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If you’re like most Americans, you’ve gone a long while without traveling, and it looks like most unrestricted international travel (meaning no quarantine or coronavirus test requirements) is still a ways away. Conservative travel planners aren’t booking international flights or applying for visas anytime soon. Domestic travel also has new hurdles and challenges due to COVID-19 requirements.
But even if you don’t know when you’ll be taking a trip again, travel planners who use credit card points to fund their vacations are applying for now. Why?
Getting the full benefits of your travel credit card takes a surprising amount of time.
A from NerdWallet concluded that consumers should apply for a travel card at least five months before the intended travel date to take advantage of the sign-up bonus. Given how drastically the coronavirus has impacted travel, budget at least that much time — and these days, you may want to give yourself even more, upward of six months.
Here’s what your timeline should look like if you want to take full advantage of a new travel credit card throughout your next trip:
Apply for the card: Most travel credit cards offer new customers a welcome offer, which can be one of the fastest and easiest ways to rack up a mountain of points or miles. Because travel is not exactly the hottest industry at the moment and some credit card companies are desperate for business, many welcome offers are extra generous. , which can be filtered and sorted by estimated value, recommended credit score and more.
Hit the minimum spending requirement: To earn those welcome offers, you’ll typically have to spend a certain amount of money (usually a few thousand dollars) within a few months (usually three or four).
The cards that offer the highest number of points often give you more time. An offer like “earn 100,000 points after you spend $10,000 in six months” is not unheard of.
Even at spending requirements of $3,000 or $4,000, give yourself ample time to spend enough to earn the welcome bonus points. Never spend more than you can pay back without getting charged interest. But, the faster you hit the spending requirement, the sooner your points will show up in your account.
Wait for points to post: Once you meet your bonus spending threshold, don’t expect to instantly receive your points. You’ll typically have to wait for your statement to close, and even then your points may not post for a few days. If your statement period ends on the fifth of every month and you met your card’s minimum spend requirement on April 6, don’t expect to see those points in your account until at least the beginning of May.
Book travel: You’ve spent the money and you’ve earned the points. But you still need to bake in time to book your trip. Depending how quickly you hit your minimum spending, you could have two to five months left before your desired trip date.
Plus, with seemingly everyone eager to get out and travel as soon as it’s safe, expect hotel rooms, flights and entertainment attractions to fill up further in advance.
Even if you aren’t necessarily banking on welcome bonus points to fund your vacation, you should still apply for a new travel credit card well in advance to take advantage of other potential perks. Here are other common credit card benefits to plan for:
Many hotel credit cards offer a free hotel night certificate after your cardmember anniversary. Since these certificates are often redeemable for rooms that cost hundreds of dollars yet can be earned on cards with annual fees less than $100, they are easily one of the most valuable perks provided by . Of course, that means you’ll need to have held the card for at least a year.
A few cards offer free night certificates during your first year of card membership, but even those generally take about four months to post to your account.
You might not know when you’ll next be basking on the beach in the Bahamas, but give yourself at least six months before your ideal trip dates to apply for a new travel credit card. This should give you enough time to earn and utilize the welcome bonus, plus other benefits the card provides.
If possible, give yourself even more time so that waiting for credit card points to land in your account isn’t the final blocker preventing you from booking your trip. Even if you’re not thinking about travel until 2022, start making a plan now so you can make the right credit card moves this year to prepare.