The Best Credit Cards for Road Trips
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, Citi Premier Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Freedom
While many take to the skies in order to get to their destination in the most efficient way possible, there 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 road-side souvenirs).
While these costs can put a damper on any trip, by using the right credit card for such expenses, you can maximize your return on these costs in the form of valuable rewards points or cash back. 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.
1. Citi Premier Card
Upside: All things considered, the Citi Premier is the best credit card for road trips. First, it’s no secret that gas purchases are one of the biggest expenses of any road trip. While there are many great credit cards for gas purchases, the Citi Premier provides one of the best returns on gas, as it offers 3x Citi ThankYou points on travel expenses, including purchases at most US gas stations. Further, the card offers 2x points on dining to cover those road trip restaurant stops. Combine these benefits with the reasonable $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and the ThankYou Premier card is a must have for any roadtripper.
Downside: The ThankYou Premier doesn’t offer any bonus points (just the standard 1x) for everyday spending or US supermarket purchases, which means you should consider another card to cover food costs and road trip supplies.
2. Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
Upside: This card is one of the best overall picks for road trips because of its numerous applicable bonus categories. Specifically, the card offers 2x Membership Rewards Points for gas purchases as well as 2x Membership Rewards points for both US restaurant and US supermarket purchases to cover those necessary road trip food and supply purchases.
Downside: The Premier Rewards Gold comes with a fairly high $195 annual fee. While this fee is waived the first year, this higher fee combined with the lower bonuses than the Citi Premier card make it the second-best option for road trips.
3. The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card from American Express
Upside: For travelers who tend not to eat at restaurants when road tripping, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card from American Express is an excellent option. For a reasonable annual fee of $95, the card earns 3x points at US supermarkets (up to $6,000) and 2x points at US gas stations. The card also earns a 50% bonus in points after you make 30 purchases in a billing cycle, which makes it a decent option for everyday spending as well.
Downside: Unlike the majority of cards on this list, the Amex EveryDay Preferred card fails to offer a bonus category for dining or non-gas travel expenses, which somewhat limits its versatility.
4. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Upside: The Venture Card earns 2x miles on all spending, which can easily be redeemed for any 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 travel-related purchases. It’s also worth a serious look for hotel stays, since when you book and pay through Hotels.com using the hotels.com/venture link, you’ll earn 10x miles.
Downside: Because Venture miles are not transferable, they only offer a maximum value of 1 cent per mile. Given these limitations and the fact that miles can only be used for travel-related expenses, some may prefer to use a straight cash-back card.
Upside: The Sapphire Reserve offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points for dining expenses, which provides an excellent return on meal spending. Further, the card offers 3x points on travel expenses (after using the $300 travel credit), which includes everything from hotels to Airbnb purchases 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. Finally, the Reserve offers a $300 annual travel credit, which again, applies to a wide range of travel-related expenses and can drastically cut down on road trip costs.
Downside: With a hefty $450 annual fee, this card is costly, but it comes with many great benefits that, unfortunately, are irrelevant to road travel (i.e. Priority Pass access and TSA/Global Entry credit). Add the fact that there’s no bonus for gas and the cost may just outweigh the benefit for some who are trying to save money on the road. Nevertheless, 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.
Upside: If the $450 annual fee of the Reserve is a bit too high, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent alternative, with 2x Ultimate Rewards points for dining and travel. With only a $95 annual fee, the Sapphire Preferred is a more economical option for those seeking major travel rewards.
Downside: The Sapphire Preferred does not offer any type of annual travel credit like the Reserve, which makes its versatility slightly less. Further, like the Reserve, it does not offer any bonus for gas purchases, which is a major road trip expense.
Upside: 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. Add the 2x points earned on dining and this is another excellent card for long road trips.
Downside: If you cannot take advantage of the 4th Night Free benefit on your road trip, the other cards on this list, such as the Citi Premier, offer better value considering the wider array of applicable bonus categories. In addition, the $450 annual fee makes this card difficult to justify for frugal travelers compared to other cards on this list. Finally, as of publish time the Citi Prestige was closed for applications, so you can’t add it to your wallet now, though it may return soon.
8. Chase Freedom
Upside: While the Chase Freedom Card will normally only offer a return of 1%, this no-fee card is an excellent option for summer road trips as the current rotating bonus categories offer 5% return on purchases at US gas stations, Lyft and Walgreens up to $1,500 (through the end of September 2018). If you want to truly maximize your spend, you can pair your Freedom card with another card offering Ultimate Rewards points and transfer your Freedom points to that card. Based off of TPG’s current valuation of Ultimate Rewards points, which is 2.1 cents per point, making this transfer could provide a return of at least 2.1% on all purchases and currently 10.5% on gas, Lyft, and Walgreens purchases. Even better, the Freedom Card has no annual fee.
Downside: Outside of the rotating categories, the Freedom only offers a 1% return (or 2.1% via Ultimate Rewards) and has no bonus categories for other road trip expenses such as food, lodging and parking.
9. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Upside: The clear upside to using the Freedom Unlimited is its versatility. For all 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 higher redemptions via point transfers. Based off of TPG’s current valuations, making this transfer would provide a return of 3.15% on all purchases. 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.
Downside: While the Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% on all purchases, it does not come with any bonus categories to further maximize rewards.
Upside: The Citi® Double Cash Card offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% cash back when you pay. For those who value cash back, this card will provide a 2% return on all expenses as long as you pay your balance on time. Combine these perks with the no annual fee, and this card is a solid option for roadtrippers who value simplicity and do not want to worry about bonus categories or reward redemptions.
Downside: Since it’s a strictly cash-back card, your return is limited to 2% on purchases. In addition, there are no bonus categories for key road trip expenses such as gas, lodging and food purchases.
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.
Featured image by Ann Kathrin- Boppv/Unsplash.