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How to Have a Cheaper Summer Vacation With Credit Card Rewards | Credit Card News & Advice

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Key Takeaways

  • Your rewards credit card likely offers several ways for you to save on your vacation.
  • Points and miles you’ve accumulated can cut the cost of air travel or hotel stays.
  • Your cards may also come with perks that can make your travel more enjoyable without costing extra.

With summer underway, now is the time to unplug. But with airline and hotel prices ever rising, it can be hard to vacation on a budget. That’s where credit card rewards come in.

Using points and/or miles to lower the overall cost of your vacation is the driving force behind travel cards’ popularity. By using all your travel card (and maybe even your cash back credit card) has to offer, you can reduce your vacation costs by hundreds of dollars.

Buy Travel With Rewards

If you’re new to the travel rewards game, the first thing you’ll need to know is you should purchase your travel with your rewards. By using your credit card consistently, you should have a stockpile of points or miles.

Since cash back has a fixed reward rate of 1-to-1, converting cash back to points offers more bang for your buck. For example, if you book your travel through Chase Travel, Chase Sapphire Preferred® points are worth 1.25 cents each, while Chase Sapphire Reserve® points are worth 1.5 cents each.

Most issuers also have transfer partners, which could help to increase savings. So if there’s an airline or hotel you prefer and you’re part of a loyalty program, check whether it is a travel partner of whatever card you’re using.

Reduce Costs by Using Perks

Instead of shouldering those extra costs that come with traveling, check what extra benefits your credit card offers. Perks include:

  • Clear, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credits. Memberships to these programs can range anywhere from $70 to $100. 
  • Airport lounge access. A day pass can cost $35 to $79 per person, depending on which airline lounge you visit.
  • Free checked bags. Checked bag fees vary drastically depending on the airline. For example, Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge a fee for your first or second checked bag, but Frontier Airlines charges $55 to $90 for the first checked bag.
  • Travel insurance. According to travel insurance vendor SquareMouth, travel insurance costs an average of 5% to 10% of your total trip cost. So if your trip costs $2,000, you could see premiums ranging from $100 to $200.
  • Car rental coverage or discounts. Rental car prices depend on multiple factors: what type of vehicle you’re renting, from which company, for how long and in what city. The cost can range from $18 to $91 per day depending on these factors.
  • Annual free hotel nights. This perk is frequently offered by hotel credit cards and can often justify a card’s annual fee. Popular hotels that offer this annual free night certificate include Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott and IHG.
  • Complimentary hotel room upgrades. Many co-branded hotel credit cards offer this perk, which allows cardholders to upgrade to a bigger room or one with a view at no extra cost.

By using a travel card to combat these extra fees, you could save upward of $300.

Redeem Points for Experiences

Another way to save with your rewards credit card is redeeming your points for experiences within your travel itinerary. Depending on which card you have, you could pay for experiences like private dining, concerts and sporting events with points.

Redeem Points for Restaurant Gift Cards

This will require some planning, as gift cards can take several weeks to arrive via mail, but you can set up a few food outings this way. Instead of paying outright, use your points to redeem gift cards to your favorite restaurants.

American Express cardholders can choose from restaurants that include Hard Rock Cafe and The Cheesecake Factory. Chase cardholders can choose from a slew of restaurants like Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. There’s also plenty of overlap among issuers, so popular cards often offer the same restaurants.

From a large dinner to your morning coffee, redeeming points for gift cards ahead of your vacation will help lower those pesky food costs.

Sarah Goldberg
Sarah Goldberg

Sarah is a seasoned financial market expert with a decade of experience. She's known for her analytical skills, attention to detail, and ability to communicate complex financial concepts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance, is a licensed financial advisor, and enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.

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