Score Extra Travel Discounts Thru Your Credit Card Company
Byline by Michael Dolen of Credit Card Forum
As someone who lives in California by way of Michigan, I try and make it back a couple times per year to visit family. Seven years ago, the going rate for a round-trip ticket back home was usually in the neighborhood of $250. However these days, it’s much higher. In fact, my last two tickets were both more than $700!
With these sky high prices, I pull every trick in the book to save a buck when booking my trip. We all know about frequent flyer miles, coupon codes, and the like. Those are all great and should be used, but there’s another easy way to save money on travel that’s often overlooked… buying through your credit card company’s website.
How It Works
In a nutshell, many travel websites pay banks when they refer a customer. In turn, the bank chucks over some of that money back to you, in the form of extra reward points or cash back. To get these savings, it’s actually quite simple. Go to your credit card company’s website and login to your account. From there, check to see if there is a “mall” for online shopping (each bank calls their program something different).
Once you’re in this mall, you will be presented with a directory of participating websites; depending on your card issuer, there will probably be between 200 and 500 different websites participating. Among those, you will find a good selection of travel websites. Simply click on the item you want and you will be re-directed to their website. This places a cookie on your browser; if a sale is made, they will be paying your credit card company a commission, who in turn, will be paying you!
Let’s review some of the most popular programs and how they compare…
- ShopDiscover – As you can probably guess, this is the program affiliated with Discover credit cards. Most of the time, their discounts beat the other guys hands down because they give a minimum of 5% cash back and sometimes, much higher. For example, you can earn 5% on Carnival, Hotwire, Marriott, and some purchases on Expedia and Orbitz.
- Add It Up – This is the Bank of America program that promises “up to 20% cash back” but for the vast majority of their partners, you will be getting far less than that, perhaps 1-3%. My BofA Add It Up review shows how it measures up against its peers. But on the plus side, you don’t need a credit card to participate! A BofA debit card is also eligible. So despite its lower rewards, this is a good program for those who tend to get in trouble with credit cards (and therefore should stay away from them).
- Chase Ultimate Rewards – From my experience this is usually the second most generous program after ShopDiscover and you will find some participants not seen on other credit card malls. For example, Days Inn, Super8, Holiday Inn, and Best Western participate. You will also find the big travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline and Orbitz – their rebate is lower than Discover, but the advantage is that you can get it on more types of purchases (versus Discover, which doesn’t pay the 5% on stand-alone flights).
- ThankYou Bonus Center – Similar to Bank of America, Citi’s “ThankYou” program also allows you to earn bonus points using multiple ways. There are a couple things that really make this program stand out. First of all, there are nearly 600 participants. Secondly, there are some individual airlines participating such as Delta and Alaska Airlines. My only complaint is that there are a couple drawbacks with the Citi ThankYou program during redemption.
Regardless of whether you use a debit or credit card, before you book travel online you should check your card issuer’s program to see if it will be possible to score some extra savings. The percentage you’re saving may not be huge, but over time getting an extra 2- 5% will really add up.
Nearly four years ago Michael started Credit Card Forum, which is a resource for people to discuss credit cards. To this very day, he still researches and writes all of the editorial content on his site.