Maximizing points and miles on summer road trips

Jun 6, 2020

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Summer is upon us and every state has at least partially reopened. While travel is slowly picking up again, it’s fair to say that many people will choose to stick closer to home this summer and embark on road trips instead of taking the skies.

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.

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

Saving 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

Related: How to save money on car rentals with AutoSlash

hertz-presidents-circle-cars-washington-dulles-iad-airport-2019
Hertz President’s Circle at Washington-Dulles airport (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Maximizing 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 in case 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.

Regardless of whether you’re using your own car or renting, you’ll want to maximize the points you’ll earn on gas. There are a number of consumer credit cards that 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, 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.

Related: Renting a car? These are the cards you need to get now

Accommodations

Accommodations are another major expense on road trips. Fortunately, hotels and Airbnbs are currently undergoing strict cleaning regimens and offering enticing promotions to lure potential travelers.

If you’re redeeming points and booking through a hotel program that uses dynamic award pricing or peak and off-peak pricing, your stay will likely cost less than usual, given the drop in demand. World of Hyatt recently postponed its mostly negative award chart changes until 2021, so now is a good time to redeem any points you’ve been saving up.

Plus, unlike typical vacations, you’ll likely be staying at many different hotels during a road trip. 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 free night certificate that you earn each card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. American Express recently announced that all Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card weekend night awards issued through Dec. 31, 2020 will be valid for 24 months and on any night of the week.

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: The best credit cards for Airbnb stays

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 you can get use from 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 PPE or social distancing requirements in place.

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

Featured image by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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Excellent/Good

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