To avoid crowds and unnecessary expense this holiday season, book travel wisely and use your credit cards to maximize rewards and benefits like travel insurance and luggage protection.
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After putting travel plans on hold during the worst of the pandemic, many are venturing out to visit friends and family during the holiday season. Four in 10 Americans plan to travel between mid-November and mid-January, according to Deloitte. And high-income earners plan to take at least two to three trips during that period.
Vacation plans are on the rise again, and 61% of travelers are likely to spend more than usual, since most didn’t travel in 2020.
But this year, with increased travel, staff shortages and cancellations, travelers need to prepare for the unexpected. Part of that preparation should include utilizing benefits your credit card offers. Here are eight key ways to maximize the rewards your credit card offers for travel this holiday season.
8 tips for booking holiday travel
- Use credit cards to protect against canceled flights
- Book holiday travel during off-peak times
- Layer loyalty and credit card rewards programs together
- Let your credit card handle your lost luggage
- Maximize your rewards when traveling for holidays
- Utilize the insurance protections your credit cards offer
- Book travel through credit card portals
- Use the travel perks that come with your credit cards
Use credit cards to protect against canceled flights
Last year, about 281,000 flights were canceled – a marked increase from the previous year. In 2021, those flying to various destinations for the holidays can expect delays and cancellations. But the resulting stress of canceled and delayed flights could depend on the credit card you used to book your trip.
“Many premium travel cards offer built-in travel and lost luggage insurance, as long as you booked the flight with that particular card,” says Trip Savvy general manager Molly Fergus.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve Card offer up to $500 reimbursement for hotels and meals if your flight is delayed more than 12 hours or delayed overnight. Fergus has used this particular benefit several times when stuck overnight, which has more than paid for several years’ worth of the annual fee.
“It’s nice to have that peace of mind when booking,” says Fergus.
Book holiday travel during off-peak times
If you can swing it, book your holiday travel during periods when fewer people are traveling. For example, my family and I are flying out on Thanksgiving Day instead of on the Wednesday before the holiday – and saving approximately $300 per ticket.
The busiest travel days for Thanksgiving will be Wednesday, Nov. 24, and Sunday, Nov. 28, says Phil Dengler, co-owner of The Vacationer.com. For cheaper flights and less hassle, consider traveling on Monday, Nov. 22, or Tuesday, Nov. 23, and try to return home on Saturday, Nov. 27, or Monday, Nov. 29.
If booking Christmas travel, Dengler says Thursday, Dec. 23, and Monday, Dec. 27, are expected to be the busiest travel days. “Consider booking a flight and taking off a few days before December 23 for a cheaper rate,” he says, then flying back home on Tuesday or Wednesday, Dec. 28 or 29.
Layer loyalty and credit card rewards programs together
Many credit cards offer various perks and promotional rewards, especially during the holidays. Before you start booking flights, research your options thoroughly. “Combining loyalty and rewards programs will maximize your discounts and perks,” says Bank of America credit card executive Jason Gaughn.
“Make sure you’re enrolled in travel rewards programs that can help you earn points, cash back and special offers to use on future trips – such as airline, gas station, hotel, credit cards and banking rewards programs,” Gaughn says. “Be sure to use the popular web plug-ins and mobile apps that will scour online booking sites for all available discount codes.”
Gaughn advises using tools like a hotel, car rental or flight scanner app that allow you not only to compare available options, but also prices by booking company. To start earning rewards, make your purchases with a rewards credit card like the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards card, which offers 3% cash back on your choice of six spending categories that you can change each month, including travel and gas.
To maximize those earnings, Gaughn suggests layering in a banking rewards program. Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program provides members a 25% to 75% credit card rewards bonus, which can boost your cash back earnings even higher, in addition to any other travel rewards benefits you may be earning.
Let your credit card handle your lost luggage
When flying try to pack light so your luggage is a carry-on for the flight. During the holiday, many will likely check their luggage. Losing luggage and all the bag’s contents, like clothing and other valuables (including gifts), isn’t a good feeling. However, many credit cards offer lost luggage protection when this scenario arises.
The Platinum Card® from American Express, for example, will reimburse cardholders for lost, damaged or stolen luggage up to $3,000 for a carry-on and $2,000 on checked baggage. Also, lower-tier American Express cards typically offer up to $500, but policies vary for each card. Remember to read the fine print if this is a benefit that’s important to you.
Maximize your rewards when traveling for holidays
The holiday season is a great time to use airline points and miles. “This is when flights are the busiest and most expensive, so your points will frequently go further,” says Fergus.
“If you have flexible points that can transfer to multiple carriers – such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer 1:1 to several airline and hotel partners – check each airline’s miles availability before transferring your points.”
If award availability is offered at a reasonable cost, transfer your frequent flyer account first and then book a flight, rather than booking through a credit card portal.
Fergus suggests looking into business-class fares as well. Business-class award availability has been more open since the pandemic, she says: “You might be able to score a saver award in business class for just a few thousand more miles than an economy award ticket. That’s a much better value, not to mention a more enjoyable trip.”
Utilize the insurance protections your credit cards offer
Many travel credit cards offer rental car insurance so you can decline coverage at the rental counter. ”You’ll want to read the fine print very carefully to make sure you’re sufficiently covered, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, offers primary auto rental coverage up to the cash value of your rental vehicle,” says Fergus.
Capital One, Ink Business and American Express cards also offer cards enrolled in the car rental program.
Book travel through credit card portals
Booking your tickets through the credit card portal is a good option – especially if you are traveling on blackout dates, need multiple tickets on the same flight or trying to earn points or miles for your flight.
“Flyers should always check miles availability on partner carriers and find the best value for your points,” Fergus says. “You may find better value for business and first-class award tickets when booking directly through a carrier’s rewards program.”
Several credit card issuers have portals where you can book travel, often at significant discounts, including:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- American Express Travel
- Citi ThankYou rewards
- Capital One Travel
- Bank of America Travel Center
If you are buying flights with cash then credit card portals are a great option. “Many of these offer bonus points for booking through the portals, so you’ll more quickly accumulate miles for your next reward flight,” says Fergus.
Use the travel perks that come with your credit cards
Some cards offer significant extras that you need to research so you can take advantage of them. For instance, “Most premium travel cards these days offer free Priority Pass membership, for access to select airport lounges, and credit for up to $100 to cover global entry applications,” says Fergus.
Some American Express cards offer monthly Uber credits, and hotel cards will offer food, drink and amenity credits during your stay. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire* card, for example, bestows Diamond status on all its cardholders and offers a $250 resort credit at participating properties, a $100 food and beverage credit during stays and room upgrades when available. In one stay, you could easily recoup the hefty annual fee.
If you’re traveling for the holidays this year, try to minimize stress and maximize rewards. The best move: utilize credit cards to book your travel so they work to your advantage. Research your credit cards and determine how to make them work for you.
*All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer
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