Best credit cards to use on ski trips

Dec 1, 2019

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Skiing doesn’t usually make for an inexpensive family vacation and one of the biggest expenses families will face on a ski trip are the lift tickets and lessons.

Although there are still $35+ daily lift tickets out there at some smaller mountains, you can expect to spend $100 to more than $200 per day on lift tickets at the biggest mountain resorts in the U.S. One alternative to the hefty per-day costs is a multi-mountain season pass, such as the Epic or IKON passes that cost $500 to $900+ per adult, per season.

Need ski school? That runs over $250 per day at major resorts and private lessons are several times that number.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Those are (very) painful numbers for most of us to swallow. The silver lining is that you can earn a whole lot of points on these big-ticket winter vacations with your rewards-earning credit cards.

So which card is the best one for your ski trip? The answer to that important question is that it depends.

In our experience, ski lift tickets and lessons most frequently code as entertainment charges (like Disney tickets), but they have also been known to charge as travel … or even outside any relevant bonus category.

And if your ski trip is outside the U.S., use cards with no foreign transaction fees.

More ski school kids means more points
More kids in ski school mean more points. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Bonus categories for lift tickets and lessons

Depending on how and where you buy your lift tickets and lessons, the purchases may code differently. Unfortunately, you won’t know how these purchases will code until the charges post. But to help you make an educated guess, here are some ski purchase examples from TPG staffers and readers:

  • Epic Pass coded as entertainment
  • Mountain Collective season pass coded as entertainment
  • Liftopia lift tickets coded as entertainment
  • Breckenridge lift tickets and ski school coded as entertainment
  • Keystone lift tickets, ski school and tubing coded as entertainment
  • Whitefish Mountain Resort advance-purchase lift tickets coded as travel
  • Heavenly ski school coded as entertainment
  • Tremblant lift tickets and rentals coded as travel
  • Deer Valley lessons and tickets coded as entertainment
  • Copper Mountain season pass and day lift ticket coded as travel
  • Crotched Mountain day lift ticket coded as entertainment
  • Telluride lift ticket coded as entertainment
Most, but not all, ski charges post as entertainment.

See what we mean by the absence of consistent purchase codes? This is harder than deciding between the Simba and Poppyfield runs at Vail.

Overall best credit card for ski charges

Since ski lift tickets and lessons most commonly code as travel or entertainment, your safest bet is to use a card that awards a bonus on both categories. The Citi Premier℠ Card awards:

  • 3 ThankYou points per dollar on travel charges
  • 2 ThankYou points per dollar on entertainment charges

It’s also a pretty good card to use for on-mountain lunches since it awards 2 points per dollar on dining. Between those three categories, you’re pretty much covered. You’ll be earning at least some bonus points on all your ski charges.

The information for the Citi Premier card, US Bank Visa Cash, Sony Card from Capital One, Uber Visa cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Citi ThankYou points are transferrable to hotel and airline partners and are currently valued by TPG at 1.7 cents each, giving you a return of 3.4 to 5.1 cents per dollar at 2x or 3x. If you use your Chase Sapphire Reserve and your ski charges post as travel or dining at 3x points per dollar, you could be looking at a return of 6 cents per dollar. But if your ski expenses don’t charge in those categories, and instead code as entertainment, you’d earn just 1 point per dollar. And yes, that happened with me and the pricey Epic Pass when I charged it to my Sapphire Reserve.

Cards that award a bonus on entertainment

If you know your ski charges will code as entertainment, here’s a rundown of the most rewarding cards to use:

Category bonus: Entertainment Value of the rewards Total earned per $1 spent Annual fee
US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card 5% cash back (up to $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter on two categories) 1 cent 5 cents $0
Sony Card® from Capital One® 5x 1 cent or less 5 cents or less $0
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card 4% cash back 1 cent 4 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Citi Premier Card 2x 1.7 cents 3.4 cents $95

Cards that award a bonus on travel

If you know for sure a ski charge will post as travel (and that’s likely with bundled lodging and lift ticket packages), below are the best cards to use for that expense. Another idea to encourage your ski expenses to code as travel is to purchase your lift tickets or passes via Undercover Tourist. They don’t have all ski resorts available, but purchases on that site typically code as a travel charge. (We often use them for Disney too.)

Category bonus: Travel Value of the rewards Total earned per $1 spent Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x 2 cents 6 cents $450
Citi Premier Card 3x 1.7 cents 5.1 cents $95
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 2x 2 cent 4 cents $95
Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card 2x 1 cent 2 cents (up to 3.5 cents with BOA Premium Rewards) $95

Last resort: Cards that rock for everyday spending

If you aren’t sure how a ski expense will code, using a card that is strong on everyday spending isn’t the worst plan.

Category bonus: None/everyday  Value of the rewards Total earned per $1 spent Annual fee
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card 2x 1.4 cents 2.8 cents $95 (waived the first year)
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard  2x 1 cent 2 cents $89 (waived the first year) (This card is no longer accepting new applicants.)
The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express 2x on first $50,000 each year; then 1x 2 cent 4 cents $0 (See Rates & Fees)
Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card 1.5x 1 cent 1.5 cents (up to 2.25 cents with BOA Premium Rewards) $95
Chase Freedom Unlimited 1.5% (1.5x) 2 cents (if you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards card) 3 cents (with premium Ultimate Rewards card) $0

On-mountain meals

When you are spending the day skiing or boarding, you will get hungry — very hungry. Sadly, on-mountain meals often come at a pretty steep markup (allow us to recommend the $5 pizza lunch special in Vail). But again, the small upside of bigger prices is more points.

Image by Hero Images / Getty Images
(Image by Hero Images/Getty Images.)

Although our results are not 100% consistent, on-mountain dining usually codes as dining/food. We have occasionally seen on-mountain meals code as general merchandise instead of dining but, for the most part, I’d use the card in your wallet that is best for dining. This may be the American Express® Gold Card at 4 points per dollar on dining, the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 3 points per dollar on dining or even the Uber Visa Card that has no annual fee but awards 4% back on dining.

Or if you just want to use what is arguably the best overall card for ski trips, the Citi Premier Card, you would earn 2 points per dollar on dining charges.

Bottom line

We found that the Citi Premier Card is the overall best credit card for ski trips thanks to bonuses on travel, entertainment and dining. Although the majority of our ski-related charges coded as entertainment, your results may vary based on where you ski and where you purchase your lift tickets, ski school, etc. Of course, any necessary flights and lodging will likely code as travel, or better yet, use your miles and points to get you to the powder and then let your credit card do the rest.

For Rates & Fees for the Blue Business Plus card, click here

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card – $200 Cash Rewards Offer

Families love vacations and cash back on purchases, but not all families spend their money in the same categories every month. Each month, The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card allows families to earn 3% cash back in the category of their choosing: Gas, Online Shopping, Dining, Travel, Drug Stores or Home Improvement/Furnishings. Now you don’t need multiple cards in your wallet to maximize rewards on your ever-changing expenses.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • No annual fee
  • $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 15.49% - 25.49% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee (min $10) applies to all balance transfers
  • No expiration on rewards
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more cash back on every purchase
Intro APR on Purchases
0% Introductory APR on purchases for 15 billing cycles
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% Variable APR on purchases
Annual Fee
$0
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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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