This article is being updated.
It may be dark and cold outside, but spring is right around the corner — which means it’s a great time to make travel plans for spring break, if you haven’t already. A NerdWallet survey conducted last year found that Americans planning to go on a spring break trip expected to spend an average of $1,818. Only 29% planned to use a credit card for some or all of those costs. Here are a few ways that using the right miles, points and credit cards can help you reduce that cost on a spring break trip.
1. Use airline miles or credit card rewards to offset the cost of plane tickets
If you have some airline miles or credit card points gathering dust, this can be a great way to save serious money on your spring break trip. Using AAdvantage miles, the cost of a flight within the continental U.S. starts at 15,000 miles round-trip. Mexico and the Caribbean start around 25,000 miles, while Hawaii starts at 40,000 miles round-trip.
Keep in mind that when using miles, you’ll still need to pay taxes and fees associated with your tickets. For example, a round-trip flight between Chicago and Cancun will cost you around $87 in taxes on Southwest, while flying between Los Angeles and Cabo is around $105.
You can avoid these additional out-of-pocket costs by using credit card rewards points — like Chase Ultimate Rewards® — to book a cash ticket through the rewards program’s website. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for instance, you will get a fixed redemption rate of 1.5 cents per point and you won’t be restricted by award availability.
2. Hotel points and free night certificates can help you stay for (almost) free
Signing up for a hotel credit card can get you points or certificates to redeem for free nights, which can take a huge chunk out of your travel costs. If you already have a hotel credit card, make sure to check for ongoing perks like annual free night certificates, complimentary elite status or on-property benefits like spa discounts to help you save money.
3. Avoid bag fees and improve your travel experience with credit card perks
Make sure to check your credit card benefits for perks that can help you save money or travel more comfortably. Here are a few you should be aware of:
- Airline credit cards that offer free checked bags, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases.
- Global Entry or TSA Precheck to make your airport experience faster and less stressful — many credit cards will cover the enrollment fees.
- Valuable travel protections that will help reimburse you for unexpected expenses if your trip is delayed or canceled for a covered reason.
- Lost/delayed baggage reimbursement and rental car coverage.
- Airport lounge access that can help you save money on food and drinks at the airport and give you a comfortable place to wait in case of flight delays or missed connections.
4. Use the right credit card when you travel to save money
No matter where you’re going, a travel rewards or cash-back credit card can help you earn additional rewards on anything you purchase on your trip.
5. Stack rewards to maximize the return on your spending
When finalizing your travel plans, don’t forget to look for ways to get the best rewards on your spending. For example, you can earn 2 Delta SkyMiles per $1 spent on Lyft rides to the airport or 2-3 Hilton points per $1 spent, plus whatever rewards you get from your credit card.
Check cash-back portals before paying for anything online. Be sure to compare rates on flights, hotels, car rentals and activities; you might be able to save points and cash by shopping for the lowest rate possible.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
How to plan your travel rewards strategy for 2020
What’s the best way to use my travel credit card points?
Find the best travel credit card for you