The 5 best credit card rewards programs for socially distant travel in 2021

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  • Chase, Amex, and Citi offer options to book socially distant travel through their online portals.
  • You can use Capital One miles to “erase” any travel purchase, including Airbnb rentals.
  • Some hotel rewards programs let you redeem your points for private vacation homes.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

The good old days of scoring extravagant vacations using credit card points are on pause, especially if you aren’t flying due to the pandemic.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t options out there for folks who want to save up credit card rewards for a pandemic-safe trip. From road trips to private vacation homes to outdoor excursions, there are still plenty of ways to redeem credit card points without breaking social distancing.

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Here are the best credit card rewards programs for socially distant travel in 2021.

We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

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  • Best card for beginners: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Best card for seasoned travelers: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Best card for small-business owners: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
  • Read Insider’s guide to earning and redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points

 

Chase Ultimate Rewards is beloved by jet-setters, and it’s easily my favorite travel rewards program thanks to its high-value points and redemption flexibility.

Apart from transferring Ultimate Rewards points to airline and hotel partners, you can also use them to book activities like tours and outdoor excursions, rental cars, and private vacation rentals (similar to Airbnb) through the Chase Travel Portal. I’ve used my points to book rental cars and homes for socially distant road trips.

Until September 30, 2021, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can also use the Pay Yourself Back feature to “erase” any grocery store, dining, home improvement store, or eligible charity purchases with Ultimate Rewards points. When you redeem points this way, you’ll get the same value as using them to book travel through the Chase portal (1.25 cents per point with the Preferred and 1.5 cents per point with the Reserve).

If you’re trying to choose between the Sapphire cards, check out our comparison of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve to help you decide.

I’ve saved $597 on groceries and delivery in one month and even got a Nintendo Switch Lite with points using this redemption method.

American Express Membership Rewards

American Express; Insider

  • Best card for travelers: The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Best card for foodies: American Express® Gold Card
  • Best card with no annual fee: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
  • Read Insider’s guide to earning and redeeming Amex Membership Rewards points

While the Amex Travel Portal doesn’t offer the option to redeem points for activities, and American Express hasn’t come up with any temporary redemption options in light of the pandemic like Chase has, you can still use your Membership Rewards points for road trips and possibly vacation rentals.

When redeeming Amex points through Amex Travel, you’re given the option to book rental cars. While you can’t filter to private vacation rentals with the Amex travel portal like you can with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, and they don’t have many available, you can book prepaid hotels with your points. Look for hotels that have clearly outlined COVID-19 procedures such as frequent sanitization and contactless check-in. 

On average, Amex Membership Rewards points are worth 1.8 cents apiece according to Insider’s points and miles valuations, but you’ll only get 0.7 cents per point when you redeem for rental cars and hotels.

If you can hold onto your points until you’re fully traveling again, redeeming for flights or transferring them to one of Amex’s travel partners will get you more value.

Capital One Venture and Spark Rewards

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

  • Best card overall: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  • Best card with no annual fee: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
  • Best card for small-business owners: Capital One Spark Miles for Business
  • Read Insider’s guide to earning and redeeming Capital One miles

The Capital One Rewards program is one of the most versatile on this list, as it allows you to redeem your Venture or Spark miles to “erase” any purchase on your statement from the last 90 days that codes as travel. Apart from flights and hotels, this also includes trains, buses, taxis, rental cars, ridesharing, Airbnb, and more.

Cardholders can redeem rewards toward travel at a fixed rate of 1 cent per mile, so you could erase a $100 purchase with 10,000 miles. While this presents a lower value than some other credit card points, the flexibility Capital One offers is handy, especially if you’re limiting travel.

Capital One is offering a temporary, pandemic-friendly redemption option — through April 30, 2021, you can use Venture miles toward food delivery and streaming services the same way you redeem them for travel.

You can also transfer Capital One miles to over a dozen airline and hotel partners, including Wyndham — which could be a good option if you want to book a vacation rental through the Wyndham Rewards program.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Citi Premier; Citi Prestige; Citi Double Cash; Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

  • Best card overall: Citi Premier® Card
  • Best card for frequent travelers: Citi Prestige® Card
  • Best card with no annual fee: Citi Rewards+® Card
  • Read Insider’s guide to earning and redeeming Citi ThankYou points

Similar to Chase and American Express, Citi lets you redeem ThankYou points through its own travel portal. In addition to offering flights and hotels, the portal also lets you use your points for rental cars and activities that range from attraction entrance fees to recreation options.

You’ll get 1 cent per point for redemptions through Citi’s travel portal, but Citi also has a long list of airline transfer partners that can offer more value if you’re willing to wait until your next flight to redeem your points. Keep in mind you can only access most Citi transfer partners if you have the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card.

Insider’s points and miles valuations peg Citi ThankYou points as worth, on average, 1.6 cents apiece, based on the higher value you can potentially get from transferring points to partners.

If you only have a no-annual-fee Citi ThankYou card, like the Citi Rewards+® Card or Citi® Double Cash Card, your transfer options are limited, but you can still redeem points for travel through the Citi portal.

Hotel rewards programs

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  • Best card overall for Marriott: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
  • Best card for Marriott enthusiasts: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
  • Best Marriott card with no annual fee: Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
  • Best card for Wyndham: Wyndham Rewards® Earner Plus Card
  • Read Insider’s guides to earning and redeeming Marriott Bonvoy and Wyndham Rewards points

Both Marriott Bonvoy and Wyndham Rewards offer the ability to redeem points for private vacation rentals. This means you can use both Marriott Bonvoy points and Wyndham Rewards points to book Airbnb-style homes and villas.

The Marriott Homes & Villas program includes over 2,000 homes in over 100 destinations, while Wyndham’s partnership with Vacasa offers access to tens of thousands of properties worldwide.

The value you get from these redemptions tends to vary greatly, as most hotel rewards programs don’t assign a set value to their points. If you plan to stay in hotels again in the future and can see yourself being loyal to either of these chains, getting a Wyndham or Marriott credit card is a good option right now.

Elizabeth Aldrich is a finance writer specializing in credit cards and loans, retirement planning, investing, economics, and small business. She’s an avid credit card points collector and perpetual traveler.

Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit CardChase Chase Freedom Unlimited®

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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