2018 Travel Credit Card Study
Americans who don't use travel credit cards may be missing out on hundreds of dollars' worth of free travel every year.
By Erin El Issa
April 2, 2018
Consumers love to travel, and many of them know how to get a little something back for it: More than two-thirds of American adults (68%) say they have a credit card that earns travel rewards.
Finding the right travel card for you is like finding the right shoe — the proper fit is essential.
Don’t let the appeal of a sign-up bonus or rewards lure you off track with your budget — you still have to pay your credit card bill.
Make sure you check your card’s expiration policy on the card issuer’s website. Expired rewards can’t help you pay for your next trip.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from February 27 to March 1, 2018, among 2,041 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,404 currently have a travel credit card and 637 don’t have a travel credit card. 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.
NerdWallet’s analysis included data from:
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditures — 2016.”
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditure Survey.”
- U.S. Census Bureau. “Quick Facts”, July 1, 2016.
 We analyzed the cards NerdWallet recommends in its roundup of the best travel rewards credit cards of 2018. Because this study is focused on consumers, we didn’t include the card recommended for business travelers. Also, the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®, which was among the recommendations, was closed to new applications by the issuer shortly before publication of this study, so it may not appear in the roundup.
 We calculated the individual consumer rewards by taking the average rewards a consumer would earn on a travel rewards credit card, less any applicable annual fees. We calculated the overall U.S. rewards by using survey data and U.S. Census Bureau data from July 2016 to determine the number of American adults without travel rewards credit cards, and multiplying that by the individual consumer rewards.
 We calculated the first-year card value by taking the average rewards and sign-up bonus a consumer would earn on a travel rewards credit card, less any applicable first-year annual fees.
 The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down consumer spending by ‘consumer unit,’ which can mean a single person or a family. For the purposes of this study, we considered one ‘consumer unit’ to be one consumer.
 For example, you generally can’t put your mortgage or rent on a credit card without being charged a processing fee.
 We calculated this by assuming Americans would spend evenly on their credit cards each month and only make the minimum payment — which we calculated as 3% of the balance, or $20, whichever is higher. We calculated an average interest rate of 20.23% (as of March 5, 2018) for the cards we analyzed. The interest accrued would be $521 after five months (exceeding the average sign-up bonus of $450), and $964 after seven months (exceeding the year one value of $901).