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Why 83% of people are missing out on 15k in travel credit card 'miles'

As with most things in life, timing is everything when it comes to opening a credit card.

According to a study from personal finance site NerdWallet, the best month to apply for a general travel credit card (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred) is November. The problem is that most people apply for these cards in July. Translation: Consumers are missing out on some major rewards.

In addition to sign-up perks, which typically come in the form of bonus miles or points, many cards also advertise seasonal limited-time offers. By applying for a credit card at the wrong time, NerdWallet estimates that 83% of people are passing up on these valuable travel rewards. That’s an average of 15,338 rewards points (worth about $177) consumers are leaving on the table.

“Americans love travel credit cards, but unfortunately they aren’t making the most of them,” says Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s credit card expert. “By planning ahead, they can significantly increase the value of their credit cards by signing up at the right time.”

So before you apply for your next credit card, consider a little strategy.

When it comes to signing up for a credit card from an airline like American, most people apply in January, but November is actually the best month to open a new card. For hotel credit cards — like Hilton or Marriott — the majority of consumers apply in April, but the best time to get the most perks is actually August.


For an issuer-branded card from a bank like Chase, consumers should sign up in November, and for a co-branded card, like the JetBlue and MasterCard card, August is the best time to send in your application.

To identify the best times to apply, NerdWallet reviewed internal and external data to compare credit card offers during peak and low periods. They also pulled card application rates for January 2013-December 2015 from their internal database to determine when consumers tend to apply for specific credit cards.

According to McQuay, the best time to apply for a credit card is rarely the most popular.  “To get the best deals, try to plan ahead and apply during the off-season — like in the late summer and fall,” he says.

If you're curious about the best card for your travel needs, Nerdwallet has also identifed some solid options. If you're looking for the most perks for domestic air travel, try the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, or United's Mileage Plus Explorer Card.

If hotels are your main focus, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is named the best value.

And once you have the card, you still need to plan in order to maximize the rewards. Most cards require you to spend a certain amount of money within a specific time period. Typically, the window of time hovers around three months. But once you earn your sign-up bonus, NerdWallet suggests consumers wait an additional two months (five months total) before actually taking a trip.

This extra time will allow you to meet the spending requirement, and book your trip 47 days in advance, which, according to Cheap Air, is the recommended time frame to get the best fares and rates.

Do you have a question about travel credit cards? Email us at yfmoneymailbag@yahoo.com.