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What counts as travel on a travel rewards card?

Each issuer defines travel a bit differently, and it can be hard to tell which purchases and redemptions qualify

Summary

See if you’re earning the points you expect on travel-related purchases.

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Travel is by far one of the most common credit card rewards categories.

Some of the best known cards from the biggest banks, including Chase, Citi and American Express, offer category bonuses for travel expenditures. Other card companies, including Capital One and Bank of America, offer cards that allow you to redeem points to pay for travel-related purchases

But when it comes to travel credit cards and other rewards cards, what exactly constitutes an “eligible travel purchase” or redemption?

See related: How to find a business’s merchant category code

What counts as travel?

One smart technique for racking up reward points quickly is to have a few cards with different category bonuses, then orient your spending on those cards toward those categories. If you can remember to use the correct card when paying, your rewards can quickly multiply.

Travel tends to be a popular rewards category for card issuers because people who express interest in travel and spend money on traveling tend to be desirable customers for banks.

Of course, anytime a card offers a category bonus, there’s always the question of what expenditures qualify in that category. The answer is not always clear, and individual issuers define purchase categories differently. Additionally, eligible purchases or redemptions may vary from card to card within the same issuer.

Here’s a quick look at how different card issuers define the travel category on one or more of their cards:

How Chase defines travel

Chase’s premier travel rewards credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card both offer bonuses on a wide variety of travel expenses. On its website, Chase says that the travel category includes the following:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels/motels
  • Timeshares
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Discount travel sites
  • Campgrounds
  • Operators of passenger trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis, limos or ride-share
  • Ferries
  • Toll bridges and highways
  • Parking lots and garages


It lists some exceptions, too, such as tourist attractions, in-flight goods and services and merchants located inside hotels and airports.

See related: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Preferred

How Citi defines travel

For bonus points on the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, the travel category includes “airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel agencies, cruise lines and Costco Travel.” For cards that earn Citi ThankYou points, the list is more expansive.

For example, the Citi Premier℠ Card* considers the following as travel purchases: “purchases at airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, gas stations, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, timeshares, bus lines, motor home/recreational vehicle rentals and boat leases and rentals.”

Meanwhile, you can get statement credits of up to $250 per calendar year with the luxury Citi Prestige Card* on the following expenses: “airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages and bus lines.”

How American Express defines travel

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5 points per dollar on purchases made directly with airlines and on flights and hotels booked through the American Express travel portal. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express also offers 5 points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels booked through the Amex travel portal, but not on direct bookings.

Meanwhile, the American Express® Green Card, features a more expansive list of eligible travel and transit purchases, including the following:

  • Travel booked through American Express travel
  • Travel booked directly with airlines
  • Hotels
  • Cruise lines
  • Car rental agencies
  • Campgrounds
  • Trains
  • Taxis and ride-share services
  • Tours
  • Ferries
  • Tolls
  • Parking
  • Buses and subways
  • Third-party travel sites


See related: Amex transfer partners

How Bank of America defines travel

Bank of America’s luxury rewards card, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card* defines travel quite broadly, offering an especially exhaustive list of redemption options for travel purchases, including the following:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels/motels
  • Car rental agencies
  • Timeshares
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Taxis
  • Passenger trains
  • Buses and other commuter transportation
  • Ferries
  • Trailer parks, motor homes and RV rentals
  • Campgrounds
  • Boat rental
  • Tolls
  • Parking lots/garages
  • Tourist attractions like zoos, galleries and amusement parks

How Barclays defines travel

Barclays’ signature travel rewards card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, is no longer accepting new applications. But existing cardholders can still earn rewards on every purchase and redeem for travel.

According to an archived version of the card’s terms, travel redemptions apply to “airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines and ferries.” You can even redeem rewards to cover the card’s annual fee.

While this is an impressive list, not all merchants that provide transportation and travel-related services are included. For example, real estate agents, websites or owners that rent properties (like Airbnb), in-flight goods and services, merchants within airports, and merchants that rent trailers, trucks and other vehicles for the purpose of hauling are excluded.

How Capital One defines travel

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card* and Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card* both allow cardholders to redeem miles to pay for travel expenditures, which include the following:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Rail lines
  • Car rental agencies
  • Limousine services
  • Bus lines
  • Cruise lines
  • Taxi cabs
  • Travel agencies
  • Timeshares

Bottom line

There are some differences between how these card issuers describe travel, but one constant is that airline flights pretty much always count as “travel.” Hotel booking and car rentals are also extremely common, along with cruise lines and taxis. Even campgrounds pop up on most cards.

Other expenses, like timeshares, travel agencies and third-party travel sites, can trip up your rewards earning efforts. Be sure to check if a purchase is eligible for bonus rewards before you choose a card to pay with, and if your rewards aren’t showing up as they should, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your issuer.

See related: Cash back vs. points

* Information about the Citi Premier Card, Citi Prestige Card, Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuers. The Citi Premier Card, Citi Prestige Card, Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card are no longer available through CreditCards.com

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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