Key takeaways

  • If you’re planning on traveling this summer, consider using credit cards to help you fund your trip.
  • When planning for summer travel, be sure to pack a variety of credit cards, prepare a vacation budget and look into securing the best deals available to you through card travel portals, deal sites and more.
  • Most importantly, try to keep debt to a minimum and ensure you have enough available credit to make purchases while out of town.

Summer travel demand is expected to dip from the levels seen in 2023, according to data gathered by Reuters and travel companies like Expedia, but that doesn’t mean it’s expected to slow completely. Even with the slower demand, 36 percent of U.S. adults are planning on traveling domestically, while 15 percent are planning on traveling internationally, according to Bankrate’s 2024 Summer Travel Survey. If you’re getting ready for your upcoming summer vacation, make sure you don’t forget to pack your credit cards — and prepare them in advance for your trip, too. Whether you go by sky, land or sea, you’ll want to have these essential financial tools at your disposal.

Here’s how you can make the most of your plastic before and during your trip:

1. Score a big welcome bonus before your trip

To get an automatic discount on your trip, consider opening a new card that offers a generous sign-up bonus. With it, you can save on summer travel, since the amount you earn will lower the overall price of the trip.

For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 miles. To get those extra miles, you need to spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus, each mile may be worth on average 1.7 cents toward transfer partner travel, according to Bankrate valuations, so the card’s welcome bonus is valued at $1,275.

If you time things right, you could earn the welcome bonus, then use your points toward airfare for your trip. You can also make the purchases for your trip immediately and, once you get your welcome bonus, use your points for another trip down the line.

If you’d prefer not to deal with points, look into cash back cards like the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card. This card offers a $200 online cash rewards bonus after making just $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of opening the account.

Whichever card you want to add to your portfolio, apply soon so you can meet the minimum spend without having to scramble. You may have to wait a few days or weeks before you get the rewards, too.

2. Increase your available credit before you leave

When you’re out of town, having plenty of available credit is important for fun and safety. After all, you don’t want to be stuck without sufficient spending power for all the things you want to do, and you certainly don’t want to be stuck without a way to cover any emergencies that may arise.

So, while you’re planning for your trip, take stock of all of the credit cards you have. Review your current balances and how much you have left on your limits. If you’re carrying a balance month to month or are close to maxing out one of your cards, use this time before your trip to get out of debt. Consider tightening your budget or selling a few unnecessary items so you can drive the balances down.

If your combined lines of credit are already pretty small to begin with — maybe you only have one credit card, for example — it might be a good idea to ask your credit card issuer to raise your credit line. If you’ve been a responsible cardholder and have a good credit score, your credit card issuer might agree to your request, especially if you currently have a higher income than you did when you first got your card.

3. Pack a healthy mix of rewards credit cards

It’s a good idea to travel with a credit card, but it’s an even better idea to travel with a mix of cards — especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country. With more than one card at your disposal, you’ll decrease the risk of running into a vendor that won’t accept your card type.

For example, consider bringing both a Visa and a Mastercard with you just in case one is not accepted. While you can also bring your Discover or American Express card, you might run into a little more resistance with them while abroad. Discover cards can be hit or miss in other countries, and American Express tends to have even lower acceptance rates than Discover internationally.

In addition to thinking about the acceptance rates of your credit cards, you’ll want to think about what cards can earn you the most in rewards while abroad, too. The right rewards credit cards  will work in your favor while you’re spending during your trip.

“Look at your itinerary and assess what kinds of purchases you will be making,” says Jason Gaughan, head of consumer card products at Bank of America. “For example, if you plan to spend more on dining or experiencing new places, use a rewards card that will offer a strong cash back rate on your biggest and most frequent expenses. For international travelers, look for a card with no foreign transaction fee to save while you’re abroad.”

4. Create a realistic trip budget

If a lack of funds are causing you to question your trip, you’re not alone. Bankrate’s Summer Travel Survey found that 36 percent of U.S. adults who are planning a summer vacation this year are also planning on going into debt to pay for it.

While it’s understandable to not want to miss out on summer fun, especially when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities, it’s important to be smart about how those opportunities will be paid for.

Evaluate the current state of your finances and figure out just how much money you have available for discretionary spending — above all else, you’ll want to make sure you’re not eating into the funds you need for your monthly essentials, like those you’d need for your rent or mortgage payments, health care costs and utility bills.

Once you see how much you have in discretionary funds, you can decide on the amount you’re comfortable spending on the trip. Do your best to ensure that all associated expenses fall under that ceiling. Those expenses might include:

  • Airfare
  • Hotel stays
  • Dining and grocery purchases
  • Souvenirs
  • Event tickets
  • Public transportation

“Before booking travel, do your due diligence and look for deals,” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert and lifestyle journalist. “Travel apps like Hopper will help you find discounts on flights and hotels, but also check with deal sites like PayPal Honey for discounts on accommodations through VRBO and”

You should aim to cover your whole trip with your discretionary funds, but if you’re planning on paying off some aspects of your trip slowly, then make sure you’re smart about how you do so.

If you’re planning on carrying a balance on your credit card, try to choose one with a low interest rate — or better yet, a strong 0 percent introductory APR offer — to cut down on what you’ll owe in interest. You should also come up with a debt payoff plan as you’re budgeting your trip so that you have a clear goal in mind for when you’ll have everything paid off.

With a well-developed vacation budget, you are far less likely to come home to unexpected and high debt.

5. Reduce costs with credit card perks and deals

To further reduce the amount you have to pay for your trip, look into all the things that your credit cards may include as valuable travel perks. It could be everything from:

  • Airport lounge access
  • CLEAR, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credits
  • Free checked bags
  • Travel insurance
  • Car rental discounts
  • Dining credits at the airport or hotel
  • Complimentary room upgrades

Review the extras that are embedded in your credit card account and plan on using them accordingly.

“Some credit cards even offer exclusive travel deals if you book your trip directly through them, and the savings can be significant,” says Bodge. Look for a card issuer that has a travel portal, such as American Express, Capital One and Chase.

If you’re traveling abroad, you should also bring a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. This fee is typically around 3 percent, so avoiding it can save you a lot of money during your trip.

6. Prepay for your trip as much as possible, then pay as you go

Using your rewards cards, pay for as many travel costs as you can in advance, then pay off the entire bill before you go. This way, the full value of the points, miles or cash will be yours to use later. Typical costs you can prepay for include:

  • Flights
  • Airport pick-ups
  • Excursions
  • Admission into museums and attractions
  • Travel guides

You’ll be paying for other vacation costs like meals, ground transportation and souvenirs along the way. Decide how you will manage those credit card transactions, and aim to pay with a credit card that will reward you for doing so.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2025, as well as 2X on general travel and 3X points on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases. Double-check the rewards rates for your cards before you go to ensure you’re swiping the right card for each purchase.

Lastly, before you leave, add all of your bank and credit issuers apps to your mobile devices so you can monitor your spending and cover your charges as you make them. Not only will this strategy reduce or eliminate the balance owed before the account’s due date, but it will also keep your credit line open.

The bottom line

Now is the time to prepare all of the elements involved in your summer travel, including your travel credit cards. You can start by racking up your points or miles, increasing your available credit and setting a realistic and affordable travel budget.

“Planning ahead can reduce stress, help you stay on track to reach your financial goals and enable you to truly kick back and enjoy your time while traveling this summer,” says Gaughan, who also encourages saving throughout the year for getaways. “You can avoid putting yourself in a financial bind when you spontaneously book a trip.”

For more travel planning tips, check out Bankrate’s travel toolkit.