Summer road trip rewards for campers

Camping doesn’t have to mean your rewards take a back seat – especially if you know where to go


Summer’s here! That means it’s time for campfires and s’mores – and some credit card rewards. Whether you’re earning them or redeeming, camping can be both fun and lucrative this summer.

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It’s summertime – the season of road trips and campfires. During the peak summer months, I spend less time on airplanes, trade in my carry-on for my backpack and set aside my normal luxury hotel obsession to spend as much time as possible sleeping in my tent.

Traditionally, we’re most likely to think about far away destinations when we think about rewards travel – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to travel thousands of miles to earn or spend your credit card points for amazing adventures. Hopping in your car for a road trip or pitching a tent in your backyard can be just as fun – and rewarding.

Dust off your gear. Here are my top two ways for playing the credit card rewards games for camping season.

See related:  Use your credit card rewards to visit national parks

1. Make the outdoors work for you

While it sometimes feels like “camping” when I pop into a roadside Holiday Inn Express using my IHG rewards points, my favorite kind of camping is the kind where I fall asleep out in the woods under a sky full of stars.

Camping experiences and their respective costs vary greatly. I recently paid $11 for a campsite at a state park, then paid $99 the next weekend to stay one night in a glamping teepee in a private mountainside forest.

When I’m paying $10-$20 for an overnight campsite, I confess I’m not necessarily thinking about using points too much. If I’m paying $100 a night for a glamping adventure however, it’s worth considering how I can put my rewards points to work to offset the cost.

How to earn rewards

The great thing about camping trips is you don’t need a specific credit card to earn those extra points. By using what you already have in your wallet to your advantage – along with some rewards game know-how – earning points can be as easy as roasting marshmallows.

  • Use your best everyday earning card to pay for online bookings through a park service or small independent campground. Take advantage of the fact that on-site campground registrations with credit cards are becoming more popular.
  • Use your best travel earning points card to book private camp areas and glamping experiences through third-party booking sites like The Dyrt, Airbnb, Vacasa or HipCamp. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always clear as to what counts as travel on a travel rewards card, and it isn’t a guaranteed camping/glamping accommodations will always code as such. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card might be your best bets in this situation. Both offer a rewards rate on travel – and it includes campgrounds.
  • If you’re into #vanlife or seasonally living in an RV, make sure you have a flexible cash back card in your wallet. This will allow you to both earn and offset your campground expenses – which can add up when you’re on the road long term.

How to redeem rewards

Done earning rewards and ready to cash in? There are a few different ways you can redeem your perks while having a little outdoor fun.

  • Use a cash back travel card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to pay for glamping experiences booked through a third-party travel booking service, or directly through a travel brand like a KOA campground. You’ll be able to use your rewards credit to have the cost reimbursed.
  • Use an everyday cash back card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited when you want to use reward points at a campground where the fee is paid through a general store or a park service. The charge will likely code as a regular purchase and you’ll be able to have the cost reimbursed by applying your cash back credit.
  • You could also skip paying for campgrounds altogether by backcountry camping in national and state parks, or camp free on BLM land.

2. Fly-and-camp trips

Road trips that you start and end in your own driveway are great, but if you want to explore further afield — or take a road trip around the national parks — rewards points can help make that happen.

Christy Cunningham (an avid camper I know from The Dyrt camping community) had the summer goal of exploring Yosemite National Park with her friends. Since California is more than a short road trip from her Florida home, she opted for a fly-and-camp trip.

Christy took advantage of the rewards points she earned on her Wells Fargo Business Elite Card to cover four airline tickets for her partner and two friends. The group spent four nights camping at the Wawona campground in Yosemite ($26 per night), plus a night camping in the backcountry (free with a wilderness permit).

Using our favorite principle of creative redemption bartering, her friends covered the cost of the rental car in an exchange for their plane tickets, which her rewards points covered. The grand total of their travel expenses came to $104 (not including gas) for a weeklong national park adventure.

If you’re considering a fly-and-camp trip:

  • Book your flights with points using your favorite co-branded airline card that also gives you baggage benefits so you don’t have to pay to haul your gear.
  • If you prefer to not carry your gear, use a service like Xscape Pod. They will package and ship camping gear ahead of you to a pickup location, convenient to your camping destination. Return shipping via FedEx costs less than a checked bag fee (if you’re not carrying a card that will get you free baggage of course).
  • For rental car bookings, use points from a flexible rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you prefer to pay for car rentals, my favorite bargain-finding tool is AutoSlash.

My personal favorite place for fly-and-camp trips is Hawaii. I can always convince a friend to come along using my $99 companion fare (plus taxes and fees starting from $22) that I get annually with my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card.

I love that credit card rewards and benefits give us so many options. It doesn’t matter if you’re cashing in your points or earning more along the way, find your own way to get outside and on the road. Happy trails, rewards camper!

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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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