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- You don’t have to redeem credit card travel rewards points for traditional vacations.
- My family used Chase points and American Airlines miles for travel on camping trips this year.
- Using rewards points can open the door to outdoor adventures off the beaten path.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.
Spending time in the outdoors can be the ultimate in social distancing, and it seems like it would make for a very inexpensive vacation. But unless you live near your favorite public lands, and it’s during the right season, it can be quite costly to get away from it all.
Thankfully, credit card rewards can be even more valuable when used to see the great outdoors than they are when visiting a city.
How credit card rewards can save you money on camping trips
This winter, I dreamt of getting away from it all, experiencing the wilderness, and bonding with my 13-year-old daughter. But we live in Denver and overnight camping in the winter in Colorado is challenging, to say the least. Thankfully, we were able to make use of my generous stash of credit card rewards left over from all of our canceled trips from 2020 to escape to warmer climates.
Our first trip in January was to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Georgia. I’ve longed to visit here for years, and with most of the world’s tourist attractions shut down, I figured that now was the best time to finally experience it. My daughter and I had the time of our life, spending three days exploring canoe trails and sleeping at remote campsites miles away from any other humans.
Read more: How to earn, redeem, and maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards points
But while camping permits and the canoe rental were relatively inexpensive, the entire trip wouldn’t have been affordable without credit card rewards. I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I earned from the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to Southwest for flights from Denver to Jacksonville, Florida (the closest airport to our destination).
Thankfully, Southwest offers all passengers two free checked bags, which was crucial as we had to bring along our tent, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment.
Once we reached Jacksonville, we needed to rent a car and stay our first night in a hotel. I paid for the rental car with Chase Ultimate Rewards points because Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive 1.5 cents in value per point toward rental cars, hotels, airfare, and other travel booked through Chase. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card cardholders receive 1.25 cents in value per point redeemed.
Read more: How to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book flights, hotels, rental cars and more — and get the most from your points
After shopping locally for things like food, camp stove fuel, and firewood, we spent our first night in the Hyatt Place Jacksonville Airport. This cost just 8,000 World of Hyatt points, which I was also able to transfer from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
For our return flight, American Airlines offered us the best schedule, and it was no problem redeeming American Airlines AAdvantage miles that I’d earned through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
. Being a cardholder also allowed us to check one free bag each.
In the end, our three-day camping trip to Georgia didn’t cost any more than it would have had we gone camping near our home in Colorado. But we got to experience an entirely different, not to mention warmer, environment.
With our taste for the wilderness freshly stimulated, we followed up our January trip with an excursion to the Everglades in Florida during my daughter’s spring break. Using a similar formula as our last trip, we flew to Ft. Myers on Southwest tickets purchased with points, and spent our first night in a Hyatt Place by the airport, also using points.
Read more: The 5 best credit card rewards programs for socially distant travel in 2021
But this time we spent an additional night at the Ivey House in Everglades City, which we reserved through the Chase Travel Portal and paid for with Ultimate Rewards points. Then we spent four full nights canoeing through the Everglades National Park, camping on remote island beaches and designated platforms. After emerging from the park, we spent one more night at the Ivey House hotel in Everglades City before returning home with great suntans (and a few
Other strategies for using credit card rewards to experience the great outdoors
There are lots of ways to use credit card rewards so that you can get away from it all and go hiking, biking, skiing, paddling, or whatever excites your sense of adventure. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is one of my favorites as it gives me the options of transferring my rewards to frequent flyer miles and hotel points, or just booking directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.
Read more: I’ve had over a dozen travel credit cards, and the Chase Ultimate Rewards program has been the most useful during the pandemic
Another great option is earning 2x miles on all purchases with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Capital One miles are worth 1 cent each as statement credits toward nearly any travel purchase including those from airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents, and timeshares.
17.24% to 24.49% variable
Good to Excellent
Earn 100,000 bonus miles once you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months from account opening (or 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months)
You’ll even find outdoor tours and experiences sold by online travel agencies if you’re not yet ready to go it alone as we did. At the same time, Capital One also allows you to transfer your rewards to airline and hotel partners if you want to book award travel.
And finally, any time you’re looking to travel by air in order to explore the outdoors, it will be helpful to be able to bring all of your gear with you for free. Thankfully airline credit cards almost always include free checked bags, except for a few basic ones with no annual fee.
Read more: Airline checked bag fees can eat into your travel budget — here’s how to avoid them with the right credit cards
To be sure, you won’t actually be able to use your credit card during most outdoor activities, but it can be a crucial part of getting to the edge of civilization and back. And by leveraging the rewards you earn from your credit cards, you can take a socially distant vacation while spending almost nothing.
Jason Steele has covered credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance since 2008. He also produces CardCon, The Conference for Credit and Credit Card Media.
Good to Excellent
3 Free Nights (valued up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10x total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases in select categories within your first 6 months
Good to Excellent
$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening
Good to Excellent