This summer, the cost of airline tickets is up a whopping 25 percent over the same period last year. However, that’s not stopping travelers from making summer plans to get away. Many people are simply adjusting their travel plans to better suit their budgets. In a recent Bankrate poll, 25 percent of people surveyed said they’d simply travel shorter distances to cut costs, and 16 percent said they’d be driving instead of flying.
This idea makes a lot of sense, considering how much cheaper a road trip is than a flight. But having a cost-effective road trip requires more than hopping in the car and seeing where the road takes you. You’ll want to plan, budget and carry a credit card that makes road travel more cost-effective and secure.
Benefits of a road trip credit card
From roadside assistance to cash back on gas purchases, traveling with the right credit card can make your journey more affordable and safe. The best road-trip credit cards reward cardholders for common road-trip expenses like food stops, gas and lodging. The right credit card can also help you keep your funds secure because, unlike debit cards, your funds aren’t directly linked to your checking or savings accounts.
Most credit card companies have implemented zero liability fraud protections that absolve cardholders of responsibility for unauthorized charges, making credit cards the safer traveling companion. You can also have peace of mind knowing help is available should you be in an accident or have issues with your car, thanks to roadside assistance perks on some cards.
How to choose the best card for your road trip
The best credit card for your road trip will depend on your unique financial situation and what you need from your card. Although cards aren’t explicitly designed for rewarding road trips, many cards can help you shoulder the costs of your trip purchases and maximize perks on the road.
Here’s what you should consider when choosing a credit card for your road trip:
- Gas, hotel, and restaurant rewards. Hotel stays (or other lodgings), gas purchases and dining out will be your main expenses while on your road trip. It’s important to be sure any card you choose generously rewards at least some of those categories.
- Welcome bonus. Cards that earn bonus points for dining out and gas are a boon for road-trip travelers and will help you earn your card’s welcome offer in no time. Choosing a card that offers a welcome bonus with a low spending threshold could provide an easy windfall of rewards to help cover road-trip expenses.
- Credit score requirements. Some of the best travel cards require high credit scores, but that shouldn’t stop you from being rewarded for your road trip purchases (even if your credit is less than stellar). Check your credit score and use Bankrate’s CardMatch™ to determine if the card you want is within your range.
Best cards for your road trip
Credit One Bank Wander Card: Best for booking road trip activities
Road-trippers with fair credit rejoice: the Credit One® Bank Wander™ Card is recommended for people with FICO credit scores from 580 to 740, and you can apply for the Credit One Bank Wander without a hard inquiry on your credit report. It also earns some pretty stellar rewards for anyone looking to earn a bit of cash back for their road trip activities.
Cardholders will get a substantial 5X points on all eligible recreational and amusement park purchases (including national parks and professional sporting events), 3X points on eligible lodging purchases (including campgrounds) and restaurants and 1X points on everything else. The card does carry a $95 annual fee, but if you pay for a National Park Pass within a year of account opening, you’ll get an automatic $80 statement credit — significantly reducing your costs to carry this card for the first year.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for renting a car
Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders will earn a whopping 10X points for booking their car rentals and hotel stays through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The Sapphire Reserve also covers any rental car booked with the card for up to $75,000 for collision damage, theft or physical damage. You can also use your Chase Sapphire benefits to get roadside assistance (emergency fuel, a tow or a key lockout) up to four times per year for only $50 (as long as the vehicle is not at your primary residence). Overall the Sapphire Reserve is a solid choice for anyone looking to venture out on the open road.
Discover it chrome: Best for gas stations
All of your road trip essentials are covered with the Discover it® chrome. Earn 2 percent cash back at restaurants, 2 percent cash back on gas and 1 percent cash back on all your gas station snacks (and everything else), on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter with the Discover it chrome. Cardholders will also get a dollar-for-dollar match for all the cash back they earn within the first 12 months from account opening, so you’ll get double the cash back for everything you spend on the first road trip you take with this card .
Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express: Best for snack runs
If your road trip companions prefer to stock up on snacks instead of stopping at restaurants, this is the right card for you. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express earns solid rewards for road trip-related purchases. Cardholders will get 3 percent cash back at gas stations and supermarkets (and online retailers) on up to $6,000 per year, 1 percent cash back on everything else. There’s no annual fee to worry about, and cardholders will get a $200 welcome bonus (after spending $2,000 within the first six months from account opening).
The bottom line
While there are many great travel credit cards to choose from, some cards go further for road trippers. These cards earn top-tier rewards for common road trip expenses like gas, dining, lodging and activities. To keep your road trip affordable, fun and secure, be sure to consider the cards above for your next road trip.