How card rewards can fuel a family dream soccer trip
Dreaming of checking one or two items off your bucket list? Cards can help
Matt Schulz has done thousands of interviews about money in his time as Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com. He's been in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Fox Business Network and CNBC as well as hundreds of local TV and radio affiliates throughout the nation. Over the years of doing these interviews, he's seen many questions pop up over and over again - questions that impact nearly all Americans.
In this space, Matt will address these questions to help Americans get a better feel for how to find the right credit card, get it and use it the right way every day because he believes – and is living proof – that the right credit card can change your life.
Can you fund a family dream trip using credit card rewards?
That’s exactly what my son and I will do this summer, when we travel to Philadelphia to see our favorite soccer team, Bayern Munich, play in person.
These are just a few of the strategies we are using to make it happen:
My family’s favorite soccer team is coming to America this summer, and my son and I are going to see them play in person, thanks to credit card rewards.
That team, German soccer powerhouse Bayern Munich, is one of a dozen or so international soccer teams that will play exhibition matches in the United States this summer as part of the annual International Champions Cup tournament.
The games will be held in different cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia, to where we’ll travel to see our beloved Bayern Munich squad in person for the first time.
This is how we will make it happen.
How we made our plans to see Bayern Munich play in Philly
Credit card rewards made this trip possible, plain and simple, and having points and miles from many different rewards programs made things even easier.
That doesn’t mean the process of setting up the travel was quick or simple, though. As with any financial transaction, making sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck takes time.
Here are a few strategies that helped us make the trip happen:
See related: How card rewards rescued my family’s vacation
Tip: Sign-up bonuses can supercharge your rewards strategy, but you shouldn’t consider opening a new card if it will lead you to overspend. Charging your child’s tuition or stocking up on items that won’t spoil or you might be able to resell are just a couple of creative ways to meet a rewards card’s minimum spend without the risk of overspending.
1. Be flexible with your travel plans, but set priorities.
While flexibility is one of the keys to maximizing your rewards points, there are limits to that flexibility. Our primary reason for traveling was to see the soccer match, so any flight that put us at risk of missing the game was simply not an option.
Given that, it made sense to begin our search for hotels in and around that area. Advance planning can help minimize your stress once your trip begins.
2. Keep your airline options open.
My wife and I have points or miles from many of the top U.S. airlines. We also have credit card rewards points that aren’t specific to any airline. That gave us plenty of options and we were determined to explore every one of them.
Ultimately, we decided to use Southwest Airlines miles to get there because those flights were the best combination of convenient times and reasonable redemption rates.
3. Sweat the small stuff with a hotel.
Free hotel nights are great, but they’re even better when they’re in a hotel that’s a great fit for your family. For example, we looked at many hotels in and around Philadelphia’s historic downtown area and even got recommendations from friends who live in the area.
We weren’t tied to any chain, since we’d be using credit card points from my Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to pay for the room, so most any of those hotels within our price range were possibilities.
Ultimately, we went with a major chain hotel that had a pool. Children can get cranky after a long, hot day of sightseeing, but even just a few minutes splashing around in a hotel pool can take the edge off the crabbiness and set the tone for a more relaxed evening.
4. Check what other perks our cards offered.
It’s not just about rewards points and cash back. Your card may offer other travel benefits, including priority boarding, a free checked bag, discounts on in-flight purchases or even rental car insurance, but you likely won’t know unless you take the time to look.
There is a Priority Pass lounge in Philadelphia’s airport, and while we may not end up visiting it, it’s helpful to know that it’s an option if we need it.
5. Get the most points or cash back for the things that rewards can’t buy.
As much as I’d love to say I’m also getting the tickets for free, I’m not. The same goes for the cheesesteaks at Pat’s and Geno’s, the new T-shirts we’ll probably get at the game and other costs that invariably pop up on vacation.
In that case, I want to make sure I’m using the right card to get the most points for what I buy. For example, at restaurants, I’ll use the Sapphire Reserve to get the triple points.
6. Consider getting a new credit card for the trip.
Sign-up bonuses turbocharge your rewards. Many of my Southwest miles came from actual flights – the same is true with my Delta and American Airlines miles – but the bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit card took things to the next level.
Most of my Barclays points came from the bonus on the Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. You simply can’t match the rewards earnings power of a sign-up bonus, and that applies to cash back as well.
Quicksilver offers $150 cash back after you spend $500, while the Wells Fargo card gives you a $200 cash back bonus after spending $1,000, both in the first three months. Those free bonuses can help defray some of the costs that my other rewards can’t at the moment.
You certainly shouldn’t get a new card if you think it would cause you to overspend, but the truth is that the right card used the right way can have a huge impact.
A dream trip fueled by card rewards
The International Champions Cup, which starts just days after the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup, includes Spanish powers Real Madrid and Barcelona and iconic English teams Manchester United and Liverpool in addition to our beloved Bayern Munich, among others.
While the games don’t mean anything as this is just a friendly tournament, fans like myself and my son don’t care because it’s a way to see our favorite teams up close without needing a 10-hour flight and a passport.
My son’s first international trip – possible thanks to credit card rewards, too – was to Munich in 2013, so we’ve had a soft spot in our hearts for that city ever since.
Then, once we watched Germany win the World Cup in 2014, led primarily by Bayern players, our fandom was sealed. It has only grown ever since.
Bayern is playing two games in the United States in July: one against Italian power Juventus in Philadelphia and one against English Premier League champions Manchester City in Miami.
We ultimately chose to travel to Philadelphia, in part because I knew my history-buff son would love to take in all the sites but also in part because we had never visited there before.
Thanks to our card rewards, we’ll be able to check one more item off our bucket list.
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