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Americans miss $22B in free travel without a travel card, study says

Americans miss out on free travel by not

Americans miss out on free travel by not having a travel credit card. The first-year value of a travel card is $901, and it's $277 each subsequent year. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

You could be missing out on big bucks. According to a new study from, Americans miss out on $22 billion a year in free travel by not having a travel credit card. They also found that the first-year value of a travel card is $901, and it’s $277 each subsequent year, even taking into account annual fees.

The numbers are tempting. But before you rush to sign up, know too, that 34 percent of the 2,000 people surveyed by the Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet, admitted often overspending in order to earn points or rewards for a trip.

Reward cards can be tricky. If you choose to play, be savvy.

Do the math

Don’t chase points. “If you overspend, there’s a good chance the balance you accrue will be too big to pay off when your bill is due, which means you’ll have to make interest payments on it. Every dollar you pay toward interest negates every dollar you earn in rewards,” says J.R. Duren, a credit card analyst at, a consumer-focused website.

Study up

“Be prepared to become an expert in airline and hotel rewards programs; this is a necessary part of maximizing the rewards you get for your spending. The Hilton Honors Ascend [card] from AmEx earns a ton of points from spending but its cheapest rewards booking is 10,000 points, or twice as much as the cheapest World of Hyatt booking,” says Duren.

Don’t allow points to expire

Letting rewards expire is throwing away money. “The best way to avoid losing your rewards is by staying informed, both about the status of your accounts and the various expiration policies. Most credit cards will null and void your miles if you close the credit card account,” says Natasha Rachel Smith, personal finance and travel expert at

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