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It may be cold outside now, but spring is just around the corner. A recent NerdWallet survey found that 33% of Americans plan to travel for spring break vacation this year — if you’re in this camp, now’s the time to make travel plans for spring break (if you haven’t already).
The same survey, conducted online by The Harris Poll of over 2,000 U.S. adults, found that those planning to go on a 2020 spring break trip expect to spend $1,488, on average, on their vacation. Surprisingly, only 33% of those planning to travel for spring break this year plan to use a credit card for some or all of those costs.
Given that many travel credit cards offer 2 points or more per dollar on travel spending, anybody who doesn’t charge their spring break expenses to a card like this is missing out on thousands of points.
To put it in perspective: If a third of Americans will spend $1,488 on spring break travel and only a third of them will pay with a credit card, that amounts to over 200 billion missing points from the other two-thirds. Yes, that’s billion with a "b."
Of course, not everybody can or should pay for travel with a credit card. Those with poor credit or who are already carrying credit card debt shouldn’t make their situation worse by adding a big travel bill.
For those in good financial health, here are three reasons to book spring break travel with a credit card:
1. You can earn points
This is the most basic reason to book any flights and hotels with a travel card, but it bears repeating.
Cards vary in the number of points or miles awarded per dollar spent, and what qualifies for category bonuses. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3x points on “travel” generally, while The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5x points, but only on airfare booked directly from the airline or prepaid hotels booked through AmEx. Terms apply.
Similarly, airline and hotel cards only offer big spending bonuses for booking on their specific airline or hotel. If you’re an advanced credit card wielder, you can book each part of your spring break excursion with the appropriate card, or you can just use a catch-all travel card to cover all your expenses. Either way, you’re doing better than 66% of fellow spring breakers who won’t be earning points at all.
2. Your trip could be protected
Some travel credit cards, especially the premium ones with high annual fees, offer various trip protections for travel purchased through the card.
For example, many American Express cards now offer trip cancellation and delay insurance that can reimburse you in the case of accidents, illnesses or natural disasters. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a whole suite of benefits, including trip cancellation reimbursement, lost bag reimbursements and auto collision insurance.
These benefits generally apply only in case of unforeseen consequences. If you cancel your spring break travel last-minute for personal reasons, they won’t help you. But they can help make the difference between a disaster and an inconvenience.
3. You can avoid bag fees and improve your travel experience
Your travel credit card may come with other perks that can help you travel more comfortably or save cash. Here are a few:
A card with Global Entry or TSA Precheck perks can make your airport experience less stressful (some cards reimburse at least part of your enrollment fees).
Some airline credit cards offer free checked bags, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases.
Having a credit card with airport lounge access can save you some money on food and drinks at the airport while providing a comfortable place to wait for your flight.
A card with top-notch rental car coverage helps protect you in case of theft or damage to your rental.
The bottom line
Yes, spring break for many is all about intentionally making bad decisions. But an extra shot of tequila is one thing; missing out on the benefits of booking with a credit card is quite another.
Whether for the points, trip protection or free bags, your future self will thank you for the wise decision — even if your liver doesn’t.
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Feb. 4-6, 2020, among 2,031 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, including 626 who are planning to travel for spring break vacation in 2020. This online survey isn't based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact Mauricio Guitron at [email protected]
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you 4 ways to quickly rack up miles for your next flight How to get started with frequent flyer programs