Who’s in Charge?

A credit card can be one of the most useful tools in your wallet. Depending on the card it can provide travel insurance, identity theft protection, rewards or even cash back. We all work hard for our money and the card we use should work for us, too!

Which credit card is a good fit? Well, that depends on several things. First, consider factors such as credit score, spending habits and lifestyle. With so many reward programs to choose from it may be best to shop around, and do some homework. Are you looking to earn some miles for air travel, a free hotel stay or upgrade? Or, if you drive a lot, you may want to reduce your gas expenses by using a cash back card. Credit card companies make it tempting to apply by offering sign-on bonuses or waiving certain fees, such as a balance transfer fee or annual fee.

Several years ago I applied for my first reward travel card and it saved me hundreds. It was an Airline credit card. My daughter was going off to college, and at the time it was the only airline that flew non-stop between Boston and Denver. I was offered a promotion I couldn’t refuse.

We each had already accumulated a few thousand points on this airline over the years; and although I do not recall exactly how many points we already had, or how many bonus points the credit card came with – I do know it was enough to fly us both round trip, nonstop, between Boston and Denver. It also included two free checked bags, each, which was HUGE considering we had to get all her stuff half way across the country. If my memory serves me correctly I think I had to spend $3,000 in three months, and the card had a $100 annual fee, but it was waved the first year. Most importantly, after dropping your child off at college I’m sure you would agree that the free drinks on the flight home were priceless!

Unfortunately the days of ‘Boston-Denver’ are long gone. In my opinion the ‘miles’ don’t get you as far as they use to, but there are still a few good travel reward cards out there. It just takes a little time and diligence to find the right one.

When comparing sign up bonus points, rewards and benefits make sure to take the time and calculate any and all costs that go into owning the card and understand the terms and details or ‘fine print’ of the card. For example, most offers require the cardholder to spend a set amount within a set period of time to ‘earn’ the bonus points. Consider spending habits, and whether or not there’s a plan to pay off the card monthly, or carry a balance. In either scenario it makes sense to figure out how the APR and any fees come into play. Sometimes the deal isn’t as sweet as it seems, has zero value, or worse – costs you money.

Many of the best promotions still can come through ‘snail mail’, so before ditching those offer(s) take a minute to check them out. The bottom line is to find a card with the highest reward rate that will benefit you, the cardholder. There are many online comparison sites that make it easy to sift through several credit cards in minutes. Once you have narrowed down your choices I recommend visiting the website of the cards issuers themselves; you may find a different promotion and more detailed information.

Don’t forget that it’s free to sign up for most of the airline, hotel and rental car travel programs. Oh, and make sure you know who the different alliances are – it could be easier to earn a free flight (hotel stay or auto rental) by staying loyal to a particular alliance.

I have since closed out my Boston-Denver reward card. I now have a couple other cards that serve me well and benefit my lifestyle today. I don’t believe in or promote opening and closing accounts for the obvious reasons, but when a card no longer benefits you, or starts to cost you money, it may be time to move on.

“If the card in your wallet doesn’t give back, then it’s time to take charge and find one that does.” – Kristen Krise

About Crafty Traveler

Kristen lives in a charming town in New Hampshire's Seacoast region.

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