Missing the boat on free travel

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A new recent survey finds Americans are missing out on a staggering $22 billion a year in free travel by not have a travel rewards credit card or not using one properly. (Source: scanrail / 123RF Stock Photo) A new recent survey finds Americans are missing out on a staggering $22 billion a year in free travel by not have a travel rewards credit card or not using one properly. (Source: scanrail / 123RF Stock Photo)
Weston says one mistake is not leaving enough time to earn the valuable sign-up points. (Source: 3TV) Weston says one mistake is not leaving enough time to earn the valuable sign-up points. (Source: 3TV)
The survey found 34 percent of Americans asked admitted to overspending in order to earn the rewards for a trip. (Source: 3TV) The survey found 34 percent of Americans asked admitted to overspending in order to earn the rewards for a trip. (Source: 3TV)
If you do want to swipe to earn free travel, as always, look at interest rates and whether there is an annual fee. (Source: 3TV) If you do want to swipe to earn free travel, as always, look at interest rates and whether there is an annual fee. (Source: 3TV)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

Flights, hotels, rental cars. Travel costs can really add up.

One way to keep expenses down is travel rewards credit cards.

Yet, Liz Weston of NerdWallet says many Americans are missing the boat.

“Americans are leaving so many trips on the table because they really don’t understand how travel rewards work,” says Weston.

A new recent survey finds Americans are missing out on a staggering $22 billion a year in free travel by not having a travel rewards credit card or not using one properly.

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Weston says one mistake is not leaving enough time to earn the valuable sign-up points.

“You want to have at least five months, and usually more, so that you have time to get the card and then get that sign-up bonus,” she says.

[RELATED: Are 'vacation loans' really worth it?]

And, look for conditions to earn the points too.

“You typically have to spend a certain amount in a certain period of time. That could be a few hundred dollars within a few months, or it could be thousands of dollars within 90 days.”

Weston says that can lead to spending sprees. The survey found 34 percent of Americans asked admitted to overspending in order to earn the rewards for a trip. That, Weston says, makes no sense at all and that rewards cards aren’t for everyone.

[SPECIAL SECTION: 3 On Your Side]

“If you’re somebody who carries a balance from month to month, you really should be focusing on getting a credit card with a lower interest rate and letting travel rewards wait until you can pay it off in full every month," said Weston.

If you do want to swipe to earn free travel, as always, look at interest rates and whether there is an annual fee. 

[RELATED: Making dollars and 'sense' for summer travel]

If the cards are right for you, Weston says they can really pay off.

“They can help you pay for hotel rooms, they can get you flights, they can get you upgrades on flights to make the whole experience a lot more pleasant,” she says.

[RELATED: Traveling safely while on vacation]

The survey also found that Americans, on average, travel three times a year but would like to travel five. And, when it comes to how they like to spend their vacations, more Americans prefer to save their travel for a leisurely getaway than to fly to see family over the holidays.

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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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