How to Make the Most of Your Credit Card Travel Rewards Program

Airline reward cards and travel based reward incentives are more popular than ever, especially in the current, struggling economy. If you’ve decided to jump on the travel rewards program bandwagon, here’s how to find the right card and make the most of it.

1) Do Your Research

Once you‘ve decided you want an airline rewards card, you need to spend time doing a little research to find one that will give you the most rewards based on how you personally use a credit card. There are a lot of programs out there. The most popular for airline rewards are the co-branded cards. These cards have the name of the airline and the name of the credit card institution that supports the program, such as Visa, Discover or Mastercard.

Find the card offering the best dollars to mile ratio. Most airlines offer a free trip in the contiguous United States for every 25000 miles. There are even bonus miles offered at the time of signing- with some travel rewards programs offering a free companion ticket when you pay for one using your credit card.

Pay close attention to what are considered “eligible dollars”. Regular purchases count towards rewards earnings, but balance transfers, cash advances, returns, interest fees and finance charges do not count. Look to see what the restrictions are: is there a limit to the number of miles you can obtain in a year? Are there black out dates on days you want to redeem mileage and travel? Are there annual fees? There are websites that rate frequent flyer cards and other travel incentive rewards programs offered by various credit cards. Have a look before you sign on the dotted line.

2) Don’t Sign Up for More than One Program

In almost every situation, it’s a waste of money to try and have more than one travel rewards program. You’ll end up spending more money to get your miles and you could end up deeper in debt than when you started if you aren’t careful! It’s better to select a rewards program that offers more of the rewards you want than to try and use two or more credit cards to build different types of rewards.

Make sure you pay off the balance on your rewards credit card in full every month in order to gain the most rewards. If you carry a balance from one month to another, chances are the amount you pay in interest and finance fees will be more than the amount of rewards you’ve earned that month. Make sure your favorite stores, restaurants and other hangouts accept your rewards card so you know you can use it when you make purchases.

3) How Do You Accumulate Travel Rewards?

You’ve got your card, now what? Miles and travel incentive rewards can be accrued through non-travel purchases. Years ago, the only way to earn airline miles was to make an airline ticket purchase, but today, more than 50% of mileage points and other travel incentives (like hotel stays and car rentals, for example) are earned without flying or traveling. You can accumulate travel rewards through every day shopping, eating in restaurants, long distance phone service, and mortgage and stock trades. The most popular way to earn rewards is through credit card usage. Most of us have about $1800 in monthly expenses that the card could be used for, which can quickly add up to free airline tickets or other travel based rewards.

With mergers and acquisitions happening every day, your favorite airline may be gone tomorrow. Airlines are not obligated to redeem your miles or transfer them to the parent company, so watch carefully for any changes, restrictions or closures. Know your rights.

4) Redeeming Your Miles and Travel Rewards

If you can choose off season and mid week flights you’ll have more options and your miles will go further. If you don’t mind layovers, you can use the extra miles and rent a car (using travel rewards, of course) to take you the rest of the way to your destination. Use your miles or rewards points to make your stay more pleasurable by upgrading your hotel room, getting a better rental car or finding other non-merchandise perks that you want? Go for it! Enjoy yourself. Reward yourself. Isn’t that the point?

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Debbie Dragon is a freelance writer who provides articles for CreditorWeb.com. She frequently writes about credit cards, rewards programs, and general personal finance issues.

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