Score summer festival savings using your rewards credit card

Have all the fun without going broke by using the right card and reining in spending

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Score summer music festival savings using your rewards credit card

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Planning to hit the summer festival circuit? Get ready to spend.

In 2017, going all-out to attend Coachella cost $8,455, according to a Money magazine report. The price tag for the low-budget version still topped $600.

Other big-name summer events, such as Lollapalooza, Firefly Festival and Hangout Music Fest come with similarly high price tags. A rewards credit card can be the answer if you want to avoid going broke during festival season.

Rewards can be redeemed for concert tickets, but your card may hold other valuable benefits. Here’s what you need to know to leverage maximum savings when making the summer festival rounds.

Save on summer music festivals using your credit card

  • Use the right card for festival spending: Whether it’s cash back or travel rewards, pick a card that can help offset travel, lodging and dining costs.
  • Know your merchant codes: Understand which festival purchases qualify for the rewards your card offers. In doubt? Go with a flat-rate card instead.
  • Cash in on entertainment perks: Some cards can give you access to unique festival opportunities, such as priority ticket sales or exclusive VIP lounges. 
  • Set your budget early: Overspending at festivals is easy; keep a tab on how much you spend and make an effort to stay within your original budget.

Use the right card for festival spending

Whether you’re planning to go to just one festival or do all the things this summer, it pays to pick the right card.

Brandon Chopp, digital manager for iHeartRaves, a rave and festival clothing manufacturer, used his Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to book his Coachella trip this year, earning unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. That included booking a $6,000 Airbnb rental for himself and 15 friends, for which he earned 12,000 miles.

“I also purchased my Coachella ticket with the card and will likely purchase all my food and drinks at the festival with it,” says Chopp. “I plan on redeeming all the miles I’ve earned on a flight to my next festival, so it’s worked out great.”

Chopp scored a substantial number of miles on his Airbnb booking, but he could have earned even more mileage if he’d opted for a hotel instead.

Earlier this year, Capital One launched a partnership with Hotels.com that increases potential miles earned. Venture and VentureOne cardholders can earn 10 miles per dollar at hundreds of thousands of hotels when they use their card to book through hotels.com/venture.

Those miles are on top of the unlimited miles you get with a Venture or Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card. The offer also coordinates with the Hotels.com Rewards loyalty program, which allows you to stay 10 nights and get one night free.

A travel card that offers relationship rewards also can be a boon for festival attendees. The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card offers unlimited 1.5 miles per dollar, versus the two you’d get with the Capital One Venture card, but Preferred Rewards members who have a Bank of America bank account can earn a bonus on top of base rewards.

“If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can earn up to 2.62 points for each $1 you spend on hotels, concert tickets, festival merchandise and food,” says Bank of America Preferred Rewards executive Kevin Condon.

That’s a nice bump that’s easy to take advantage of if your bank offers a relationship rewards program.

Tip

Tip: Look at all the rewards cards in your wallet to see which ones hold the most rewards earning potential for festival spending, including hotels, tickets, airfare, Uber rides and food.

Know your merchant codes

Major festivals are increasingly giving concertgoers the option to go cashless by linking their credit cards to a PIN-protected wristband.

Bank of America, for instance, was the cashless sponsor of the 2017 Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta. And American Express will sponsor the Austin City Limits 2018’s ACL Cashless wristband option.

“Sponsoring festivals and events is one of the many ways credit card companies are encouraging consumers to experience the ease and convenience of ditching cash entirely,” says Condon.

But you can run into a hitch if you’re using a card that offers tiered rewards rates, versus a card offering the same rewards on every purchase. When you’re spending at a festival, merchant codes matter.

 

Video: At music festivals, wristbands are the new credit cards

“It’s very important to understand which entertainment purchases qualify for rewards,” says Kate Ashford, Forbes contributor and personal finance expert. “If your card offers extra points on dining, for instance, the food you charge must come from a vendor who’s classified as a dining establishment.”

You should also know which ticket purchases qualify for points. For instance, “you might get points only if you buy tickets directly from a vendor like Ticketmaster, versus from a ticket reseller like StubHub,” says Ashford.

