Going on road trips this summer? Consider using these credit cards

May 27, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information. At TPG, we paused traveling to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Local and national governments around the globe are now debating the appropriate levels of isolation and distancing. Before booking that next trip, we recommend you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions. TPG is continuing to publish deals, credit card reviews and general travel news to inform and prepare you for that trip, whether it is next month or next year.

In the past, many of us took to the skies in order to get to their destination in the most efficient way possible. However as the U.S. slowly recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, there are some who are choosing to stay closer to home and drive to their destinations.

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This may finally be the year you go on that long-planned road trip across the US. (Photo by Peter Amend/Getty Images)
This may finally be the year you go on that long-planned road trip across the U.S. (Photo by Peter Amend/Getty Images)

Despite the circumstances, there still remains something special about jumping into the car for an old-fashioned road trip. With such travel, however, comes unavoidable costs in the form of food, lodging, gas and various miscellaneous expenses (i.e., those must-have roadside souvenirs).

Related reading: 10 tips for anyone taking a road trip right now

While these costs can put a damper on any trip, using the right credit card can help you maximize your return in the form of valuable rewards. So whether you are just escaping for the weekend or getting your kicks on Route 66, here are the best credit cards to use on your next road trip.

Citi Premier® Card

All things considered, the Citi Premier is the best credit card for road trips, in our opinion. Right now, cardholders earn 3x on travel (which includes gas stations and purchases such as parking, tolls and more) and 2x on dining and entertainment. But come Aug. 23, 2020, that rewards structure is changing to 3x on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout).

These benefits combined with a reasonable $95 annual fee makes the Citi Premier card a must-have for any roadtripper. The information for the Citi Premier has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: The best Citi credit cards of 2020

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

This card is one to consider if your road trip involves dining and supermarkets, thanks to the 4x points earned in those categories (up to $25,000 per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets; then 1x). Dining covers everything from fancy restaurants to fast-food joints, and supermarkets can cover those necessary road trip food and supply purchases. Plus earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners, including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, some Shake Shack locations and Boxed.com while on the road.

When you book a stay through the Amex Hotel Collection, you’ll receive an up to $100 credit toward dining, spa and resort activities at the property. Note that the credit only applies to stays of two consecutive nights or longer. The card has an annual fee of $250 (see rates and fees).

Related reading: American Express Gold card review

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card from American Express

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

For travelers who tend to skip restaurants when road tripping, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card is an excellent option. For a reasonable annual fee of $95, the card earns 3x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year; then 1x) and 2x points at U.S. gas stations. But what makes this card shine is that you earn 50% bonus points after making 30 purchases in a billing cycle. That makes it a solid road trip option, especially for longer ones.

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: Amex EveryDay vs. Amex EveryDay Preferred: Which Should Be In Your Wallet?

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The appeal of the Venture Card is its simplicity – it earns 2x miles on all spending, which can easily be redeemed for future travel-related purchases made on the card during a road trip. Given the fixed value of Venture miles, this amounts to a 2% return on all road trip purchases. In light of pandemic concerns, Capital One has added new categories where you can redeem your miles at a fixed-value.

Plus, you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent for hotel and car rental purchases made with the card through Capital One Travel using your Venture Rewards card account – all for an annual fee of $95.

Related reading: The best Capital One credit cards of 2020

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points for dining and a broad definition of travel (after using the $300 travel credit), which includes everything from hotels to Airbnb bookings to parking. Considering it can be difficult to maintain hotel brand loyalty on road trips (as there are often limited roadside hotel options), the broad application of the Reserve’s travel bonus ensures a return no matter where you decide to stay.

The Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit applies to a wide range of travel-related expenses and can drastically cut down on road trip costs. In fact, Chase recently added the ability to use your 2020 travel credit on gas and groceries as well as travel. Any credits unused thus far will be automatically applied to any travel, gas or grocery store purchases made between June 1 and the end of the year.

Chase is considering them as eligible purchases – as long as they have full grocery sections (including a bakery and/or deli). This is in addition to some other temporary benefits to help cardholders grounded due to the pandemic. The Reserve is one of the best rewards cards on the market and is a solid addition to your wallet for any type of travel.

Related reading: Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Upside: If the $550 annual fee on the Reserve is a bit too high, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent alternative, with 2x Ultimate Rewards points for the same broad definitions in dining and travel as the Chase Sapphire Reserve. However, it doesn’t offer bonus points for gas purchases. With only a $95 annual fee, the Sapphire Preferred is a more economical option for those seeking valuable travel rewards. And while it doesn’t come with quite the same level of benefits, Chase did add limited-time perks to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, too.

Related reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

Citi Prestige® Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The Citi Prestige is another solid option for roadtrippers, given its excellent hotel benefits, including 3x points on all hotel purchases. Furthermore, if you plan on staying in one location for an extended period of time on your road trip, the 4th Night Free benefit is one of the best perks on the market. The 5x points earned on dining is ideal when it’s time for meal and snacks on the road.

Citi is another card issuer trying to help cardholders during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s temporarily expanding the use of the $250 travel credit for use at supermarkets and restaurants through the end of 2020, including online grocery delivery services like Instacart and delivery services like Grubhub and DoorDash, since they code as dining.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: So close, yet so far: Comparing the Platinum Card from American Express and the Citi Prestige Card

Chase Freedom

(Photo by LydiaGoolia/Getty Images)
You can currently get 5x points on gas purchases with the Chase Freedom. (Photo by LydiaGoolia/Getty Images)

Upside: While the Chase Freedom Card (No longer open to new applicants) will normally only offer a return of 1%, this no-annual-fee card is an excellent option for summer road trips, as one of the current 5% rotating bonus categories includes  U.S. grocery stores through June 30, 2020.

If you want to truly maximize your spending, you can pair your Freedom card with another card offering Ultimate Rewards points and transfer your Freedom cash back rewards to that card. Even better, the Freedom Card has no annual fee. But know that the card only offers a 1% return (or 2% via Ultimate Rewards, based on TPG’s valuations) and has no bonus categories for other road trip expenses such as food, lodging and parking.

The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase credit cards

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The clear upside to using the Freedom Unlimited on your road trip is versatility. For most purchases, you receive 1.5% cash back. More importantly, like the Freedom card, you can pair the Freedom Unlimited with an Ultimate Rewards card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, to earn even better redemptions via point transfers. Combine this return with the fact that the Freedom Unlimited is yet another no-fee card and you have an extremely versatile option to cover your road trip costs.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: The power of the Chase Trifecta: Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred and Freedom Unlimited

Citi® Double Cash Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The Citi Double Cash Card offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% cash back as you pay. For those who value cash back, this card will provide a 2% return on all spending as long as you pay your balance on time. You can even convert your cash back rewards to Citi ThankYou points.

Combine these perks with no annual fee, and this card is a solid option for roadtrippers who value simplicity and value.

Related reading: The best cash-back credit cards

Bottom line

While there are many credit cards to choose from when traveling, some are simply better for common road trip purchases than others. With this in mind, the next time you decide to hit the road, make sure to bring at least one of the above cards with you to maximize the returns on your adventure.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.

Additional reporting by Ryan Martin

Featured photo by Richard Cummins/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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