You can probably still remember the first time you used a coupon. Just by handing over a small scrap of paper, your final bill went down—and you were hooked. Today there are many ways to score discounts in addition to old-school paper coupons. One great way more travelers are earning discounted (or even free!) vacations is through judicious use of their credit cards. Here, learn tips from experts to help you get the most vacation for the lowest price.
1. Jump on promotions
If your credit card company is offering extra rewards points for using the card during a certain time period, you could double or even triple your points by taking advantage of the promotional offer. Rather than earning just one free airplane ticket or hotel night, you could earn two, three, or four.
2. Bump up the rewards
One of the best ways to earn free travel is still to jump on travel voucher offers in-airport. Often the flight is just a few hours later than your original itinerary—when traveling with the whole family, you could literally earn next summer's travel by accepting vouchers to take a later flight!
3. Talk to in-airport credit card marketers
Often credit card companies use airport layover times to their advantage by setting up stands and trying to attract new cardholders. If you notice a credit card marketer offering a card with a free round-trip airline ticket to new cardholders, stop and ask about it if you have time! You might find you’re on your way to earning a free vacation for a few minutes of your time.
4. Pick your credit cards judiciously
If your family loves to visit Disney theme parks, it might just make sense to use the Disney Rewards Visa Card instead of a card that offers less desirable rewards. Find out which credit cards cater to your family's vacation plans and sign up for the one that offers the best deal.
Here are just a few of the most popular vacation rewards cards
- Disney Rewards Visa: Earn both discounts and park perks at all Disney parks.
- Carnival World MasterCard: Travel on Carnival, Princess and Holland America cruise lines at a discount.
- Universal American Express Card: If you enjoy visiting Universal Studios (as well as other Universal parks and resorts) this is clearly the card for you.
- Hilton Honors Surpass American Express Card: Earn free stays in Hilton hotels all over the world as well as discounted theme park admissions with this card.
5. Research the perks your existing credit cards give you
Often credit cards offer cardholders perks beyond just earning rewards points. For instance, some card merchants offer free roadside assistance. Others offer discounts with certain rental car or hotel chains. Still others may offer rental car, baggage, or valuables insurance coverage automatically up to a certain dollar amount. By researching the perks your cards already offer you, you can save on extra travel expenses you might otherwise pay for.
6. Consider becoming a "credit card churner"
"Credit card churning" is like couponing for a very specific purpose—for instance, to earn a free vacation to a particular destination. Basically, you sign up for one credit card, earn the rewards, then move on to the next credit card, earn the rewards, and so on. The "churner" deliberately applies for only the credit cards that provide vacation-appropriate rewards. (Note: It goes without saying that having a good credit score is essential if you plan to follow this strategy.)
7. Understand all your options to maximize your rewards
Different credit cards offer different types of rewards. To maximize the rewards you get with each card, first you need to ensure you’re using the most valuable card most frequently. And second you need to choose the right redemption options for each card with which you accrue points.
Here are the most common types of credit card rewards
- Cash back: Cash back cards offer a percentage of purchases in cash. So instead of accruing rewards, per se, you’re actually earning money. However, you can choose any number of ways to use that cash—from applying it against a future bill, to purchasing products or services from the credit card's partner merchants, to taking the cash itself as a check.
- Points: Points-based cards allow you to accrue a certain number of points for different types of purchases. You might earn X number of points if you buy groceries and Y number of points if you buy gas. As those points accumulate, you can then use them like cash to make purchases or redeem freebies.
- Merchandise or gift cards (free, discounted): With merchandise rewards cards, you can spend your points on either products/services or gift cards, or both.
- Discounts: Some cards offer discounts—such as discounted theme park tickets, rental car days, hotel stays, or airfare.