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Most leading credit card providers such as American Express, Chase, Citi, Capital One and Bank of America offer cards that come with higher reward rates on travel purchases and other bonus categories. However, what is considered travel for credit cards is not the same across all issuers. For instance, while almost all issuers categorize spending on airlines, hotels and car rentals as travel purchases, this is not the case with motorhome and boat rentals.
The travel rewards for which you may redeem your points/miles tend to differ from one card to the next. For instance, if you get an airline card, you might be able to redeem your miles/points only through the airline’s loyalty program.
Travel cards are ones that give you the ability to earn points/miles faster when you make travel-related purchases. Co-branded cards are linked to specific airlines or groups of hotels and are best suited for those who are loyal to a particular brand. For others, non-co-branded travel rewards cards might be a better fit.
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Not all credit card issuers classify travel purchases in the same manner.
Airline tickets, hotel stays and car rentals typically count as travel purchases.
Most travel cards let you redeem your points for flight tickets and hotel stays.
What Purchases Count as Travel?
It is common for credit card providers to view travel purchases differently. While some cards include any travel-related purchase in this category, others follow a more stringent approach. In addition, even cards from the same issuer might have different guidelines surrounding eligible travel purchases and redemption options.
What is considered travel for credit cards essentially boils down to merchant codes. Merchants that accept credit card payments are assigned merchant codes. These codes give card issuers an indication of the type of goods and services different merchants offer. Often, these codes are very specific. For example, travel agencies and tour operators come with their own merchant codes, as do specific airlines and groups of hotels.
Credit cards companies rely on the use of merchant codes to classify purchases. The corresponding table highlights what different card issuers view as travel purchases.
How Card Issuers Define Travel Purchases
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares, ferries, campgrounds, tolls and parking lots/garages
Bank of America
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, travel agencies, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares, ferries, campgrounds, tolls, parking lots/garages, timeshares, boat rentals, motor homes/RV rentals, amusement parks/carnivals/circuses, aquariums/zoos, real estate agents and tourist attractions/exhibits
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, travel agencies, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares, ferries, campgrounds, motor homes/RV rentals and timeshares
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, travel agencies, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares, ferries, tolls, parking lots/garages and timeshares
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, travel agencies, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares, ferries, campgrounds, tolls, parking lots/garages, boat rentals and motor homes/RV rentals
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, buses/transit, cruise lines, travel agencies, railways/trains, taxis/limos/rideshares and ferries
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, passenger trains and cruise lines
Airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxis/rideshares, home stays and more
Top Rewards Cards From Different Issuers
- Amex Platinum Card
- Amex Gold Card
- Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card
Bank of America
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
- Citi Premier Credit Card
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Discover it® Miles
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card
- U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card
- U.S. Bank Flexperks Gold American Express Card
- Hotels.com Rewards Visa Credit Card
>> More: 10 Best Ways to Earn Airline Miles
What Are Considered Travel Rewards?
If you get a co-branded card, you are typically limited to redeeming your miles/points through the loyalty program to which your card is linked. For example, if you use an Amex Delta SkyMiles card, you need to redeem your points through the Delta SkyMiles rewards program. Options to redeem for travel come in the form of flight bookings, seat upgrades, gift cards, vacations, magazine subscriptions and Delta experiences.
With a general travel card, you may redeem your points/miles for travel rewards through your card issuer’s rewards website. For instance, you may redeem your Amex Gold Card's points through the Amex Membership Rewards platform to book flights, vacations, prepaid hotels or cruises. Transferring your points to partner airline loyalty programs is also an option.
With Bank of America’s Travel Rewards Credit Card, you may redeem your points for flights, hotels, vacation rentals, baggage fees and restaurants (including takeout).
Most general travel rewards cards give you the option to transfer your points to partner airline/hotel loyalty programs. However, Bank of America, Discover, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo do not partner with any airline or hotel loyalty programs. Their rewards act like cash back that can be redeemed for travel.
>> More: Are Travel Credit Cards Worth It?
Select a travel credit card based on the purchases that qualify as travel and look at other bonus categories such as dining and gas too. We’ve scrutinized more than 2,100 consumer and business cards combined so you may find one that suits your needs with ease.
What’s a Travel Credit?
Travel credit cards are ones that let you redeem your points/miles for different types of travel rewards. These may come in the form of flight tickets, hotel nights, vacations and cruises. Most such cards let you earn points/miles faster when you make travel-related purchases. However, what qualifies as a travel purchase may vary from one card to the next.
Co-branded travel cards are linked to specific airlines or groups of hotels and these cards typically offer brand-specific perks. However, these cards usually require that you redeem your miles or points through their linked loyalty programs. General travel cards, on the other hand, offer more freedom when it comes to redeeming your rewards. Several such cards let you transfer your points/miles to partner airline/hotel loyalty programs.
It is common for credit cards from this segment to come with travel-specific perks, although the benefits you stand to enjoy usually depend on the annual fee you’re prepared to pay. Some card-specific travel benefits include airline fee credit, hotel credit, statement credits for payments made to particular merchants, free nights, priority boarding, airport lounge access and travel insurance coverage.
Some credit cards offer higher bonuses for certain types of travel. For example, you'll earn 10x miles when booking hotels and rental cars through Capital One Travel with the Venture X Card, but only 5x miles for flights. — Lee Huffman, credit card expert at BaldThoughts.com
Other Questions You May Have About Travel Cards
Taking a look at answers to other commonly asked questions about what is considered travel for credit cards might further aid your decision-making process.
Now that you know what counts as travel purchases for credit cards, you might also want to check if getting a travel credit card is worth it in the first place. You may then narrow down your search based on other factors such as reward rates, welcome offers, annual fees, APRs and added perks.
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About Rajiv Baniwal
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