How Does Booking Travel Through a Credit Card Rewards Program Compare?

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Travel rewards credit cards are exciting.

Who doesn’t want to be earning points toward a dream vacation every time you use your credit card to buy something?

However, whether a travel rewards credit card is right for you is a more nuanced question. Even the best travel credit cards charge annual fees. So you need to project how often you’ll travel and whether the rewards justify the fee.

Many travel rewards credit cards require you to book through their own travel program in order to participate in the rewards system.

How do the prices that those credit card travel programs offer compare to other traditional booking sites? That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.

Booking Travel: Credit Card Travel Program vs. Traditional Options

Are prices for travel worse when you book through a credit card travel rewards program?

That’s what a listener wondered during the Aug. 18 podcast episode.

Barbara asked: “A listener asked about a 2% reward credit card option since the Costco Visa is not as great as it used to be when it was American Express. Clark suggested the Capital One card with an annual fee (part of it is returned if you purchase travel through Capital One).

“The rest of the story … There are more and more cards that require you to purchase travel through them vs. just using the card to purchase any travel expense. Will the travel maestro please explain how costs compare booking through a credit card company vs. the many other sites Clark has recommended in the past?”

Remember, Clark’s No. 1 travel rule is to find a deal first — no matter where the destination. He preaches comparison shopping in practically every podcast episode.


So when it comes to the best deal on travel, the answer is “it depends.” But there’s a clear process that Clark likes to follow.

How Clark Howard Books His Own Travel To Save Money

The only way to know the best price for any individual flight, hotel or excursion is to check all your options. It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s a lot of work. But it’s also an opportunity.

“If we had a camera behind me when I’m trying to book travel, it would bore you and then you’d be laughing,” Clark says.

“I was booking some travel last night. And I opened so many windows at so many websites comparison shopping. My whole screen at the top was tiny little windows, one after another after another. And I was going back and forth and comparing. And I got overwhelmed and I actually took out pen and paper and was writing things down.”

Here are the websites that Clark remembers browsing:

“And I know that just sounds like a no-fun zone,” Clark says. “For me, it’s all like this challenge. And so there are times that booking through one of the travel portals is going to cost you more and not worth doing. And then there are other times it’s a real deal. Plus you get 5x points or 10x points or something like that using the travel portal.

“And so I don’t use [a credit card travel program] until I have verified it is A-OK.

“I was booking four different hotels last night. And I booked one with Priceline, two with Booking, which is the same company as Priceline, and one with American Express. So I was all over the place figuring out for each place, what was best.”

Final Thoughts

Clark’s method for booking travel is the way to go if you want the best price. Sometimes your credit card travel rewards program will make the most sense and sometimes it won’t. There are a lot of nuances depending on your individual circumstances.

But the best way to figure it out is to know, understand and compare all your options.


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