Before your family hits the road this summer, pick a credit card to earn bonus rewards on your gas and restaurant purchases.
Update: The Citi ThankYou Preferred is no longer available through our site as of Nov. 28, 2018.
Headed out on the road with the family this summer for a great American road trip? Don’t forget to pack the right cards along with your clothes and swimsuits to make sure you save wherever possible and earn a few miles and points along the way.
Before my family hits the highway, we review our credit cards to make sure we are using the one that will earn the most savings or points and that will help us to meet our travel goals. Sometimes this means forgoing savings to earn points that will help us earn a Southwest Companion Pass, so one of us can always fly nearly free, or to accrue more points for an upcoming trip like our plans for Europe next summer.
Before you pick a credit card for your road trip (or any other travel), take stock of what your ultimate goal will be for using your cards. For example, some travelers prefer to get as much cash back as possible or save a few cents at the pump instead of racking up points for future travel.
See related:Best gas credit cards of 2019
Cash back cards
If putting more cash in your pocket will help you afford the cost of your summer road trip, then consider using (or getting) a cash back credit card. Some cash back cards offer a set percentage cash back on all expenditures, while others offer higher percentage cash back on certain spending categories like gas, groceries and travel.
The Citi Double Cash Card gives you 1 percent cash back on all purchases and then rewards you with another 1 percent if you pay the card for those purchases on time, so you’re essentially earning 2 percent cash back.
The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card also has a set percentage of 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases but also offers a 0 percent interest rate for 15 months (15.74 percent to 25.74 percent variable APR thereafter).
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card, like the Capital One Quicksilver card, offers 1.5 percent cash back and a 0 percent interest rate for 15 months (16.49 percent to 25.24 percent variable APR thereafter).
A new entry this summer in the cash back card field is the American Express Cash Magnet® card, which also offers 1.5 percent on all purchases.
None of these cards has an annual fee.Greater cash back rewards often comes with a price – and sometimes a bit of work tracking your spending so that you use the card at the right places to maximize your cash back.
For example, to earn more cash back in select categories, you might like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which has a $95 annual fee. With the Blue Cash Preferred, you can earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent) and 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station and transit purchases. Bonus rewards when filling your tank and your belly are both helpful on a family road trip. You also will earn 1 percent back per dollar on everything else.
The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card also earns additional cash back for gas and grocery expenditures. You’ll net 3 percent cash back on a category of your choice — including gas purchases — and 2 percent cash back at grocery stores up to a total $2,500 in purchases each quarter (1 percent on all purchases thereafter) with no annual fee.
See related:Best flat-rate cash back credit cards for 2018
If earning miles and points is a top priority on your family road trip, decide if you’d prefer to use a flexible travel credit card (with points that can transfer to a variety of airlines and hotels) or an airline card or hotel card that earns bonus points for spending with that airline or hotel company.
Note: Unless you are making purchases with a specific airline or hotel using their card, you’ll likely earn more points by using a flexible travel credit card.
Flexible travel credit cards to consider include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Citi ThankYou Preferred and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has an annual fee of $95 and earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, is one of my favorite cards.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, usually instantly, to our favorite airline loyalty program, Southwest Rapid Rewards, as well as to United, British Airways and others.
You also use the points for hotel stays at Marriott, Hyatt and InterContinental Hotels Group. This card earns double points on travel and dining expenses.
Citi ThankYou points are another flexible travel points program that lets you transfer your rewards to airlines like JetBlue, Air France and Virgin Atlantic.
The Citi ThankYou Preferred card, which has no annual fee, earns double points on dining and entertainment, which includes expenses like concerts, movie theaters, sporting events and amusement parks.
Finally, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, with a heftier annual fee of $195 waived the first year, earns 2x points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets.
It also nets 3 points per dollar on flights booked with airlines and comes with a $100 credit for airline incidentals. American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to programs such as Delta, British Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Hilton and Starwood.
Pack the card that will earn the most rewards
Whether you are using a cash back or a travel rewards card, make sure you are using something to earn a return on the money you are already spending on your road trip. You’ll be happy you did when that cash or the loyalty points are credited to your account and you can begin planning your next getaway.
See related:Summer road trip rewards for campers