When my family first got serious about collecting miles and points to use on vacations, my knowledge base was small. One of the first credit cards we got was Chase Marriott Premier Visa (read about it here). We used the bonus points from the card, combined with the Marriott points my husband was already accumulating through work travel, for a few free hotel nights.
I was really hooked on Marriott, and before we would commit to visiting another place I would always check to see if there was a Marriott Springhill Suites (with rooms that sleep 6) available on points at our destination. It was Marriott or nothing!
Gradually, after opening Hilton and flexible points credit cards, we broadened our horizons when it came to hotel award redemptions. However, my family still likes to stay at places that don’t fall into the typical hotel chain award charts.
Great Wolf Lodge is a great example of such a hotel. Great Wolf Lodge is a fun family water park getaway, but it sure is a budget buster if you can’t find a reasonable rate through Groupon or a deep online discount.
My family also likes exploring oddball places that don’t fall under a “normal” hotel category, like cabins and B&Bs. We have a night at one such place coming up next year that I will write about in a future post.
So if the hotel you want to stay at is not on a typical hotel points chart, are you stuck paying cash or skipping it altogether? No way! There are many credit card options you can use to cover these “off the charts” places. Here are some possibilities:
Barclaycard Arrival Plus
This card allows you to use points towards any expenses coded as “travel”. I’ve used Barclaycard Arrival Plus points to help cover our last stay at Great Wolf Lodge and our 2015 stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus currently has a bonus of 50,000 points (worth $500 in travel expenses) after spending $3000 in the first three months. All purchases earn 2X points, and the $89 fee is waived the first year. The normal bonus on this card is 40,000 points, so now is a great time to get this card.
The minimum redemption threshold is $100, and you get 5% of your points back. Note: House rentals on Airbnb are coded as travel, but currently HomeAway and VRBO do NOT show up as a travel expense (they are coded as real estate).
Capital One Venture Rewards
This card is very similar to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. It comes with 40,000 bonus points after spending $3000 in the first three months. All purchases earn 2X points, and the annual fee of $59 is waived the first year.
Redeeming points for travel is even easier than the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, as there is no minimum for total reimbursement and only a 2500 point minimum for partial travel reimbursement. The downside to the Capital One Venture Rewards card is that when you apply for it, the bank pulls from all three credit bureaus instead of just one like most other cards.
Since these two cards are so similar, which one should you get? I recommend getting the Barclaycard Arrival Plus first because of its higher bonus. But, you can get both cards over time. If you and your spouse/partner each get them over the span of a year, you could have $1800 in travel reimbursement combined, just by meeting the minimum spending requirement for the bonuses. Cha-ching!
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Are you sick of hearing about this card? I hope not, because it’s also a great card to use for “off the charts” redemptions. It has a $300 travel reimbursement for each calendar year. If you get the card in the middle of the year or even now, you’ll actually get $600 in travel reimbursement before your next annual fee is due. Read more on it here
The travel credit shows up on your statement the same day your travel expense does. We recently put down some money for our upcoming Alaska cruise, and we saw the travel reimbursement kick in right away:
This card’s bonus is 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4000 in the first three months. Update: The 100k bonus is currently only available through applications inside a Chase bank branch to applicants with less than 5 new cards in the past 24 months. You can use the UR portal to book $1500 of travel with your bonus points! There are a lot of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean not available via traditional points awards, but bookable through the UR portal.
Alternatively, you could use 100,000 UR points for $1000 cash back. Then, feel free to book any resort, anywhere, on any website. Use your cash back to pay yourself back!
Of course, the downside to the CSR is that the $450 annual fee is not waived the first year, and it shows up on your very first statement. This can be a big hurdle to overcome if the fee isn’t in your budget, but worst case scenario: you still get $1150 profit ($1000 cash back plus $600 in travel credit the first year minus $450 annual fee).
American Express Premier Rewards Gold
This card currently offers 25,000 bonus points after spending $2000 in the first three months, but the bonus is routinely as high as 50,000 Membership Rewards points (and even as high as 75,000 points on targeted offers through the “Check for Pre-Qualified Offers” tab on the Amex website). You can also check CardMatch tool (affiliate link).
The $195 annual fee IS WAIVED the first year, and the card earns 3X points on travel booked through airlines, 2X points at restaurants/gas stations/supermarkets, and 1X points on everything else. The card offers a $100 airline fee reimbursement every calendar year.
While booking hotels through the portal is not a great redemption value, you can get Airbnb e-gift cards at 1 cent per point. When the card offers a 50,000-point bonus, that’s $500 in Airbnb e-gift cards. Not too shabby! (Note: Redeeming points for Airbnb e-gift cards is a better value than using points to book Airbnb directly through the Amex Membership Rewards portal).
Update: Dustin at Wallerswallet has mentioned that AirBnB gift card redemption option is currently unavailable.
American Express Platinum
While the current offer is only 40,000 points, the bonus on this card can reach as high as 100,000 points a few times a year (go to “Check for Pre-Qualified Offers” on the Amex website). You can also check CardMatch tool (affiliate link). Your credit will not be pulled.
That’s worth $1000 in Airbnb e-gift cards! If you’ve never used AirBnB, you can get $35 off your first rental via this referral link.
However, this card has a steep $450 annual fee. It also comes with a $200 per calendar year airline fee reimbursement and a $100 Global Entry reimbursement.
American Express Blue Cash Everyday
This card has a $100 bonus after spending $1000 in the first three months (though it is as high as $250 on targeted offers on the “Check for Pre-Qualified Offers” tab on the Amex website). It earns 5% cash back on travel within the first six months, 3% cash back at supermarkets (up to $6000 in purchases per year), 2% cash back at gas stations and 1% cash back on everything else.
There is no annual fee, and the card offers 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after opening. Cash back comes in the form of reward points for a statement credit.
This is as easy as it gets to offset the cost for hotels that are off the charts. Use the cash back on VRBO and HomeAway, or anywhere that accepts credit cards. This card is a keeper since it has no annual fee.
Citi Double Cash
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. The card earns 2% cash back on all purchases—1% at the time of purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill. It has no annual fee. You can use the cash back on any category of purchase, and there is no cap on the amount of cash back you can earn. The minimum cash back redemption is $25.
Although it doesn’t have a sign-up bonus, this could be a good card to use for everyday purchases when you’re not working on the minimum spending for another card.
Note: If you plan on applying for any of the mentioned cards, feel free to reach out and we will be happy to find the best deal available, even if it doesn’t pay us commission. You can choose to apply for various offers through our Credit Card Links page if you want to support the site.
New Blog Series on “Off the Charts” Places to Stay
Since one of my favorite things to do is research and read about new travel destinations, we are starting a new series of posts on MilesForFamily featuring various “off the charts” places for families. Some of the places will be traditional hotels that are not part of a chain, while others will be quirky, unusual and “off the beaten path.”
I’m amazed at how many little-known gems are out there! I’ve already discovered several in my home state of Texas that I can’t wait to share in a future post. I also hope that readers will chime in with your local favorites that are off the point charts. Adventure awaits!
Do you use any of these credit cards to offset the cost of “off the chart” places?
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.