Admittedly I spend a larger percentage of my income on travel than most others, given that I basically live in hotels and on planes. Fortunately there are several credit cards that offer bonus points for travel purchases, which takes just a bit of the sting out of some travel purchases. After all, the more you spend, the more points you earn. 😉
What’s interesting, however, is that each card defines travel in a different way.
So I figured I’d look at four of the most popular “flexible” travel credit cards, and how they each define travel differently. This includes the:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Citi Premier® Card
- American Express® Gold Card
- Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®
The one caveat I’d like to add is that what really matters is how the merchant categorizes themselves. In some cases merchants aren’t categorized correctly, in which case you may not earn bonus points. In other words, if you’re staying at an independent hotel and they’re not coded as a hotel/motel/lodging, you may not earn bonus points.
With that in mind, let’s look at how each of these four cards define travel:
This is possibly the most popular card in our hobby, as it offers 2x points on travel and 3x on dining purchases. Since those are the two categories I spend a good chunk of my money on, the card works great for me. Here’s how the card defines “travel” purchases, which are eligible for 2x points:
airlines, airports, car rental agencies (including truck, trailer, and RV), cruise ships, hotels and motels, timeshares, local and commuter transportation (including trains, buses, taxis/limos, ferries, bridges, tolls and parking), travel agencies
Even parking qualifies as a travel purchase
This card is in the process of a revamp, making it extremely competitive with the other cards out there. As of April 19, 2015, the card offers 3x points on travel, including gas. It’s worth noting that this is the only card I know of which includes gas purchases in the travel “umbrella.” Here’s how the card defines “travel” purchases, which are eligible for 3x points since April 19, 2015:
airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals
Purchases through an online travel agency qualify as travel
The Amex Gold card was launched in October 2018, and offers a compelling 3x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchases. It’s worth nothing though, that this card has a pretty strict interpretation of airfare purchases, defined as airfare purchased directly with an airline or through amextravel.com.
Only airfare purchased directly with an airline qualifies as travel
This card doesn’t offer bonus points for money spent in the travel category, but instead points earned through the card can be redeemed towards travel purchases. This is arguably the most compelling travel cashback credit card, since you’re earning the equivalent of ~2.1% cashback towards the cost of travel. Here’s how the card defines “travel” redemptions, which you can use your points towards:
airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, and ferries
Redeem your points for a cruise
These are some of the best travel cards out there, so I think it’s worth noting the subtle distinctions between the cards. Some of the most important distinctions include:
- Of the above, the Citi Premier® Card is the only card which includes gas purchases as travel
- The American Express® Gold Card only gives you bonus points when you purchase airfare directly with an airline, while both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Citi Premier® Card also give you bonus points for airfare purchased through online travel agencies
- I think a lot of people overlook just how broad the travel categories are on some of these cards — both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Citi Premier® Card give bonus points for tolls, taxis, parking, etc., which people might often not associate with travel
Be sure you understand all these categories so you’re maximizing your points as much as possible!