Financial Fitness


5 reasons credit cards rule for family vacations

Posted at 12:55 PM, Jan 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-08 15:55:11-05

Ever come back from a family vacation feeling like you need a vacation? All the planning, packing, kid-corralling and sightseeing can make adventure time an exhausting time.

Here’s a tip: Try thinking of your credit card as an efficient little suitcase. If you have the right one, you can unpack a bundle of time- and money-saving benefits that can make your family trip easier.

This is how credit cards can help make your family travel more about fun and less about labor.

» MORE: How to choose a travel credit card

1. Get treated like a VIP at the airport

Many travel credit cards come with an annual fee — but if you’re traveling with a family, it might still save you money.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which lets you and a limited number of guests relax in one of over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. Most such lounges are equipped with some variety of food and drink, which can save you a few bucks and the hassle of waiting in line at general airport vendors. At the very least, you can recharge your phone (and yourself) in relative peace.

Of course, that card charges an annual fee of $450. But you can find many co-branded airline credit cards that cost much less to carry, while still offering perks like free checked bags for you and your brood.

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, for example, has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. It comes with a free-checked-bag perk for the primary cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on your reservation. With airline bag fees as high as $30 each one way, this benefit alone can more than offset the card’s annual fee.

Other airline cards, like the United℠ Explorer Card, also offer priority boarding, saving you from the mad dash to get on board and get your family settled in.

2. Tack on a free extra night at the hotel

Some co-branded hotel credit cards — like the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card and the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card — will grant you a free night each year after your account anniversary just for having the card. That can easily outstrip the cost of these cards’ annual fees, while also allowing you to plan for a slightly longer trip.

It might even free up some of your vacation funds to use toward a special experience or memory-maker on the itinerary that may not have otherwise been possible.

3. Sleep in on checkout day

If you have a co-branded hotel card, chances are it comes with some type of elite status. This can mean perks like early check-in and extended checkout times. So instead of trying to get everyone up, dressed, fed and packed in an end-of-vacation frenzy, you can make the last hotel day count and move at your own leisurely pace.

Owning a hotel’s co-branded card may also give you access to other benefits like free Wi-Fi, concierge services and room upgrades when available — all of which can make your life easier when on the road with kids.

» MORE: How to snag hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal

4. Handle incidentals seamlessly

This may sound obvious, but using a credit card instead of cash can just be, well, easier.

No need to fumble with bills and coins at the ticket counter. No need to bring your wallet down to the pool or beach. Just grab a credit card and go — or, if you can, charge the expense to your room and settle up when you check out.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to hand over your credit card instead of cash, whether you’re wearing winter gloves, have sunscreened palms or are just holding a little one’s hand.

5. Pay the trip off over time, sans interest

A vacation can be a budget-buster even for the most frugal of families. If you’re looking to take a big trip and you need some extra time to pay it off, having a credit card with a 0% intro APR offer on purchases can help.

Consider a card like the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which offers 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 20 billing cycles, and then the ongoing APR of 12.24% – 24.24% Variable APR. That gives you a long window to pay off a special sojourn without incurring any interest on top.

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Robin Saks Frankel is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @robinsaks.