How to Use Travel Rewards to Elevate Your Staycation
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While domestic travel has largely returned to normal levels, you might still prefer a staycation. You might not yet be ready to jump on a plane (after all, masks are still required). Or, you might be trying to avoid the crowds as everyone else tries to make up for all their missed 2020 travel.
But odds are, you definitely need to take some time off, whether it's to burn those unused vacation days or simply to de-stress from not just a wild 2020, but a bizarre 2021, too. Turns out, even if you’re not actually traveling, your credit card and loyalty program status might prove to offer you a pretty grand staycation.
Here are some tips for using your travel rewards credit cards to boost your staycation in 2021.
Take a global food tour at home
With so many international travel restrictions, it’s going to be pretty difficult to slurp laksa at one of Singapore’s hawker centers or to sip champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower anytime soon. But with dining statement credits offered by top-tier credit cards, you can try new, international cuisine at home — after all, using a credit card with a dining statement credit means your bank is paying for it (well, at least some of it).
These cards offer statement credits toward your takeout and delivery orders:
Order from Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory and a few other eligible restaurants with the American Express® Gold Card: Besides being the dark horse travel card you’ll need in 2021, the American Express® Gold Card is ideal for takeout with its $120 dining credit (you have to enroll separately to receive it). Also, earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on restaurants, including takeout and delivery. Plus, earn 4X points for Uber Eats purchases.
Order from Uber Eats with The Platinum Card® from American Express: With The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll earn up to $200 in Uber Cash every year, doled out in monthly increments of $15, plus a bonus $20 in December. The benefit can certainly be used for Uber rides, but during a staycation it’ll likely come in handy ordering from Uber Eats. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member and Additional Centurion Cards only.
What’s more, the American Express® Gold Card provides cardholders up to $120 annually, doled out in $10 monthly increments, in Uber Cash that can be used for U.S. Uber rides and Uber Eats orders. That’s in addition to the card’s existing dining benefit. To start earning the Uber Cash, you must add the card to your Uber account.
Terms apply. Eligibility for this offer is limited. Enrollment is required in the Amex Offers section of your account before redeeming.
Order from DoorDash with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®: You can activate and receive a minimum one-year subscription to DashPass, a membership program offered by DoorDash that offers unlimited free delivery for any order over $12. A DashPass subscription normally costs $9.99 per month. You must activate your subscription by Dec. 31, 2024, to take advantage of this perk.
Other ways to enjoy your staycation dining
If you don’t have one of those credit cards, at least pay with a credit card that earns restaurant rewards. It won’t help you save money on your current staycation, but the spending you do now can earn rewards to help pay for a future, real vacation. And you may even find additional, limited-time offers that can help you out during your staycation.
Try your hand at cooking what you would eat on vacation
Perhaps instead of ordering takeout, try cooking yourself. If you're buying fancier than normal ingredients — which you might consider during a staycation — turn to a credit card with a high bonus rewards rate at grocery stores. Hit the international aisle of the supermarket to explore unique spices, or splurge on an artisanal cheese that's a little more elevated than the usual American cheese singles.
And your cooking doesn't need to be contained to just food, either. Try an at-home boba kit, or turn to The Unofficial Disney Parks Drink Recipe Book for inspiration on how to whip up the Magic Kingdom's famous Dole Whip Float on your own.
De-stress with some meditation
If meditation is a little more your speed, look to the World of Hyatt program. World of Hyatt members with the latest version of the World of Hyatt app can access Headspace content for free.
» Learn more: Should you book the new Hyatt Night In package?
Be a tourist in your own city
Maybe you’ve been intrigued by your city’s Segway tour but felt too goofy to actually take it. Why not be a tourist in your own city, especially as the travel industry is crushed by the pandemic? Plus, you may be able to use your trove of credit card points, frequent flyer miles or hotel points to pay for it.
Some rewards currencies cover redemptions at not just hotels and airlines, but tourist attractions too.
If you have a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards®: The Chase Ultimate Rewards® site has a travel-booking tool that lets you book everything from rental cars and flights, to “things to do.” That list includes tons of ways to spend points pretty much anywhere in the country, whether it’s a local food tour, entrance to a museum or a trip on alternative transportation, whether it’s horseback or go-karts.
For example, if you’re doing a staycation in, say, St. Louis, you might opt to spend 18,000 on a private tour at Anheuser-Busch and Schlafly Bottleworks. If you prefer the sweet stuff to the hard stuff, you could alternatively spend 18,000 points on a chocolate tour that might even take you to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard for a chocolate sundae.
One word of caution: While the Chase Ultimate Rewards® redemptions are typically a fine deal, redeeming points and miles for merchandise, event tickets or other experiences through other loyalty programs often turns out to be a poor redemption in terms of value compared to paying for those things in cash and saving your points for actual travel. But if you’re not traveling anytime soon and don’t want to sit on a pool of points (and want to save your cash for something else), it can make sense to spend points on something that brings you joy, even if it’s not the best redemption ever.
Try a hotel restaurant in your city
If you’ve always wanted to try a hotel restaurant but felt a bit weird walking into one in your own city, don’t. Now’s the time to treat yourself to an outdoor meal or takeout from a hotel restaurant in town.
Many hotel credit cards offer bonus points for purchases made at that hotel (and it often includes the restaurant too). Additionally, holding elite status at a hotel chain can earn you bonus points at elevated rates compared to everyone else. Here’s what you can expect to earn by holding a branded credit card or elite status at some of the biggest hotel chains:
If you hold a Hilton credit card: There are three Hilton credit cards offered by American Express for consumers, ranging from $0 to $450 in annual fees. But all of them offer at least 7x Hilton Honors bonus points on eligible purchases made directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio, and sometimes even more (the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers 14x bonus points). Terms apply.
If you hold a Marriott Bonvoy credit card: There are a few different Marriott credit cards, but they all offer some sort of bonus points for purchases at participating Marriott properties, including the onsite restaurants. With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, you’ll earn up to 17 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. The Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card earns up to 14 points for every $1 spent. Terms apply.
If you have Marriott Bonvoy elite status: Hold Silver status and you’ll get a 10% points bonus on qualifying purchases at most Marriott properties. With Marriott Bonvoy Titanium elite, you’re looking at a 75% bonus.
If you hold the World of Hyatt Credit Card: Pay for a meal at a Hyatt property with the World of Hyatt Credit Card, and you’ll get bonus points too. You’ll earn 4 points per $1 spent with Hyatt, including participating restaurants.
If you have World of Hyatt elite status: Members with Discoverist status, which is automatically awarded to people who hold the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll get a 10% bonus on eligible purchases. With Globalist status, you’ll get a 30% bonus.
» Learn more: Your guide to hotel bonus point promotions
Stream something new, earn bonus points
With Netflix, your staycation could take you to France, courtesy of “Emily in Paris.” You also won’t need an airline for your staycation, but you could instead find yourself flying through the galaxy on the Razor Crest as you watch “The Mandalorian” on Disney+. Many cards from American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo now feature streaming as a bonus category.
Consider signing up for a new streaming service, charge it to the right card and earn bonus points while you binge your way through a staycation.
Here are NerdWallet’s best credit cards for streaming services.
The bottom line
If you’re opting to staycation, you can still experience some of the best parts of travel, without having to pack, deal with jet lag or sleep on a pillow that’s not yours. Plus, if you have the right credit card or membership into a travel loyalty program, you can save a pretty penny or earn some travel rewards in the process.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card