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Spring break season is upon us and that means it’s time to start planning your post-winter getaway, whether you’re venturing to warm-weather areas or looking to go abroad. With the right credit card in your wallet, you can not only earn rewards like cash back on your spring break travels but also a number of perks that can make your trip more affordable or at least less of a headache. Rewards cards have never been more lucrative than they are today — according to recent analysis of credit card rewards, MagnifyMoney (also a LendingTree-owned site) found credit card-rewards offerings have more than doubled since the recession.
In this guide, we’ll tell you how to maximize your credit card spending if you plan on traveling this upcoming spring break, as well as the best card options if you decide to stay local.
What to watch out for before you swipe
Foreign transaction fees. Some credit cards will charge you a foreign transaction fee, which is a percent of each purchase you make outside the U.S. For example, if your card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee and you make a $500 purchase in Mexico, you will incur a $15 fee. Only use a card without a foreign transaction fee if you’re traveling abroad.
Hotel and airfare cancellation policies. The reservations you make for hotel and airfare may have costly cancellation policies where you will be charged a fee or the full price of your booking upon cancellation. Make sure you read the fine print before making arrangements. Your credit card may provide insurance for cancellations.
Overspending. Credit cards may tempt you to overspend since they’re very accessible and provide the prospect of various rewards and bonuses when you use them. But, if you practice responsible credit behavior this can be avoided. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t afford to pay it off in a month or two, don’t charge it.
Declined transactions triggered by fraud alerts. If you travel far from home — especially abroad — and don’t let your credit card company know, your card may be declined since the transactions are out of your typical location. It’s recommended to inform your credit card company of any upcoming travel plans to prevent issues.
Credit card perks that can make your spring break cheaper
Cash back. When you travel, odds are you’ll be dining out for your meals and a cashback card is a great way to be rewarded for that spending. You can redeem the cash back you earn as a statement credit to lower your bill (keep in mind you still need to pay your minimum due). The Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases — which is a great rate on dining and travel purchases.
Cards with no foreign transaction fees. If you plan on traveling outside the U.S. for spring break, it’s essential to have a card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. This will save you the typical 3% fee many other cards charge.
Issuer discounts programs. Some cards come with Visa Signature®, World Mastercard® or World Elite Mastercard® perks such as luxury hotel discounts, rent-a-car savings, vacation packages and more. Keep in mind not all benefits apply to every card, so check with your issuer to confirm. Look for “SIGNATURE” under the word VISA on your card and “WORLD” or “WORLD ELITE” on the top left of your card to see if your card is a Visa Signature®, World Mastercard® or World Elite Mastercard®, respectively. Some cards may not have these markings, but may still be in the program.
Travel discounts from your card. The issuer of your card may provide exclusive perks that can reduce the cost of your trip, such as room upgrades, free breakfast, airline fee credit, 24/7 concierge service and more. These travel discounts can save you money and make your vacation less stressful.
Car rental insurance. Your card may come with car rental insurance that covers damage or theft of your vehicle. If you have this benefit, be sure to decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver. This is a nice layer of protection when renting a car and can save you money on the insurance plans rental companies push. Just remember terms apply, so check your card member agreement.
Trip insurance and lost luggage coverage. Some cards have added protection benefits like trip accident insurance, trip cancellation insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and more. Although no one wishes to use these protections, they can come in handy if you’re a victim of theft or an unexpected event.
The best cards to take on spring break
Traveling for spring break requires you to make various arrangements from booking flights and hotels to arranging activities to do, and many of these purchases need to be made in advance with a credit card.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a card that rewards you for taking vacations and provides added perks? Well, you may be able to with a travel credit card. Many travel cards provide perks like airline discounts, travel insurance, lounge access and more. Note that all of the cards mentioned in this section have no foreign transaction fees except those listed under 0% intro APR for purchases.
Here are our top picks for travel cards in several categories:
If traveling in style is your goal, luxury cards can be a great asset and offer perks like free breakfast, late checkout, airline fee credits, lounge access and more — in addition to a travel-centric rewards program. These cards have a high annual fee, but they can be worth it if you travel often.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is the top luxury card on the market with a wide range of perks for frequent travelers. When you book your hotel stay with Fine Hotels & Resorts, you can receive complimentary breakfast, late checkout, and early check-in, among other exclusive offers. Some additional benefits you can take advantage of include access to 1,000+ airport lounges in over 500 airports around the world, an annual $200 airline fee credit, travel accident and baggage insurances and much more. Terms apply. While this card can be a great option, keep in mind there is a $550 annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is another great luxury card with a slightly lower annual fee of $450. There is a unique feature that allows you to increase the value of your points — simply redeem for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards® and points will be worth 50% more. This card also offers special benefits (room upgrades, discounts, early check-in and late checkout) when staying at properties in The Luxury Hotel & Resort CollectionSM, access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide, a $300 annual travel credit, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and more. Terms apply.
Low annual fee
You may not want to pay the steep annual fee associated with a luxury card, so travel cards with low annual fees are a good alternative. They don’t offer the same level of perks as luxury cards, but mostly provide the same standard travel benefits like travel accident insurance and easy travel redemption.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has a reasonable annual fee of $0 intro for first year; $95 after that and offers cardholders Visa Signature® benefits. Several perks offered include travel upgrades and savings with the Visa Signature® Luxury Hotel Collection, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, shopping discounts and more. In addition to the ongoing rewards program of 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day, there is a current promotion where you can earn 10x miles at hotels.com/venture (valid through January 31, 2020). Terms apply.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® offers cardholders the ability to earn earn 2x miles on all purchases at a decent annual fee of $89 - waived first year. Also, you can get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem. This card is a World Elite Mastercard®, so you receive the luxury travel benefits associated with the program, as well as travel accident and trip cancellation insurances, and the ability to earn more miles by sharing travel stories with the Barclaycard Travel Community. *This offer and/or promotion has since changed, expired, or is no longer available.
