“When you apply for a card, you get a 2- to 5-point ding to your credit score,” says Kelly. “I personally have 17 active credit cards, but my credit score is excellent because I pay everything off on time. That’s the number one thing. You can get two or three cards a day twice a year and your score will be fine, as long as you’re paying off your bills.”
FREE OR AFFORDABLE INSURANCE
Some credit cards offer free travel insurance, covering trip cancellation and delays, baggage loss, and even car rental insurance. Beware, however, that “most credit cards offer secondary coverage on rental cars, which kicks in after the primary coverage — typically your auto insurance — covers the difference,” says Sorab Bhardwaj, founder of Zalyn.com, a website that tracks car rental coupons and discounts. If you don’t want to tap your personal auto insurance, which can boost your annual rate, consider getting American Express Premium Car Rental Protection. Your American Express card is charged $24.95 each time you use it for a rental, giving you up to $100,000 coverage with no deductible.
EASY WAY TO EARN POINTS
“We charge all of the monthly expenses we can, like groceries, gasoline, and some utility bills, to a credit card and then pay it off each month,” says Skinrood. “We’re spending money that we would normally spend anyway, and we get free hotels and free flights.”
GET CREATIVE WHEN USING MILES
“One time we used our air miles for a free round trip to Disney World for four,” says Fred Detinger of Bellingham, Wash. “We booked our outbound flights for odd times so we could get there when we wanted. Then we booked an early return on a busy Friday night knowing that flights would likely be oversold and volunteered all four of our seats on both hops home. Nothing like getting free round-trip tickets for the whole family when you are already flying on free round-trip tickets.”
TEAM UP AND MAXIMIZE SAVINGS
“One of the most effective ways to maximize rewards on a travel credit card is to add authorized users to your account like a spouse or domestic partner so you can team up and focus on spending and earning,” says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com.
EARN POINTS THROUGH WEBSITES
Many websites serve as shopping portals to such mainstream stores as Target, Macy’s, and Best Buy, or to travel merchants like Hilton, Expedia, and Avis. Access these stores and merchants through an airline or hotel’s online shopping mall, such as Delta’s SkyMilesShopping.com, and make your purchases. You can receive bonus miles or points, or even cash back. Booking online also enables you to use online travel coupons, so you can stack your rewards.
“Credit card companies aren’t here to give away money, but if you know the rules, you can outsmart them,” says Kelly.
Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at email@example.com.