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Travel Reward Cards: How 83 Percent of Us Are Missing Out

SmarterTravel

If you love to travel, choosing a credit card that offers airline miles, hotel points or other such rewards is a natural fit. But a new study from personal finance site NerdWallet reveals that 83 percent of us apply for cards at the wrong time — and miss out on an average of nearly $200 in rewards.

According to the study, most credit card issuers offer sign-up bonuses once or twice a year, and these feature anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 more points than you’d normally get as a new cardholder. If you miss the promotional bonuses, you’re sacrificing an average of 15,338 points, according to the study. At $1.16 per point or mile, on average, this is $177 in cash that you’re missing out on.

So when should you apply? NerdWallet found that most airline and general travel cards put out promotional offers in November, while hotel card offers peak in August. If you’re loyal to a particular issuer, keep an eye out for Chase promotions in August and November, Citi promotions in October and November and American Express promotions in August and September.

Given the data, it seems logical to wait to apply for a travel card until late summer or fall, when you can maximize the benefits, but NerdWallet offers one caveat. If you don’t already have a travel credit card, waiting for months to apply for one can cost you even in missed rewards, depending on your average monthly spending — so do the math before you decide.

NerdWallet recommends that you apply for a rewards card at least five months before your next trip. It typically takes a couple of weeks to receive the card and three months to earn the sign-up bonus, and then you’ll want to book your trip at least six weeks in advance for the best possible prices. (We’d recommend booking earlier than that for international trips. See Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book.)

Do you currently use a travel rewards card?

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