Best Credit Cards for Road Trips of June 2021

Survey: Many Americans Miss Out on Travel Savings

Your road trip could cost less if you put it on a travel credit card. Many people who carry these cards use their rewards built-in benefits to save on vacations.

But more than 60% of people in an April 2019 U.S. News survey say they don’t have a travel card.

That’s leaving behind cash that could be spent at the beach. Almost half of those polled with travel cards say they earned between $351 $1,750 in rewards value in the last 12 months.

  • About a third of respondents plan to spend $500 or less per person on their next vacation.
  • Nearly 57% say they either don’t shop for travel savings or spend less than two hours researching how to save money on a trip.
  • The most appealing travel card rewards are cash back, followed by free hotel stays, domestic flights international flights.
  • Nearly 75% say they either don’t put trips on credit or pay them off within one month of booking. The rest plan to carry a balance to pay off their travel.
  • About half of those surveyed say they would never carry a credit card balance, not even for an emergency. The rest say they would do so for vacation excursions or experiences, dining, flight or room upgrades, gifts or souvenirs for loved ones.

What’s a Road Trip Credit Card?

The ideal credit card for your road trip offers rewards, discounts or perks that you can use for domestic road travel. For example, a hotel credit card that earns rewards for hotel stays gas. Or a travel credit card that earns rewards for hotels, car rentals dining.

What Can You Get From a Road Trip Credit Card?

Card features, such as rewards, benefits 0% annual percentage rate deals, could make your road trip easier less costly.

Rewards. Travel credit cards can earn bonus points when you use your card to charge hotels rooms other expenses. Often, you get at least two points per dollar or 2% cash back on travel costs, but some cards offer higher earning rates. Some travel cards earn gas rewards, too.

Some travel cards allow you to redeem rewards in many ways. You might be able to transfer your points or miles to partner hotel loyalty programs or receive statement credits for travel costs.

Sign-up bonuses. Travel credit cards commonly offer sign-up bonuses worth at least $500. This perk can help defray the costs of your trip or pay off your bills.

Cardholder perks. Hotel perks upgrades can save money. Cardholders may hold hotel status that offers access to room upgrades, free meals other benefits.

Cardholder protections. Travel insurance is common on travel credit cards. It can refund the cost of your canceled trip, but coverage varies based on your card.

“Credit cards provide some protection against tour operators going bust, (and) many provide travel delay coverage,” says David Feldman, hotel airline strategy consultant with New World Loyalty, a loyalty program strategy management firm.

Trip cancellation insurance provides a refund when your trip must be canceled before you depart. Trip interruption insurance issues a refund when a trip in progress is canceled.

Both types cover set losses that vary from card to card. Meanwhile, separately purchased travel insurance typically offers a cancel-your-trip-for-any-reason option that you can choose to pay extra for.

Your credit card may also provide you rental car insurance, which may save you money. Simply decline the collision damage waiver at the rental counter. This coverage doesn’t apply to liability insurance, but your regular car insurance usually extends to rental cars.

If you get a flat tire or run out of gas, roadside assistance is a perk some cards offer to put your trip back on track.

0% APR offers. They are less common among travel credit cards. But some offer these deals for six months or longer on new purchases.

A card with a 0% APR offer can help you avoid interest while you pay off your trip over time.

What Are Road Trip Card Drawbacks?

The right travel credit card for your road trip depends on your priorities. Weigh rewards, perks interest savings against costs other factors if you are in the market for a card.

Chief drawbacks can include:

Above-average costs. Annual fees, APRs other card costs are higher with travel cards than other types of cards, such as cash back cards, according to U.S. News research.

Value of ongoing rewards may decline. Some travel cards may offer a solid rewards rate but less value after you earn the sign-up bonus.

“If you’re not meeting a spending offer from a new card, a 2% cash back card is the standard to measure your other spending against,” says Dan Miller, founder of family travel blog Points With a Crew.

If you can’t get 2 cents per dollar or more of rewards value with your travel card, you may want to direct your spending to a 2% cash back card instead. That way, you’ll boost your rewards rate.

Credit requirements. Travel credit cards often require good to excellent credit for approval. You may need a FICO score of at least 670.

Possible travel redemption limitations. Some travel cards offer a few ways to redeem rewards, while others limit options to travel purchases or certain airline or hotel brands.

If your goal is to earn travel rewards, such limits might be OK. But if your plans change, you might not have the flexibility you need.

How Can You Use a Road Trip Card?

Making the most of your travel credit card on your road trip means knowing what your card offers how this aligns with your needs.

If your goal is to offset some or all of your travel costs, a credit card with a large sign-up bonus might be the best choice. Some co-branded hotel cards, for instance, offer sign-up bonuses worth more than two free nights at participating hotels, Miller says.

Ongoing rewards matter, too. Keep in mind that any travel purchases you charge now can help you pay for a trip later. Look for a card that earns at least 2 cents per dollar or more of rewards value on expenses you plan to charge often.

Typically, travel cards earn bonus points on travel spending. And some cards may reap bonus points on other kinds of purchases, such as dining or groceries. Bonus points can help you earn rewards faster.

Don’t forget about your travel credit card’s benefits, which can upgrade your trip. Your card may provide travel credits each year, plus free hotel stays perks such as room upgrades late checkout.

Know your card’s more practical benefits so you can use them. If your trip is canceled, you could use your card to get a refund. If your card provides rental car insurance, don’t buy it at the rental counter.

Also, learn when your card’s travel insurance kicks in because it can help if you need to cancel, postpone or cut short your trip. It can come to the rescue if your bookings aren’t what you planned, too. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card’s travel insurance, for example, covers shuttered tours, agencies suppliers as well as unfit lodging. That could come in handy as some travel operators go out of business during the coronavirus pandemic or if lax safety measures make a hotel or other lodging unfit.

Some of these useful perks come at a cost. Travel cards may have no annual fee but above-average costs. If your card has an annual fee, make sure you receive enough value from rewards benefits to offset this charge.

Special 0% APR offers, giving you time to pay off your trip without interest, aren’t common for travel credit cards. Interest rates are likely above average, so plan to pay off your balance before interest applies. You may need to carry a card balance sometimes to cover an emergency. But don’t pay interest on optional items, such as room upgrades or gifts.

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