Travel rewards and frequent flyer credit cards are everywhere these days. Many cards offer large and tempting bonus offers for applying and others offer extra miles or points for certain types of spending. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it sometimes seems that frequent flyer miles do.
While credit cards are a useful and convenient tool, they also can be quite risky, particularly the ones that offer potentially lucrative travel perks. Consumers should always tread carefully. Many credit cards users (even those who are financially savvy) can make mistakes in the process. Don’t be one of them! Here are six mistakes you might be making with your frequent flyer credit cards and what to do to fix them:
1) Carrying a Balance
Most airline and travel points cards have very high interest rates. If you carry a balance, you are paying for those miles you are earning. In fact, you are probably paying much more than those miles will ultimately be worth.
If you carry a credit card balance, you should not be putting your family’s spending on a miles card. Instead, look for a very low or no rate credit card without rewards and save the extra cash. Miles can wait.
2) Earning Miles Instead of Flexible Points or Cash
Airlines have been devaluing your hard-earned frequent flyer miles in recent years and making award tickets that much harder to find. For this reason, flexible points that transfer to a variety of rewards programs are sometimes much more valuable for infrequent flyers than miles on a particular airline. Check into Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Starwood Preferred Guest points for flexible points that transfer to other programs.
Also consider a cash back card, as some offer rewards as high as 2%. When you do the math, getting cold, hard cash may be a better value for your family than redeeming your miles for economy class flights.
3) Putting Spending on the Wrong Card
If you carry more than one rewards credit card, chances are you earn differently on each card depending on where you are spending money. Some cards offer extra points for travel. Some offer extra points for groceries and gas. Still others offer rotating bonus categories that change quarterly. Make sure you are putting the spending on the rewards credit card that gives you the biggest points return. Remember, not all points are “worth” the same to each person, so consider the points that are most valuable to you.
4) Keeping a Card You Don’t Use.
Many consumers hang onto credit cards that no longer make sense for their travel or spending patterns because they are afraid cancelling a card would hurt their credit. While closing accounts can impact your credit score, the impact is usually minimal if you have other lines of credit open and are generally in good standing. If you have a card you don’t use that has an annual fee, don’t waste your money any longer! See if you can convert it to a no annual fee version or just cancel it outright.
5) Not Applying for New Cards (Within Reason)
Credit card companies are constantly offering new products and changing the benefits of existing cards. The card that made sense for your family’s spending and travel patterns years ago may simply not make sense today. Just like you should not be afraid to cancel a card, also do not be afraid to apply for a new credit card if you have good credit and use it responsibly.
6) Missing the Best Signup Bonuses
Credit card companies often offer big signup bonuses to entice new customers. Time your credit card applications to take advantage of the larger bonuses. Some cards regularly increase the signup bonus on a particular card every few months or at a specific time of year, so watch for those times and be ready to submit your application for maximum value.
Most importantly, do your online research, as many sites linking to credit card application pages do not link to the best bonus offer of the moment. Shop around!