The Pitfalls of Balancing Too Many Travel Rewards Programs

When you’re a frequent traveler, every offer for a new travel credit card or hotel or airline rewards program might seem like an amazing opportunity to earn free rewards. But just like anything, spreading your travel rewards earnings among multiple programs can inhibit bigger points or mileage earnings.

Before you sign up for another rewards program, review the following common pitfalls of joining too many rewards programs, and how to avoid spreading your rewards too thin.

1. Missing a free flight opportunity for small savings

Let’s say you book a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles that’s $20 cheaper than a nearly identical flight with another airline. You have multiple airline rewards programs, so using picking that flight doesn’t seem like a big deal. The round-trip flight, however, earns just under 5,000 frequent flyer miles and had you picked United or American Airlines, it’s almost enough to cut the price of a one-way ticket in half. If that one-way ticket cost $150, appropriately applying your rewards could have saved you $75 instead of $20.

While the numbers are hypothetical, the idea of spending count is important to remember with rewards. Try to stick to no more than two airline rewards programs to earn free flights more quickly.

2. Never earning elite status.

Hotels and airlines award various special offers and bonus points to their most frequent guests. Airlines may offer first-class upgrade opportunities and hotels may offer free nights, special promotions for discounted rooms, free breakfast and/or free Wi-Fi.

Look at airline route maps to see which carrier travels to the places you want to visit this year. Then look at its airline partnerships to see where you can also earn travel rewards. The network may get you everywhere you need to go.

» Learn more: How to get started with frequent flyer programs

If you already have elite status on an airline or hotel that was not a good pick for where you currently living or visiting, call the hotel or airline you want and ask if you can be given status. It’s common for hotels and airlines to award status to those who have proven frequent traveling with a competitor.

3. Paying too many annual fees and not earning it back in travel perks

It’s tempting to sign up for a new credit card every time you see an offer for tens of thousands of bonus points, but annual fees for travel rewards cards can cost you up to $500.

Before signing up for any card, calculate what the awards points are worth. It still may be worth signing up for the new card, but you’ll want to research value beyond the bonus points. Are you getting the points or mileage bonuses on the categories you spend in the most? Do they work with the airline or hotel you choose most often? Are travel rewards flexible?

Sometimes you may choose one card for mileage and one for general travel rewards. But remember: It takes quite a bit of spending to earn rewards, so mindfully spend across two cards. If you don’t, earning the trips you really want could become impossible.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2018, including those best for:

  • Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®).
  • Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase).
  • Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Get 3 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases).
  • No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card (Earn unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with no annual fee).
  • Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Get 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, plus get access to the Global Lounge Collection). Terms Apply.

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Best travel credit cards of 2018
3 smart ways to supercharge your travel rewards
To travel cheap, steer clear of these booking flubs