Not just for flights: Save money on summer road trips with points and miles

May 6, 2021

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Summer is upon us. While air travel is picking up again, many people may still choose to take to the open road this summer and embark on road trips instead of flying.

It probably goes without saying that points and miles are best for first-class flight redemptions and high-end hotel stays. However, with a little bit of research and planning, you can still get terrific use from them with road trips. Your road trip can also be a great opportunity to quickly rack up a significant amount of points and miles for when you are ready for that more exotic vacation. Finding ways to save on road trips is more important this summer than ever, with national gas prices averaging nearly $3 a gallon, according to AAA.

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In This Post

Save money on your rental

Unless you’re using your own car, the first step of the road trip planning process is booking your car or recreational vehicle (RV) rental. You can save on rental car bookings by using AutoSlash, which notifies you when your car rental price drops. You can also save on your RV by booking a relocation rental, which can cost as little as $1.

By going through a shopping portal and including your frequent flyer number in your booking, you may even be able to earn airline miles on your rentals.

If you can’t even find a car rental to begin with, you can read this guide for seven secrets that may help.

Related: How to save money on car rentals with AutoSlash

Hertz President’s Circle at Washington-Dulles airport (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Maximize rewards with the right credit card

Using the right credit card is also important when booking your rental. You’ll want to use a card that provides primary car rental insurance and earns bonus points on travel spending. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card both offer primary rental coverage, meaning you can decline the rental car company’s collision insurance and be covered by the card if anything goes wrong.

If you carry an American Express card, you can also pay a premium to enroll in Amex’s Premium Car Rental Protection program. Just note that most cards with car rental coverage exclude RVs.

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

Regardless of whether you’re using your own car or renting, you’ll want to maximize the points you’ll earn on gas. Several consumer credit cards can get you returns of 3% or more on gas spending. Your options include the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (at gas stations in the U.S.), but you can see this post for an extensive list of the best cards for gas spending.

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.

Spend less on gas

Although often overlooked, there are lots of gas station and third-party loyalty programs that can help you save on gas.

If you fill up at Shell stations, you can join the Fuel Rewards program and save at least five centers per gallon on every fill-up. You can earn more cents off per gallon by using a linked credit card when transacting with partners. For instance, shopping through the online portal earns you an additional 10 cents off per gallon, linking your Dunkin’ Donuts rewards account earns an additional 10 cents per gallon savings and using the dining rewards program earns another 10 cents off per gallon.

There are also programs like Pay with GasBuddy, which aren’t linked to a specific chain. Plus, you might even be able to stack programs to stretch your savings even further.

Related: Here are the top 5 ways to save on gas this summer

Gas pump
(Photo by Getty Images)

Save on accommodations

Accommodations are another major expense on road trips.

If you’re redeeming points and booking through a hotel program that uses dynamic award pricing or peak and off-peak pricing, your stay might cost less than usual, given the drop in demand. Remember that World of Hyatt postponed its mostly negative award chart changes until July 2021, so now is a good time to redeem any points you’ve been saving up. Even if Hyatt ends up reducing the number of points per night for your travel dates, you’ll be able to rebook at the lower rates down the line.

Plus, you’ll likely be staying at many different hotels during a road trip, unlike typical vacations. This is great if your points are spread across different hotel programs and you only have enough for one to two nights with each chain.

It may also be a great time to use your reward night certificate that you earn each card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. Keep in mind that any Hilton free weekend night certificates earned with cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card issued this year can be used on any night of the week. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

If you need some inspiration on which points hotels to stay at, check out TPG’s guide to the top American road trips to take with the family.

Related: The best hotel credit cards

(Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa)
Spend 15,000 points per night to stay at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

If you’re paying out of pocket, be sure to use a credit card that offers extra points on hotel spending. Or, if you’re booking an Airbnb, you’ll need a card that offers bonus points on general travel purchases. Depending on how low the cash rates are, it might make more sense to book your stays through your credit card’s travel portal than transferring them to the hotel program, so make sure to do the math to see which option makes the most sense for your situation.

Related: How to earn maximum points for Airbnbs, hostels, campgrounds and more

Use points for activities

Believe it or not, you can get great value by using your points to book activities. The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal allows you to redeem points for all types of travel, including car rentals and activities. If you hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, each point is worth 1.25 cents (so a $100 activity would only cost 8,000 points).

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece (so a $100 activity would only cost about 6,700 points). That’s a lot more generous than most other credit card travel portals. Expedia operates the Chase Travel Portal so, if an activity is available on Expedia, it should be bookable through Chase and at the same price.

Related: Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Activities

You can use your points to go horseback riding. (Photo by Image Source/Getty Images)

Most credit card issuers typically do not count sightseeing activities and tourist attractions as travel. So, if you’re not redeeming points and are planning to pay cash, be sure to use a card the offers a good return on everyday spending, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, to maximize your return.

Bottom line

Points and miles are not just about first-class flights and fancy hotel stays. At the end of the day, they are a means to an end. That end can be a road trip, and as you can see, there are still many ways to get use out of them if you take this route. Just be sure to research the status of any places you plan on visiting and be ready to comply with any social distancing requirements in place.

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

Featured image by Maskot/Getty Images.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
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