Pattie's Blog: Are travel credit cards worth it?
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Published Friday, May 18, 2012 6:19PM EDT
Travel Reward Cards: We all love them BUT do we have the right card for OUR needs?
To find out the answer and try to sift through all the cards out there I went to the experts in the industry -- MarketSence Inc. who conduct an annual syndicated survey called CardSense and here is what I found.
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Travel is the most popular of all reward cards out there with 50 per cent of us carrying a card with some form of travel reward. My immediate thought was 'of course, how much is this going to cost?' Reasonable question when you realize some cards have absolutely no fee and other cards can have fees that range anywhere from $99 to $499 a year.
Lesson #1) Do the math! You want to be realistic about where you are going to be traveling to. Are you more likely to go to Florida or Europe? This will then determine how much you would need to spend on the card in order to earn the points required to get to your dream destination.
I've come to realize that the premium reward cards tend to be the most highly rated (by the people who carry them) and not surprising they are also the cards that capture the highest level of monthly spend.
Lesson #2) the premium category is crowded with numerous competitors vying for top spot in consumers' wallets. The launch of the new class of Infinite Visa cards and World MasterCards raised the bar in terms of features included on the cards. These cards offer enhanced insurance coverage such as out of country travel and medical insurance, airport lounge access and concierge services and as a result command a higher annual fee. But serious points collectors are willing to pay as they see the value.
To demonstrate how fierce the competition is in the reward card space it is interesting to look at some of the tactics issuers are deploying to heighten attention to their cards. To attract the frequent affluent travellers, American Express offers priority check in for Air Canada flights and a priority security lane at Pearson to those carrying an American Express AreoplanPlus Platinum card. This is a benefit appreciated by frequent travelers. TD has recently aligned with Expedia Travel and RBC with Travelocity to offer even greater flexibility and value to cardholders who can shop for and book their own travel using their reward points or a combination of points and cash. Also numerous issuers offer bonus points for signing up and renewing cards, and are waiving fees to either hang on to existing cardholders or to attract new ones -- you have the upper hand here.
Bottom line… the team from MarketSense helped me realize you really need to understand and be aware of the conditions or challenges associated with redeeming your points. For some cards redeeming your points for trips on popular routes may prove quite difficult unless you book far in advance (6 months to a year). Other cards may impose a mandatory Saturday night stay for flights booked with rewards points and for some the reward may be capped at an maximum ticket price. Flexibility becomes an important part of the redemption consideration.
I can't really tell you which is the right card for you as there are so many options out there. For our family, collecting travel reward points has literally been a rewarding experience. All four of our children have benefitted at some point or another from our travel rewards and as I write this blog, our daughter Jane is enjoying a trip to the East Coast to present a paper ON MY POINTS.
Pattie Lovett-Reid is the host of The Pattie Lovett-Reid Show which airs on CTV News Channel at 8 p.m. ET on Thursdays. You can also interact with Pattie directly during Lunch With Pattie, a livechat that begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursdays at CTVNews.ca/askpattie