By Johnny Jet – For the past 20 years, Johnny Jet averaged 150,000 miles and 20 countries a year. He has been featured in many major publications and appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC and PBS.
Road trips are a classic travel option to explore historical landmarks and natural wonders. Yet many people don’t think of road trips when considering point and mile redemption options. From redeeming points for hotel stays to activating complimentary subscription services, these tips will help you optimize each segment of your road trip.
Look for Point Redemption Bonuses
While fewer people are flying due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many travelers are still looking for ways to redeem their mountain of credit card points. Many of the leading banks are offering ways to redeem credit card points for non-travel purchases. In some cases, you can even redeem points and get a redemption bonus.
For instance, Chase’s “Pay Yourself Back” feature offers some of the best redemption bonuses for the Sapphire card family. Each Chase Ultimate Reward point can be worth 25 or 50 percent more when redeemed as a statement credit for purchases made at home improvement stores, grocery stores, and dining purchases. Plus, the dining category includes takeout and select food delivery services.
You might be able to redeem your points for cash statement credits or travel statement credits. Redeeming your points for a gift card for a store or restaurant you will visit during your road trip is another option. As long as the redemption value is at least 1 cent per point, redeeming your points can be smart.
Pro tip: No matter where your points come from, Point Tracker in TripIt Pro stores all your account numbers, balances, and expiration dates in one place. Plus, Point Tracker has been recently redesigned with an improved view of your point balances and history to help you manage your reward programs—which will come in handy as you plan your road trip.
Transfer Points to Hotels Instead of Airlines
Lodging can be one of your most significant road trip expenses. Transferring points to hotels can help you book complimentary nights. Don’t have enough points? You might be able to pool these points with your travel companions to secure a free night.
Several travel credit cards let you transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programs. For example, two major credit card issuers, Chase and American Express offer 1:1 transfers to hotel partners on select travel credit cards.
Most hotel loyalty programs also let you pay with points and cash. This can be a good option if you don’t want to burn your entire points balance on your hotel stay.
Pro tip: Remember to forward your hotel (and other) reservations to TripIt to create a seamless road trip itinerary. From car rental pickup to driving directions, TripIt can make sense of all your travel plans and help you navigate each step of your journey.
Redeem Points for Rental Cars
Speaking of rental cars, some travel credit cards let you redeem points upfront for rental car reservations. You will likely need to redeem your points through your credit card travel portal unless your credit card offers travel statement credits. This can be a good redemption option if you don’t own a car or if you don’t want to put the wear and tear on your own car. Renting a car also lets you upgrade to a larger vehicle with more luggage space or legroom. If you’re on a tight travel budget, using points reduces your overall trip costs.
Another suggestion is to book rental cars using your credit card with rental car benefits. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great credit card for road trips because it earns 2x points on dining and travel purchases and comes with primary collision damage waiver protection. Other premium travel credit cards, such as the Platinum Card from American Express, offer special rental privileges with Avis, Hertz, and National.
Review Your Credit Card Benefits
Most credit cards come with built-in travel and consumer protection benefits. Some of these benefits are underutilized, and you might not know your card has them. For instance, secondary rental damage waiver coverage is a standard benefit for most Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover credit cards. This benefit can reduce your upfront rental car costs and save you money if a qualifying collision or theft occurs.
Other travel benefits your card might offer includes:
- Travel fee credit reimbursements
- Restaurant and delivery service credits
- Complimentary hotel nights
- Elite hotel loyalty status
- On-property hotel amenity credits
- Trip cancellation insurance
- Rental car collision damage waiver
- Roadside assistance
The potential benefits vary by credit card. For instance, branded hotel credit cards are more likely to offer elite loyalty benefits, including complimentary room upgrades and on-property amenities.
Some travel credit cards let you redeem annual travel credits for non-travel purchases. One example is the Chase Sapphire Reserve that’s helping cardholders by applying its $300 travel credit for gas station and grocery store purchases plus any eligible travel purchases for the rest of 2020.
Use Complimentary Service Subscriptions
Many credit cards tout exclusive cardmember experiences for dining and entertainment. However, most of these offers are virtual-based or postponed this year. Instead, you can enjoy complimentary subscriptions to premium services including:
- Spotify Premium
- Uber Eats
Some of these complimentary subscriptions waive delivery fees and service fees. You may use delivery apps to order food and groceries to where you’re staying on your road trip journey. With a free subscription to Spotify Premium (or other eligible streaming services), you can save money on your road trip playlist.
Activate Purchase Offers
Some credit cards offer a one-time cash statement credit at participating merchants. For example, American Express has Amex Offers and Chase Bank has Chase Offers. Each program links limited-time offers for stores, dining, and digital apps to your rewards credit cards. However, you must activate the offers before making a qualifying purchase to receive the cash statement credit. Your remaining purchase amount will earn rewards points.
Some of these offers can help you save money on your road trip. For instance, you might have an offer for Starbucks or a streaming app.
Pro tip: TripIt can help you quickly find participating locations for your offers. The Nearby Places feature searches for restaurants (including those offering takeout), coffee shops, stores, and other amenities along your route.
Focus on Earning Bonus Points
Travel credit cards have adjusted their purchase rewards categories so you can continue earning bonus points on your daily spending. Two popular purchase categories that now earn bonus points more often are gas stations and streaming apps. Both of these categories are easy to maximize as you hit the highway while listening to your favorite podcasts or music.
Travel credit cards are also offering bonus points for grocery purchases. If you’re staying in a vacation rental instead of a hotel, you’ll likely have a private kitchen. Preparing your own meals saves saving money and earning bonus points on groceries in the process.
Another easy way to earn bonus points on every purchase is by using a flat-rate rewards card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card that earns 2x miles per $1 spent on every purchase. Flat-rate rewards cards usually have flexible redemption options so you can use them right away to offset your road trip expenses. You also have the peace of mind knowing the points you earn are not exclusively connected to an airline or hotel brand you may no longer use for future travel.
Many of the major credit card issuers have added bonus categories or adjusted their benefits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These new perks can help you earn more for purchases on goods and services that are being made more often until it is safe to travel again. Some of these benefits are expiring, though, so be sure to check with your credit card to see what options are available.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by TripIt. The author may include references to products from advertisers. For an explanation of this contributor’s advertising disclosure, please click here.