I think we’re all suffering from a bit of cabin fever. According to an April 2021 travel rewards survey from U.S. News & World Report, a majority of Americans are eager to travel again. In particular, 40% say they’re ready to take a road trip.
Since we’re finally seeing some daylight at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the responses aren’t surprising.
Other survey findings:
— Almost 12% are ready to fly domestically.
— Right at 4% are willing to embark on an international flight.
— More than 2% want to go on a cruise.
— Almost 38% don’t plan to travel this year.
More than 46% of respondents plan to spend $500 or less per person, so for a family of four, that’s less than $2,000 in total. Around 12% plan to use their recent stimulus check to pay for their trip.
Travel Rewards Cards: How Much Did Americans Earn?
When asked about rewards earnings, more than 44% of respondents say they don’t have a travel rewards credit card. But among those who do, nearly 25% don’t know how much in rewards they had earned in the past year.
The survey respondents who did keep track of rewards they earned in the past year report the following amounts:
— More than 55% earned up to $350.
— More than 11% earned between $351 and $700.
— About 9% earned between $701 and $1,050.
— Nearly 25% earned $1,051 or more.
More than three-quarters of respondents who tracked their rewards earned up to $1,050, and that’s not bad. But if you use rewards credit cards responsibly and follow some basic rules, you can earn much more. And it doesn’t require churning cards or making it a hobby.
Since I talk or write about credit cards all day, I choose to take a laid-back approach to credit cards in my personal life. With this approach, guess how much I earned last year?
The answer: $3,615.62.
Now, among cardholders who live and breathe airline miles and post selfies from Fiji, this is a fairly small amount. But I accomplished this with almost zero effort on my part.
I’ve had all of my cards for at least five years, so this didn’t involve chasing sign-up bonuses, buying hefty amounts of gift cards or updating spreadsheets. I made this amount using a grand total of three credit cards.
But, hey, if you want to be the person who posts selfies from exotic locales, you can get there if you follow a few rules and stay organized.
[Read: Best Airline Credit Cards.]
How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards
As I mentioned, I didn’t work very hard to earn more than $3,600 in rewards. The most effort I made was physically removing my credit card from my wallet. But you can earn your way to Fiji by following these five rules and putting in (a lot) more time and effort.
Here’s a simple formula for success:
— Know your rewards program.
— Track your rewards.
— Read communications from your issuer.
— Use credit cards strategically.
— Pay the balance in full every month.
Know Your Rewards Program
The key to accumulating points or miles lies in knowing the rewards program — in detail — for your credit cards. Depending on the specific card, there might be tiers or caps on earnings. Point values may vary depending on the redemption option.
For sign-up bonuses, in most cases, there will be a spending requirement and a time limit to meet the spending threshold. Ideally, you want to research a credit card before you get it, but if you haven’t read the fine print yet, do it now.
Track Your Rewards
If you have a lot of travel rewards cards, use AwardWallet or a similar website to help you track and maximize your earnings. You can also do this yourself and create your own spreadsheet.
I kept track by looking at my rewards balances online. But again, I amassed my small fortune with little effort and three rewards cards.
Read Communications From Your Issuer
Last year, many travel rewards credit card issuers added categories to help cardholders survive the extra time at home. For example, food delivery services, streaming services and grocery rewards were common additions.
You’ll often be notified of new categories by email, text or even snail mail, so be sure you always read any communication from your issuer. Some of these offers have a limited time, so you must take advantage of them when they’re available. The key, of course, is to use new categories only if they fit in with your spending patterns.
One of my travel rewards credit cards added grocery rewards and delivery services. I took advantage of both last year.
Use Credit Cards Strategically
Know your categories, and use the right credit card at the right time. Throw in a cash back credit card, too, if you want to earn more rewards on everyday expenses. I used my travel rewards card to help pay for a recent trip to the mountains, for needed home repairs and to pay deductibles for medical expenses.
If you decide to get a new travel rewards card, make sure you don’t overspend to earn the sign-up bonus. You should use your card for expenses you’d have anyway, such as grocery or gas purchases.
Pay the Balance in Full Every Month
I mentioned that the key to success is knowing your rewards programs. Paying your balance in full and by the due date is also essential for success.
Travel rewards cards tend to have higher annual percentage rates. If you carry a balance, you’ll wipe out some — if not all — of your rewards’ value. Every single time I used a credit card for a big expense in the past year, I paid my balance in full every month by the due date.
And that brings up another issue: It’s important that you have an emergency fund in place when you use credit cards strategically. Life is unpredictable, and you need to make sure that you have financial backup if you have an unexpected expense. Otherwise, you can end up in debt if you can’t pay off your credit card balances.
[Read: Best Rewards Credit Cards.]
COVID-19 Vaccines and Travel-Related Issues
Survey respondents were also asked if their desire to travel would affect their willingness to get a vaccine. The results are split.
More than 41% say it didn’t impact their decision at all. Almost 23% say it affected their decision to get vaccinated a lot, and 21% say it influenced their decision to get a vaccine only a little.
To find out what travel restrictions are in place by state, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You’ll also find recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated and for those who have not been vaccinated.
More from U.S. News
New Survey: More Than Half of Americans Are Ready to Travel originally appeared on usnews.com