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Airline Credit Card or Flexible Rewards Card: What’s the Best Way to Earn a Free Flight?

When it comes to strategizing how to earn free airfare with travel rewards credit cards, there are two main schools of thought. On one hand, you can sign up for your favorite airline’s frequent flyer program and get their co-branded credit card to earn miles through regular spending and flying. Or, you can get a credit card that lets you earn flexible travel rewards good for any airline instead.

Both strategies can be advantageous depending on your travel style and goals. Still, earning a free flight becomes easier when you’re able to make an informed decision about what type of travel rewards card is right for you.

So, which should you choose? Airline miles or travel credit?

Airline frequent flyer programs

While each airline loyalty program works differently, they all follow a similar format. When you pay for a flight, you earn frequent flyer miles based on the cost of your paid airfare and/or the many miles you fly. You can get more points by using the airline’s credit card to pay for it.

The upside of earning airline miles is obvious; through regular flying, credit card spending, or a combination of the two, you can earn miles and redeem them for flights around the globe. With the American AAdvvantage program, a round-trip domestic flight costs as little as 25,000 miles while a round-trip flight to Europe can run as little as 45,000 miles. Since the average domestic flight costs around $400 and the average flight to Europe can cost $1,000 or more, you can score an exceptionally good value for your miles with this program (points are worth 1.6 cents and 2 cents respectively). (See also: Which Airline Loyalty Program Has the Best Value for Their Miles?)

Keep in mind that, on top of your miles, you’ll need to pay government-mandated taxes and fees. These fees are usually $5.60 per leg for domestic flights, but can range in the hundreds of dollars for flights abroad. The fees also differ with airlines. Do your research before you settle on the airline program to pursue miles with. Other factors include where they fly and their partner airlines that you’d be able to get use miles for. Also, blackout dates and award seat availability are factors, too.

How to spot a frequent flyer program

These are the things you should look for when considering a frequent flyer program to join.

No blackout dates or seat limitations

The best programs allow you to redeem your miles for any seat on any flight as long as they haven’t been sold. Some programs designate a specific number of award seats per flight (or on select flights), or they impose blackout dates when you can’t use miles at all. Unless you are a solo traveler with very flexible plans on when and even where to go, you’ll end up very frustrated at your options and may see a lot of your points go unused due to the lack of availability. (See also: 10 Ways to Get Free — or Almost Free — Flights)

Multiple ways to earn miles

Being able to earn miles through other ways than flying with that airline makes racking up miles easier and faster, which means free flights faster. Airline credit cards will often give points for all spending, and maybe even bonus points for additional categories.

Travel…

3 Ways Retirees Can Build Credit

You might think that once you reach retirement, your credit score is just one of those things you get to stop worrying about. While it’s true that most retirees won’t be applying for mortgages, it’s not true that you don’t need to maintain a decent credit score. What if you want to apply for a car loan? What about credit cards? You certainly won’t get the lowest interest rates and best rewards programs possible without a good credit score to back you up.

A low credit score can also hurt you if you want to downsize to an apartment, or even move into a senior living facility. You might need a solid credit score to qualify.

Why it’s hard for retirees to build credit

According to FICO, to have a credit score, you must have at least one credit account that is at least six months old. You must also have at least one account that has been updated by a creditor or lender during the last six months.

If you aren’t paying a mortgage, paying off an auto loan, or using credit cards, you might not meet any of these requirements. This might lead to you becoming what FICO calls an “unscorable,” a consumer who has no credit score at all.

Fortunately, there are ways for retirees to continue building credit. They require the same good financial habits you’ve been practicing before retirement.

Use the credit cards you have

You might prefer paying for items in cash. Instead, make small purchases throughout the month with your credit card. If you pay off your entire card balance each month, you’ll continue to boost your credit score. (See also: How…

Futuristic New Mastercard Includes a Built-In Fingerprint Scanner

You can put down the pen and forget your PIN with Mastercard’s newest credit card. As The Verge reports, the company is testing out a credit card with a built-in fingerprint scanner that allows customers to authorize their payments with the swipe of a digit—no PIN or signature necessary.

The new Mastercard is just as slim as a regular one, and it works with all existing chip-and-PIN readers. To get one of the fancy new cards, you’ll need to register at a branch. Your fingerprint will then be converted into an encrypted digital template, which is stored on the card. To use the card, you’ll just dip it into a store’s card reader as normal. But instead of entering a PIN, you’ll be prompted to place a finger or thumb on the embedded sensor on the card’s top right corner in order to…

Debit or Credit? There’s a Difference, and It Matters

Should you swipe that card as debit or credit?

Most of us probably have a default that we stick to, but many also probably have no clue what the difference is between the two.

I know I didn’t.

I used to always swipe my debit card as credit, because it had a cash-back feature that gave me like 5% back once I’d spent a certain amount every month.

That’s not to be confused with the cash-back option, which allows you to withdraw a limited amount of cash from the register as you pay. For that ATM-like feature, you need to swipe it as debit.