She recommends using a merchant coding search tool, such as Visa’s supplier locator to determine how a particular merchant is coded. Alternately, you could try a small test purchase, then check your online activity to see how your rewards are credited.

Finance expert and AskMen.com spokeswoman Carson Yarbrough says to dive into your card’s fine print before heading to a summer festival.

Citi’s ThankYou Premier card rewards 2 ThankYou points for dining and entertainment, which includes live entertainment and concerts,” says Yarbrough. In that case, you should be safe using your card to buy tickets or festival merchandise, but it’s not always foolproof.

Yarbrough says if you’re buying dinner from a food truck vendor at the festival, that could be coded as “dining” or “fast food.” But if you buy a bottle of water or snacks from the venue itself, “it’s possible the purchase will be tied to the merchant code of the venue and not be considered dining.”

You also can hit a snag when attending an international festival. “Some cards specify that the rewards bonus-category points are for U.S. restaurants only,” says Yarbrough, meaning you may not get those points abroad.

Both Ashford and Yarbrough say you can try contacting your credit card company to get full credit for rewards, but that tactic doesn’t always work. If in doubt, consider sticking with a card that offers the same flat rewards rate on every purchase.

"It’s very important to understand which entertainment purchases qualify for rewards. If your card offers extra points on dining, for instance, the food you charge must come from a vendor who’s classified as a dining establishment."

Cash in on entertainment perks

Keeping certain cards in your wallet can come with added entertainment privileges if your card is a summer festival partner or sponsor.

Capital One cardholders enjoyed priority access to JamFest at the March Madness Music Festival. That included entry to the Capital One Cardholder Lounge, which featured an exclusive bar and premium front-of-stage viewing.

Citi has been Lollapalooza’s official sponsor for a few years now. In recent editions of the festival, early priority ticket sales have been available to Citi cardholders through Citi Private Pass.

American Express is on the list of Coachella sponsors for this year. Some of the extras available to cardmembers include visits to the American Express Card Member Club and a one-time $10 statement credit after spending $10 at a participating Coachella vendor.

 

Video: Mastering your bucket list using points

Other cards may not sponsor a festival directly, but still offer festival-specific benefits. With Starwood Hotels’ Moments program, current holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express, for instance, can use Starpoints to bid on entertainment packages. Recent offerings included two VIP packages complete with behind-the-scenes tours to Coachella.

Remember, however, that often these little something extras are available only with cards that charge an annual fee.

If you’re considering getting a card that offers entertainment perks but charges an annual fee, take time to weigh it against what you’re getting in return.

“Strictly speaking, when we’re talking about benefits like VIP access, presales, special events and meet-and-greets, those types of rewards are hard to justify based on monetary value or canceling out the annual fee,” says Yarbrough. “You can’t really put a dollar value on these types of experiential rewards.”

If attending a summer festival means crossing off an item on your bucket list, the annual fee may be less important than the experience itself. “If you’re using your card to get something you otherwise wouldn’t be able to and that thing brings you joy, consider it a win,” says Yarbrough.

Remember, however, to think about the card’s ongoing value. If you plan to only use the card during festival season, an annual fee may be harder to reconcile.

Tip

Tip: Keep in mind that some fee cards waive the annual fee the first year. If the card won’t prove valuable to you in the long run, consider canceling it or downgrading it to a no-fee card at the end of the first year in order to avoid paying the annual fee on year two.

Set your budget early on

Using your card at a festival can help you earn money-saving rewards and enhance your experience, but take care not to overspend.

“Music festivals are money traps,” says Yarbrough. “They’re filled with merchant booths, food vendors, locker fees, charging stations and more, all designed to entice festivalgoers.”

If you’re carrying your card instead of cash, or using a wristband linked to your card to pay, keep track of what you’re spending.

“Keep a note in your phone and each time you make a purchase, mark it down,” says Yarbrough. “This helps you stay conscious of how much you’re spending by taking time to register the purchase.”

See related: At music festivals, cashless is all the rage, How to avoid Fyres that can burn you


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Updated: 08-18-2018