Best credit card for a road trip

Best Credit Cards for Doing a Road Trip

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As the pandemic subsides in many areas of the country, people are anxious to travel. No matter what’s happening in current events, however, and especially when the weather gets warmer, many crave the freedom of the open road. The road trip, after all, is a great American institution, especially for senior citizens who finally have the time to slow down and see the sights.  The question remains, though, what’s the best way to finance that trip of a lifetime?

In this guide, we present the three best credit cards for doing a road trip. With some careful planning and budgeting, using credit cards for your next vacation can be a great way to not only enjoy the freedom of the open road, but also benefits on gas and hotels among many other travel expenses. Using the right credit card could possibly even put a little cash back in your pocket!

We’ll show you how carefully budgeted and strategic use of a credit card can help make your next getaway a reality. The freedom and excitement of travel awaits.

Best Credit Cards for Doing a Road Trip

Best credit cards for doing a road trip

From rewards on dining and hotels, to cash back points earned on gas and other travel expenses, here are the three best credit cards for doing a road trip:

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip: Citi Premier Card

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip and Saving Money at Restaurants: American Express Gold Card

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip with Rewards Points: Chase Sapphire Reserve

To find out everything we liked and a few things we think consumers should be aware of about each one of these cards, keep reading. But in addition to which card to choose, what else do you need to know about the best credit cards for your vacation? We’ll cover that in our next section.

Which credit card is best for traveling?

What credit card is best for traveling?

We’ll begin by explaining what makes a credit card a good choice for travel—road trip or otherwise—as opposed to any other kind of purchase.

  • Bonus points where you need them most.  When selecting a credit card for doing a road trip, look for cards offering bonus points on things most useful for your journey like gas, hotels, and dining.
  • Take advantage of the welcome bonus. Most cards offer introductory 0% APR or other kinds of welcome bonuses for new customers. Taking advantage of these offers can sometimes be like a no interest loan for travel, or like cash back rewards on purchases made while you’re on the road. Just make sure you plan to spend enough to qualify for these perks.
  • Seek out the lowest fees. What may seem like the best credit card benefits for vacation may not seem so great once the annual fees are taken into consideration. Don’t forget to read the fine print carefully.

Additional points to consider before choosing a credit card for your next road trip is whether or not the card offers roadside assistance, because many do. It may also be a good idea to pair a few cards together, one offering perhaps the best points on gas and lodging, with another offering better roadside assistance, the longest introductory rate, or the lowest minimum spending limit to take full advantage of the cash back rewards program.

As long as the debt is paid off in a timely manner, having multiple cards won’t affect your credit. In fact, it may even help your credit score in terms of the credit utilization ratio, or CUR, meaning the amount of credit a consumer has available to them versus how much debt they carry. Running up a debt that you can’t repay, however, is not advised and will ultimately hurt your credit score.

How to Travel for Free With Credit Card Rewards

But here’s the big question many of you are asking: is it possible to travel for free with credit card rewards? Leverage credit card perks like cash back rewards and you can travel nearly for free, or practically so. We’ll show you how:

  • The first step to traveling for free with credit card rewards is to check your credit score. The best credit cards for travel require excellent credit, and if your credit is less than stellar, the first step in traveling for free is to take the steps necessary to repair it
  • Choose a credit card (or two) that offer great rewards on travel-related expenses. After repairing your credit the next step is to find yourself credit cards that offer the best rewards, bonuses, and other perks related to travel and use them strategically, always paying off your debt quickly and on time and never charging more than you can afford. Don’t be afraid to get more than one card for this purpose. For example, one card might offer great rewards when you stay at your favorite hotel, while another offers better rewards when you fill up at the pump.
  • Cash back counts, too. Earning points on travel-related expenses is not the only way to travel for free with credit card rewards. Using credits cards that offer cash back rewards on what you spend money on most can be another great way to finance your trip. For best results, pick a card with no cap on what you can earn, and make sure earnings apply to what you spend money on the most.
  • Read the fine print. But be well aware that even the best cash back rewards and points earned on travel won’t do you any good if there are earning caps or expiration dates that render them useless for your purposes. It also won’t do you much good if all your earnings are consumed by the credit card’s annual fee. 
  • Maximize the sign-up bonus. It’s entirely possible a credit card’s signup bonus alone might finance your trip. Often you have to spend a certain amount within a certain timeframe to earn those rewards, so make sure the minimum spending requirements fit your budget. One tip to earn the sign-up bonus more easily is to add an authorized user to the card to double up on the spending and the rewards! You can also earn sign-up bonuses across multiple cards. But again, never spend more than you can afford.

Additional pointers include joining hotel and airline loyalty programs to maximize your spending, exploring ways to transfer and consolidate points between cards, and being sure to redeem your points right away so that they don’t expire. It’s also important to stay on top of any changes in the rewards programs to avoid any unpleasant surprises, and to redeem your rewards as quickly as possible so they don’t expire. Most importantly though, it’s crucially important to never spend more than you can afford on your credit cards

All packed and ready to go? In our next section we’ll take a close look at the three best credit cards for doing a road trip. 

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip: Citi Premier Card

First up in our ranking of the best cards for doing a road trip is the Citi Premier Card from CitiBank. This card offers 60,000 ThankYou points on the first $4K spent on the card in the first three months after opening the account. Furthermore, those points accrue 3X faster on purchases most related to travel, with no caps or annual limits.

Eligible categories most useful for experienced road-trippers include gas, hotels, supermarkets, restaurants (both dine-in and takeout), and air travel. In addition to those categories, the 60,000 ThankYou Points from Citi Bank are worth an estimated $1,000 value thanks to Citi’s robust network of transfer partners. As if that weren’t enough, cardholders continue earning 1X ThankYou points on all other purchases. What’s not to like? 

