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Not just for flights: Using points and miles to save on summer road trips

May 03, 2022
10 min read
Road trip friends
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Summer is upon us. With ever-growing lines at airports across the country and rising airfare, many people may 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 gas prices in the U.S. rising sharply over the past few months.

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Save money on your rental

Unless you use 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. Or, in the case of American Airlines, you may earn Loyalty Points, which count toward elite status.

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

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. There are a number of cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, that offer this 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.

Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss or Damage Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.

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Related: Going on a road trip? Take these credit cards with you

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 cents 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. Alternatively, if you can now opt to earn American Airlines award miles and Loyalty Points through Fuel Rewards instead of cash back.

Meanwhile, for Marathon and Arco stations, you could participate in the MakeItCount Rewards program. Similar to Fuel Rewards, you can either opt to earn cash back or you could link your Rapid Rewards account to the program to earn Southwest points on your fill-ups.

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 5 ways to save at the pump

(Photo by Getty Images)

Save on accommodations

Accommodations are another major expense on road trips, so your points can go a long way here.

Most major hotel programs now use dynamic pricing, meaning that award rates can fluctuate wildly based on demand. However, if you like the predictability of award charts, you can still get that through World of Hyatt (though now with peak and off-peak pricing).

You’ll likely stay 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 Premier Credit Card. Keep in mind that these certificates can now be topped off with additional points. Also, Hilton free weekend night certificates earned with cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card issued through the end of 2022 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

Spend 20,000 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 that 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 an epic summer road trip, and as you can see, there are still many ways to get use out of them if you take this route.

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

Featured image by Getty Images/Maskot
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees