The Best Credit Card Rewards Programs for Booking Experiences

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When planning a trip, we usually think first of booking the airfare and our lodging. And if you frequent this blog, you know we’re going to try to book the airfare with miles and our hotel using points.

Perhaps fewer of you are aware, however, that you can actually book destination experiences with miles and points too.

Think of the possibilities of paying for your tours, day trips, transportation, and entertainment using your rewards currency instead of cash!

Yes, it’s true: you can use points to skip the line at the Vatican, use miles to pay for a park pass at Disney, or spend your rewards to have lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Of course you know we’re advocates for getting the best value for your rewards. For that reason, we’re going to take a look at some of the best rewards programs for booking destination experiences too.

Additionally, we’ll cover which rewards programs are best for earning extra points and miles when you do have to pay directly for your destination experiences.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Which credit card rewards programs are best for paying with points
  • How to use cash-back credit cards to pay for experiences
  • How to use miles to pay for experiences
  • How to earn big rewards when paying for experiences

Let’s get started on this journey and discover how to use rewards to book exciting destination experiences.

Eiffel Tower Lunch
Use rewards points to book lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Image courtesy of Viator.com.

The Best Travel Credit Card Rewards for Booking Experiences

Best for Paying With Points: Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards are great for purchasing experiences. That’s because on premium Chase credit cards you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points for 25%-50% more value through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points include:

Chase no-annual-fee cash-back credit cards such as the Chase Freedom®, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card also earn Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed for 1 cent per point for travel and experiences.

A better option is to transfer Ultimate Rewards points from those cash-back Chase credit cards to premium Chase cards for better travel redemption value, including purchasing experiences.

How to Use Ultimate Rewards for Purchasing Experiences

Want to buy train tickets to Machu Picchu, find a private guide to show you around the Pyramids of Giza, or spend a day in Hunter Valley wine country while visiting Sydney, Australia?

You can use Ultimate Rewards to pay for these and thousands of other experiences throughout the world.

Ultimate Rewards travel
Image courtesy of Chase.

First, you must log in to your Ultimate Rewards account and click on “Redeem for travel,” then select “Things to Do.”

UR Things to Do
Image courtesy of Chase.

Type in the name of the city you’re visiting and the dates for which you want to find activities.

UR Sydney
Image courtesy of Chase.

You’ll find a grand selection of things to do at reasonable prices. For Sydney alone, there were 158 choices! To decide, you can sort by price, popularity, and more.

UR Cairo
Image courtesy of Chase.

In addition to tours and activities, you’ll also find choices for airport transportation, train tickets, river cruises, overnight excursions, and more! And they’re all discounted when paying with Ultimate Rewards points (the amount depends on which Chase credit card you have).

Hot Tip: You can use a combination of Ultimate Rewards points and cash to purchase any of the experiences available. Once you select the experience, you will see an option to apply the amount of points/cash you wish to use. You’ll also be earning Ultimate Rewards on the cash portion when you pay with your Chase credit card!

Using American Express Membership Rewards Points to Purchase Experiences

To receive maximum value for your Membership Rewards points, we recommend you transfer your Amex points to airline travel partners.

With that said, you can still receive 1 cent per point in value when redeeming Membership Rewards points with Amex Travel.

Unfortunately, you cannot book add-on experiences on Amex Travel or otherwise use Membership Rewards points to purchase experiences on the site.

You can, however, transfer Membership Rewards points to partner airlines that offer the purchase of vacation packages and/or add-on experiences using miles (Delta Air Lines is one example).

You can also purchase gift cards at bonus category merchants to use for experiences as well. The American Express® Gold Card, for example, earns 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets. And some supermarkets sell gift cards for theme parks, entertainment, and transportation.

There are many rewards cards that earn Membership Rewards points, below are a few of those that we recommend:

Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)

The Platinum Card® from American Express - There's currently a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months. This is our favorite card for getting into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide (including Priority Pass) and we get about $2,700+ in value from the card every year.

Plus, get up to $200 in Uber credits annually ($15 per month and a $20 bonus in December) — and up to $200 in annual credit for airline incidental charges (e.g. baggage fees). For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, click here.
American Express® Gold Card - We love using this card as it earns 4x points at restaurants worldwide and 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x). There's no better card in our opinion if you eat out and/or shop at supermarkets regularly.

