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Summer may seem like the perfect time to get that travel reward credit card you’ve had your eye on. After all, that’s when your calendar is filled with the most travel plans. But is that really the case?

“You should be on the lookout all year for the best offers, but timing can make a difference,” according to an email from Bruce McClary, the vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

But it’s not just about the timing of when to apply for the card. You also need to consider what you want to use the cards’ rewards for.

“If there are bonus reward points that are awarded when the card is activated, they may come with certain conditions limiting their availability for redemption,” McClary said. “If that’s the case, you’ll want to time the account activation in a way that allows you to take full advantage of the bonus points before they may expire.”

It Isn’t Just About the Points

While you certainly want to look at cards’ reward point systems and decide what will benefit you more — like if you are loyal to a single airline or hotel chain or want to save on the cruises you take each spring — that shouldn’t be the only element you’re looking at when comparing travel credit cards. (You can read about some of the best travel reward credit cards here.)

“Look beyond the points and focus on the basics, shopping competitively for the best rates and most affordable terms,” McClary said. “Then look for how points are awarded and redeemed.”

It’s really all about how you travel and what is most imperative to you, no matter what time of year you’re getting the card. McClary also said this includes looking for “security features that are important when you travel, like the chip-and-pin combination or automatic travel insurance.”

Remember: A New Card Doesn’t Mean It’s Time to Spend More

It’s easy to be tempted to spend more to get the rewards this plastic can provide, but that’s probably not the best route to take. Travel credit cards often have high interest rates and carrying a balance that causes you to pay these charges can almost wipe out any rewards you’d earn.

“Ask yourself if this will allow you to take full advantage of the rewards while keeping within your normal credit card usage,” McClary said. “Chasing points by overspending never ends well for those who [go] down that path.”

One Last Thing Before You Apply

While all the great perks you get with a travel credit card can sound appealing, these cards aren’t for everyone. Travel reward credit cards — along with most reward credit cards — require your credit to be in good shape. So, before you submit your application, it’s a good idea to see where your credit currently stands so you know if you’ll even be eligible for the card. (You can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Your great credit score won’t guarantee you get approved, but it certainly helps. And, if you discover your credit isn’t in the best shape, consider paying down any debts or repairing any credit report errors to help your score improve before adding any new plastic to your wallet.

Image: littleny

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