Don’t let any of these myths prevent you from making the most of available travel rewards:
Myth 1: Travel rewards credit cards have high annual fees.
Some travel rewards cards have no annual fee. Many charge in the neighborhood of $95 a year. Usually that fee can be offset by using the cards’ perks: free checked bags for airline-branded cards, for example, or a free night’s stay every year for hotel-branded cards. Even the high-end cards with annual fees of $450 and up typically offer airport lounge access, credits to offset travel fees and higher rewards rates that can more than pay for the card if you’re the right user.
Myth 2: Travel rewards are hard to redeem.
Finding free or upgraded airline flights can be a challenge, especially for people who don’t plan well ahead. The best time to book a rewards flight is typically nine to 12 months in advance, when the airlines first make such seats available. (It also pays to check back frequently, since carriers may add more rewards seats depending on how flights are filling up.)
Hotel rewards are easier to book since occupancy rates are generally lower. If you want even more flexibility, consider a general travel rewards card that allows you to redeem credits for travel purchases or to transfer your points to a variety of frequent-traveler programs.
Myth 3: It’s best to focus on one frequent-traveler program.
You may want to concentrate on earning rewards in a single frequent-traveler program if you need a lot of points for a special trip. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore other programs.
If you love to travel, it’s unlikely you do so with only one airline or hotel chain. Plus, spreading your loyalty around means you can take advantage of specials and promotions that help you earn more points or make points more valuable to redeem. Travel programs often have dynamic pricing, which means the value of rewards can vary. For example, one hotel chain could have lousy redemption options in a city while another offers a much better deal.
Then there’s the issue of devaluation. Programs occasionally devalue their points and miles, meaning it takes more of them to earn the same reward. But they tend to do so at different times. If your rewards are concentrated in one frequent-traveler program, you risk having them all devalued at once.
Myth 4: Travel rewards cards require excellent credit.
Travel rewards cards typically require good credit, which is generally defined as a credit score of 690 and above on a 300-to-850 scale. Some require scores of 720 and above. If your scores aren’t quite there yet, look for a card that offers cash-back rewards and use those for travel.
Myth 5: Travel rewards aren’t worth the effort.
Travel rewards programs aren’t always intuitive, and some of us invest a fair amount of time trying to squeeze the absolute maximum value out of every point.
But you don’t have to be an extreme rewards hacker to benefit. It doesn’t take much effort to sign up for hotel or airline frequent-traveler programs, or to use a general travel rewards credit card for the spending you were going to do anyway. Sign up for the programs’ email newsletters, which can alert you to special deals.
Then make a point to start cashing in those rewards, and you may see what all the fuss is about.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of Your Credit Score. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lizweston.