Travel Credit Cards
& Maximizing Value
There are many credit cards and rewards programs to choose from. It can at times be daunting when trying to choose the program(s) that may be best for you.
And, while we at Event Horizon Travel, LLC, are not here to recommend one card or service over another, we certainly can offer insights in how you can best select what’s right for you.
First, let's have a quick look at how a rewards credit card works...
Whenever you use your credit card to pay for something, the vendor offering you the product or service has to pay a transaction fee to their credit card processing agency (usually 2%-3% of the total transaction for most purchases).
The credit card processing agency in turn pays your credit card company for the rights to process that transaction.
In addition, credit card companies earn TONS of money off of interest on balances not paid in full and late payment fines, as well as other transaction fees, such as for cash withdrawals.
A credit card company then decides how much they would like to share with their card users — this is usually not more than 1%, but in some cases can extend as high as 5% or more.
In short, the ‘points’ or ‘cash back’ you earn are simply a small rebate of the revenues a credit card company earns.
Evaluating Credit Cards
Some credit cards offer benefits in the form of cash back or account credit, whereas others tally benefits in the form of points.
While most cards have a flat rate of benefits earning, some also offer higher benefits in select spending categories.
For example, with a Chase Sapphire (Preferred or Reserve), purchases for hotel, flights, dining, and car rentals can earn higher points than, say, grocery shopping — whereas, with the CapitalOne Spark business card, you can earn 2% on every purchase.
Because of this, you’ll want to determine if a particular card offers you better benefits in the category(ies) you purchase most.
Savvy credit card users divide their spending into multiple cards to earn maximum rewards in each spending category.
In addition, some cards come with one-time or annual benefits that you either use or lose.
For example, you may have a card that offer $100 airline rebate each year on select airlines — or, you may have a card that offers a $300 kickback when you spend in a particular category.
Also, keep in mind that some rewards benefits may expire after a period of inactivity.
Additional benefits may include any of the following examples: rental car insurance, roadside assistance, trip cancellation / trip delay insurance, airport lounge benefits, and more.
Nearly all rewards cards charge you an annual fee. It’s important that you select a credit card which will allow you to earn rewards whose benefits at least meet or exceed this annual fee.
For example, if you card offers a 2% fixed cash-back or reward rate and has an annual fee of $100 per year, you would need to spend at least $5,000 per year for the card to break-even ($5,000 * 2% = $100).
In addition, be sure to always pay your balance in full each month — or, to minimize the months that you’re unable to pay the balance.
Interest charges can quickly eat up and completely eliminate any benefits you may have earned from the credit card rewards.
‘0% Foreign Transaction Fees’
is important for int’l spending.
Worldwide, many lower-fee / no-fee credit cards incur a fee of around 3% for any transaction made in foreign countries (locations outside of the credit card holder’s country of origin) — this is in addition to any hidden (and, unavoidable) currency conversion fees that they slip into every transaction.
That means that if you spend $2,000 a year in travel expenses (think: food, rental car, gifts, etc), you would be paying an additional $60 in fees.
And, for those of us who spend upwards of $10,000 internationally, the fees only increase further.
With that in mind, it’s important to weigh the benefits of upgrading your credit card to one that offers a benefit of ZERO international fees.
Most rewards cards also offer sign-up bonuses when you spend a certain amount of money within the first 30-90 days.
A sign-up bonus can be pretty significant — in some cases, it can be enough to cover a multi-night stay at select hotels & resorts.
Keep in mind that credit cards that offer higher initial bonuses generally have higher annual fees and / or higher penalties for late payments.
Also, be sure to only activate cards that you’re able to use within the bonus period — otherwise, you risk losing the benefits if you don’t have enough expenses to cover the required spending for the bonus.
Some cards come with a limit to the amount of rewards you can earn in a year.
For example, you have a card that offers a limit of $1,000 cash back per year and the annual fee is $150, you can only earn a maximum of $850 net benefits, no matter how much you end up spending on the card.
In addition, some cards require you to spend above a certain threshold in order to receive a level of benefits.
