My kids’ Spring Break is less three weeks away. Yippee! Someone recently asked me if it’s too late to accumulate miles and points for Spring Break.
Confession—when I hear of people planning a spontaneous trip like this with little notice, I think my brain twitches. I’m a Type-A planner-aheader.
But anyway, back to the question. Is it too late to start earning points to travel during Spring Break? In order to answer that question, first let me explain how earning points from credit card sign-ups work.
Timeline for Miles and Points Earnings from Credit Card Sign-ups
A series of events must occur from the time you sign up for a new credit card until the time you can actually use the miles and points. Here is an example:
Week 1: Apply for a new credit card with an attractive miles/points bonus.
Week 2: Card arrives in the mail, and you activate your card. (You can request your card to be expedited, if you want to get a jump on using it).
Most cards require you to spend $2000-$5000 in the first three months to get a sign-up bonus of 50,000 or more miles/points. The time to complete your spending for the bonus starts ticking from the day you get approved for the card, not the day you receive and activate your card.
Months 1-3: Charge regular bills and expenses on your card to meet the minimum spending required for the bonus.
Month 4: Banks typically award the bonus a few days after your statement closes in which you met the required spending. So, let’s say you meet the minimum spending in exactly three months. By the time you wait for your next statement to close, it could be almost four months from the day you applied until the day you receive your bonus points.
Of course, if you have a lot more bills or do manufactured spending, you may complete the required minimum spending much sooner, even in the first month. Still, even in the best case scenario, you will need to wait until after your first statement closes to get your points.
Exceptions to the Typical Timeline
There are a few notable exceptions to the timeline above. American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points (Amex Platinum, Amex Premier Rewards Gold) post bonus points as soon as you meet the minimum spending, even before your statement closes. However, non-bonus points may take longer to become available since Amex will put points in “pending” status until you pay your statement bill.
Other cards, like the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard, only require one purchase and payment of the annual fee to collect the bonus points. So, even if you charge $1 in the first week, the annual fee doesn’t show up until your first statement. Once you pay for your purchase and annual fee and your next statement closes, you will get the bonus points. By now, up to two months have passed.
Pitfalls and Advantages of Accumulating and Using Miles at the Last Minute
If best case scenario is that you collect bonus miles 1-2 months after applying for a new credit card, then you are probably cutting it very close to your Spring Break. If you are only weeks out from a potential trip, miles and points can be more difficult to use.
Hotel availability on points can be sketchy if you are trying to book last-minute during a peak time like Spring Break. Hotel chains have capacities on Points + Cash rates, and some brands make it difficult to book all-points reservations at popular locations.
Most airlines only release a certain number of seats for award flights. By the time you are ready to book, all the saver-level seats could be gone. You could end up spending a lot more miles on a flight than you intended. Also, some airlines charge fees for bookings less than 21 days before departure.
On the flip side, some airlines don’t have last-minute award booking fees and release more award availability as time goes on. Airlines like Southwest, who have award prices tied to cash prices, lower their prices closer to take-off as seats go unfilled.
Also, if you do manage to find a desirable hotel on points, you could be getting a great redemption rate if the price of the hotel has skyrocketed for Spring Break but the points price remains static.
So….is it too late?
If your Spring Break is in less than a month, it’s too late to collect miles and points from many credit cards. However, not all hope is lost.
You can apply for a card that uses points to erase travel expenses, like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. The minimum spending is $3000 within the first 90 days to get 50,000 points (equivalent to $500). However, you can use those points towards any travel expense over $100 charged in the past 120 days.
So, you could apply for the card now and get it in a week. Charge your normal expenses, and charge your hotel or flights for Spring Break. You will have to pay your statement in full in order to not be charged interest. After you meet the minimum spending within 3 months and you get your bonus points, select your Spring Break hotel bill or flights to get a statement credit.
If you and your spouse/partner both apply for the card, you could charge a few nights of hotel on one card and a few nights on the other card for a future savings of over $1000.
Similarly, the Capital One Venture Card also allows you to erase purchases made up to 90 days in the past with just a $25 minimum. However, this card’s sign-up bonus is currently 40,000 points.
If your Spring Break is just around the corner, it’s hard to accumulate and use airline miles in that short of a time frame. However, you can apply for and use points from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus or the Capital One Venture Card to offset some of your travel expenses. And, you can plan a strategy now to accumulate miles for a trip later this year.
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Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.