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9 Ways Your Credit Card Can Help You Travel for Dirt Cheap

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9 Ways Your Credit Card Can Help You Travel for Dirt Cheap

Let me guess…

You see pictures on Instagram of exotic places. Facebook is littered with updates of your friend’s adventures abroad, and every time you close your eyes you picture yourself on a beach in the Caribbean, or exploring the cobblestone streets of France.

Yes, you want to travel. Unfortunately, however, you can’t afford it. A flight alone costs an entire month’s pay, let alone accommodation, travel insurance, and baggage.

Luckily, travel is becoming more accessible to even those of us who need to pinch pennies. Enter the travel credit card.

Now, you can travel for less (or even for free) with your credit card with these nine benefits.

1. Free Flights with Sign-Up Bonuses

If you’ve ever seen a credit card sign-up bonus that seems too good to be true, it’s probably…not.

Yes, you read that right. As more companies begin to offer credit cards (think Home Depot, WalMart) competition is becoming fierce. Consumers benefit through generous sign-up bonuses. Companies are trying to “out-bonus” each other.

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A sign-up bonus is simply a generous offer that you get upon signing up for a credit card.

For example, a card might give you $500 in cash, or enough points for a free flight. You can get a free flight, accommodations, and sometimes even an all-inclusive vacation with sign-up bonuses.

Look for cards with generous welcome bonuses and first year annual fee waivers (making it truly free) and make sure you can afford the minimum spend requirement to be eligible for the bonus (i.e. spend $500 in 3 months).

2. Free Flights with Companion Tickets

Companion tickets are another way that credit cards are competing with each other, and it makes it oh-so-good for the user.

With credit cards, it’s simple to save up enough points and use a welcome bonus to travel for free for one person, but what if you want to bring a friend?

Well, that’s where the companion ticket comes in. More credit card companies are offering companion tickets, where you book a flight and get a second ticket for super cheap (or free) on the same itinerary. How can you go wrong with that?

3. Free Hotel Stays

Easily one of the most expensive portions of travel is accommodations. Unless you’re willing to stay in run down hostels with roaches scuttling on the floor, you risk spending more on hotels than you did on your flight.

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Unless you use the right credit card, that is. Remember when I said more and more companies are beginning to offer credit cards? That includes hotels, too.

With a sign-up bonus, you can score 5 or more free nights with some hotels. If you are strategic with which cities you use your free stays in, this can cut your costs substantially.

4. Waived Foreign Transaction Fees

If you’ve ever gone on a trip with a non-travel credit card, you’ll know what I mean. It’s painful to get back from your relaxing vacation to see that you were charged hundreds of dollars in foreign transaction fees.

See, many credit cards charge a foreign transaction upwards of 2.5% over and above the exchange rate. But an increasing number of credit cards are now eliminating the fee, making it the cheapest way to spend money out of country.

If you change money at a foreign exchange counter at the airport, hotel or a tourist area, you can get charged in excess of 10% above the exchange rate. Snagging a travel card with waived foreign transaction fees is a budget-conscious move.

5. Free Travel Insurance Coverage

One cost of travel most people forget about is travel insurance. Unfortunately, travel insurance is a necessity but it’s easy to overlook when you’re budgeting for a trip.

However, with the right card you may be able to skip the travel insurance line on your budget.

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Most travel credit cards come with free travel insurance, and sometimes even trip protection insurance, as long as you book your trip with the credit card in question. Check the terms of your card for travel medical, trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, lost baggage, car rental, accidental death, and even purchase protection. These travel insurances can easily be valued at over $500 per year, and will be yours for free with the right card.

Make sure to read insurance certificates to make sure you don’t fall into any “exclusions”.

6. Free Checked Bags

Did you know that hardly any airlines that offer free checked bags anymore?

It’s true, and it’s tragic. Now, you have to spend $25 or more just to bring your luggage on the flight. More people try to travel with just a carry on to avoid the cost, but you don’t want to have to resort to that.

Many airlines now are coming out with credit card rewards that include a free checked bag, saving you that potentially expensive surprise at the airport. (Make sure to find out whether it’s free for any flight or just flights you’ve redeemed points for.)

7. Free Access to Airport Lounges

Have you ever had to spend more than an hour at an airport?

If you have, you probably craved somewhere comfortable to hang your hat while you waited for your flight. That’s why airlines have introduced lounges. Lounges are usually reserved for business class tickets and frequent fliers who achieve elite tiers, and they can cost $75 per visit ($25 per guest).

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However, many travel and airline cards offer a number of guest passes to lounges – some even allow you to bring a guest for free.

8. Cash Back at the Gas Pump

If you’re more of a road tripper than an air traveler, you can still save money to travel through your credit card. You can get up to 5% cash back at the pump with multiple no fee credit cards, that either offer the promo in the first 6 months, or offer it as a rotating category.

This is great for road trips and RVs. You can find great sign-up bonuses for gas on certain credit cards, too.

9. Avoiding Expensive Security Costs

Many cities are prone to security issues – even the most desirable destinations.

For example, Barcelona is a wonderful city to visit, but there are high security issues with pick pockets and thievery. This is a surprisingly wide-spread problem across not only developing countries, but even first world countries like Spain.

