, so you have to take this into account as you plan a strategy for getting free travel this June-August,” says J.R. Duren, a credit card analyst at HighYa.com.
“Some credit cards earn hundreds of dollars’ worth of points if you spend thousands on the card within the first few months of being approved,” says Duren. “However, those points don’t show up in your account until you hit the spending requirement. Plus, it could take an additional six to eight weeks after you hit the spending threshold for the issuer to even deposit the points into your account.”
If you’d like to use a card’s bonus points on a summer trip, you’ll probably want to sign up for the card somewhere around December or January, just to be sure that the points will actually be available by the time you need them.
Finance your trip on a 0% APR card
Promotional APR credit cards typically allow you to avoid paying interest on purchases for an extended period of time. If the summer trip of a lifetime is just out of your financial grasp, putting it on a credit card with a 0% APR can mean traveling now and paying over time interest-free. Just be sure to pay off your balance before the promotional period ends, or else you may be faced with a large interest payment.
A general rule of thumb with 0% APR cards is: the longer the promotional offer, usually the better. The longer you have to hold a balance interest-free, the more time you have to pay it off in full before it starts accruing interest. Added time to pay off a balance also means that each monthly payment may be smaller and thus more manageable, increasing the odds that you’ll actually pay off the balance before the interest kicks in.
Another best practice with promotional APR cards is to pick a card that you’ll want to use after the 0% APR expires. If you apply for a card with a long promotional APR but no perks or rewards program, you may long for a different card with added benefits after the promotional period is over. That’ll involve more research, filling out another application and another inquiry on your credit report.
Finding a card that comes with ongoing rewards in addition to a lengthy 0% APR may provide the ideal balance.
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