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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. While there are still $35+ daily lift tickets out there at some smaller mountains, expect to spend $100 to more than $200 per day on lift tickets at the biggest mountain resorts in the US. One alternative to the hefty per-day costs are the multi-mountain season pass, such as the Epic or IKON passes that cost $500 to $800+ per adult, per season. Need ski school? That runs over $250 per day at major resorts and private lessons are several times that number.
Frankly, 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 large ski charges with your rewards-earning credit cards. So, which credit card is the best one to use for your ski trip? Sadly, the answer to that very 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 without any relevant bonus category. And if your ski trip is outside the US borders, factor in using cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Bonus Categories for Ski Lift Tickets and Lessons
Depending on how and where you buy your ski lift tickets and lessons, the purchases may code differently. Sadly, you won’t really know how these purchases will code with certainty 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.
- Liftopia lift ticket purchases 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
See what we mean by no one consistent purchase code for ski trips? This is harder than deciding between going down 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 when deciding which credit card to use for ski trips is to use a card that awards a bonus on both categories. The Citi Premier Card awards 2 ThankYou points per dollar on entertainment charges and 3 ThankYou points per dollar on travel 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 with earning at least some bonus points on your ski charges.
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 instead used your Chase Sapphire Reserve and just hoped your ski charges would post as travel or dining at 3x points per dollar, you could be looking at a 6 cent per dollar return if that plan worked. But if your ski expenses didn’t charge in those categories, and instead coded as entertainment, you’d earn just 1 point per dollar. And yes, that totally happened with me and the pricy Epic Pass when I charged it to my Sapphire Reserve.
Cards That Award a Bonus on Entertainment
If you know for sure your ski charges will code as entertainment, here’s a rundown of the most rewarding cards to use on entertainment charges.
|Category Bonus: Entertainment||Value of the Rewards||Total Earned per Dollar 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 (waived the first year)|
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), here are the best cards to use for those expenses. 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 codes as a travel charge (we often use them for Disney, too).
|Category Bonus: Travel||Value of the Rewards||Total Earned per Dollar Spent||Annual Fee|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3x||2 cents||6 cents||$450|
|Citi Premier Card||3x||1.7 cents||5.1 cents||$95 (waived the first year)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||2x||2 cent||4 cents||$95|
|Bank of America Premium Rewards 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 Dollar 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 cents||2 cents||$89 (waived the first year)|
|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 credit card||1.5x||1 cent||1.5 cents (up to 2.25 cents with BOA Premium Rewards)||$95|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5x||2 cents (if you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards card)||3 cents (with premium UR 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.
While our results are not 100% consistent, on-mountain dining usually codes as dining/food. We did occasionally see 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 for dining at US restaurants, 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.
We found that the Citi Premier Card is the overall best credit card for ski trips thanks to awarding bonuses on travel, entertainment and dining. While 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.
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