The Best Way to Earn More When Booking a Vacation
If you’re a frequent flyer and usually book your flights with a credit card, there's no short supply of credit cards that let you earn points and miles redeemable for free or low-cost airfare. But it isn’t enough to use an airline credit card for flights. You’ll get more bang for your buck when you know the best times to travel and buy tickets.
Timing is Everything when Applying for a Credit Card
If you've heard nothing but good things about airline and travel credit cards, you may be ready to add one of these cards to your wallet. But according to Robert Harrow, research analyst for ValuePenguin.com, timing is everything.
Several credit cards offer bonus points or miles to new cardmembers. For example, you can apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and receive 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first three months until July 6th.
“My advice is to wait and sign up for a travel credit card a few weeks before a vacation,“ says Harrow. “That way, the extra money you will spend on it can help you qualify for a welcome bonus."
When signing up for an airline credit card, Harrow also suggested the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card. The card’s sign up bonus increases with its seasonal marketing campaign, typically in the fall between September and December. The standard bonus with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier credit card is 25,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. With the promotional bonus, you can earn 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
“If possible, I would urge consumers to be patient, and time their purchases and vacations to fit this type of bonus increase,” he explains. “It takes a few minutes of extra searching online, but you can save a lot of money.”You can redeem travel rewards for statement credit, gift cards, or let your points and miles accumulate and apply the reward to your next vacation.
Best Flight Prices come from Travel Sites and Apps
The cost of airfare can cut deep into any travel budget. Booking flights with an airline credit card lets you accumulate reward points that can be used toward future travel. But if you need to save on airfare today, certain travel apps and websites have tools to help you choose the best time to book--such as the ability to set a flight and price and receive notifications when airfare prices decrease.
Imani Pope-Johns, CEO and Chief Publicist at Influplexity, LLC, suggests following sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com.
“This site posts deals regularly to various cities or countries. For example, I booked a deal for $187 to Dubai last May and less than $300 to Kenya last March,” says Pope-Johns. “You will have to be flexible as most deals have restricted dates you can travel on. If there's a deal to a place you've never thought of going to, consider taking that trip.”
You can also download the Hopper app and save up to 40 percent off your next flight. The app tracks flight prices and predicts the best time to buy your ticket. Pick your destination, select your travel dates and then click the “Watch This Trip” button. Hopper analyzes price changes and tells you when to book your ticket.
“Because we’re seeing all these searches go by all the time, as soon as anybody searches for the flight they’re interested in, if there’s a good price, we can let them know instantly that tickets are available. We can also let you know ahead of time when prices are likely to go up.”
“With all the historical data we have, we can make a forecast of what we think the prices are likely to do between today and whenever your flight leaves,” says Patrick Surrey, chief data scientist at Hopper.
Other apps and sites for saving on airfare include SkyScanner, FareCompare and Hipmunk. You can find the lowest prices without being glued to a computer screen every five minutes.
If you're looking for lodging options, you can get reward points using these travel cards:
1. Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is an excellent choice if you want to quickly accumulate reward points toward travel. You can earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days of opening the account, which can be redeemed for a $400 travel statement credit.
The card also offers 2x miles on all purchases, plus you can earn 5% miles back each time you redeem a reward. Not only can you redeem your reward points for travel expenses like airfare, hotels and car rentals, you can use your points to pay for Airbnb costs.
With this card, you don’t have to worry about foreign transaction fees when purchasing items in another country. As a bonus, you’ll receive complimentary access to your FICO credit scores. The downside is that this credit card has an $89 annual fee, which is waived the first year. The interest rate is between 16.24% to 20.24%.
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and you'll have several opportunities to earn reward points that can be used to pay for hotels. You can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months, which is about the equivalent of $625 in travel rewards (when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards).
Since you can earn 2x points on travel, it’s also the ideal credit card to use when booking hotel reservations and vacation rentals.
Use the card for everyday spending and earn one point per every $1 on purchases. This credit card requires excellent credit and the standard APR ranges from 16.24 to 23.24%. There's a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.
3. Discover it® Miles
You can earn unlimited 1.5 miles for every $1, and points are redeemable for hotels, flights, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars and even baggage fees. They can even be redeemed as cash back at a value of 1 cent per mile.
You also get a free $30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit per year.
Because there's no foreign transaction fee, this card is a practical choice when traveling abroad. There's no annual fee.
4. Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
If you’re a member of the Marriott Rewards® hotel loyalty program, yet you're not earning points fast enough, it might be time to step it up a notch and apply to the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card.
This credit card offers a faster way to earn Marriott rewards® toward free nights. You’ll receive 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. As a cardmember bonus, you’ll also receive one free hotel night each year after your anniversary date.
Use your credit card to book at Marriott hotels and earn five points for every $1 you spend at 4,000 locations, as well as two points for airline tickets, car rentals and restaurants, and one point for all other purchases. There's no foreign transaction fee and no limit to how many points you can earn.
You need excellent credit to qualify for the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card. The standard APR starts at 15.99%. The annual fee is waived the first year, and then $85 every year thereafter.
5. American Express Partners with Airbnb
American Express offers several travel credit cards that let cardmembers pay for hotels with points. These include the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express where you can receive 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months, and the Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express that offers 40,000 Hilton HHonors™ bonus points when you spend $750 in the first three months.
American Express, however, is slightly unique from other travel credit cards because you can use your American Express Membership Reward points when booking a getaway on Airbnb, which is a service for renting private homes and apartments. Amex recently expanded its partnership with Airbnb, and now, cardmembers can create an Airbnb account with their American Express login information and use their rewards points to book directly on Airbnb, plus pay for all or some of their stay with their points.
The partnership between these two companies began in 2014 when American Express allowed cardmembers to use their rewards points to purchase Airbnb gift cards.
As an added bonus, American Express is offering a promotion until the end of 2015. U.S. cardmembers can receive $50 cash back when they book an Airbnb rental and spend at least $100.