Paying for summer fun using a rewards credit card can help pave the way for a fantastic future trip this fall or winter. The card rewards you rack up now can help you fund a glorious winter escape — whether it’s to hit the slopes or warm up on a white sand beach. It’s all about spending strategically (and within your budget) to earn cash back or points.
In this article:
- Picking the right card to earn rewards
- Reward yourself by swiping for these summertime splurges
- Let your summer card rewards inspire future fun
Take a page from upcoming travelers this summer: one in five cardholders say their card rewards will cover at least half of their summer travel bills, according to CompareCards’ recent summer travel study.
“While it may be too late to make a big impact on this summer’s vacation, you can already start thinking about winter, spring break or next summer,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.
The best way to do that is to pull out your favorite card, or even consider getting a new rewards credit card and use it on your summer spending this season to meet those minimum spending requirements needed to earn big sign-up bonuses, says Schulz. “That can help you with another plane ticket or hotel going forward.”
One word of caution: “Job No. 1 for anyone with a credit card is to make sure you pay off your balance as soon as you possibly can. And the last thing you should do is overspend just to get credit card rewards, regardless of how lucrative they may be,” said Schulz.
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Picking the right card to rack up rewards
Travel cards, airline cards, cash back cards — how do you know which one to choose? It’s all about being strategic, says Walter Travers, a travel vlogger who runs The Credit Card Maestro channel on YouTube.
“Make it situational for your lifestyle for this point in time to maximize rewards,” he said. In other words, look for cards that offer the highest rewards for the types of purchases you make the most. Or, if you’re an equal opportunity spender, you can go for a flat-rate rewards card that offers the same rate on all purchases.
“Now is the perfect time to get a card that gives you a big sign-up bonus that you can use next year.”
The other major consideration is to think ahead on the type of rewards you want. For instance, say you want to plan a big trip next year. “Now is the perfect time to get a card that gives you a big sign-up bonus that you can use next year,” said Travers. With the right card, you could use earnings toward airfare, hotel stays or any number of ways.
As for deciding which type of rewards card to apply for, again, it all depends on your preferences. For airline cards, Travers cautions that you should only get one if you are loyal to a specific airline that has a hub in your area airport with widely available flights. The same idea applies to hotel cards — make sure it’s a chain that you almost always stay at, otherwise you won’t get much value.
Of course, if you want more flexibility, there are also general travel rewards cards that give you more options for transferring your points to a variety of airline or hotel partners.
If you prefer to deal with dollars rather than points, you can’t go wrong with a cashback card. “You want to do better than 1% back if you can, and make sure it gives you more cash back for the things you spend on,” said Travers. So if you buy a lot on groceries, look for cards with extra rewards for supermarket spending.
Once you pick your card, you’re ready to start earning. While many points hackers rack up a ton of rewards by paying bills and other “mundane” expenses on their cards, there’s a lot of fun spending you can do this summer to jump-start your next adventure.
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1. Take a road trip
According to a survey by AAA, 53% of traveling families plan to take a road trip this year. Between gas, food and lodging, that could translate into a nice chunk of credit card rewards points.
“When it comes to a road trip, I think about being on the road for an extended period of time and spending money on gas,” said Travers, not to mention, making a pit stop for a bite. He suggests using a card that offers more than 1% back on gas and restaurant purchases.
On the other hand, if you have a credit card for a hotel chain, a couple of overnight stays paid for with that card can help you can earn extra status, says Schulz. “So when you go away next time, you might be able to get a little nicer room. It’s about making your stay a little fancier.”
Want to fly instead and earn extra rewards? Check out these travel rewards cards.
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2. Visit an amusement park
From Busch Gardens to Six Flags, to the major Orlando theme parks, if you’re planning on spending time at an amusement park this summer, get your rewards credit cards ready. A family of four can easily spend a couple of hundred dollars just to walk into the park, and that’s not including food and merchandise throughout the day.
“And if you’re talking season passes, you’re really going to be spending a lot,” said Travers. “If you know you have a card for which you need to hit a minimum spend, an amusement park is going to help you get that sign-up bonus.”
Also worth noting: some credit cards give a higher rewards rate for “entertainment” purchases, such as the Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card, for which amusement park tickets may qualify.
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3. Get a pool or beach pass
Another fun expense is buying pool or beach passes for the season. Just be mindful that if you’re getting these through a city or municipality, they may sometimes tack on a finance charge if you’re using a credit card.
“Generally if there’s a fee involved, the math doesn’t work in your favor when it comes to paying with a credit card,” said Schulz. For example, if you have to pay a 3% fee for using a card for payment instead of a check and you’re trying to get 1.5% cash back, you don’t have to be an accountant to understand that the math doesn’t make sense, he says. “No matter what, always understand the fine print and make sure you know all the details.”
Of course, there’s no fee for stocking up on related purchases like beach chairs, umbrellas, swimsuits and other swim gear, so swipe away.
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4. Charge your kid’s summer camp
Whether you just need a place for your kids to hang during your work day, or they’re bugging you to sign up for a cool athletic or robotics camp, summer camps for kids can get really pricey.
In fact, as of 2018, resident camp tuition averages go from about $630 per week up to a $2,000-plus, while day camp tuition averages go from $199 to $800-plus per week, according to the American Camp Association.
If you choose to pay for summer camps with your card, take the cash you hopefully set aside for those and pay off the credit card bill right away. “Lots of cards give you $150-$200 cash back after you spend a certain amount, and as any parent knows, that extra money can really help extend your budget when you’re talking about expensive activities like summer camps,” said Schulz.
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5. Fund a staycation
One often overlooked benefit of using rewards credit cards is that they open up a world of fun experiences in your hometown that can make you want to take a staycation. Travers says he was able to score tickets at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, and because he has a premium American Express card, he gained access to the Centurion Suite. “It was an awesome experience,” he said.
Check if your rewards cards offer special access to concert tickets or baseball games in your area, says Schulz. And if so, make that purchase using your card to earn some perks that night and rewards for a future fun night out.
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6. Create a backyard oasis
Even if you don’t have a big trip planned, there is something to be said for giving your own outdoor space a makeover so that you can enjoy relaxing at home. Using rewards credit cards to purchase new patio furniture, a grill, a pool and other outdoor living items is yet another fun way to boost your earnings while enjoying some summer leisure time.
Tip: If you haven’t saved up quite enough to pay for backyard gear in full, it might be worth looking into a new rewards card that also has a 0% introductory APR, so you have extra time to pay off the balance before interest accrues.
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7. Plan a last-minute getaway
The idea is simple: Pay for a last-minute trip today, save big on the next one. “I just booked a cruise using an airline card,” said Travers. Travers says he used his Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. “Not only am I getting to go on the cruise, but I earned the typical points, plus an additional 10,000 miles for booking the cruise through the card’s portal,” he said. How’s that for a fun summer rewards trifecta?
Want to travel internationally and not pay extra? Check out these cards with no foreign transaction fees.
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Take advantage of the opportunities
The lesson here is to check your credit card’s rewards portal or current offers since there are sometimes opportunities to earn extra rewards.
Using rewards credit cards on fun summer experiences you would have paid for anyway is a much more fulfilling way to rack up rewards than simply paying utility bills. And as your rewards balance grows, it could inspire you to start planning future fun. “Rewards can help turn a pretty good vacation into a really cool vacation because the rewards allow you to extend your budget,” said Schulz.
Earn more on all your purchases with these rewards credit cards.