Which Credit Cards Should You Pack for Vacation?

Posted by Madison on March 18, 2013

We’re busy planning our Spring Break vacation to take the family skiing for the week. Our hotels are booked, our lift tickets are purchased, and I’m on to making my packing list… but not just any packing list… the list of the credit cards I want in my wallet for our trip!

By now, we all know my wallet is a revolving door of cards based on the quarterly cash back schedules and prioritizing and maximizing credit card sign up bonuses.

However, when it comes to travel, I want to make sure I have the best cards on hand for the trip to maximize our cash back.

Credit Cards to Pack for Vacation

  • Gas: I’m planning to pack our Chase Freedom card to get 5% cash back. I also carefully noted on the front of the card that 5% cash back will also cover drugstores and any morning Starbucks stops!
  • Restaurants: Discover offers 5% cash back on restaurants this quarter, so I’m planning to pack my Discover More card (now called the Discover it card). However, I know some restaurants don’t always take Discover, so my husband will be packing his Citi Forward card too, which also offers 5 Thank you points at restaurants. It’ll also come in handy if we are both carrying a restaurant card in case we split up with the kids at the ski hill and end up buying our meals separately.
  • Hotels:
    • Starwood. We’re redeeming points we earned for free nights from the Starwood sign up bonus for part of our stay. Since the card gives 5 Starpoints for each dollar with Starwood hotels, I used the card to reserve our room. That way, if we charge any meals to our room, they’ll earn the extra Starpoints.
    • Chase Sapphire. For the rest of our trip, we partially rented a condo through Chase Ultimate Rewards using the Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus. I say partially, because when we were searching for the best deal, we found it was actually cheaper to rent the same condo in combination with our lift ticket package after cashing out the Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. In addition to earning extra cash back, and getting our lift tickets, we actually pocketed about $300 reserving it this way instead of directly booking it through Chase.
  • Grocery Stores: Since we rented a condo, we have a full kitchen. I’m planning to stop for groceries so that we can eat breakfast in the condo and pack lunches for the kids at the ski hill. My grocery store purchases all still go on the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card.
  • Everything Else: All of our other purchases will go on our Citi Thank You Preferred card. While it only earns 1% cash back, I’m working on meeting the spending limit for the $150 Sign Up Bonus, which ends up at the equivalent of 16% cash back.

Other Vacation Cards

Flying. We’re driving instead of flying since we’re planning to stop in multiple locations. However, if you are flying, be sure to redeem your free flights and pack the credit card that earns you free bags on your airline.

Traveling Abroad. If you plan to travel abroad, a no foreign transaction fee credit card should probably be the first thing you pack!

Budget Ski Vacations

Before you think I’ve abandoned my frugal ways and I’m shelling out a ton of money for a ski vacation, think again! Our entire trip including hotels and lift tickets were paid for with credit card cash back, points and sign up bonuses. We picked a resort where kids ski free, and our tickets were included with the hotel stay. Heading off on a free ski vacation is making me reevaluate my plans for my next application spree… instead of aiming for a pile of cash, maybe it’s time to maximize all of the travel bonuses out there!

Where are you headed for Spring Break?

More on Vacation Credit Cards



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