As well as this generous ThankYou points program, the Citi Premier card also offers $100 annual credit each year on a single-stay hotel visit of $500 or more, wherever your destination may be (excluding taxes and fees). We also like the low annual fee, at only $95. 

Additional benefits of the Citi card worth mentioning include extended warranty protection, damage and theft protection, and a whole host of World Elite Mastercard Benefits, including many travel perks. We like the $10 discount on every five Lyft rides, and if you plan your stay through the World Luxury Hotels & Resorts portfolio, you can enjoy perks like free daily breakfast. 

If the purpose of your getaway is to catch your favorite performing artist or sports team play, this next bit is particularly relevant: The Citi Premier Card allows early access to tickets through Citi Entertainment, while the Citi Concierge service helps you shop, dine, and even make entertainment arrangements once you’ve arrived at your destination. 

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip and Saving Money at Restaurants: American Express Gold Card

An alternate to the Citi Premier Card, or perhaps a card to use in tandem especially for saving money at restaurants while you’re on the road, is the  American Express Gold Card

At $250, the annual fee with the American Express Gold Card is a bit steeper than some, but it more than makes up for it with a similar welcome offer to the Citi Premier: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after the first $4,000 spent on the card. 

Setting the Express Gold apart, however, is that with AMEX, consumers enjoy an additional three months to reach that spending minimum. And once you’ve reached that number, 1X points continue to accrue on those same purchases.

But you’re here to save money on goods and services while you’re out on the road.  As promised, the Express Gold card has a lot to offer in this regard. Such as the following bonus, available at restaurants but also participating grocery stores:: Use your AMEX at participating partners like Grubhub and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, among many others, and earn up to $10 in statement credits.

Additional advantages for registered AMEX cards like the Citi Premier include $10 in Uber Cash,  or up to $120 a year covering Uber Eats and Uber rides anywhere in the U.S. And when you’re on your road trip you’ll need somewhere to stay. The AMEX Gold shows up strong here as well. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, book a hotel through the AMEX Hotel Collection and receive $100 credit toward dining and spa treatments, among other relaxing activities. 

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip with Rewards Points: Chase Sapphire Reserve

To maximize rewards points related to travel, we recommend the next card in our ranking: the Chase Sapphire Reserve. 

Earning rewards points is perhaps the best incentive to use a credit card on your trip in the first place, and although the Sapphire Reserve has a steep annual fee of $550, it more than makes up for it with generous offerings in the area of dining and travel. 

In addition to earning 60,000 bonus points after the first $4K spent on the card in the first three months after opening the account, including a $300 travel credit, users continue to earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points on a broad selection of hotels and Airbnb lodging. And speaking of the Chase Sapphire’s $300 travel credit, it’s reason enough to choose the Sapphire Reserve for your next trip: generously cutting down costs on gas and groceries while you’re on the road. 

Also setting the Chase Sapphire apart from other cards is the broad definition of what dining even means. Must the meal be served on a white table cloth to be considered eligible? Not so with Chase Sapphire, as the company considers everything from coffee shops and cafes to university dining halls to be eligible for the program, among many other kinds of food service outlets.

Also worth mentioning is the Pay Yourself Back feature from Chase, allowing 1.5 cents toward a statement credit offsetting purchases at grocery stores, on home improvement, or on dining. It’s this kind of flexibility that earns Chase Sapphire its spot in any ranking of the best credit cards for doing a road trip.

Now that you’ve selected the best credit card for your trip, you may be wondering: do I have good enough credit for the best travel card? We’ll answer that question and a whole lot more in our next section. 

What credit score is needed for a travel credit card?

What credit score is best for traveling?

No matter which credit card you choose, if your credit score isn’t good enough, you won’t be eligible. But what credit score is needed for a travel credit card? Most credit cards require good to excellent credit, and that’s a credit score of at least 650, although a credit score of more than 700 is ideal. (In case you weren’t aware, credit scores typically range from 300 on the low end to 850 in the upper range). 

It’s possible you may still be approved for a credit card if your score falls below 650, but it may be more difficult, and you may have to spend some time boosting your rating. Credit scores from one of three major credit reporting agencies typically breakdown as follows:

  • Payment History: 35%
  • Total Amount Owed: 30%
  • History of Credit: 15%
  • New Credit: 10%
  • Mix of Credit: 10%

The credit utilization ratio, or the amount of credit available versus the total amount owed, is an important part of anyone’s credit score, and opening a new credit card can contribute to this aspect of your score. The most important factor of any credit score, though, is a history of on-time payment, meaning it’s most important to never charge to a credit card what you can’t otherwise afford.

Best Credit Cards for Doing a Road Trip

Road trips are a great American tradition, and through a combination of targeted rewards on lodging and dining as well as cash back rewards and other perks, any one of the credit cards in our ranking could be the perfect companion for your getaway. Take advantage of generous 0% APR introductory offers and it’s a little like receiving a no-interest loan for travel!

To take advantage of a credit card while traveling, we recommend the following three credit cards:

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip: Citi Premier Card

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip and Saving Money at Restaurants: American Express Gold Card

The Best Credit Card for Doing a Road Trip with Rewards Points: Chase Sapphire Reserve

Maximize the benefits offered by any one of these great credit cards, and you may even be able to travel for free! Of course, a good to excellent credit score is required to be eligible for most credit cards, but spend some time repairing your credit and choose a credit card from our ranking and the only thing left to do will be planning your trip. 

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