With a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months and a $100 airfare credit per year, for many this is an easy addition to your wallet. For rates and fees of the Gold Card, click here.

Recommended Amex Cards (Business)

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express - Right now, there's a HUGE welcome bonus of up to 100,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 50,000 after you spend an additional $15,000, on purchases within the first 3 months.

We get ~$5,525+ in value per year by leveraging many of the benefits & perks.

This is the best business card for lounge access as you'll get into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide. For rates and fees of the Business Platinum, click here.
American Express® Business Gold Card - probably our favorite Amex business card because we earn 4x points across the top 2 select categories that we spend the most money in each month. The 4x points applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year. This means you'll max out at a (whopping) 600,000 points per year. After that, you earn 1x. For rates and fees of the Business Gold Card, click here.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express - This is a simple card that earns you 2x points on any business purchase, up to $50,000 annually (then 1x). That makes for an easy 100,000 points per year! The card has no annual fee. For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus, click here.

Hot Tip: It is possible to transfer your Membership Rewards points to airlines and use those miles to secure an entire vacation package, which could include additional experiences such as Disney Park tickets and more!

ThankYou Points Experiences
Use your Citi ThankYou Points to book a variety of destination experiences. Image courtesy of Citi.

Using Citi ThankYou Points for Purchasing Experiences

Using Citi ThankYou points to book destination experiences is simple. First, log in to your ThankYou Points online account and select “Activities.”

ThankYou Points Activities

Then just type in your destination and the dates you will be there. Hit “Search Activities” and you’ll be provided with a list of available activities, transportation options, and other experiences.

Select your preference from the list, and you’ll then be given the option to apply points and/or cash to the purchase.

Citi ThankYou Points are worth 1 cent each toward activities.

The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, and Citi Prestige® Card all earn redeemable ThankYou Points.

Hot Tip: The value of the rewards you use to purchase experiences can vary. Select those that yield at least 1 cent per point/mile or better — never below that!

Viator Tours
Use the cash-back earned on your credit cards for gift cards or statement credits to pay for destination experiences. Image courtesy of Viator.com.

The Best Cash-Back Credit Cards for Purchasing Experiences

The best cash-back credit cards for booking destination experiences are those that accumulate cash-back in your account vs. those that apply it automatically to your statement each month.

This is because when cash-back accumulates, you can select the specific purchase you want to reimburse yourself for, or which purchase you wish to “erase” on your billing statement.

To reimburse yourself for a travel experience purchase, these credit cards earn cash-back that can accumulate in your account:

Cash-Back Credit Card for Booking ExperiencesEarning RewardsRedeeming for Experiences Example
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card2 miles per dollar spent on all purchasesSpend $20,000 in a year and earn 40,000 miles to use toward destination experiences
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite MasterCard®2 points per dollar spent on all purchasesSpend $20,000 in a year and receive $400 toward statement credits for destination experiences (minimum redemption is $100)

Chase credit cards such as the Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Business Cash Card also earn cash-back that can be redeemed for 1 cent per point for travel, including experiences.

However, we recommend pairing these cards with a Chase premium credit card and transferring Ultimate Rewards points to the premium card to use for travel and experience redemptions for up to 50% more.

Hot Tip: As you accumulate cash-back in your account, you can also purchase gift cards using your credit card for future travel experiences such as Disney, Universal Studios, or even Viator Tours. You can then use your cash-back for statement credits to pay off the purchase. It’s a great method of advance expense planning for your trip. 

Disney Toy Story
Use miles to pay for experiences when booking an American Airlines Vacation. Image courtesy of AA Vacations.

The Best Airline Miles Programs for Booking Experiences

Several airline frequent flyer programs allow you to redeem miles for vacations and add-on experiences.

I’ll use a common Disney World park pass experience add-on in these examples of using miles to book vacations plus experiences.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta Miles for Experiences
Use Delta SkyMiles for decent value toward destination experiences. Image courtesy of Delta Vacations.

Delta SkyMiles are normally worth 1 cent per mile toward flights when you use the Pay with Miles option as a Delta SkyMiles credit card holder.

However, when booking a Delta Vacation and using the Miles to Go option, you can receive slightly better value for your miles.

