If you haven’t started to plan your summer vacation yet, this is a great time to take account of any credit card rewards points you might’ve accrued and how you can apply them to your trip. Those points, miles and cash back can add up to some major cost savings.
And if you don’t have any rewards credit cards , now may be a good time to consider getting one. Some of these cards even offer sign-up bonuses big enough to pay for airfare or hotel accommodations. That, on top of the rewards you’ll earn for using your card to pay for your trip, can add up to some pretty nice deals now and for future vacations.
Keep in mind, a rewards credit card is generally best suited to those who don’t carry a balance — otherwise, all your points, miles or cash back can get lost to interest. And you generally need a good credit score to qualify for the better cards on the market, so it’s worth checking your credit before applying for any new plastic. Otherwise, you risk dinging your score because of a hard inquiry only to be rejected for the card. (You can view two of your credit scores, updated each month , for free on Credit.com.)
With these caveats in mind, here are five tricks you can use to make your credit cards really work for you this summer.
1. Redeem Those Rewards
Family vacations are the perfect time to redeem the rewards you’ve accumulated on your credit card , or customer loyalty accounts for air travel and lodging. If you’re using some of the best rewards cards around, the points can really add up. Given enough points, you could score free nights in your hotel or even free air travel.
2. Use Your Perks
It’s a good idea to check on any travel insurance benefits offered by your cards. Some credit cards now come with lost and delayed baggage insurance, trip delay and trip cancellation coverage, and travel accident insurance.
For example, the card may allow for reimbursement if a trip is canceled due to the illness or death of a cardholder or family member traveling with the cardholder. Some policies can also cover you in the event of delay or cancellation due to severe weather, jury duty or for a change in military orders.
3. Review Your Rewards Fine Print
Which credit card you use to pay for your travels can make a big difference in the rewards you earn, so it’s worth your while to do a bit of research before booking your vacation.
Some cards offer double points for travel purchases, while others will give you triple points for flights booked directly with the airlines.
Another factor to consider is foreign transaction fees , which are 3% on most credit cards. There are now many cards offered that do not charge this fee, so if you have one, you’ll want to use it for purchases on your international trip.
4. Triple- or Quadruple-Dip Rewards
There are lots of opportunities to earn rewards from several different sources at the same time, so being on the lookout for these opportunities can really pay off. Many issuers partner with airlines or hotels, for instance, so you may be able to pool credit card rewards with points you earn through a carrier’s or chain’s loyalty program(s). You may also be able to earn bonus rewards by making certain travel-related purchases through your issuer’s online shopping portal or rewards redemption site.
5. Skip The Car Rental Insurance
Car rental representatives generally want you to purchase the additional insurance that they sell, but there’s a chance you don’t need it. Many people who pay for their rental car with a credit card are already covered. Be sure to check with your credit card issuer to see if your card offers this kind of policy, often called a collision damage waiver. In addition, be sure to find out what is excluded, such as certain types of trucks and luxury cars, and vehicles rented in some countries.