Pick the right credit card for ground transportation expenses
Taxicabs, parking garages, commuter rails, ride-shares can all earn rewards points
Not every trip requires an airline ticket.
“When we think of travel, most people think of airplanes,” says Walter Travers, a credit card and travel blogger known as the Credit Card Maestro. “But we travel every day.”
So where are credit card rewards for quick cab rides, commuter train tickets and ride shares? “It’s really a less developed area of credit card rewards,” says Bryce Conway, founder of the blog 10xTravel.
But it does exist. And some cards have the edge.
Credit cards for ground transportation expenses
- The Platinum Card® from American Express offers Uber credits and upgraded status with selected rental car agencies.
- Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard from Bank of America gives a free companion pass every year, plus bonus points on Amtrak purchases.
- Capital One Venture Rewards lets you use points earned to 'erase' travel purchases, including limousine, bus line and taxicab expenses.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve offer some of the wider definitions of travel expenses in the market, and let you redeem points for car rentals.
- Uber Visa from Barclays awards bonus points on travel and online purchases, including Uber, which can be redeemed for Uber rides.
What counts as 'travel' when it comes to ground transportation expenses?
Conway likes cards that offer traditional airfare and hotel rewards, “but also allow you to use them for more nontraditional [travel] methods.”
His favorite: Chase Sapphire Reserve, where points can buy car rentals or Amtrak tickets, as well as the hotel or airline of your choice. “So, you get the best of both worlds.”
At the same time, the Reserve card – and its lower-fee sibling, Chase Sapphire Preferred – offer extra bonuses on a wide variety of ground-transportation travel expenses, including car rental agencies, passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.
With most cards that offer extra bonuses on travel expenses, including ground transportation, the benefits flow automatically – provided you know to use the right card in the right place.
That’s why it's critical to know what count as a travel expense on your card, especially when it comes to ground transportation.
Video: Cruising on points
Some cards may include everyday expenses, such as parking garages and toll roads, as part of their travel category, while others may have a narrower definition of what is considered a travel expense, limiting it to hotel stays, airfare, cruises and rental car agencies.
Not only will having this clear help you maximize those benefits, but you can also rack up those rewards. “Don’t just swipe any card,” says Travers. “Look at which card will give you the best value for what you’re about to do.”
Whether you depend on ride-share services, dream of a cross-country train trip or just want help offsetting the cost of commuting, here are six cards that might be able to help:
If you’re an Uber fan, this card’s got a benefit for you. Namely $200 worth of Uber credits every year.
- To claim Uber credits, load the card into your “Uber wallet” and every month you’ll get a $15 Uber credit – and $35 in December, explains Charlotte Fuller, a vice president of public affairs and communications for American Express. “Add the Platinum card and it’s all automatic.”
- The one drawback: If you don’t use the money every month, it expires.
- The credits, however, are also good for Uber Eats. “At the end of the month, if I haven’t taken Uber, I just order lunch,” says Conway. “So American Express bought me tacos the other day.”
- The card also gives upgraded status with Avis, Hertz and National. Which means a host of benefits including discounts, upgrades and extra rewards points.
In addition, The Platinum Card from American Express includes a $200 airline fee credit, a $75-$100 hotel credit and a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. The card has an annual fee of $550.
Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard from Bank of America
The annual fee is $79, “but the benefits you get are pretty nice,” says Travers.
- 3 points for every dollar spent with Amtrak and 2 points for other qualifying travel, including car rental agencies, commuter rail, passenger rail and travel agencies.
- 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
- You can redeem those points for things such as travel and food on Amtrak, hotels, rental cars and gift cards.
- You also receive a rebate of 5 percent of any points you spend on Amtrak travel, one-class upgrades, and a free companion pass and a lounge-access pass once a year.
“If you’re going somewhere far, [the free companion pass alone] offsets the annual fee,” says Travers.
The card delivers a 20,000-point bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. And that’s a pretty low threshold, Travers says.
“This is a great one for ground travel because the points you earn can erase [charges for] any type of travel,” says Conway.”So you have a lot of flexibility.”
- You can select which individual travel charges you want to 'erase,' including rail line, car rental, limousine, bus line and taxicab expenses.
- You can use the points retroactively to zero out charges for anything you’ve purchased since you opened the card in the form of credit statements, he says.
- However, you might want to skip this option, as points are redeemed for cash at a 50-percent value. A valuable option instead of credit statements is to redeem points for gift cards.
Capital One Venture Rewards offers 2 points for every dollar you spend on every purchase. You can also earn 10 times the points if you book accommodations through Hotels.com.
Plus, the card has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. And the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
As part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards family, both Sapphire cards offer plenty of options to earn and redeem points for travel.
- Sapphire Preferred cardholders get 2 points per dollar on travel – “any kind of travel,” says Travers, who carries the card. This includes Uber, Lyft, taxis, tolls and parking, among other ground transportation expenses.
- You can also redeem points for car rentals through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and get an extra bonus of 25 percent on travel purchases.
Spend $4,000 in the first 90 days and you receive 50,000 bonus points. The annual fee is $95, but it’s waived for the first year.
This one is a perennial favorite with veteran travelers, despite the $450 annual fee.
- It gives you a $300 travel credit annually. And when it comes to ground transportation, it can be used to pay for “buses, taxis, trains, Uber, Lyft – anything,” says Travers. “You’re not tied down to one company.”
- You can redeem points for rental car bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and get a 50 percent bonus on travel purchases.
- Best of all: Chase automatically credits you when you make a qualifying charge, as Conway discovered recently. “I logged into my account and found an $18 statement credit for a Lyft [ride],” he recalls.
- Cardholders also get 3 points per dollar spent on all their travel purchases.
Even with the annual fee, the travel credit “knocks it down to $150, and there are so many other benefits,” says Travers.
“If you’re someone who consistently takes Uber, that might be a good card,” says Travers.
- It awards 4 points per $1 for purchases at restaurants, fast food places, bars and Uber Eats.
- 3 points per dollar on airfare, hotels, vacation rentals and travel agencies.
- 2 points per dollar spent on online buys (including Uber), and 1 point for everything else.
- Those points can be used for Uber credits, cash back or gift cards.
And there’s no annual fee. Plus, you earn $100 if you spend $500 in the first three months.
Don't take the L: Know what's offered by your card
The key to earning and redeeming rewards for ground transportation is to know what is covered by your cards and whether you need to sign up or opt in for certain perks.
Reading your guide to benefits as soon as it arrives in the mail or logging into your account to explore the "benefits" section may take a bit of time, but it can pay off.
“It’s important, when you get a card, to go through the process of signing up for benefits” if needed, says Fuller.
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