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

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.

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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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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