Ultimately, if you have a debit card, it also doubles as a credit card, and you can do either when you pay.

Swiping as debit issues an immediate transfer of funds, whereas if you swipe your debit card as credit, it will take a few days–just like with a normal credit card. Both methods take the money out of the same linked bank account, and both are contingent on you actually having something close to that amount of money in your account.

So, short-answer: you can do either, and in some cases, the merchant may make that choice for you by only allowing for one or the other (usually because of fees they may have to pay for offering the service).

But if you really want to get the most out of your card, you need to look into what features it comes with.

As I mentioned earlier, I used to have…

5 Myths About Credit Cards That Won’t Go Away

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The idea of evaluating a person’s creditworthiness goes back as early as 1899, when Equifax (originally called Retail Credit Company) would keep a list of consumers and a series of factors to determine their likelihood to pay back debts. However, credit cards didn’t make an appearance until the 1950s, and the FICO score as we know it today wasn’t introduced until 1989.

Due to these timing differences, many U.S. consumers hold on to damaging myths about credit cards. Let’s dispel five of these widely held but false beliefs and find out what to do to continue improving your credit score.

Myth #1: Closing unused cards is good for credit

Remember when United Colors of Benetton used to be all the rage and you shopped there all the time? Fast forward a decade; you don’t shop there anymore, and you’re thinking about shutting down that store credit card. Not so fast! Closing that old credit card may do more harm than good to your credit score.

Your length of credit history contributes 15 percent of your FICO score. If that credit card is your oldest card, then closing it would bring down the average age of your accounts and hurt your score. This is particularly true when there is a gap of several years between your oldest and second-to-oldest card. Another point to consider is that when you close a credit card, you’re reducing your amount of available credit. This drops your credit utilization ratio, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO score.

What to do: Keep those old credit cards open, especially when they are the oldest ones that you have. Just make sure that you’re keeping on top of any applicable annual fees and they’re not tempting you to spend beyond your means.

Myth #2: Holding a credit card balance is good for credit

Your payment history is a more influential factor to your FICO score than your total amount owed to lenders (35 percent versus 30 percent, respectively). This means that if you have a choice between paying off and holding on to debt, it’s generally better to pay it off. However, responsible…

6 Infuriating Ways You’re Ruining Someone Else’s Credit

Your credit score is one of the biggest deciding factors in your financial health. It influences whether you qualify for the best interest rates on mortgages or auto loans, it can impact your insurance rates, and it can even determine whether you land that dream job or not.

Establishing good credit requires managing your credit accounts responsibly. But your own credit score isn’t the only one that can suffer the consequences of poor credit management. In the same way money can ruin a friendship, your financial carelessness could ruin someone else’s credit. Here’s how.

1. Charging up someone else’s credit card

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card helps build your own credit history. You’ll receive a credit card in your name, and you’re allowed to make charges on the account. But even though your name is on the card and the account shows up on your credit report, only the primary account holder receives the statements. This person is ultimately responsible for any purchases you make with the card.

If you’re an authorized user, the mature thing to do is pay whatever you charge each month. If you don’t or can’t pay, this sets in motion a chain of events that could ruin the other person’s credit.

Any purchases you charge to the account can raise the primary account holder’s balance and increase their credit utilization ratio beyond a healthy range (utilization ratio is the credit card balance compared to the credit limit). Ideally, credit utilization should never exceed 30 percent of a credit limit — the lower, the better. A high utilization ratio can lower credit scores.

In addition, ringing up charges on someone’s credit card and not paying what you owe could trigger payment problems. This can happen if the primary user doesn’t have enough money for higher minimum payments. If they can’t pay the credit card bill within 30 days, the credit card company could report the late payment to the credit bureaus. While a 30-day delinquency won’t tank a credit…

4 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Credit Increase

Feeling penned in by the low credit limits on your credit card? You might be able to boost your credit limit to a higher amount. Often, all it takes is a single call to your card provider. The bigger question, though, is whether you’re financially prepared for a higher limit.

Your credit card providers will always set a credit limit on your cards, the maximum amount you can borrow. If you have a short credit history or a low FICO credit score, your credit limits might be low ones, sometimes under $1,000. If you have a long credit history and high scores, your limit might be $10,000, $20,000, or more.

How do know if you’re ready for the financial responsibility of a higher credit limit? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do You Pay Your Credit Card Bill Late?

Do you pay your credit card bills by their due dates every single month? Or have you missed payments in the past? If it’s the latter, you might want to hold off on requesting a higher credit limit.

Paying your credit cards 30 days or more late will cause your FICO score to drop by 100 points or more. Your credit card provider will also charge you a penalty, and your card’s interest rate might soar. If you have a higher credit limit and a high balance, an interest rate spike could cost you quite a bit in extra interest payments.

Having a history of late payments will also give your credit card provider pause; the financial institution might not want to boost your limit if you don’t always pay your bill on time.

