These people switched from travel rewards to cash back. Here's why

With cash back, you're not tied down by rules, dates, partner hotels

Holly Johnson
Personal finance writer
Covers credit card rewards stories

Why some people prefer cash back over travel rewards

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Cash back or travel rewards? Sure, points chasers can rack up more rewards, but redeeming those for dream vacations can be tricky and time-consuming. Cash back offers the ultimate flexibility when it comes to rewards.

Meet some former travel rewards enthusiasts who’ve decided jumping through too many hoops (tracking points valuations, avoiding blackout dates and finding and utilizing transfer partners) is just too much.

For these rewards collectors, cash back is king.

Saving for a Disney family vacation

Ashley Gainer of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is someone in the “just cannot be bothered with” travel rewards camp. Cash back may be less lucrative over the long haul, but she’s not sure she cares anymore.

Ashley Gainer and her daughter meet Mickey Mouse.

Ashley Gainer and her daughter meet Mickey Mouse.

“I know that travel rewards really pay off for people who use them, but I find it takes too much mental energy to be worth it,” Gainer says.

As the mother of three small kids, Gainer says her interest in jet-setting adventures and staying at beachside villas is waning anyway.

For now, Gainer would rather rack up easy cash back and use it how and where she wants – even if that means scoring a lower rate of return overall.

At the moment, Gainer is racking up points with the Disney Premier Visa card, a sort of hybrid between a travel card and a cash back card. She scored a $200 sign-up bonus when she got the card, and she says she has racked up another $300 in rewards she can redeem toward a future Disney vacation for her family.

The Disney card’s rewards are “not too shabby for something that requires zero time and energy from me after signing up,” she says. And she can redeem her points to cover Disney park tickets, resort stays, dining and more without worrying about award availability.

Gainer also uses the Discover it® Cash Back card.

Gainer likes having flexibility with her rewards. “Sometimes I'll use my reward points to buy stuff I need for a trip on Amazon,” she says.

"I know that travel rewards really pay off for people who use them, but I find that it takes too much mental energy to be worth it."

See related: Best flat-rate cash back credit cards

With cash back, you’re not tied down

Teresa Mears of Tamarac, Florida, says travel rewards cards tend to work for certain hotels and specific airlines at the exclusion of everything else.

Teresa Mears.

Teresa Mears uses her cash back rewards to pay her bills. “But my hobby is music, so I spend money I don’t need for bills on that hobby,” she says.

Mears doesn’t like staying in chain hotels or big resorts. She also says that, over the past few years, most of her travel has been to music festivals or business conferences in the U.S. In those instances, she has had to pick the hotel by location, not by rewards cards.

“I need cash all the time,” she says. “Also, I am lazy. I don’t like to spend a lot of time figuring out which cards to apply for and which ones to use.”

To make her life easier, Mears says she puts all her expenses on two cards – the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express and the SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express.

Both cards let her earn points she can redeem for statement credits or whatever she wants – and she prefers to keep it that way.

See related: Score summer festival savings using your rewards credit card

Cash back card sign-up bonuses are in easy reach

Cash back and travel card sign-up bonuses couldn’t be more different. Sure, a cash back sign-up bonus often is a few hundred bucks, but you don’t have to spend a fortune in the first few months to earn that cash prize.

Travel and airline credit cards often dangle thousands or even 100,000 points to tempt new card applicants, but getting that bonus usually includes spending a few thousand dollars in the first three months.

Ajay Kadyan of Richmond, Virginia, said “no thanks” to airline bonuses a while ago. Instead, he pursues cash back credit cards to score big bonuses that are easy to redeem.

Most recently, he earned sign-up bonuses on the Citi ThankYou Premier card and the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card.

It’s “a lot simpler to get cash back than to find availability for points travel,” he says.

"I need cash all the time. Also, I am lazy. I don't like to spend a lot of time figuring out which cards to apply for and which ones to use."

See related: How to use cash back as a savings tool

You can use cash back to travel

Jessie Marzza of Portland, Maine, uses cash back cards to fund her family’s international travel (a few times a year) and closer-to-home trips (a few more times a year).

Her secret? She uses her cards to rack up as much cash back as possible, then she looks for all-inclusive deals or affordable Airbnbs.

“Same with flights – I keep an eye on them and know when it is best to book international or domestic flights and don’t wait last minute,” Marzza says.

Marzza currently pays with her Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom, Discover it® Cash Back and Capital One Savor (now the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card) cards to ring up her rewards.

Her family loves to travel, but hates to deal with the different travel card rewards programs. Cash back cards let her save on travel without all the hassle.

At the end of the day, deciding whether to pursue points or cash back is a matter of personal preference.

Some people don’t mind juggling rewards programs or dealing with redemption roadblocks, while others would rather spend their time doing something (or anything) else.


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Updated: 11-16-2018