Credit Cards with Great Perks!
As a frugal parent, I’m always looking for free or cheap ways to keep my kid entertained. From matinee prices at our local movie theater to free admission days at museums, there are plenty of activities to do that don’t cost much.
Credit cards can fill some of that need, offering perks that can be used by families that go beyond the basic credit card benefits of lost luggage protection, extended warranties and no foreign transaction fees.
First, know that “free” comes with a caveat — you may be paying these benefits in other ways: An annual fee, late fee if you don’t pay your credit card bill on time, interest charges on revolving credit, and possibly unnecessary spending so you can earn reward points. That free admission to the museum with your credit card may not be so free if it and other perks aren’t worth more than you’re spending on credit card fees.
While not all perks are from rewards points earned for using a credit card, it’s worth knowing that rewards expire, redemption requirements change and some dates you want may be blacked out.
An annual fee will eat up some reward points. The average rewards point is worth 1 cent. If your credit card has an annual fee of $95, you’d need to spend $9,500 annually to get back that annual fee before the rewards are profitable for you. That equates to spending $791 per month — just to cover the annual fee.
Here are some perks to keep a family entertained, starting with probably the most obvious one. If you’re unsure what perks your card offers, check online, call the 800 number on the back of the card, or read the many mailings you get from them.
A free vacation
This may be one of the main ways to use rewards points. A 50,000-point signup bonus can go a long way toward free flights or hotel stays, and you may have enough annual spending on the card to pay for most of a family vacation.
My family earns a week or more in free hotel nights each year by using one credit card, and discounted airfares with another.
Credit cards also typically offer free lost luggage protection, car rental insurance, no foreign transaction fee, airport lounge access and upgrades.
Free museum admission
With a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card and a picture ID, you can get one free general admission ticket on the first full weekend of the month at museums around the country through the “Museums on Us” program. Only the cardholder gets free admission.
In California, these include the San Jose Museum of Art and The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Crocker Art Museum and The California Museum in Sacramento, and the Oakland Museum of California.
Super Bowl tickets
Cards with annual fees usually have better rewards than those without, though you have to weigh the fee against the benefits.
With no annual fee, the NFL Extra Points credit card requires a lot of spending to collect the 175,000 points needed to get two upper-level tickets to the Super Bowl. The 10,000 bonus points after qualifying purchases is a low signup bonus that won’t get you close to the free tickets.
Free tickets to see your favorite team in a regular-season game are easier to get, requiring just 25,000 points. If you buy a lot of NFL tickets, this card may be worthwhile.
Of the many unique experiences cardholders can get, concert tickets seem to be the most common offered. Through Ticketmaster, American Express members can use rewards points toward a portion or all of a ticket purchase to a concert, with 750 concert dates to choose from.
Other unique events
Another American Express credit card, the Starwood Preferred Guest card, or SPG, lets rewards points be redeemed for unique events such as the U.S. Open tennis tournament, a luxury suite at a Los Angeles Lakers game and NBA All-Star game tickets. Events can be purchased outright with a set amount of points, or you can bid on an event.
For 70,000 points, for example, you can buy two nights at a hotel in Dubai and take a masterclass and have lunch with Michelin Star chef Gary Rhodes. For 45,000 points you can either buy a luxury box at Wrigley Field to see the Chicago Cubs play or walk the red carpet and get seats at the 2018 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. You may want to skip taking your kid to the after party for the music awards, however.
Cell phone protection
If VIP access isn’t your thing, or isn’t suitable for your children, then maybe use a free perk such as $600 worth of cell phone damage protection from Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards. To get it, you must pay your cell phone bill with the card offering this service.
It’s sort of like having a free extended warranty, which could come in handy with a teen who drops things often. It doesn’t cover lost phones.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the Bay Area who has worked at newspapers and now writes for online publications about personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @AaronCrowe or read about his family finances at his website, CashSmarter.com