Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Flickr user 410(K) 2013

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.

Choosing Your Credit Card: Do Airline Or Bank Cards Yield Better Deals For Travelers?

credit cards in walletWho doesn’t love free flights? We sure do. ShopSmart magazine, a Consumer Reports publication, has tracked the best credit cards and methods to accrue points towards free flights in its latest issue, and some of these tips are extremely relevant for readers.

While choosing a loyalty carrier or airline credit card is often a personal matter – if your home city is a hub for American Airlines, it might not make sense to choose a United card, for example – these tips are relevant to most travelers and first-time card activators.

“You’ve got more options than ever for credit cards that let you rack up points for free travel,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart in a release. “But finding one that will score you free tickets the fastest can be tricky. Depending on your travel and spending patterns, sometimes airline cards are best but sometimes you’re better off with bank cards.”Choosing Your Card

Choose an airline card if:
· You’re loyal to a particular airline
· You travel a lot
· You want a free trip fast
· You like to wheel and deal

Airline cards usually aren’t as generous with points, but may be worth it for those who can score a decent up-front bonus. Airline card users should check offers listed on an airline’s website and use them as a starting bid when calling the airline directly to negotiate a deal or to ask for double points. A notable caveat: blackout dates and other restrictions can be an issue with airline cards.

Choose a bank card if:
· You fly based on price
· You don’t want to deal with blackout dates
· You are enrolled in several frequent flier programs

Users can earn points on purchases and spend them on any airline they choose – points are usually tied to the price of the ticket, so the lower the price, the fewer the points needed. Bank cards are a better option for those concerned about when they can fly and how much time they have to use their points. Some cards allow users to transfer earned points to a variety of airline programs.

ShopSmart suggests the following as particularly worthy card selections:

1.) American Express Premier Rewards Gold. This bank card rewards shoppers with three points per $1 spent for airfare; two points per $1 spent on gas and groceries; one point per $1 spent elsewhere. Users who spend $2,000 in the first three months can earn 25,000 bonus points. There’s no interest charge; users pay balances in full every month. No annual fee is charged for the first year, then $175.

2.) Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa or MasterCard. These bank cards reward shoppers with two points per $1 spent for travel and dining; one point per $1 elsewhere and a seven percent yearly bonus on points. Users who spend $3,000 in the first three months earn 40,000 bonus points (worth $500 on travel booked through Chase). APR for purchases is 15.24%; the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

3.) Delta SkyMiles American Express Gold. This airline card rewards shoppers with two miles per $1 spent on Delta; one mile per $1 spent elsewhere. Users get a free checked bag for up to 9 people in a reservation; 20% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases. APR for purchases is 15.24%, 17.24%, or 19.24%; the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Do you have a bank card or an airline card? Both? Neither? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Tell us why you love your card or why you chose what you chose.

[Image Credit: Flickr user 401 (k) 2013]

Frequent flyer applies to 13 credit cards in one day to earn points

There’s a whole pseudo-science on the web regarding the art of earning miles and points by means of credit card applications. Many in the mileage running and hoarding business use credit cards heavily to earn special bonus or signup-miles by applying at certain times or hitting minimum spend limits. With a decent credit score it’s a fairly easy game to play, though I’ll be the first to admit that the full ramifications of cyclically applying-for and canceling credit cards are still unknown. Still, that doesn’t stop many from churning out the applications.

Recently I came across the most outrageous example of this sort of activity from a blogger named Ben from The Man From 1000 Places, who actually applied to thirteen credit cards in one day in order to reap a total of more than 500,000 miles and points. Ten of those applications have currently been approved while another three are still pending. With a score in the high 700’s before the application, Ben expects his credit rating to take a brief hit but return to his normally high rate after 6 months.

With the 500,000 points, a wide variety of travel rewards and upgrades are available to the savvy hoarder. Round trip, business class tickets between North America and Europe, for example, cost 100,000 miles on American Airlines, and though the blogger wont be receiving all of the miles in one specific account he’ll be able to combine several of them.

