Traveling by bus or train may lack the allure of some other modes of transportation, but it can be an economical way to get from city to city.
And you don’t find too many travel credit cards specifically advertising ways to help you with that kind of travel. In fact, when you think of travel credit cards, you probably think of plane tickets.
But depending on the card issuer, your redemption options don’t have to stop there. And much like with airlines, you can save on bus and train travel costs by optimizing credit cards and rewards programs. Here’s how.
Know what qualifies as ‘travel’
Any number of rewards credit cards will offer bonus points on travel purchases. But the definition of “travel purchases” can vary widely among issuers. The good news is that, among most major issuers, bus lines and passenger railways count.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, for example, both offer bonus rewards points on travel-related purchases, and that includes train and bus tickets. Those rewards points can be redeemed for cash, or they can be used in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® bonus mall toward other travel and retail purchases.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ also offers a $300 annual travel credit that applies to a wide range of travel purchases, including train and bus fare.
Snag that sign-up bonus
Bus and train travelers also can take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses to fund their trips.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, for example, offers new cardholders a generous one: Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase. And yes, trains and buses are eligible travel redemptions here, too — although be aware that with this card, you’ll need a minimum of 10,000 miles ($100) to redeem for any kind of travel statement credit.
And you don’t have to limit yourself to travel credit cards. Some cash-back credit cards — like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card or the Chase Freedom Unlimited® — also offer hefty sign-up bonuses when new cardholders meet a minimum spend within the first few months. And a cash-back bonus can be used toward whatever you like, including bus and rail travel.
Join a bus or train loyalty program
To get more mileage out of your bookings, see whether the bus or train company you’re using has a rewards program. Much like frequent flyer miles, these rewards programs help travelers earn free or discounted trips, as well as additional perks like points that can be used at retail, hotel and car rental partners.
Greyhound, for example, has its Road Rewards program; every time a rewards member books a bus trip with Greyhound, he or she earns points that can be redeemed for discounts on future Greyhound bus travel, a companion pass for a friend and discounts on food at Greyhound stations.
The Amtrak Guest Rewards program operates similarly. Amtrak riders earn 2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak and can redeem not only for Amtrak travel but also for hotel stays, car rentals and gift cards from participating partners.
By pairing these rewards programs with credit card points, travelers can double up on their discounts.
Apply for a co-branded card
If you’re a brand loyalist who sticks to certain bus and train companies, see whether those companies offer their own credit cards to help you earn points faster.
For example, in addition to the free Guest Rewards program, Amtrak also offers two credit cards that can help travelers earn Amtrak points faster. One card, the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard, has an annual fee of $79, but cardholders receive 20,000 bonus points when they spend at least $1,000 on the card in the first 90 days of account opening. The card also gives 3 points for every dollar spent on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases; 2 points for every dollar spent on other qualifying travel; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
The second card, the Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum Mastercard, has no annual fee, but the bonus is smaller: 12,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. The card gives 2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.