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The average household spent $2,076 on vacations in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. No doubt you can squeeze in a quality trip for a family of four at that price, but it won’t be easy or realistic to come in at or below that number in some cases.
Airfare for four to a place like Hawaii, for example, can cost $1,300 or more round-trip — and that’s only when a pretty extraordinary offer comes along. Even if you have more modest destinations in mind, or you’re willing to make it a road trip, the cost of traveling adds up fast, especially if you don’t have many points and miles saved up to help defer the cost. The typical household spends more than $500, for example, on hotels for out-of-town travel each year. And, if you’re traveling to a place like Walt Disney World, entry to just one park costs $100 or more a day per person. Talk about a budget-buster.
All of this to say family vacations can be expensive, and while we at TPG preach against never carrying a balance on a credit card, when you’re planning your ideal family trip, you may be forced to decide between breaking a rule points-and-miles collectors hold dear, and not taking the vacation you want. What absolutely doesn’t make sense is to rack up thousands of miles to pay for your vacay, only to have those rewards get swallowed by finance charges of 16% or more per year.
There is a way you can build your dream vacation and actually take it, too — if you can stick to a repayment plan that will cost you no interest and allow you to enjoy the full benefits of the rewards you earn. Ideally you have the money in hand before you book a trip, but sometime life gives you small windows to act, and you make the finances work or miss your window. You can’t easily employ this strategy of charge now and pay-back later with the best travel rewards credit cards, because most don’t offer a 0% introductory offer, and the ones that do offer a relatively short intro window.
Enter Discover it® Miles, which promises one of the industry’s longest intro offers of 0% APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, then 13.99% to 24.99%. What’s more, the Miles card earns 1.5 miles per dollar and matches all of your earnings at the end of your first year of card ownership, making this a card that essentially earns a 3% return (once miles earned the first year are matched). A free payoff plan, rewards and no annual fee? Sign us up.
You may be able to earn a similar return with Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases and a slightly longer intro period (15 months at an intro 0% APR and then 16.99% to 25.74% variable), but you’d have to pair it with a card earning Ultimate Rewards points to boost your value to 3%, according to TPG’s latest valuations. Meanwhile, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card offers 3x points for travel, including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals, but a shorter intro period (12 months at an intro 0% APR and then 14.49% to 26.99% variable). Your mileage may vary.
As for redemption on the Miles card, each mile is worth 1 cent as a statement credit toward qualifying travel expenses or good for cash as an electronic deposit to your bank account. Eligible travel purchases must have been recorded on your statement within the last 180 days and include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, commuter transportation and much more.
You’ll have to make sure you have a plan in place to pay off that vacation bill (and not add any additional debt) during the intro period in order to avoid finance charges. But it can be done with a little budgeting and some back-of-the-envelope math. Say you put $5,000 on your card to pay for your family’s trip. You’ll need to pay $357 a month to ensure you have that bill paid in full by the end of the 14-month 0% introductory period.
Now compare that with the interest you’d accrue without an intro offer. At 16% APR, you’d pay more than $500 in interest over the course of 14 months on that same charge, if that’s how long it took you to repay your debt. That’s a down payment on your next vacation — and $350 more than the rewards you earned for booking your vacation on a card that will ultimately give you 3% in rewards once all of your miles at matched at the end of the first year.
In most situations we aren’t supporters of creating debt to take a vacation, but sometimes life doesn’t always operate in a sequential order. If you need to charge a family trip and keep fees to a minimum, look to a card like the Discover it® Miles that gives new cardholders up to 14 months with a 0% intro APR and comes with no annual fee.
Featured image by Ippei Naoi / Getty Images
Set your own sign-up bonus with the Discover It Miles card. Any rewards you earn in the first year will automatically be matched at the end of the year and you'll earn an unlimited 1.5 miles on all purchases with no annual fee.
- Intro Offer: Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles. That's $600 towards travel!
- Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
- No Blackout Dates – fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
- Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
- Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
- Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
- Receive Free Social Security number alerts— Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
- No Annual Fee.
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