Why Are Americans So Unaware of Credit Card Rewards?

Feb 19, 2015

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I’ve been in the points and miles game for years now, and knowing how lucrative it can be with minimal effort, I’m always perplexed by how many people never even play. Every time I see someone paying with cash or a debit card, I shake my head. Even apart from the sign-up bonuses offered by many travel rewards cards, you can make a killing by taking advantage of bonus spending categories and other benefits—but only a small number of people do.

For some insight into how small that number is, I commissioned a survey of over 1,000 Americans to figure out how people use travel rewards cards, and what they do with those rewards after earning them. The results were surprising.

Like most games, you can’t win at travel rewards if you don’t play!

The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research, which interviewed 1,003 American adults earlier this month. From the half dozen questions asked about travel rewards, the survey turned up the following:

  • 67% of respondents said they do not have a credit card that offers travel rewards points or airline miles, and only 10% said they have more than one. If you have even a single travel rewards card, you’re already in a 2-to-1 minority.
  • A whopping 79% of travel credit cardholders said they have never transferred credit card rewards points to an airline or hotel loyalty program. (So, even among people who are earning travel rewards, most don’t know how to use them.)
  • One-third of credit cardholders don’t know if their card charges foreign transaction fees.
  • 72% of respondents said they never check to see if credit card companies are offering new or better sign-up bonuses.

I can pretty much hear some of you shaking your heads as well. The good news? If you’re reading this blog, I’ll bet you aren’t making the same mistakes as these respondents, and for that I congratulate you. You’re in a fortunate minority of people who are learning how to find amazing deals and travel the world at a steep discount, (and sometimes for free).

It’s an honor and privilege for me to help people turn their travel dreams into realities, and credit card rewards happen to be one of the best opportunities for doing so. You don’t have to take it from me; take it from the reader success stories I get every day. Seriously, if you’re not taking advantage of the sign-up bonuses and travel rewards out there, it’s time to get in the game.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Simply put, travel rewards credit cards make traveling easier and more affordable. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there are some easy steps you can take to continue advancing your award travel goals (in contrast to the majority of Americans).

1. Cash in on sign-up bonuses: Keep an eye out for my monthly list of top credit cards so you’ll know about new sign-up bonuses, like the current offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points on the Chase Ink Plus after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.

2. Maximize: Download the TPG To Go app, which can help you organize your travel rewards and figure out which credit card to use in order to get the most out of all your purchases. I’ve been told I’m a good travel partner, so take me with you!

3. Pick the low-hanging fruit: Credit card sign-up bonuses are important, but the little things add up too. For example, you should get a card that has no foreign transaction fees to avoid paying that extra 2-3% on each purchase when you’re exploring abroad. Even better, look into getting one that offers a statement credit for your Global Entry application, so you can save time upon your arrival back in the States.

almost-Sunset-Prague-panorama copy
Get a credit card that doesn’t incur foreign transaction fees, so you won’t get charged extra on your next trip to Prague.

4. Study up: Make sure you know the best ways to use your points and miles, including how to take advantage of airline partners and transfer options. Check out guides by me and other TPG contributors on topics like How to Maximize Ultimate Rewards Points, and Top 10 Ways to Redeem American AAdvantage Miles.

5. Be in the know: Check the blog regularly for amazing deal alerts, and follow the TPG Alerts twitter feed so you’ll be among the first to know when a new deal pops up. The best deals don’t last long, so being able to act quickly and decisively is key.

Finally, spread the word! If you have friends and family who love to travel, help them figure out how to get where they want to go. Of course I appreciate you introducing them to TPG, but however you go about it, please share the fun. As the survey results make clear, there’s plenty of room for our community of award travelers to grow!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.