Living with credit, Rewards, Travel

Rack up card rewards on your next road trip

Lyn Mettler

Headed on a road trip to a fantastic fall festival or perhaps for a little leaf-peeping? There are several credit cards* that can be handy to have to score savings and earn perks on everything from groceries and campgrounds to gas and dining.

Gas and groceries, restaurants
Gas and groceries can be two of the biggest expenses on a road trip, so any way to cut costs or earn additional perks is helpful. Pack your rewards card to score cash back or points every time you fill up on fuel and food and you’re good to go.

Several rewards credit cards offer cash back at the pump and grocery stores along your way so you can stretch your road trip budget further.

“The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is one of the best cards for people hitting the road,” says Roman Shteyn, co-founder of RewardExpert.com. “It offers 3 percent cash back at gas stations and 6 percent cash back on groceries up to $6,000 when you stock up on food en route to your destination.”

Category cash back cards are another option.

With the Chase Freedom, cardholders can earn 5 percent cash back in categories that rotate each quarter. For example, 2017 categories included fuel (January through March) and grocery stores (April through June). Through September, cardholders earn 5 percent at restaurants. The fourth-quarter category (October through December) hasn’t been set yet.

With the Discover it Cashback Match card, the 5 percent categories for the rest of 2017 are restaurants (through September) and Amazon and Target (October through December). Categories earlier this year included fuel for the first quarter.

“Check to see what categories are included when you’re traveling,” says Scott Lieberman, managing editor for MillionMileSecrets.com. Or alternately, plan your trip during a quarter in which you can score the most cash back on fuel, groceries or restaurants along your route.

Lieberman also recommends the Blue Cash Everyday card and Everyday card from American Express to save and earn perks at supermarkets. At grocery stores, the Blue Cash card earns 3 percent cash back and the Amex Everyday earns 2x points (on up to $6,000 in spending per year, then 1 percent or 1 point thereafter).

“Besides stocking up on snacks at the supermarket, select a gas station gift card off the rack,” Lieberman suggests. “You’ll get cash back and snag the cheaper cash price at the pump.”

Dining out and drive-thrus
There are plenty of credit cards to choose from to accumulate points or cash back while you stop for meals on your road trip.

Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points when dining out, which includes restaurants and even that drive-thru,” says Shteyn. “It’s also one of the most flexible cards for travel redemptions, so if you have to grab an unexpected hotel on the way you can probably find something to book through its travel portal.”

With both the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve, Lieberman says, cardholders earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can use for cash back at 1 cent per point to put money back in your pocket.

But, he adds, “you’ll get significantly more value from these points when you use them to purchase travel through the Chase portal with no blackout dates or by transferring to Chase’s partners for airline miles or hotel points for award travel.”

Another option is the Citi Prestige, which earns 2 points for each dollar spent at restaurants, attractions, movie theaters and amusement parks. You can then use those points to book airfare on any airline with no blackout dates for a future trip.

Campgrounds
Flexible credit cards that let you use points or cash toward purchases in select categories, such as travel, can be a smart way to save on campground stays.

These include credit cards such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which allows you to use miles earned on the card toward campground purchases of $100 or more, Lieberman says.

You can also earn points on your campground spend by using a variety of cards like the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred, Shteyn adds.

“If you’re planning to go camping with the kids on that road trip, you’ll be happy to know that campgrounds count as travel for most credit cards, so your low budget vacation can earn you some bonus points for cards like the Sapphire Preferred, which offers double points for any travel category,” said Shteyn.

Sapphire Reserve, which comes with a higher $450 annual fee, earns 3 points on each dollar spent on travel expenses.

Plan now to save: There are plenty of ways to put more money back in your pocket on your next road trip. By reviewing your cards and putting together a strategy, not only can you stretch your dollar further, you can maximize points earned for future travel.

*Disclaimer: The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelersLearn how to maximize card rewards for family fun, saving, Not all travel qualifies for bonus points

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