Seriously... stop. Like right now.
I should probably start out by saying that I'm fully aware that some of you're probably rolling your eyes at this one. If you're the kind of person that pays attention to 5/24 rules or obsesses over reward point redemption values "raises hand", then you already know this and you would never dream of using a debit card in 99% of situations. That said, a lot of the focus of this site is going to be on regular travelers that don't have time to worry about this kind of stuff and this is something that a lot of people simply don't think about. I get it, because I used to be one of them but enough is enough. After seeing new data from Marketwatch, I feel like we need to have an intervention about that useless piece of plastic taking up space in your wallet. According to the data, Americans STILL prefer cash and debit cards to credit cards by a wide margin.
America... what's wrong with you?
I first got into this hobby about a year ago. We travel all the time but we were planning a wedding and the bills were starting to add up so it became apparent that we were either going to have to cut back on our traveling or learn to travel smart. Trust me on this, the SIMPLEST change you can make that will save you boatloads of money on travel is to put your debit card in the back of your wallet and *never* use it again. We'll go in depth about rewards cards but there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Different cards work better for different people. If you travel often and have a high monthly spend, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. If you like road trips and plane trips and have a lower monthly spend, consider a hotel rewards card (possibly from a specific brand if you don't mind having insane brand loyalty), if you prefer to fly then maybe an airline rewards card is best for you. Everyone is different but the one thing that binds us together is that nobody should be using a debit card.
This hobby started because we wanted to go on a Memorial Day weekend road trip. Money was tight and the thought of paying for 4 nights in hotels in addition to gas, tolls and everything else that went along with a long road trip was making it look like we might be spending Memorial Day weekend at home eating Spaghetti O's and Ramen Noodles and waiting for the Powerball drawing to come on so that we could (once again) be disappointed.
After doing a little research about a month and a half out I decided that enough was enough. I signed up for the Choice Privileges Visa which was offering a generous sign-up offer of 40,000 points with no annual fee after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. I buried the debit card deep in the nether regions of my wallet and started using the credit card for every single purchase.
It's amazing how quickly small purchases add up. In one month I hit the threshold just by buying the same things I was already buying and paying as many bills as possible with the card. After my first billing cycle I immediately received enough points for up to 6 free nights if we chose our hotels wisely. I spent the same amount of money that month as I did every other month, but just because I chose to use a different card, I earned six free hotel rooms. Even now that the sign up bonus is a thing of the past I still earn enough points for a free room almost every month just by doing exactly what I was doing before and paying with a different card (and that's with a pretty modest income).
You should never buy things you wouldn't have otherwise bought just to earn rewards, but since you're already paying a seemingly endless amount of monthly bills plus paying for things like groceries and food then you might as well pay for those things on a card that gives you something in return. If you're worried about getting a huge bill at the end of the month, open up online bill pay and move the money from your checking account to your credit card whenever you make a large purchase. You can pay your credit card as often as you'd like.
Again, I know some of you are rolling your eyes. This should be obvious but in 2016, Americans spent 67.93 billion dollars on their debit cards and earned absolutely nothing in return. Nothing. In contrast, Americans only spent 34.57 billion dollars on Credit Cards (about half of that absurd debit card number).
The only explanation for this is pure, almost unimaginable insanity.
Let's not forget that even if miles and points weren't a thing (I know, I got a little sad just thinking about that too but don't worry we're just pretending. It's just a scary story, it'll be okay), credit cards would still be better. Card holds aren't tied to the funds in your bank account, reversing malicious charges is much easier and in general they offer a lot more peace of mind. Once you factor in the rewards though, debit cards seem like a bigger waste of space in your wallet than that Blockbuster Video membership card. At least that's a conversation piece. That's got to be worth something...
With my current no-annual-fee card (which is a pretty run-of-the-mill card), spending $500 a week on bills and everything I could possibly charge to a credit card nets me about 9 free hotel rooms a year. This doesn't even count the rewards you earn just from joining a free hotel rewards club and earning insane amounts of points for those rare times that you actually end up paying for a room. All I did was start using a different color piece of plastic. That's it.
Stop the madness, America. Put the debit card down.
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