Record Summer Vacation Spending? Pay It Forward to Your Next Trip

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Americans are expected to spend a record amount on their summer vacations in 2019 — an average of $2,037. According to the Allianz Global Assistance’s Vacation Confidence Index, it’s the first time Americans’ average spending is forecast to top $2,000 since the travel insurance company first started conducting this survey in 2009. You can thank a growing global economy and rising oil prices for the increase.

This year’s record spending comes with a near-record low as well: Only 42% of Americans say they are confident they will take a summer vacation this year. That’s the lowest confidence index score since 2013’s 40%.

The high cost of vacations is one of the reasons some Americans won’t travel this summer. More than half of Americans who are not confident in taking a vacation this summer cited financial reasons. About 38% said not being able or wanting to take time off from work was a factor.

» Learn more: Baffled by points and miles? Let the 80/20 rule guide you

If you are planning on taking time off from work and taking a summer vacation this year, the good news is that the $2,000 doesn’t have to be a sunk cost for a trip. Instead, think of it as an investment in your next vacation when you put your purchases on a travel rewards card.

Here are some ways you can put that $2,000 you might be spending this summer toward your next trip.

1. Earn a credit card sign-up bonus

Depending on which travel rewards card you have and which spending categories give you bonus points, a $2,000 bill from vacation could earn you at least 2,000 points or miles that you can use toward earning a future flight, hotel stay or even car rental. If you want your buck to go further, consider putting your vacation spending toward the minimum spending requirement to get some of these cards’ big sign-up bonuses.

The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, which has an annual fee of $95, has the following welcome offer: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. Charging that summer vacation to this card also helps you get a little closer to the $15,000 spend requirement in a calendar year to get a Weekend Night Reward. Terms apply.

If you want more flexibility with your travel rewards, a credit card that allows you to redeem your points for several different airlines and hotels might be a better fit. Charging a $2,000 vacation to the American Express® Gold Card, which has an annual fee of $250, currently has this welcome offer: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. You’ll also earn 4x points on restaurants when you dine out on vacation. Terms apply.

» Learn More: Top rewards credit card offers of the month

Take advantage of summer promotions

The point bonuses don’t solely come from credit card providers either. Some airlines and hotels are awarding extra miles and points as part of limited-time special offers. Spend a portion of your vacation funds on a 2-night stay at Marriott hotels could get you 1,500 bonus points. Fly nonstop coast-to-coast with Alaska Airlines and get double the miles. Combine these promotions with spending on a travel rewards credit card and you’ll fast-track your earnings for a future vacation.

Earn a pass for your travel companion

Just think, your summer vacation spending could help you take a loved one on your next trip for almost free. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card gives you a Companion Fare, which allows a buddy to travel with you on any Alaska Airlines flight starting at only $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22), in addition to this sign-up bonus: Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account

Southwest also has a Companion Pass, but you won’t get it until you earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points. Your $2,000 summer vacation would usually only be a small contribution in your Rapid Rewards account, but if you use it to get one of the sign-up bonuses for one of the Southwest credit cards, you could get as many as 80,000 points, which is more than 70% of the points needed for the Companion Pass.

Bottom line

Americans’ spending on vacation is forecast to top $2,000, on average. If you put those vacation purchases on a new travel rewards card, you could be well on your way to earning a free flight, hotel stay or even a companion fare for your friends and family on your next trip. The number of points and miles needed to redeem free travel varies by loyalty program, so it’s important that you do your vacation spending on a card that with rewards that you’ll actually use. Make sure you’ll be able to pay off your entire vacation bill and can afford the annual credit card fees before you sign up for any new cards. After all, you don’t want credit card debt to prevent you from going on the next vacation.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet