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.
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.
First, you must log in to your Ultimate Rewards account and click on “Redeem for travel,” then select “Things to Do.”
Type in the name of the city you’re visiting and the dates for which you want to find activities.
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.
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 (up to $25,000 per calendar year; earn 1x thereafter). 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 American Express Cards (Personal)
Business owner? See our list of the best Amex business credit cards.
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!
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.”
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!
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 Experiences||Earning Rewards||Redeeming for Experiences Example|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases||Spend $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 purchases||Spend $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 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.
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 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:
American Express partners with Delta, so we prefer to earn Amex Membership Rewards Points and then transfer those directly to your Delta frequent flyer account.
You can accumulate Membership Rewards points very quickly due to their generous welcome bonuses, as well as their bonus spend categories.
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:
Hot Tip: You have the option to select how many miles you want to use and how much to pay in cash.
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.
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.”
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!
The information regarding the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite MasterCard®, and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.