Be sure to check all of these requirements.
Prepaying Monthly Expenses
Many people don’t think to use their credit card for monthly and / or prepaid expenses — which would help to reach benefits more quickly, depending on the expense categories and the rewards offered.
This is especially true when they are close to qualifying for a sign-up bonus.
Rather than spending money on an item you simply don’t need, you can consider prepaying your normal monthly expenses.
However, always remember that the most important aspect to managing your credit card(s) is to ensure that you’re always paying off the balance every month. Interest expenses can quickly outweigh the rewards with mis-managed credit usage.
So, it’s important to ensure that you’re able to cover the paying any of these prepaid expenses.
If you’re only a few dollars (or, Euros, or Pounds, etc) away from qualifying for the sign-up bonus or if you’re just a few points or miles away from achieving a free stay or free flight, consider an advanced purchase of a future trip.
Some hotels and accommodation offer free cancellation and changes within a given period of time — meaning, that if you decide to change the dates at some point in the future, you’re able to do so without a penalty or fee.
Grocery & Household Items
Some stores allow you to purchase store credit or gift certificates, which can be used at a later time.
However, if there is a fee associated with this purchase, make sure you weigh the cost vs. benefit.
Sometimes, the costs of the gift certificate (such as a Visa / Amex / Mastercard prepaid card) are not worth the benefits you receive.
Various mobile phone providers allow you to prepay you monthly bill for up to 6 months. When you prepay your mobile phone expenses, you can create the following benefits:
- You don’t have to worry about making an upcoming on-time payment.
- You’ll earn the rewards on your credit card sooner than if you paid the bill each subsequent month.
If you’re on a contract with your home Internet, TV, and / or landline phone, you may have an opportunity to prepay this expense for up to 6 months or a year in advance.
The opportunity to prepay may only increase when you have two or more of these services bundled together.
If you take public transportation to work, you may have the opportunity to prepay these expenses.
Metrocards, tap cards, and other public transportation user cards may allow you to preload or top-up via credit card.
Examples of this include Opal (Sydney, Australia), Oyster (London, England), and Octopus (Hong Kong).
Keep in mind that some of these cards charge fees for credit card use; so, you’ll need to weigh the costs vs. benefits.
In addition, if you drive and regularly pay tolls and / or parking, you may also be able to prepay either or both of these.
If you take public transportation, you can likely top-up your Ezlink card or pay for a multiple journeys concession pass.
Holiday / Birthday Gifts
At certain times of the year, you’re likely purchasing gifts for friends and family members (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, etc).
And, since you generally know these dates well in advance — and, you’re certain you’ll be making a purchase anyway — you could consider purchasing within the time frame you need to achieve a bonus or to acquire enough rewards for your next trip.
You’ll just need to figure out where to store the gift(s) until the time is right to give them!
Credit Cards & Rental Cars
Book Avis rental cars using your Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred Card. By utilizing one of these cards, you’ll not only earn points reflective of a travel purchase, you’ll also be fully covered with rental car insurance.
When you sign up for the Avis Preferred member program, you’ll also earn points towards future rentals — that’s double benefits when combined with the Chase points!
Plus, as an Avis Preferred member, you’ll qualify for Preferred Plus after 12 rentals or $5,000 spent in a calendar year, which only increases your benefits.
If you link your qualifying American Airlines account, you’ll also earn AA reward miles with every rental. That’s 3x the benefits with every rental!
P.S. This is one of our favorite points-earning combinations!
Credit Cards & Expedia
Use any of your travel rewards or cash-back cards to book travel via Expedia. Expedia Rewards members earn points with every purchase on their website.
When you combine this purchase with the benefits of your preferred credit card, you’ll earn double rewards!
Credit Cards & Hotel Loyalty Programs
Use any of your travel rewards or cash-back cards when you reserve a stay at your preferred hotel member rewards brand.
Whether you’re a Starwood / Marriott, Hyatt, Radisson, or Choice Hotels member, you can earn double rewards when you book directly and utilize your preferred credit card.