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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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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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