6 Ways I’m Using My Credit Cards to Save Money on a Summer Vacation

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  • I’m taking a solo summer trip and will use credit card rewards and benefits to offset the cost.
  • Travel credit cards aren’t just good for earning rewards for flights and hotels.
  • I’ll redeem points for gift cards to cover shopping and food expenses during my travels.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

At least once a year, I plan a solo vacation for myself to spend a weekend relaxing in a new city that I’ve never been to. When I start to book a trip, I first promise myself that I’ll splurge on activities, experiences, shopping, and meals. And I’ll pay for as much of this trip as I can use my credit card rewards and benefits.

Currently, I’m in the process of not only picking my destination for my summer solo adventure but creating a budget for the entire trip. In an effort to follow my pre-set rules, here are six ways I’m using my JetBlue Plus Card

and my Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business

card to save me money along the way.

1. Using credit card points for gift cards to cover meals and shopping

Regular APR

17.24% – 24.24% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent

Regular APR

17.24% – 24.24% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent

Pros

  • Excellent welcome bonus and miles earning
  • Premium perks including airport lounge access and statement credits
  • Visa Infinite benefits including travel and shopping protections

Cons

  • High annual fee
  • Annual travel statement credits only apply to Capital One Travel purchases

Read Our Review
Read Our Review A looong arrow, pointing right

More Information

  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 yearly back as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Escape the airport crowd and recharge before your flight with unlimited access to all-inclusive amenities at the Capital One Lounge and at 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges worldwide
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more – you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs

When I’m on vacation, I like to go shopping around town and take myself to dinner. Before I head out on my solo vacation, I’m going to use some of my Capital One miles to buy gift cards from various stores and restaurants so that I can supplement the cost of my spending.

For example, I’ll spend 3.125 miles on gift cards to a coffee chain I like (which is equivalent to $25 and will cover my coffee for the trip) and 10,000 miles to buy gift cards at two different national retailers I like (a total of $100) so I can go shopping while I’m away.

Another credit card worth looking into that allows you to redeem rewards for gift cards is the Discover it® Cash Back. Depending on the retailer, you can get anywhere from a 5% to 20% bonus when you use rewards for gift cards instead of redeeming them for straight cash back. Here’s Insider’s Discover it Cash Back card review for all your options.

2. Redeeming rewards for activities and experiences

One of my rules for my solo trip includes partaking in activities and experiences and I like to book some of these using my Capital One credit card, which allows me to redeem miles for tickets to sporting events, concerts, and comedy or theater performances through Capital One Entertainment.

Other credit cards allow you to redeem points for a wider range of activities and experiences. For example, some Chase credit cards give you access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal where you can redeem points for activities and excursions that include:

  • Tours and sightseeing
  • Day trips
  • Show and sports tickets
  • Water activities
  • Air, helicopter, and balloon tours

3. Getting reimbursed for travel purchases once the trip ends

While I do my best to set a budget that I take with me when I travel, I sometimes find myself buying extra things that put me over my designated spending limit.

When I get home from this solo trip, I’m going to take a look at my credit card statement and redeem some of my rewards to cover the cost of items I didn’t budget for. Using my Capital One card, I can redeem miles for travel purchases. For example, I used 2,000 miles to cover the cost of a rideshare I took during my last solo trip. My Capital One miles are worth 1 cent each when redeemed this way, and I’ve set aside 20,000 to help pay for pop-up purchases once my trip ends.

Some credit cards come with statement credits that you can use towards travel-related purchases. For example, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card comes with up to $300 per year in credits towards travel booked through Capital One, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers up to $300 in annual credit towards any eligible travel purchases. Read Insider’s comparison of the Capital One Venture X and Sapphire Reserve for more details.

4. Letting my points supplement costs for hotel, airfare, and a rental car

Regular APR

16.24% – 23.24% Variable

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent

Regular APR

16.24% – 23.24% Variable

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent

More Information

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 towards travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back(SM), your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.

I’m looking to plan several trips this year that I want to use my credit card points to help pay for. So for this solo vacation, I’m budgeting 60,000 points to be used to help supplement the cost of my hotel and rental car.

My JetBlue points are worth around 1.4 cents each (based on Insider’s valuations) when I redeem them for flights. Many travel rewards credit cards will let you combine points with cash when booking hotels, airfare, and rental cars through their travel portals. For example, points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are worth 1.5 cents or 1.25 cents each, respectively, when used to book through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel.

5. Tapping into insurance my card offers

Since I’m taking a solo trip, I want to make sure that I have as much protection as possible in case of potential pop-up problems or emergencies.

Some of the travel perks I’m tapping into with my credit card include:

  • MasterRental coverage: I plan to rent a car for the duration of my trip and this credit card benefit can cover damage to the rental vehicle that might occur. Restrictions do apply to this and I always make sure to call my credit card issuer before I book the rental car to get a better understanding of what is covered and what’s not. This kind of rental car coverage provided by my credit card usually saves me anywhere between $10 to $30 a day.
  • Trip cancellation and interruption: In case of a last-minute emergency, knowing that a benefit of booking my trip with my credit card is that it could reimburse me for non-refundable trip expenses up to $1,500 makes me less nervous booking this solo vacation a few months in advance. Of course, restrictions apply and it’s important to have a full understanding of what is covered before booking your trip. However, most trip or travel insurance can cost anywhere between 4% to 10% of your total trip, so this is a big savings.
  • Baggage delay: If my suitcase gets lost or is delayed reaching my destination, my credit card also reimburses me up to $100 for three days so I can purchase essential items.

When you’re creating a budget for a trip, look into the travel insurance your credit card offers and call to learn more about each. You could find yourself saving extra cash just by opting into the perks offered by your credit card rather than purchasing additional insurance through outside companies. Always do your research to make sure you’re fully covered in the areas that matter most to you when you travel.

6. Not paying for a checked bag

Some costs of travel that I don’t often remember to budget for are the expenses that occur once I’m at the airport. When I go on a vacation that’s more than just a few days, I usually have to check a bag. Most airlines charge $30 for your first checked bag and $40 for your second.

Some airline credit cards offer a free first checked bag when you fly the airline. For my excursion, my JetBlue Plus Card allows me to check one bag for free if I book my flight on JetBlue and use this card to book it. That saves me a total of $70 in checked bag fees for a round-trip flight.

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