Going on holiday road trips? Consider using these credit cards
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information.
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 coronavirus pandemic drags on, there are some who are choosing to either stay closer to home or drive to their destinations during the holidays.
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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).
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.
All things considered, the Citi Premier is the best credit card for road trips, in our opinion. The Citi Premier’s earning structure is one aspect where the card really shines. Cardholders earn 3x ThankYou points on the following categories, with no caps or annual limits: Air travel, hotels, gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants (including takeout). The card earns 1 ThankYou point per dollar on everything else. It also comes with a $100 annual credit eligible on a single-stay hotel reservation of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) made through ThankYou.com (available per calendar year). These benefits, combined with a reasonable $95 annual fee, make the Citi Premier card a must-have for any road tripper.
Related: The best Citi credit cards of 2020
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). And starting in 2021, Amex Gold cardholders will receive up to $120 annually ($10 per month) in Uber Cash, which can be used on Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S.
Related: American Express Gold card review
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.
The appeal of the Venture Card is its simplicity – it earns 2x miles on every day 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. You’ll earn 5x on Uber Eats purchases through Jan. 31, 2021 — all for an annual fee of $95.
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, you can use your travel credit on gas and groceries through June 30, 2021. Chase is considering them as eligible purchases – as long as they have full grocery sections (including a bakery and/or deli). Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will earn 3x on up to $1,000 in monthly grocery store purchases through April 30, 2021. You can also use Pay Yourself Back, with each point worth 1.5 cents towards a statement credit used to offset purchases at grocery stores, home improvement stores and dining establishments through April 2021. 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.
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 now allows members to earn 2x on up to $1,000 in monthly grocery store purchases also through April 30, 2021.
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 such as 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.
New applicants or those who switch from the Chase Freedom (no longer available to new customers) earn a $200 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months with the card. You earn 5% on the first $1,500 spent on rotating categories each quarter (activation required), with first-quarter 2021 categories include wholesale clubs, select streaming services and internet, cable and phone services. You also earn 5% on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drug stores and 1% on all other purchases.
And as part of Chase’s partnership with DoorDash, cardholders get three months of complimentary DashPass, which gets you free delivery on eligible orders and reduced service fees just in case room service isn’t available in your hotel. Must enroll by December 31, 2021.
If you want to truly maximize your spending, you can pair your Freedom Flex card with another card offering Ultimate Rewards points and transfer your Freedom cash back rewards to that card. Even better, the Freedom Flex card has no annual fee.
Using the Chase Freedom Unlimited on your road trip gives you versatility. You’ll receive 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases (including gas or a new Spotify subscription to keep you fueled and entertained for your roadtrip). More importantly, like the Freedom Flex 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-annual-fee card and you have an extremely versatile option to cover your road trip costs.
The Citi Double Cash Card offers 2% cash back (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 if you hold the Citi Prestige or Citi Premier card. Combine these perks with no annual fee, and this card is a solid option for roadtrippers who value simplicity and value.
Related: The best cash-back credit cards
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 John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
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