In order to keep those points, he’ll will need to pay $233 in annual fees and then cancel most of the cards to prevent more annual fees. The only other trackable cost is his credit score. Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flyer community milepoint.com and author of the ViewFromTheWing blog suggests:

Applying for credit generates a consumer-initiated pull of your credit score, and every time you apply for credit it’s an indication you might NEED that credit, and may be a bigger risk.

In the long-run you might well improve your score by having more available credit that you aren’t utilizing, and over time as the accounts age by having more older accounts. But the short-run effect of several credit pulls and a younger average age of accounts will make a big dent in your score.

If you see your score drop below 750 you’ll begin receiving higher interests rates on major purchases like mortgages, and those costs will likely exceed any benefits you get from signups. So it’s important to stay away from plenty of new card signups leading up to a home purchase or refinance. Individuals with more borderline credit may experience problems with auto loans.

Taking the time to apply for and earn the cards thus might be a decent way to get some extra points, as long as the financial preparations are made and the credit cards are properly disposed of. Hopefully there’s no long term financial impact beyond the credit score.

[Flickr image via Andres Rueda]

Travel to Europe easier with chip enabled debit cards

sim pin chip credit cardThe days of traveler’s cheques are far far behind us, but that doesn’t mean that paying by credit cards oveseas is always easy. In particular, Europe and many other countires are prone to using chip and pin cards for accepting transactions rather than the magnetic striped plastic that most Americans use. While most outlets have a backup machine for “swiping” cards rather than plugging in the chip, a few key places require them; for example, the popular Velib bike sharing program in Paris only works with chip+pin and American Express cards.

This left most Americans without many solutions, since most US Banks wont issue chip and pin cards. Until now. Travelex, the worldwide bank and currency exchange company (you’ve probably seen their booths at the airport) just announced that they’ll be offering prepaid chipped debit cards for savvy travelers early next year.

The only problem? Travelex offers a pretty crummy exchange rate for average travelers. As Ed Perkins from SmarterTravel in this MSNBC article points out: “You’re paying a stiff price for the convenience” And hey, Travelex shafts on you cash exchanges at the airport, so why not with a prepaid debit card?

Needless to say, if you’re willing to take a beating on the exchange rate you can pick up your own card over at Travelex.com under Cash Passports.

[Thanks to Moody75 for the link]

flickr image via cmcphotography

Hotel employees nailed in $20 million airline ticket scam

The feds just threw down indictments against 38 people accused of pushing fraudulent airline tickets at hefty discounts. They were slashing between $100 and $200, usually, from the normal price of a (real) ticket. And at least two of them worked in hotels, where they were accused of swiping credit card and debit card information to keep the con afloat. Among the charges are: conspiracy, credit card theft and identity theft. The rings appear to have begun in 2001.

How did it work? In Los Angeles, according to USA Today:

The government’s 25-page indictment against Jason Burks and eight other defendants says that Raun Lauderdale Jr. was one of the people who would obtain stolen credit card and debit card information and sell it to Burks, who would then use it to fraudulently buy airline tickets. Lauderdale worked at an unidentified hotel in Long Beach, Calif. On one particular day in September 2009, Burks allegedly used a stolen American Express card number to buy $3,466.03 worth of airline tickets – an Alaska Airlines ticket from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and three US Airways tickets for travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, records show. Prosecutors say this ring operated from July 25, 2007 to May 14, 2009.

And in Atlanta:

The government’s 31-page indictment against Steven James Palmer, based in Brooklyn, and nine other defendants based in cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Atlanta names another hotel worker. According to the document, Alexander Lewis, 25, of McDonough, Ga., stole credit card and debt card numbers from his jobs at unidentified Atlanta hotels. Lewis also went by an alias: “Mike Gotti,” the indictment says. Prosecutors say this ring operated between August 2008 and March 27, 2010.

The alleged scammers would pick up the tickets online with stolen credit card info and use text messages or e-mail to push discount codes to their customers, which could then be parlayed into boarding passes. To stay under the radar, the bookings were kept close to departure times. Advertising was kept to a minimum, and word of mouth was used to generate new “business.”

[photo by abardwell via Flickr]