No annual fee
People who travel infrequently and possibly only during spring break may not want to carry a travel card that has an annual fee. No-fee travel cards can provide you with travel perks, like no foreign transaction fees, as well as different rewards programs that can allow you to earn a flat rate on all spending or high rates in multiple categories.
The Discover it® Miles is a $0 annual-fee travel card that offers a decent flat rate earning you unlimited 1.5x miles per dollar on all purchases, every day. This is one of the lower rewards rates for travel cards, but considering other cards have high annual fees, it’s pretty good. However, this card won’t provide you with the wide range of travel perks other travel cards have, like lounge access and baggage insurance. And, while there are no foreign transaction fees with this card, you may run into issues using it abroad since Discover doesn’t have as wide of an acceptance rate compared with Mastercard and Visa.
Uber Visa Card
The Uber Visa Card has an overall great cashback program with 4% back on dining, 3% back on hotel and airfare, 2% back for online purchases and 1% on everything else — all at a $0 annual fee. Hotel and airfare purchases include those made through travel agencies and vacation home rentals like Airbnb. Also, when you travel, you’re bound to rack up a dining bill, so the 4% back you earn on those purchases comes in handy. This card allows you to easily redeem rewards for Uber credits using the app, as well as cash back and gift cards.
The information related to the Uber Visa Card has been collected by Comparecards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
0% intro APR for purchases
The cost of traveling during spring break can be quite high and may cause you to fall into debt. If you don’t have the money available to pay for your vacation, a card with a 0% intro APR period for new purchases can be an option that allows you to carry a balance without being charged interest. Keep in mind, it’s not recommended to fall into debt for vacations, and beware any balances remaining after the intro period ends will be charged interest.
The The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is a standout card in its field with a $0 annual fee and a wide range of benefits for cardholders including an intro 0% for 15 Months on purchases with 14.74%-25.74% Variable APR after. In addition to being able to save money during the intro period, you can also earn 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 1x points on other purchases. The points you earn can be transferred to participating frequent traveler programs mostly on a 1:1 basis, which means you can use the rewards you earn from your everyday spending like groceries toward upcoming travel expenses.Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees.
The Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever offers an intro 0%* for 18 months on purchases* with 15.74% - 25.74%* (Variable) after. This rate provides you the longest time to pay off debt from new purchases compared with other cards. You can book your vacation using this card and take nearly two years to pay it off without racking up interest charges — just remember to pay off your balance before the end of the intro period. Take note there are no rewards with this card, and you will be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee for purchases made outside the U.S.
Cards to consider if you don’t plan to travel
Not everyone has plans to travel for spring break, and may find it more cost-effective or enjoyable to stay home and do activities. A staycation has a range of possibilities including going to the movies, a play, the zoo, camping or even simply spending quality time with friends and family. Below, we list cards that benefit a variety of such spring break activities.
During spring break, you may plan on catching up on the latest movies or attending plays and concerts, making entertainment cards a good choice. These cards are hard to come by, but we found several that reward you for spending on entertainment purchases.
The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card is ideal for people who plan on attending entertainment events with the higher rewards rate in that category. Earn Earn 2X Points on Dining Out & Entertainment and Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases. Another great benefit for entertainment junkies is Citi® Private Pass®, which gives you special access to purchase tickets for a range of events, including concerts and sporting events, as well as complimentary movie screenings.
There are numerous activities you can do during spring break that are significantly more affordable than traveling. Whether you plan on going to amusement parks, the zoo, the mall or spending time crafting and gardening, flat-rate cashback cards can lessen your expenses when redeemed for statement credit.
The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is our favorite flat-rate cashback card with Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay and a $0* annual fee. This allows you to earn a competitive cashback rate on all your purchases, compared with some other rewards cards with caps and bonus categories. Whatever activities you decide to do, this card can be used to earn a good rewards rate.
Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Similar to the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card has no annual fee and offers unlimited 2% cash back on everyday purchases. The main difference is that you don’t have to wait to earn the full 2%. There is a catch though — you will only earn the full 2% cash back when you deposit rewards into an eligible Fidelity account. But, don’t worry since there are no-fee accounts available to open. If that’s not too much of a hassle, this card can save you money during various spring break adventures.
The information related to the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card has been collected by Comparecards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
Hosting friends and family
Spring break can also be a great time to relax and catch up with friends and family. Whether that means attending potlucks or hosting events at your house, credit cards that earn grocery rewards can be a good way to save money on the food you and your guests will be eating.
The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a great $0 annual fee card for grocery shoppers. You can earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. 1% cash back on other purchases. This is a good rate that can allow you to earn a decent amount of cash back on eligible grocery purchases. Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card is more than a card for Amazon users — it’s also great for people who favor grocery shopping at Whole Foods Market. The rewards program earns you 5% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market purchases, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores and 1% back on other purchases. The 5% rate at Whole Foods Market is the highest grocery cashback rate of any no-fee credit card. Remember that while there is no annual fee for this card, Prime membership is required and that costs $99 ($49 for students).
The information related to the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card has been collected by Comparecards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.