How are you using your credit card rewards?

 

It wasn't long ago that a weak economy forced many Americans to abandon their summer travel plans and consider taking "staycations" at home. But after enjoying an economic recovery and enduring a long winter, the notion of staycations seems quaint as Americans are now prepared to take more vacations this year than last year.

According to the Capital One Rewards Barometer Survey conducted by Wakefield Research, summer travel is on the rise. This year, 48 percent of those surveyed plan to redeem their rewards toward summer vacations, up from 30 percent in 2013, which correlates with a steady increase in people planning summer travel, from 67 percent in 2012, 70 percent in 2013, and 76 percent in 2014.

Despite the resurgent economy, travelers are still more focused on getting a good deal than staying loyal to a particular travel provider. When planning summer vacations, 38 percent of people surveyed reported that their top priority was finding the best deal, as opposed to just 9 percent who wanted to stay loyal to a particular airline or hotel chain. Also popular were travelers' desire to go to their preferred destination (34 percent) and the freedom to book travel when they want to without worrying about restrictions.

How We Use Our Rewards

According to the survey, 95 percent of respondents reported being satisfied with the rewards program offered by their primary rewards credit card. Nevertheless, nearly half of those surveyed (47 percent) reported that they have not redeemed any rewards from their primary rewards card within the past three months, which is an indication that cardholders tend to save up their rewards over time, rather than immediately redeem them.

Another aspect of rewards credit card use revealed by this survey is what motivates people to redeem their rewards. Twenty-nine percent said that that their rewards credit card offers them an easy way to earn extra rewards for things they want, but don't need. Twenty-eight percent said that their rewards allow them to treat themselves to something special, and 18 percent felt their rewards make their lives easier. Only 5 percent cited the desire to use rewards to save money.

What Rewards Credit Card Users Dislike

Among those who were not satisfied with their credit card's rewards program, 53 percent said that they had to spend too much to earn too little in rewards value. This is hardly a surprise to those who have watched both the airlines and hotels make overnight changes to their programs that can require dramatically more points than before for the same awards. In fact, 35 percent said that they have been disappointed by their travel rewards program at least once. (There are some programs that consumers consider winners — check out the best airline mile credit cards in America and the best hotel rewards credit cards in America.)

According to Amy Lenander, vice president of of rewards programs at Capital One,  “More and more, consumers plan to use credit card rewards to offset the cost of their vacations. With nearly half of them booking within a month of their trip, flexibility of rewards programs — any travel provider, anytime, no blackouts — is becoming more important than ever.”

Rewards Card Choices We Want

This survey's results tend to favor credit cards that offer fixed-value rewards that can be redeemed for travel with any airline, hotel and rental car program. The reward credit cards include Capital One's own Venture Rewards card, which offers double miles on all purchases. These miles can then be redeemed for statement credits toward any travel reservation. Other cards that offer rewards that can be redeemed for travel on any airline with no blackout dates or other limitations include the Barclaycard Arrival and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card.

Alternatively, some cardholders prefer using their travel rewards for luxury hotels and premium-class international flights. Airline miles and hotel points can be more valuable for this type of travel, but cardholders need to plan their trips long in advance and be flexible in order to find scarce awards.

Rewards credit cards aren't for everyone. For example, if you carry a balance, you're better off with a low-interest or balance transfer credit card. Before you apply for any credit card, it's important to check your credit to see which cards you're most likely to qualify for. You can see two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

Note: It's important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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