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Credit card travel perks (and pitfalls)
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A travel money mistake way too many people make

I’m going to Japan in March and have looked up flights on a few different sites. Roundtrip prices vary as much as $900 depending on where you look. Oof!

Here’s the twist

One place I checked was my credit card rewards site. I get points and perks, so total no-brainer, right? Not so fast. Do a little digging and you may find that it’s not the bigger, better deal. 

Lots of credit card companies offer fancy booking tools as a perk to justify the hefty annual fee, but they’re not always as … perky as you’d think. 

The long and short of it: Prices through your credit card company are often higher than booking directly. Airlines and hotels want to drive customers to book through them, so you’re way more likely to snag a deal through their sites.

Nope, it’s not “free”

You probably spent a ton of money to get those points in the first place. When you put it that way, it doesn’t seem so free. And if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire trip, you’ll still have to shell out some cash to settle the bill. 

Pro tip: I often cash in credit card points for gift cards to places where I’m already shopping or want to buy someone a gift. 

Pricing predicament

Your credit card company doesn’t set hotel room or plane ticket prices through their portals. Most don’t even manage the travel booking features at all. 

  • Expedia is behind the American Express travel site. 
  • The popular Hopper tool manages Capital One’s offering. 

Keep in mind, too, that hotel and flight prices fluctuate, and websites don’t update their pricing at the same time. If you don’t check around, you could wind up paying the older, more expensive rate.

If you’ve racked up loyalty points with a specific hotel chain, use them up. (You can’t cash in hotel loyalty points through a third-party site, so book directly.) Depending on your status, you may get extra perks, like spa discounts and early check-in. Worth it!

Want to cash in those points?

  • First-class and business-class tickets typically offer the most bang for your points and miles. Cash them in for a bougie experience.
  • Credit card companies sometimes offer special discounts on vacation packages for card members, so look for deals.
  • Traveling with a large group? Extended-stay properties often require a fraction of the points needed by luxury options.
  • Planning a trip during a peak season? Use your points to keep costs down.

Wondering what day of the week to book those flights?

It’s on a Sunday. You can save up to 15%. How far in advance for domestic or international flights? I have a lot more insider travel tips on my site here. I linked to the printer version of the page, so you don’t see any ads. You’re welcome.

🤣 I once asked a flight attendant to change my seat because of a crying baby beside me. Turns out you can’t do that if the baby is yours.

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