Poll: 8 in 10 Americans pay for summer vacation with savings

Less than half will take a break at all; 13 percent who do pay with rewards


 Poll: 8 in 10 Americans pay for summer vacation with savings Rob Goebel/


 Poll: 8 in 10 Americans pay for summer vacation with savings Rob Goebel/


When it comes to their summer vacations this year, Americans aren’t planning to break the bank, according to a new poll. In fact, they’re feeling downright frugal.  

More than half of those surveyed – 54 percent – said they aren’t planning to take a summer vacation at all. Of those who are, about 8 in 10 plan to pay for at least part of their vacations using money they’ve saved, the survey found.

Only 15 percent said they were going to put their vacations on their credit cards.

Culturally, Americans have become more sensitive to taking on debt since the economic crash, especially for things like vacations,” said Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit bureau Experian. “People don’t want to have to pay for those memories for 10 years.”

Alex Johnson, director of the Credit Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group, said the findings are consistent with Mercator research that has identified a shift in American spending since the recession, with more people delaying large purchases in order to pay for them out of pocket.  

“Consumers today understand that taking on credit card debt is not a good idea,” he says. “When we do see people’s credit card debt inching up, it’s typically not for things like vacations, but for things they have to have.” 

13 percent pay for vacation with rewards
The scientific telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. adults (see methodology) also found that a surprisingly high number of respondents were planning to use rewards card points or miles to pay for their vacation: 13 percent. That’s just 2 percentage points below the number of people using credit cards.

Reward travel has spiked in recent years because many credit card issuers have shifted to travel-oriented reward programs, Johnson said.

“We’ve seen it across all the card segments, but particularly among the premium cards that consumers with higher annual incomes would have,” he said. “They have also restructured their programs so it’s easier to redeem miles or book directly through the credit card company, and that’s leading consumers to more actively use those miles and rewards.”

People don’t want to have to pay for those memories for 10 years.

— Rod Griffin 

The poll found that the wealthiest Americans were about three times more likely than those in other income groups to use rewards. About 1 in 4 (23 percent) of those with annual incomes of $75,000+ said they would use points or miles to pay for their trips, compared to just 8 percent of other income groups. 

You’re also about three times more likely to use rewards if you went to college, and eight times more likely to use rewards if you’re white instead of black.

Some groups more likely to take on debt for vacation
Perhaps not surprisingly, the groups most likely to take on vacation debt were those who were less educated and lower earning. About 22 percent of those earning under $30,000 a year said it would take four months or more to pay off their vacation debt, compared to just 7 percent of those with higher annual incomes.

Middle-aged Americans also reported taking on vacation debt. About 17 percent of respondents ages 30-49 said it would take them four months or more to pay off their vacations, about double the number of vacationers in other age groups.

What’s interesting is that middle-aged vacationers also had the highest response rate (86 percent) for using savings to help pay for their trips. Since multiple responses were allowed, that indicates they probably plan to use both savings and credit to pay for their summer getaway.

Ellen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said those years tend to be the most expensive for Americans because that’s when many buy homes, have kids and start paying for college.

“When you travel during those years, you often have to pay for your children to go with you – so that means more food, extra tickets and perhaps a second hotel room,” she said. “That’s also the age when you’re both working, so you may not have enough time off to drive somewhere. Flying four people anywhere can be very expensive.”

Indeed, another part of the survey found that parents of any age are more than twice as likely as those without kids to still be paying for their vacations four to six months later.

How do you plan on paying for your summer vacation?
Using money you have saved up
Putting it on a credit card
Using rewards points or miles
Taking out a personal loan
Some other way
Don't know
Source: survey conducted May 5-8, 2016.

Other survey results
Other notable findings from the poll include:

  • A surprising 1 in 10 respondents – and almost 1 in 5 (17 percent) millennials – said they would pay for their vacations this summer not with credit, savings, rewards or a personal loan, but some other way. When asked to elaborate, many said another family member such as a parent was springing for their trip. One respondent even said, “My sugar mama is paying for it.”
  • Older Americans (65+) are four times more likely to put a vacation on a credit card compared to those ages 18-29. One in three (31 percent) planned to use a credit card, yet that age group also said they would pay off any debt from their vacations the fastest. That indicates they’re using their cards as tools of convenience rather than to pay for things they can’t afford, Johnson said. Older Americans with longer credit histories are more likely to carry premium cards with travel perks such as free checked bags, rental-car insurance and travel insurance , he said, so that also makes using a card attractive. 
  • The higher your level of income and education, the more likely you are to be heading out of town this summer. Only about 1 in 4 (26 percent) of those who make under $30,000 was planning a vacation, compared to 64 percent of those with an annual income of $75,000+.
  • Frugal Midwesterners are the most likely to pay their vacation debt off quickly. About 76 percent of respondents in that region had their vacations paid off in a month or less, compared to 71 percent in the West and 62 percent in the South and Northeast.  

Poll methodology
The survey was conducted May 5-8, 2016, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on behalf of About half the interviewees were reached on landlines and half on cellphones, and the interviews were done in English and Spanish. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of error on weighted data for the full sample is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

See related: Going deep into debt is not part of summer fun

Published: May 18, 2016

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Updated: 10-27-2016

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