A security issue is one of the most expensive things that can come up on a trip. That’s why travelling with credit cards rather than cash will save you big time.

If your credit card is stolen, you can cancel it right away and you will usually have a level of protection against unauthorized purchases. If cash is stolen, it’s lost forever.

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Credit cards are sent from the travel Gods to help people save money on their trips.

And if you’re not American, don’t worry. It used to be that only Americans could benefit from travel rewards, but now Canadians have great travel credit card options, too.

More by this author

Marc Felgar

Marc Felgar is an aging, health & senior care expert focused on improving the lives of mature adults.

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

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33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

In a difficult economy, most of us are looking for ways to put more money in our pockets, but we don’t want to feel like misers. We don’t want to drastically alter our lifestyles either. We want it fast and we want it easy. Small savings can add up and big savings can feel like winning the lottery, just without all of the taxes.

Some easy ways to save money:

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  1. Online rebate sites. Many online sites offer cash back rebates and online coupons as well. MrRebates and Ebates are two I like, but there are many others.
  2. Sign up for customer rewards. Many of your favorite stores offer customer rewards on products you already buy. Take advantage.
  3. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. The extra cost up front is worth the energy savings later on.
  4. Turn off power strips and electronic devices when not in use.
  5. Buy a programmable thermostat. Set it to lower the heat or raise the AC when you’re not home.
  6. Make coffee at home. Those lattes and caramel macchiatos add up to quite a bit of dough over the year.
  7. Switch banks. Shop around for better interest rates, lower fees and better customer perks. Don’t forget to look for free online banking and ease of depositing and withdrawing money.
  8. Clip coupons: Saving a couple dollars here and there can start to add up. As long as you’re going to buy the products anyway, why not save money?
  9. Pack your lunch. Bring your lunch to work with you a few days a week, rather than buy it.
  10. Eat at home. We’re busier than ever, but cooking meals at home is healthier and much cheaper than take-out or going out. Plus, with all of the freezer and pre-made options, it’s almost as fast as drive-thru.
  11. Have leftovers night. Save your leftovers from a few meals and have a “leftover dinner.” It’s a free meal!
  12. Buy store brands: Many generic or store brands are actually just as good as name brands and considerably cheaper.
  13. Ditch bottled water. Drink tap water if it’s good quality, buy a filter if it’s not. Get 
      a reusable water bottle and refill it.
    • Avoid vending machines: The items are usually over-priced.
    • Take in a matinee. Afternoon movie showings are cheaper than evening times.
    • Re-examine your cable bill. Cancel extra cable or satellite channels you don’t watch. Watch the “on demand” movie purchases too.
    • Use online bill pay. Most banks offer free online bill paying. Save on stamps and checks, and avoid late fees by automating bill payment.
    • Buy frequently used items in bulk. You get a lower per item price and eliminate extra trips to the store later on.
    • Fully utilize the library. Borrowing books is much cheaper than buying them, but in addition to books, most local libraries now lend movies and games.
    • Cancel magazine/newspaper subscriptions: Re-evaluate your subscriptions. Cancel those you don’t read and consider reading some of the other publications online.
    • Get rid of your land-line. Do you really need a land-line anymore if everyone in the family has a cell phone? Alternatively, look into using VOIP or getting a cheaper plan.
    • Better fuel efficiency. Check the air pressure in your tires, keep up with proper auto maintenance, and slow down. Driving even 5MPH slower will result in better fuel mileage.
    • Increase your deductibles. Increasing the insurance deductibles on your homeowners and auto insurance policies lowers premiums significantly. Just make sure you choose a deductible that you can afford should an emergency happen.
    • Choose lunch over dinner. If you do want to dine out occasionally, go at lunchtime rather than dinnertime. Lunch prices are usually cheaper.
    • Buy used:  Whether it’s something small like a vintage dress or a video game or something big like a car or furniture, consider buying it used. You can often get “nearly new” for a fraction of the cost.
    • Stick to the list. Make a list before you go shopping and don’t buy anything that’s not on the list unless it’s a once in a lifetime, killer deal.
    • Tame the impulse. Use a self-enforced waiting period whenever you’re tempted to make an unplanned purchase. Wait for a week and see if you still want the item.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask to have fees waived, ask for a discount, ask for a lower interest rate on your credit card.
    • Repair rather than replace. You can find directions on how to fix almost anything on the internet. Do your homework, and then bring out your inner handyman.
    • Trade with your neighbors. Borrow tools or equipment that you use infrequently and swap things like babysitting with your neighbors.
    • Swap online. Use sites like PaperBack Swap to trade books, music, and movies with others online. Also, look for local community sites like Freecycle where people give away items they no longer need.
    • Cut back on the meat. Try eating a one or two meatless meals every week or cut back on the meat portions. Meat is usually the most expensive part of the meal.
    • Comparison shop: Get in the habit of checking prices before you buy. See if you can get a better price at another store or look online.

    Remember that saving money is not about being cheap or stingy; it’s about putting money into your bank account rather than giving it to someone else. There are many ways to save money, some you’ve never thought of, and some that won’t appeal or apply to you. Just pick a few of the ideas that sound doable and watch the savings add up. Save big, save small, but save wherever you can.

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    Featured photo credit: Damir Spanic via unsplash.com

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