Using Cashback Rewards for Travel

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I can't believe I never thought of this---you don't have to use "travel" rewards to get free travel. You can use cashback rewards instead!

I’ve been doing a good bit of traveling this year. My itinerary includes a litany of states and at least two foreign countries.

But I kind of hate spending money.

That means I’ve been doing a good bit of signing up for credit card bonuses to offset the costs. It’s funny—if you do a lot of this over a one-year period, you start to run out of well-known cards to apply for.

Not too long ago, I had hit up all of the big, flexible bonuses that you can use as a credit statement against travel costs. I may apply for these cards again in the future, but I don’t like to take too much advantage and there wasn’t enough time to “churn,” anyways.

So I started looking at alternatives. I started looking at cards with smaller bonus rewards—but also lower spending limits. That was a total win.

Then I got to thinking that I should probably look at straight cashback cards, too. If all I was getting was a statement credit, the cash rewards would still allow me to pay for travel. In fact, if I wanted it to pay for something else, like a park ticket, that wouldn’t normally be counted as a travel expense, I totally could with a cash rewards card.

So I got to looking.

Thinking about using credit cards for rewards? Stop now and read this first!

Using Cash Rewards Cards for Travel

I liked what I found. There are a lot of options out there with decent rewards and relatively low minimum spends. That’s good for people like me who have started to max out the options with heavy-hitting bonuses due to wanting so much free stuff. By the way, yes, I have a great credit score.

But it’s also good for people who don’t have as much income and therefore can’t afford to take on $3,000 spends over the course of 60 or 90 days.

Let’s look at how this works:

PenFed just came out with the brand spankin’ new Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card. With it, you earn 1.5 cents back for every dollar you spend on purchases—regardless of where you spend it.

That alone is a big deal as a lot of cash back cards offer rotating categories. They often reward you with a high point value within a certain category, but lower points on everything else. The kicker is that those categories tend to change every quarter, and you typically have to manually register or call in if you want the inflated bonus.

A lot to keep on top of. It makes 1.5 cents per dollar back every single time you spend pretty attractive.

On top of that 1.5% back, this card also currently offers a $100 bonus when you spend $1,500 on it within 90 days of opening your account. By the time you’ve spent enough to earn the incentive, you’ll receive $122.50 total. One hundred for the bonus and $22.50 per the 1.5% cash back.

This statement credit can negate any purchase on the card—including park tickets!

Earn More by Becoming a Member

With this particular card, there’s a further incentive if you want to earn even more cash back on every purchase. If you have either a military affiliation or a PenFed Access America Checking Account—which is a fabulous idea anyways and can easily be attained without military service—your cash back rate will jump up to 2%.

That means by the time you reached the minimum spend for the bonus, you’d have $130 total instead of $122.50.

It also means that if you spend an average of $500 per month on your card, your cash back rewards will add up to $120/year rather than the $90/year that you’d receive at the 1.5% rate.

How Cash Back Rewards are Helping Me

I’m pretty sure we’re going to get next-to-free park tickets thanks to using this method. I’m glad I didn’t just throw my hands up in the air and declare there were no other options left.

I also love that while cash back cards can help the travelers out there, they can help add value to people’s lives even if they have financial priorities that don’t include hopping on a plane.

But they only add value if you use them correctly. Please remember to charge responsibly.

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.*

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3 thoughts on “Using Cashback Rewards for Travel

  1. Money Beagle

    We’ve used cashback reward cards for just about everything. They pay 1% cash back and each have different rewards categories that pay an extra 1-2% on certain types of purchases. Recently, we got a Southwest Visa card and have started using that for most of the 1% purchases, as the rewards to get free tickets accumulate much faster than getting 1% cash back and making the same ticket purchase. So basically anything that’s 2% or higher we still use cash back cards, but for everything else, we use the Southwest card.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      If there’s an airline you use frequently, those can definitely be worth it! I’ve used a few in the past, and we have similar strategies. (Though I may need to look at Southwest in the future!)

      For this particular trip we drove, though, and it was nice to get $$$ back for park tickets.

      Reply
  2. Mr. Hammocker

    I have traveled both domestic and abroad on free flights. There are many great bonus reward points out there. Some cards offer as much as 50k points after spending $2k in 3 months. This is a great way to make travel affordable. Thanks for the post.

    Reply

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