Do Passport Fees Count as Travel Expenses on a Credit Card?

Jun 2, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on travel expenses, and many other cards offer bonus points for travel purchases as well. So TPG reader Laura wants to know if a certain large upcoming expense will count…

I’m applying for passports for my family of 10. Are the fees associated with the applications considered travel expenses for the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

TPG Reader Laura

First of all, it’s surprisingly difficult to pay for passport fees with a credit card. According to the US Department of State’s website, if you’re applying for or renewing a passport either by mail or at a Passport Acceptance Facility such as a post office, most of the fees must be paid by check or money order — no credit cards are accepted.

The only way to pay all the fees with a credit card is to visit a Passport Agency (though some embassies and consulates outside the US will accept credit cards if you’re applying while not in the country). Unfortunately there aren’t that many Passport Agencies in the US — they’re mostly in major cities — and you’ll have to pay an expedited fee and be able to show proof that you need to make an international trip within three weeks of your application.

Currently the fee for expediting a passport is an extra $60 on top of the regular application fee, so there’s no scenario under which credit card travel rewards points would come even close to offsetting that amount. But what if you’re in a situation where you really do need to expedite a new passport or renew one quickly and a Passport Agency is in your area, so you have the opportunity to use a credit card while still paying the same amount you would have had to pay anyway? Will you get bonus points for spending on travel?

Well, let’s take a look at exactly what Chase considers to be “travel”

Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages. Please note that some merchants that provide transportation and travel-related services are not included in this category; for example, real estate agents, in-flight goods and services, on-board cruise line goods and services, sightseeing activities, excursions, tourist attractions, merchants within hotels and airports, and merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling. In addition, the purchasing of points or miles does not qualify in this category.

Hmmm, none of that sounds like passports or passport agencies. But we can double-check the merchant code for a Passport Agency using the Visa Supplier Locator.

IMG-passport-agency-visa-mcc

This is the Passport Agency in New York City, which appears to code as “Misc Fee Services.” That makes perfect sense, but it almost certainly means you will not get 3x points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, nor any extra points on other credit cards that offer a bonus for travel purchases. The one other option would be to use a service such as Allied Passport & Visa, which can handle the work of getting a new passport, a renewal of an existing passport or foreign visas for you for an additional fee and whom will accept a credit card for all fees, though your purchase may not be categorized as travel. Mention The Points Guy on your order form to get a $5 discount just for TPG readers.

Sorry for the bad news, Laura, but hopefully you’ll find other places to take advantage of that 3x travel category. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of Bet_Noire/Getty Images.

2020 TPG Award Winner: Premium Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Reserve

SIGN-UP BONUS: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on all travel and dining, $300 annual travel credit, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners and Reserve cardmembers will earn 3x points on grocery purchases until the end of April.

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
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