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Tap Your Credit Cards for Spring Break Savings

Feb. 14, 2019
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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If you’ve been stuck in that familiar post-holidays/pre-summer travel dry spell, you may have had your spring break dates circled on the calendar for some time.

You’ve probably already set your destination and even bought your tickets, but there are still ways you can save money on your trip, especially if you have the right credit card.

According to a recent NerdWallet survey conducted online by The Harris Poll, Americans planning to go on a 2019 spring break vacation expect to spend $1,818, on average, for the entire trip. Of those planning to travel for spring break this year, about three in 10 (29%) say they plan to use credit cards to pay for some or all of the cost. On average, they expect to charge $1,308 for their trip.

The most obvious way to shave a few bucks off the cost is with credit card rewards. Put that $1,308 on a credit card with a 1.5% rewards rate, and you’ve earned back nearly $20; with a 2% card, you’re up to $26. But you can save much more with the perks and benefits built into many cards.

1. No foreign transaction fees

Some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees, generally 1% to 3% of each purchase, every time you use them internationally. If you charged $1,000 in, say, Mexico on a credit card with a 3% foreign transaction fee, it would cost you an additional $30.

“My husband’s family is from Canada,” says Kimberly Tate, mother of two and blogger at Stuffed Suitcase. “The first trip we ever went up there, we had a card that didn’t have the no foreign transaction fees, and we were just shocked.”

After seeing foreign transaction fees add up, Tate no longer uses credit cards that charge them.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best no foreign transaction fee credit cards 

2. Checked bags or travel credits

Airline credit cards and premium travel credit cards typically charge annual fees, but you can offset that cost if the card offers free checked bags or travel credits.

Standard checked bag fees are now around $30. If you’re loyal to one airline, carrying its credit card and using it to pay for your airfare can save you $60 on a round trip. If you travel with a companion and you both check bags, your savings rise to $120. That’s enough to offset the $95 annual fee charged by most basic airline cards.

Premium travel credit cards often provide travel credits that cover the cost of such things as checked bags, airfare, in-flight purchases and more, depending on the terms of the card.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best airline credit cards

3. Airport lounge access

Instead of splurging on meals at the airport, see whether your credit card offers airport lounge access. If so, you may have access to complimentary meals, beverages, Wi-Fi — even a shower, depending on the lounge.

“If you’re someone like me that travels all the time, and you add up the meals that you get at the lounges, it does end up saving you money,” says Anisa Alhilali, who lives in Norwich, England, and runs the blog Two Traveling Texans. “Plus, it’s a nicer environment than sitting out at the gate or eating at the food court.”

4. TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Credit

If time is money, find out whether your credit card will reimburse you the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. These programs can offer faster clearance through airport screening, and some cards offer application credits of up to $100.

TSA PreCheck, offered by the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration, gives you access to special security lanes at 200 airports nationwide. Global Entry, operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, gives you the same benefits as TSA PreCheck, plus expedited customs screening when you’re re-entering the U.S. With either program, if you’re approved your status is good for five years.

If your spring break isn’t for another several weeks, you may be able to get through the application process in time for takeoff. If not, consider it for summer travel.

5. Insurance benefits

Take advantage of the insurance benefits your credit card may provide. Some cards, for example, feature lost luggage reimbursement. And some offer trip cancellation insurance, which may provide refunds — up to a certain amount — on airfare or other travel expenses if you book the trip with the card but later have to cancel.

A few credit cards offer primary coverage when you use them to rent a car. Primary coverage allows the card issuer to cover damages first without having to get your personal auto insurance involved. To qualify, you have to decline the rental car agency’s collision damage waiver, which also saves you money.

» MORE: Your credit card’s travel insurance could bail you out

Take inventory of your credit cards

Find out what perks and benefits are hiding in your wallet. If there aren’t any, you might still have time to apply for a credit card that offers them.

Generally, these kinds of cards charge an annual fee and require a good credit score to qualify. But if you get approved, you might have the chance to earn a hefty sign-up bonus that can save you money on your next trip.

As long as you pay your bill in full every month and the benefits offset the annual fee, you could save on your spring break.

Survey methodology

The survey cited in this article was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Feb. 6-8, 2019, among 2,015 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 733 are planning to travel for spring break vacation this year. 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 contact Mauricio Guitron at mguitron@nerdwallet.com.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

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