6 best card perks for summertime
By Dawn Papandrea
July 21, 2016
In this season of fun, sun and travel, savvy consumers are using their credit cards to fuel their summer leisure activities. How? Cash back, miles and points can help you get to your vacation spot, and your cards perks may help you score those hard-to-come-by tickets to a hot concert or Broadway show.
“Doesn’t it make sense to be mindful of the perks you can receive if you’re going to be spending anyway?” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp, a retirement security firm in Washington, D.C.
While making the most of your plastic seems easy, few people seem to be doing it. Nearly 3 in 5 U.S. adults (58 percent) say using their credit or debit card to earn travel points makes financial sense. Yet the same June 2016 Harris Poll for AICPA (the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) found that fewer than 1 in 10 (7 percent) actually used any type of rewards points to pay for their last vacation.
One way to make your cards work for you? Set a goal, and then study up on your card’s benefits. “Look for perks that dovetail with the things you want to do during the summer — or all year long,” says Winkfield.
Chances are that piece of plastic in your wallet may be able to give you access to a more comfortable travel experience, help you avoid ancillary fees, and hook you up with VIP treatment.
“Doesn’t it make sense to be mindful of the perks you can receive if you’re going to be spending anyway?”
— Kyle Winkfield,
Roseman and Shipp
Here are six common card perks that may come in handy for the summer season:
1. No foreign transaction fees. If you travel abroad, you’ll want to avoid paying foreign transaction fees as they can quickly add up, says Mike Battagliese, senior vice president and head of credit, debit and emerging payments for Citizens Bank. These fees can tack on an extra 1 to 3 percent to your purchases made abroad. “When you think about the travel season, what’s resonating with customers is finding a card that has no foreign transaction fees,” he says.
2. Concierge service: For the frequent traveler or if you have a lot of itinerary items on a trip, a card issuer’s concierge service can help you book excursions, make last-minute dinner reservations, and get you preferred seating at events. This card benefit usually is reserved for cards that have an annual fee, and concierge service often is available only to higher-tier credit users, says Battagliese. “Make sure you do the math on what you can get out of the card before you apply,” he adds.
3. Early boarding and airport lounge access: If you’re an avid traveler and especially if you travel a lot to international destinations, early boarding is a benefit you’ll treasure, says Winkfield. And airport lounges usually include free food and beverages, and sometimes you have access to shower facilities, he adds. Being able to stretch out on couches and charge your devices “beats sitting at the crowded terminal having to guard your bags,” he says. “Some layovers are several hours long, so it’s nice to know you can be in a place that feels like a living room.”
4. Insurance that reduces your trip costs. Think of all of those extras that you are asked to pay for on your trip, such as the extra coverage on your car rental, trip cancellation insurance or lost luggage protection, says Winkfield. “When you’re traveling, talk to your credit card company to see if it offers those things,” he says. “Not having to purchase trip cancellation or lost luggage insurances will add up to savings.” Plus, knowing your card issuer has your back should something go wrong before or during your vacation adds peace of mind, he adds.
5. Staycation savings. It may come as a surprise, but some credit cards may come with the perk of free or discounted trips to museums. For instance, Bank of America’s Museums on Us program has 150 participating locations across the country that offer free admission on certain days to cardholders. Other discounts to inquire about include amusement parks (Discover offers a deal at Six Flags) and baseball games (Citi cardholders can cheer on the New York Mets for less at CitiField).
“When you think about the travel season, what’s resonating with customers is finding a card that has no foreign transaction fees.”
— Mike Battagliese,
6. Magical and Universal card perks. For the Disney-obsessed who make the annual summer trek to Anaheim, California, or Orlando, Florida, there are Visa cards earmarked with special perks, including discounted or free character meet and greets and photos. And at Universal Studios, visitors who purchase their admission with an American Express card have access to a lounge that offers free drinks and snacks.
And after you’ve hung up the Mickey Mouse ears or Harry Potter wand, don’t forget that your cards pack perks and rewards year-round. Winkfield and his wife are racking up points now with purchases on his airline card for a trip next summer to Portugal for a wedding. The goal? To score enough points to earn a free companion airfare.
Whether you’re using your rewards card to bank points, miles or cash for a summer or future trip or you’re taking advantage of your card benefits, use your plastic responsibly, says Sean Stein Smith, CPA and a member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission for AICPA.
“Summertime is a fun time of year, but it can also end up being an expensive time of year if you do not keep an eye on both your travel and non-travel spending,” he says. “The financial hangover can outlast even the worst sunburn.”
To avoid that financial hangover, Winkfield adds: “Always make sure you have the cash before you use the plastic.”