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If you look back on your New Year’s resolutions from the past few years, it’s likely that “travel more” has made the cut more than once. But it’s hard to follow through on traveling when you don’t establish a concrete plan.
This year, get ahead so you can fulfill your resolution without breaking the bank. Aside from saving and budgeting and scoping out the best travel deals, you can use your credit cards to save on travel costs and earn rewards that allow you to travel even more.
An important note for those carrying a balance month to month: The interest you’re paying on credit card debt will likely negate any rewards you earn. Focus on paying down credit card debt first.
Here’s how you can maximize your credit cards to travel more.
For beginners: Apply for a travel rewards card
If you’re an entry-level travel cardholder and don’t want to play around with transfers and tracking earnings, adding a single, solid travel rewards card to your portfolio is a great place to start.
These cards offer perks like no foreign transaction fees, travel upgrades and mileage and points bonuses that can be redeemed for flights, hotels and rental cars. If you plan on traveling at all this year, these cards can offer you valuable savings.
As a starting point, Bankrate ranks the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card as two of the best general travel rewards cards on the market right now.
Double up and transfer
If you’re already loyal to American Express, Citi or Capital One, it can benefit you to combine multiple cards from one of these issuers to earn more rewards. Doubling up allows you to earn better rewards on everyday cash-back cards, which you can then redeem using a travel card.
For example: “You can pair the Chase Freedom Card with either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and then you can move your points, says Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “With Chase Freedom, you get 5 percent cash back on the rotating categories, which would be a better earn rate than the Preferred or the Reserve, but instead of using the points for cash back, you can turn them into travel points.”
Make sure your issuer’s transfer partners correspond with your travel plans, though.
“Some of the transferable programs like American Express and Chase can be used internationally or domestically because of the wide variety of partners,” Rossman says. Capital One recently announced airline transfer partners that are great for international travelers.
If you’re willing to invest a bit of time comparing travel partners offered by different issuers to find which best suits your needs, this can be a lucrative way to travel just by making regular purchases throughout the year.
Think about where your loyalties lie
If you’re a dedicated American Airlines flyer or find yourself regularly booking exclusively at Hilton hotels, consider stepping up your rewards and applying for a co-branded card to earn extra points and miles.
While general transferable travel cards can be more lucrative for the average user because of the variety of options, co-branded cards are great options for loyalists to specific airlines and hotels, Rossman says.
While you do often pay annual fees on these cards, perks and sign-up bonuses like free checked bags for Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express cardholders and a Weekend Night Reward (after qualified spending) for Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card users often outweigh the cost for loyal customers.
Similarly to pairing your cash-back card with a travel card to transfer points, you can also diversify with different types of travel cards and increase your travel-related rewards.
“Maybe you have an airline card and a hotel card or a general travel card and a hotel card,” Rossman says. “Same thing goes for general travel plus airline.”
Just make sure you don’t run the risk of paying more in annual fees than you earn in rewards.
Several travel cards, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card and the United Explorer Card offer Global Entry or TSA PreCheck as a sign-up bonus. Others offer lounge access and priority boarding. If you decide to double up on travel rewards cards, make sure the actual rewards don’t overlap. In that case, you’re paying multiple annual fees for rewards you already have.
As an example of doing this successfully, Rossman describes pairing the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, which offers free checked bags and priority boarding on Delta flights with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which offers Global Entry and TSA PreCheck as well as airport lounge access. A suite of perks like this, combined with rewards, can help travelers save money and fly more comfortably.
Still, choose cards that work best with your individual travel needs before you play the points and miles game.
Take advantage of sign-up bonuses
If you don’t already have a travel rewards card or you’re in the market for a new one, sign-up bonuses alone on both general travel cards and co-branded cards can be a great boost to help you travel more this year.
For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card offers 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account, which is equivalent to about $500 in travel. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card rewards 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. That’s worth $750 in travel when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Co-branded credit cards often have great sign-up bonus rewards as well. With the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, you can earn 50,000 American Airlines bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months. After opening a Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, you can earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first three months.
If you want to finally take that big international trip you’ve been planning for years, look into credit card sign-up bonuses before you book for the most savings. With a little planning ahead, you can save on all your transportation and lodging, so you can reserve those “vacation fund” savings for the trip itself.
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