Travel rewards card tips for your fall camping trip

From camping gear to campground fees, there are multiple ways to stockpile points, miles or cash back

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Camping trips rewards credit card tips

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As summer fades into fall, the changing scenery provides the perfect backdrop for a camping getaway.

Whether you’re backpacking and pitching a tent, renting a yurt or cottage, “glamping” or getting back to nature in a camper or RV, travel rewards belong in your camping essentials toolkit.

Between purchasing camping gear and supplies, covering campground fees and paying for other camping travel expenses, there are multiple ways to stockpile points or miles.

See related: 9 credit card tips for full-time RVers

Get to know your card’s travel categories

Where you plan to stay during your camping trip matters for earning travel points or miles.

Grant Sinclair, who writes about tent and RV camping at Our Wander-Filled Life, uses the Chase Sapphire Reserve when staying at campgrounds, since “Chase Ultimate Rewards specifically mentions campground fees as part of its travel category.”

He points out that while Airbnb is also a travel category, VRBO – a popular vacation-rental-by-owner site – might not, “so many cabin rentals are not classified as travel expenses.”

You might want to double-check with your issuer, however. In September, The Points Guy reported that VRBO rentals now count as travel if you pay with a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

  • If your camping stay doesn’t qualify for bonus travel rewards, consider booking with a card that offers the maximum amount of base points, miles or cash back possible.
  • Sinclair uses the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, which offers 3 points per dollar on general spending.
  • The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card lets you earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. This card also offers 10x miles per dollar on hotel rooms booked and paid through hotels.com/venture, which includes listings for cabins, cottages, yurts and treehouses along with the usual hotel fare.

Travel categories also matter if you’re renting a camper or RV for your camping trip. Many cards categorize RVs or campers as hauling vehicles, making them ineligible for travel rewards.

  • The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is an exception, but this card only offers 1.5 points per dollar on travel purchases.
  • The Venture One card, Citi Double Cash Card, (2 percent cash back – 1 percent when you buy plus 1 percent as you pay), or any other card with a higher flat rate reward bonus might be the better choice for camper or RV rentals.

See related: ‘Travel expense’ covers a few surprising areas

Save on travel to your camping destination

If you’re flying to your campsite instead of road-tripping it, don’t miss an opportunity to earn miles or points.

Derek Wright, founder of travel site Parks & Points, says Citi / AAdvantage cards are a good choice for budget-focused campers.

“Many of the American Airlines co-branded Citibank cards allow you to access American’s Reduced Mileage Awards, where you can get up to a 7,500-mile discount on travel to different cities that change by the month,” says Wright.

  • During the fall, you may be able to find cheap flights to harder-to-reach or more expensive camping spots.
  • This fall’s offerings include camping gateway destinations such as Knoxville, Northwest Arkansas and Roanoke, Virginia, which are close to the Great Smoky Mountains, Ozarks and Blue Ridge Mountains, respectively.

Wright says if you’re opting for an airline’s co-branded card, choose one that offers free checked bags to save money.

Airline cards that offer free checked bags include Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite, United Explorer Card and Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

Wright also suggests to consider limiting what you bring on your camping trip to reduce baggage fees further.

See related: Ultimate points and miles guide for backpackers

Travel categories also matter if you're renting a camper or RV for your camping trip. Many cards categorize RVs or campers as hauling vehicles, making them ineligible for travel rewards.

Read the fine print on camping store rewards

Applying for a store credit card at an outdoor retailer might seem like an obvious choice for fall camping equipment, but do your homework first.

Jesse J. Jones, assistant professor in Sport Management and Recreation at Baldwin Wallace University, prefers the REI Co-op Mastercard credit card for camping trip gear thanks to its high rewards rate. The card offers a 5 percent rebate at REI and 1 percent back on other purchases.

“Purchases made in-store also get a kick-back that you get back at the end of the year,” says Jones. “So, 5 percent on the credit card purchase, plus typically 10 percent back on your yearly dividend with most full-priced purchases.”

Overall, the card has solid potential to yield rewards if you spend a lot on camping during the fall, or all-year-round, but there’s a catch: those rewards can only be used at REI.

The Good Sam Rewards Visa offers more flexibility.

  • With this card, you can earn reward points when you buy camping gear at Good Sam family brands, purchase gas or pay private campground fees in the U.S. and Canada and everywhere else Visa is accepted.
  • Points can be redeemed for a statement credit, Good Sam membership fees or restaurant, gas and retail gift cards.

Thanks to higher APRs, however, store cards may not be ideal if you plan to carry a balance. A store card’s value also depends on whether you have any plans for camping once fall ends.

“Unless you’re a big-time camper or hunter who’s at Cabela’s every weekend, a general points card is best,” says Russ Lovell, avid camper and co-founder of RVPlusYou.com, which offers on-site RV rental listings for campers. “Most camping is seasonal, and you just can’t consolidate enough points to make it worthwhile.”

  • A flat-rate cash back card is another option. Sinclair likes Chase Freedom Unlimited, which offers 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases.
  • However,  the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card is also good for earning cash back on everyday purchases, he says, as well as camping supplies bought through Amazon. 
  • The card offers 5 percent cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2 percent on restaurant, gas station and drugstore purchases and 1 percent cash back on other purchases.

Sticking with a general rewards card can also help avoid card acceptance issues.

“You never know where you’ll need to use it and most of the time, it’s at a general store in the middle of nowhere,” says Lovell. A store-branded card may not get you very far, depending on the one you choose.

Scout out camping-related discounts

Membership programs can help you save more on fall camping, but know what you’re getting before you sign up.

  • KOA Value Kard offers 10 percent off daily registrations to members all year long. You can earn reward points for cash off future stays, free camping nights and access to the KOA coupon savings program for a $30 annual fee.
  • Good Sam membership includes 10 percent off at over 2,400 Good Sam parks and campgrounds, 15 percent savings on propane at Camping World SuperCenters and fuel discounts at Pilot Flying J locations. Annual membership is $27, but you can save by purchasing a multi-year membership.
  • Passport America offers up to 50 percent off at more than 1,800 participating campgrounds in North America for a $44 annual membership fee.
  • REI Co-op Membership benefits include special pricing on REI Adventures trips, a 10 percent annual member dividend and access to special sales. Lifetime membership is $20.
  • Thousand Trails lets you camp for 12 months with no nightly fees at more than 190 resorts and campgrounds. Instead, you pay an annual fee starting at $575 to camp in one of five designated zones. Additional zones cost $49 per year.
"Unless you're a big-time camper or hunter who's at Cabela's every weekend, a general points card is best."

Sinclair says AAA membership can also help with campground discounts. He prefers Good Sam for the fuel discounts, which include 5 cents off per gallon for gas and 8 cents off per gallon for diesel.

“We’ve paid for the Good Sam membership in gas savings alone,” says Sinclair.

Of those options, Thousand Trails has the biggest upfront cost, but it may be worth it for frequent campers or if you’re planning a longer stay.

Laura Nunemaker, full-time RV camper and blogger at VeganRV.com, signed up for two zones with Thousand Trails for an upcoming extended camping trip on the West Coast.

“Between the free days that you get and the deep discounts on the other days, it makes sense for us,” she says. “Our camping per night will end up being around $15, after you consider the cost of the membership and other fees.”

That includes access to the basics, such as electric and water, but Nunemaker adds that some properties also have pools, hot tubs and other amenities. Just do the math before you buy.

“If you know you’re only going to be able to camp a handful of weekends, it probably isn’t worth it for you,” says Nunemaker.


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Updated: 12-10-2018