In the above example, I used 50,000 SkyMiles and received $600 in credit toward my Disney trip, which included passes to Disney World that I added to the flight and hotel package.

Earn Delta SkyMiles on these credit cards:

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express - The current welcome bonus is earning 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Plus, with a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (then $95), this is a solid Delta card. Click here for rates and fees of the Gold Delta.

American Express partners with Delta, so we prefer to earn Amex Membership Rewards Points and then transfer those directly to your Delta frequent flier account.

You can accumulate Membership Rewards points very quickly due to their generous welcome bonuses, as well as their bonus spend categories.

For example, with the American Express® Gold Card you will earn 4pts/$1 spent at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worlwide!

American AAdvantage Miles

American Airlines miles can be used to book vacation packages that include flights, hotels, rental cars, and add-on experiences.

I priced out a Disney stay package for Disney World, which included flights, an onsite hotel, and multiple day passes to the park for the following options:

  • $2,807.14
  • 192,600 miles + $588.62

Hot Tip: You have the option to select how many miles you want to use and how much to pay in cash.

There are many cards that earn American Airlines Aadvantage miles; see below for those that we recommend:

United MileagePlus Miles

Unfortunately, you cannot use MileagePlus® miles for purchasing destination experiences other than special events, Broadway shows, and other preferred access events.

Alaska Mileage Plan Miles

You cannot redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles toward the purchase of an Alaska Airlines Vacation package or experience.

Marriott Moments
Book Marriott Moments experiences and earn 10 points per dollar spent. Image courtesy of Marriott.com

The Best Credit Card Rewards Programs for Earning on Experiences

Occasionally, you might just have to pay for your destination experiences. When that happens, you’ll want to make sure you are earning the most rewards possible on your purchase.

Hot Tip: Be sure you purchase your experience through a qualifying merchant to receive your rewards. Each credit card issuer has different definitions of what constitutes a travel purchase, so check if you’re not sure!

Marriott Moments can earn 10 points per dollar and can be booked at the Marriott Bonvoy website after you sign in to your account. Click on the “redeem points” banner and select “Marriott Moments.”

Final Thoughts

The next time you book a trip, don’t forget about your points once you’ve secured the flight and hotel. Take a look at the activities, transportation, and other experiences you might be able to book using miles, points, or cash-back.

You may find incredible value for your rewards points and receive the added benefit of trying something new!


FAQ

How do Chase Ultimate Rewards work?

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are earned on Chase credit cards (even their cash-back credit cards).

You can earn at least 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent simply by making a purchase using your card, and for bonus category purchases you’ll earn more.

When your statement closes each month, the points will be deposited into your account and will be ready to redeem.

Although some redemption options deliver more value than others, you can redeem your points for travel, cash-back, gift cards, merchandise, or transfer to travel partners.

These points are some of the most valuable rewards you can earn, because they offer flexible reward redemption options and additional value when redeemed for travel on Chase premium credit cards.

Can I use miles to book a tour?

Some airlines allow you to use miles to book a vacation package and add on a tour or other experience.

Delta Air Lines and American Airlines both allow you to use miles to book vacation packages and the associated tours and activities.

How does a statement credit work?

When you earn rewards on a credit card, one of the redemption options for those rewards may be to request a statement credit on your monthly bill.

Each credit card issuer will value your rewards differently, and in some cases a statement credit is your best option.

Other credit cards may have additional redemption options that deliver much better value. These options would include transferring your points to other travel partners such as airlines or hotel programs.

You can generally receive 1 cent per point/mile in value for a statement credit, so it is not a good redemption if you receive less.

Which purchases count as travel?

Each credit card issuer defines travel purchases a bit differently.

Chase, for example, defines travel as purchases made at:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels and motels
  • Timeshares
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies and discount travel sites
  • Campgrounds
  • Passenger trains
  • Buses, limos, taxis, ferries
  • Parking lots/garages
  • Highway and bridge tolls

Other credit card issuers may have a more expansive or more limited list.

You’ll want to check the offer terms when applying for a credit card or the benefit guide you receive with your card to confirm the specific requirements.

Merchant codes of specific card networks such as Visa, Mastercard, etc. can also determine if the purchase may be coded as travel.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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