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If you’re aiming to get away this summer, you’ve likely seen that the prices of nearly everything related to travel are on the rise. From airline tickets and hotel rooms, to the gas you’ll need on a road trip and airline fuel, every part of the experience is becoming more expensive, forcing some Americans to stay home altogether.
At the same time, Americans are eager to get out and travel again more than two years into the ongoing pandemic, so what’s the solution?
With a little planning, travel rewards credit cards can help you save a ton of money on your long-awaited adventures. Between the points and miles you’ll earn and the travel-related insurance and protection benefits that come with many of the cards, these types of credit cards can help make your next trip much more affordable. Many also offer cardholder perks such as transferable points, which you can put toward free (or nearly free) flights and hotel stays with your card’s travel partners, some may offer a set number of free nights you can enjoy once you meet the minimum spending requirement.
Below, Select details how you can use a travel rewards credit card — or several — to help you save money on this year’s summer vacation.
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Score a welcome bonus as a new cardholder
Credit card issuers are coming out swinging with large welcome bonuses to meet the rising demand for travel. Here’s a look at some lucrative offers that are currently available to new cardholders:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening — that’s $750 worth of travel when you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Earn five free nights, instead of the usual three, with each night being eligible for a redemption of up to 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, after you spend $5,000 within the first three months of opening your account.
- Three of Hilton’s co-branded credit cards — the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card — are offering raised welcome bonuses: 130,000 points after you spend $2,000 within the first three months of card membership, 100,000 points after you spend $1,000 within the first three months of card membership and 130,000 points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months of card membership, respectively.
The welcome bonuses are meant to serve as an incentive to ease people back into traveling after more than two years of silence in the skies and lower occupancy at hotels. Additional welcome bonuses are expected to come throughout the summer as well.
There’s more to travel rewards cards than flashy bonuses, though. If you want to vaca this summer, here are some other things to consider.
Combine airline and hotel credit cards
It may be an obvious statement since nearly everything has become more expensive due to inflation, but travel has been especially impacted. Select reported last month that airline prices had increased by 25% over the last year. Add that to the list of other associated costs — such as hotels, food and trip-related activities — and the idea of traveling becomes a large financial undertaking.
If, however, you had some travel rewards credit cards in your wallet, you could make it work for less. For instance, you could use the combination of an airline rewards credit card (such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card) and a hotel rewards credit card (such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card) to either knock out or drastically reduce those two major costs.
Once you meet the minimum spending requirements needed to receive each card’s welcome bonus — as long as you are spending responsibly and paying your bills on time and in full each month — you can quickly cut down on the overall cost of your trip with the amount of points and miles you just earned.
Over Memorial Day weekend this year, the number of people screened at the airport by TSA nearly matched pre-pandemic rates — from May 26 through May 30, more than 11 million people were processed by TSA, while in 2019 it was closer to 12 million.
There’s still a significant lack of resources at most airports around the country, largely due to the pandemic and TSA and most major airlines continuing to be understaffed. As a result, those flying are left with less than pleasant experiences, including long security lines and the looming possibility of flight cancellations.
Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve flown roughly 20 times and have had several flights with either long delays or cancellations, mainly because of these staffing issues.
To help combat these ongoing inconveniences, travel rewards cards have been offering the following benefits:
Many cards offer enrollment credits for either TSA PreCheck®, Global Entry or CLEAR. While each program is slightly different, they all offer one core benefit — the ability to save time and energy when you’re going through airport security.
Even if you only travel a few times a year, it’s absolutely worth having a credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which each offer an up to $100 statement credit every four years when you apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
If you’re interested in CLEAR, the American Express® Green Card gives cardholders a $100 credit to help offset the cost of the $189 annual membership, while the The Platinum Card® from American Express gives cardmembers a credit of $189 a year when they use their card to purchase CLEAR.
Airport lounge access
The next time you visit an airport, you may find yourself with fewer restaurant options — whether they’ve fully shut down or just can’t open due to staffing shortages. In this case, having airport lounge access could really come in handy.
Not only can you save money with access to complimentary food and drinks, you’ll also have a quiet place to sit and relax before your next flight. In some cases, the lounge you’re in may also have showers and other perks, such as staff who are available to help you with any travel issues that arise.
Throughout my travels, and thanks to access via my travel rewards cards, I’ve saved myself many hours (and headaches) by using Global Entry to speed through security, while having lounge access has provided me with a private place to hang out before my flight.
If you want lounge access the next time you fly, consider signing up for the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. A number of other luxury and premium credit cards also offer this perk.
Airlines are canceling flights in droves and it’s simply a sign of the times — Delta, for instance, recently trimmed its flight schedules due to a lack of staffing.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there have been 63,734 flights canceled so far this year. In all of 2014, the number was 64,419. With nearly 4% of flights this year being canceled, travel insurance is a must.
If you have the right travel rewards card, you won’t even need to purchase a separate policy. By simply placing all of your travel expenses on one card that offers travel insurance coverage — including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, reimbursement for trip delays and lost luggage, baggage delay insurance, among other protections — your next vacation could be covered completely.
In December, my flight from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale was canceled and I had to rebook it for the next day. Since I had used my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to book my flight, I was able to get reimbursed for the flight I paid for, as well as for my hotel room and food.
Traveling has become outrageously expensive lately, and for the average family feeling the pressures of inflation, it can be difficult to justify making any unnecessary costs. But while travel prices overall have soared — making any hiccups along the way even more costly — we can see the real value in a travel rewards credit card.
If you’re itching to get away this summer, consider signing up for one or two travel rewards credit cards. As long as you’re able to spend enough to hit the threshold for the welcome bonuses responsibly, you could be well on your way to taking a significantly discounted trip this season.
Check your credit score before applying for any new credit card so you know where you stand, and make sure to review your budget ahead of any trip.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.