2019 Travel Credit Card Study
Credit card travel rewards are valuable, but not quite as valuable as many consumers think. Almost half of Americans overestimate how much their points, miles and sign-up bonuses are worth.
By Erin El Issa
April 10, 2019
Traveling for fun is great. Doing it for free is even better, and quite a few Americans move a little closer to a free trip every time they pull out their credit card. According to a recent NerdWallet survey, more than one-third of Americans (35%) have a credit card that earns travel rewards, like points or miles, to put toward flight purchases. It turns out, however, that many people wildly overestimate how much the rewards earned on travel credit cards are worth.
Stockpiling travel rewards and letting them collect dust in your account is pointless.
If you’re not sure you can afford to pay for a vacation in full, it’s best to plan for a trip the old-fashioned way: Save up cash.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Feb. 8-12, 2019, among 2,016 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not 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, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We calculated the average number of round-trip domestic flights a consumer could purchase with a 50,000 point or mile sign-up bonus by averaging the redemption rate for travel of the cards on NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards, as of March 2019. The average value was around 1 cent per point or mile. We multiplied that by 50,000 points and got an estimated sign-up bonus value of $555.56. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ third-quarter 2018 airfare data — the most current available data — the average domestic itinerary airfare is $343. This means that a consumer could potentially redeem an average of 1.6 round-trip flights with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. For the study, we excluded co-branded airline and hotel credit cards. The point values on such cards — especially hotel cards — can vary significantly, but they often make up for lower point values by adjusting the number of points they award, so that their overall rewards rates are comparable.
A second survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Feb. 21-25, 2019, among 2,035 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not 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, please email Jessica Ayala.