Look Beyond Miles With Travel Credit CardsApril 18, 2011 - 8:54 am
Frequent flier credit cards are popular among consumers who fly a lot. Even occasional travelers are often interested in travel rewards credit cards because the miles can help them offset the cost of a trip. When you’re choosing a travel rewards card, though, it pays to look at just more than the number of miles offered on your purchases.
Miles Rewarded vs. Miles Required
Credit card issuers often market the highest number of miles you can earn on the credit card. For example, they may brag about generous bonus miles for signing up or even a high number of miles earned per dollar you purchase, but that doesn’t always mean much in terms of getting a flight.
What’s almost more important than the number of miles you earn is the number of miles required to take a trip. You can earn a billion miles for all your spending, but if a trip costs 10 billion miles, then it’s not as worth it.
When you’re picking a travel rewards credit card, make sure you also look at typical flight mileages. Pretend you’re actually going to book a trip using your miles and check out the number of miles you’d need to book that trip. Compare that to the number of miles the credit card rewards you. For example, if a trip costs 50,000 miles and your credit card rewards you with 5 miles per dollar you spend, you’d have to charge $10,000 before you can take that trip. How long would it take you to charge $10,000?
Read the fine print on how miles are rewarded. Often, travel rewards credit cards give you more rewards for certain types of purchases. For example, you may earn 5 miles on the airline tickets you book with a certain airline and only 3 miles on all other purchases. This may benefit you if you book a lot of travel on your credit card, but if you don’t travel much or someone else, say your employer, pays for your travel when you’d earn miles at the lower rate.
Another drawback of some travel rewards programs is that you have to pay a conversion rate if your travel is booked with another airline. These conversion rates may, at a minimum, double the number of miles you’ll need to book the flight. You might also have to convert miles in increments that don’t exactly match up with what you need to book your flight and you’ll lose miles in the process. Finally, there may be a monetary fee to convert your miles from one frequent flier program to another.
Just like flights have different dollar prices on different days of the week and different times of the year, they also have different mileage redemption limits. The number of miles you need to purchase a flight between two destinations can vary and seats for frequent flier miles may even be unavailable on the day you want to fly. Don’t be sucked in by promises of big miles bonuses and earnings; credit card issuers make it sound easier to fly with frequent flier miles than it actually is.
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