Are Credit Card Rewards Really Worth It?

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Hotel points are easier to redeem than airline points, but are they worth the trouble? Photo: Rene

Hotel loyalty points are easier to earn and redeem than airline miles, but are they worth the hassle? Photo: Rene

A friend recently mentioned that she wished she had more time off work to travel – and more money to travel with.

“I don’t see how you do it,” she said. “Airfare is crazy expensive. And then you have to pay for your hotel, rental car, and food!”

She was right, but I quickly reminded her that my family uses a combination of points and miles to cover most of our expenses.

“When we do that,” I said, “we can afford to pay for food and entertainment as long as we budget for it.”

She wasn’t having any of it. “It sounds like a huge hassle to me,” she said. “Is it?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s a huge hassle, but totally worth it.”

Worth the Trouble

It’s hard to explain how something can be a hassle but, at the same time, totally worth it. For me, I suppose the hassle is simply a price I’m willing to pay to be able to travel.

I recently found that my family redeemed more than $20,000 in points and miles in 2014. No matter what, there is no way we would have wanted to (or been able to) bankroll travel plans of that magnitude with our income alone. Simply put, credit card rewards are the only way we make it work.

But everyone is different. How do you know if credit card rewards would be worth it to you? This list can help you decide.

Credit card rewards might be worth it to you if…

  • You love to travel and wish you could travel more often.
  • You have enough vacation days to travel at least once or twice per year.
  • You are organized enough to keep track of deadlines and offer details.
  • You are disciplined enough to pay your credit card bill in full at least once per month.
  • You have flexible travel dates or are willing to be flexible with certain segments of your itinerary.
  • You are willing to spend a certain number of hours researching the best redemptions for the rewards you earn.
  • You are able to meet most minimum spending requirements with ease.
  • You have an excellent credit score.
  • You are free of consumer debt and credit card debt.

Credit card rewards might not be worth it if…

  • You don’t like to travel.
  • You aren’t able to take much time off work.
  • You don’t like the hassle of keeping track of offers or deadlines.
  • You have had trouble paying your credit card bill in the past.
  • You are trying to rebuild your credit.
  • You are in credit card debt.
  • Meeting the minimum spending requirement on most rewards cards would be a hardship for you.

Credit Card Rewards With Minimal Hassle

If you’re thinking that credit card rewards might be worth the hassle, it’s important to understand that some rewards are much more difficult to earn and redeem than others.

Airline miles, for example, are notoriously difficult to redeem almost year-round, and can be almost impossible to cash in unless your travel dates are extremely flexible. Hotel loyalty points, on the other hand, are usually easy to earn and redeem, especially if you are willing to book your hotel stays up to six months in advance.  If you want to get started but are worried about the hassle, it might be wise to choose rewards that are easy to cash in — at least at first.

With that being said, cards that offer cash back or travel credit are some of the easiest to work with. Take the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®, for example. To earn 60,000 bonus miles, you simply need to spend $5,000 on the card within 90 days of account opening and paying the annual fee.

The key difference between this card and others like it is that the “miles” you earn aren’t redeemable for any certain airline, nor do they have to be redeemed for airfare. The 40,000 miles translate directly into a $400 credit that can be redeemed for any type of travel, whether you choose to spend it on hotel stays, airfare, train tickets, or something else. That kind of flexibility makes these points extremely easy to redeem.

The bottom line is this: If you like to travel and wish you could do more of it, then the rewards game might be worth looking into. Likewise, if you don’t like to travel or don’t want to deal with any extra responsibility, the game might be too much of a hassle for you. It all depends on what your goals are and if credit card rewards can help you get there.

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