Do You Carry a Balance on Your Card?

The smart way to use a credit card is to pay off your balance in full each month. This way, you boost your credit score by making on-time payments, and you won’t get hit by the high interest that is often…

18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Most people have already been victims of the most basic forms of identity theft — having fraudulent charges on your credit card. Those even less lucky have been victimized in more aggressive ways, with criminals obtaining medical care, working, and flying in our names.

Unwinding that mess can take years and thousands of dollars. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the crime doesn’t generally stop with the one person who stole your information. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data gets packaged and sold on the underground Internet so that different people all over the world could be impersonating you at the same time.

“It’s a pain. It does cause a lot of stress,” said Lindsay Bartsh, of San Rafael, California, who said that straightening out a web of fraudulent medical bills, flights, job applications, and credit applications took every minute of her free time for a year.

How does it happen? Here’s a look at both the most common ways thieves steal our data, as well as some of the newest ploys to watch out for.

1. Mail Theft

Bartsh believes this time-honored tactic is how her personal information got out into the criminal underworld. An expected W-2 tax form never arrived. Assuming it was stolen, it would have given thieves a wealth of information, such as Social Security number and workplace.

2. Database Hacks

When a large corporation gets hacked, the effect can be widespread. When the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management was breached, some 22 million people had their personal information exposed. (I was one of the many who received a warning about this, because I had a writing contract with a government agency.)

3. Malicious Software

If you have a virus on your computer, you may suffer more than a slowdown or a system crash. Some malicious programs that spread as viruses record every keystroke you type, allowing thieves to find out your online banking username and password. These programs can infect your mobile phone as well as your computer.

4. Search Engine Poisoning

This is a sneaky way of tricking people into giving up their own personal data, or getting malicious software onto a person’s computer. The criminals create a fake website similar to a real one, or that could plausibly be a real one.

One tactic is for you to click through to the fake site and try to buy a product, entering your credit card or debit card number. Another way they try to get you is for you to unknowingly download information-stealing software onto your computer.

Where does the search engine part come in? These criminals manipulate Google and other search engines’ algorithms to get their phony sites ranked high in search listings, leading users to believe they must be legit. Fortunately, Google has made progress in preventing this in recent years, but it still happens.

5. Phishing

Phishing is a term that broadly means “fishing” for personal information through a variety of common social interactions — so-called “social engineering.” The most common phishing attack happens when you get an email that looks like it came from your bank or another legitimate company. It may come with an alarming subject line, such as “overdraft warning” or “your order has shipped.” When you click a link in the email, you may see a login screen identical to your normal login, which will trick you into entering your username and password. You could also be asked for more identifying details, such as Social Security number and account number.

Fortunately, banks have put some countermeasures into place to fight phishing. You can also protect yourself by not responding directly to incoming messages. If you get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, type your bank address into your browser instead of clicking the link, sign in, and check your account’s message center. Or just call your bank’s customer service number.

6. Phone Attacks

The Internal Revenue Service has been warning for several years that scammers are calling people claiming to be the…

Which Credit Card Should You Use to Get Free Hotel Stays?

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If your goal is earning free hotel stays, it’s hard to know which type of rewards card to get. While co-branded hotel credit cards are an obvious pick, general-purpose travel credit cards that let you redeem points for different kinds of travel rewards can work well for free hotel stays, too.

Which card is best? It depends on your travel style and vacation goals. Let’s dig into both types of cards to see how they work, whom they’re best for, and where they fall flat.

Co-Branded Hotel Credit Cards

Each major hotel chain — Hyatt, Carlson, Marriott, IHG, Hilton, and the like — offers a unique set of options. Where IHG only has one co-branded hotel credit card, Hilton has several. Some hotel brands offer co-branded business cards, too, giving you even more ways to rack up points.

These co-branded cards have several benefits and drawbacks, compared to more flexible travel rewards cards.

Focused Strategy Generally Nets Extra Points and Perks

Hotel credit cards can offer great value if you’re an enthusiast for a specific chain. If your family always stays at Hiltons, for example, getting the Citi Hilton HHonors might be smart. Not only do you get automatic Gold status just for being a cardholder, but you can quickly earn points on stays for free nights. Co-branded cards generally offer very high bonus points for stays at its properties. They also often feature generous sign-up bonuses that can cover free stays for a few nights. (See also: Tips for Using Hotel Reward Points to Get the Most Value)

You’re Stuck With One Chain

The downside with hotel credit cards is that they aren’t as flexible as general travel credit cards. With a co-branded hotel credit card, you can only book free nights at a hotel within that chain. So, if your travel plans change or you want to try a different hotel brand, you might be out of luck.

Award Availability May Be Limited

Another downside with hotel credit cards is that even though most major hotel brands advertise “no blackout dates” for award nights, they still may limit award availability. So, even if you have the points to burn, you may not be able to use them for the exact dates you…