How credit card rewards are helping me save over $700 on a road trip

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With spring break quickly approaching, I’ve been feeling the urge to travel — but plan to do it safely and as cost-effectively as possible. A family road trip has always been on my bucket list and now that my son is older, we decided to go on an eight-day socially-distanced road trip to the Southwest region of the country. 

When my husband and I sat down to budget and plan for the trip, credit card rewards were at the forefront of my mind. I knew we could save on everything from our stays to food and car rental by leveraging credit card rewards points, cash back, and other benefits. 

Here’s exactly what we’re doing to save money on our adventure using rewards credit cards.

Using rewards points for hotel stays

Lodging is often one of the most expensive costs for any trip. Throughout the eight-day trek, we’ll be staying in one Airbnb and three different hotel/villas in order to have our own private space.

I chose a two-bedroom villa for one of the stays so we’d have access to a full kitchen, making it easy to prepare meals and even do laundry all while staying safely distanced from other travelers. The particular villa we booked would normally be $174 per night, but we only spent $64 total because we booked with IHG Rewards Club points from my IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card — saving a total of $306 for that stay.

IHG hotel booking

IHG Hotels

I booked another two nights at a different hotel and used full points for the first day and the free anniversary night from the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card for the second day, so we only have to spend $5 for hotel parking. 

One of my favorite features of my IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is the free night you get each year on your cardmember anniversary to use at IHG hotels that cost 40,000 points or less. While this card does come with an $89 annual fee, the anniversary night you get every year plus other benefits like a fourth night free on award stays make it worth it.

I paid full price for our Airbnb stay but made sure we had the entire place to ourselves and the host offered contactless check-in options (as most do at this time). Overall, we saved over $450 in lodging costs using credit card rewards.

Rental car insurance

Booking a car for a road trip can get expensive, so we shopped around on Expedia and made sure to choose an option with unlimited mileage. I paid for the rental with my Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card to take advantage of its Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver. 

While I expect the trip to run smoothly, it’s also important that we have collision and vehicle theft coverage on our rental car which is included when you pay with the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and decline the rental company’s collision/loss damage waiver. We will also get 24/7 on-demand roadside assistance dispatch should we need it. 

The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card is a great rewards card to use because you can earn unlimited points for every dollar spent and use these points to supplement travel costs. The card also offers a generous welcome bonus of 50,000 points after you spend at least $3,000 in the first 90 days, travel statement credits, and no foreign transaction fees.

Typically, car rental insurance costs from $10 to $30 per day depending on your state, so we saved quite a bit of money by using our credit card’s rental

car insurance
protection (for free) instead.

Cash back on groceries and gas

The Discover it® Cash Back
is one of the best cash-back credit cards with no annual fee — and I often forget that my husband has this credit card. We plan on doing a few grocery store runs during the trip so we can spend less money on restaurant meals and snacks. 

With the Discover it® Cash Back, you can earn 5{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} cash back in categories that rotate every quarter on up to $1,500 in combined spending (then 1{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146}) when you activate the bonus. Luckily, the current Discover 5{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} cash-back spending categories from January to March 2021 are grocery stores, Walgreens, and CVS, so we will purchase all food and medicine for the trip with this card.

While we can still earn 1{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} cash back at gas stations during the trip, I will probably use my Citi® Double Cash Card to pay for gas because it earns 1{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} cash back when you buy, and an additional 1{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} back when you pay your bill, for a total of 2{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} cash back. 

Organizing a trip using credit card rewards is easy 

Planning this eight-day road trip has taken up some time, but it hasn’t been more stressful or hectic than planning a trip without credit card rewards. I actually find it more fun to plan a trip using different card rewards points and opportunities because it’s a challenge to see how much we can save.

Plus, taking the time to plan ahead means I can relax and just put our finances on autopilot whenever we’re officially on vacation. To help make the process run smoothly, I’ve focused on doing a few important things:

  • Researching our credit card benefits and narrowing it down to the best three (or so) rewards cards to use for the trip: That way, we’re not getting mixed up with too many different rewards card benefits
  • Booking all the lodging first with points, then the car second: I put all the confirmation numbers in a spreadsheet along with the check-in times and auto collision wavier information
  • Making grocery lists and packing lists two to three weeks in advance: That way, we don’t forget anything and aren’t stuck spending extra money while on the trip due to lack of preparedness
  • Setting up autopay for each credit card we’re using: We’re holding the money in a checking account so our credit card balances can be automatically paid off as soon as we return home

Overall, we’ll save a little more than $700 on this socially-distanced road trip thanks to proper planning and credit card rewards — and possibly even more. That’s money that can go back into our budget to help us truly enjoy the vacation, so it’s well worth the planning time and effort.

Choncé Maddox is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and personal finance freelance writer. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communications from Northern Illinois University and resides with her family in the Chicago area.