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The Summer of Loyalty

The Summer of Loyalty Article Featured Image

Enjoy your vacation all the more when you earn and redeem loyalty points wherever you go.

Grab your free Big Gulp (or perhaps a free Starbucks Venti iced coffee), thanks to your membership rewards, and buckle up! We're going on a loyalty road trip. This cross-country fantasy takes place all across Loyalty Land. And with so many deals floating around this summer, it’s going to be easier than ever to cash in.

Because of the preplanning road trips require—renting a vehicle, booking hotel rooms, and much more—brands know they can engage with travelers long before they hit the road. Here we cover a few of the best ways to take advantage of these vacay deals by redeeming loyalty rewards and having the best summer ever.

Before we head out, let's start by maximizing our vacation spending with a rewarding credit card. When it comes to receiving cash back, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is currently pitching its biggest introductory offer ever, awarding 100,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership. (Anyone who's been to one of those overpriced boardwalk souvenir shops knows that threshold shouldn't be much of an issue.) You can redeem those 100,000 points for $1,000 cash back, or you can book $1,250 worth of travel for your next trip via the Chase Travel Portal.

Another great card option is the U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature card, which offers 50,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 during the first four months of card membership. Plus, it offers four times the points when filling up at the gas station and a $100 credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry that will help out when you're ready to catch a flight. In addition, the card offers two times the points earned per dollar spent on dining; that will come in handy whenever we stop at a roadside diner for lunch or perhaps an upscale establishment for a special dinner.

All right—now we’re ready to hit the road in a great rental vehicle. Perhaps it’s a roomy SUV for the whole gang, a family van with individual screens for the kids, or a convertible for the ultimate in summer fun. (Or maybe we have to rent a U-Haul because of the current shortage of rental cars.) Regardless of our selected vehicle, it will be a great ride if we can redeem points. First, we should check our car rental membership status from 2019, as many brands allow status carryover from previous years. Additionally, sliding into the driver’s seat is super fast at Alamo, which allows members to skip the line (some of which are currently experiencing lines longer than Route 66). If renting often, Enterprise is a super option; it also offers a skip-the-line feature for members plus bonus points and free upgrades.

Convertible or not, we’ll be getting a lot of sun on our trip, so it’s time to slather on the sunblock. No doubt that means we’ve cashed in our points for dollars-off deals on SPF at a favorite beauty brand. Both Ulta and Sephora, for example, invite members to earn and redeem points on products and/or services. These beauty chains offer clear tier benefits and consistent rewards. Just don't forget to apply to the tops of your ears. (I've learned the hard way!)

After an hour or two of driving, it’s time to grab a bite. Fortunately, many small eateries accept a variety of credit cards these days, making it easy to support local restaurants and earn for doing so. Even brands like American Express have embraced shopping (and eating) local. Or perhaps we’d rather stop at a favorite restaurant out on the road—after all, we can earn and redeem using chain restaurant loyalty programs (e.g., Dunkin’, Chipotle, Panera, etc.) across the country.

Before we get back on the road, it’s likely time to gas up. Obviously, a gas station loyalty membership is a must for nearly any road tripper. When choosing a loyalty program, however, consider whether the program offers discounts on just fuel or fuel and merchandise. I'm not too proud to inhale a gas station hot dog, so I prefer a program like Speedway's Speedy Rewards that allows flexible earning and redemption. Other options include BP’s BPme, which integrates with the company’s app to deliver fuel savings to loyal customers. New members get five cents off per gallon for the first month, and can keep that discount going any month they spend $100 or more. BP will even price match with nearby competitors, but that feature costs 99 cents a month.

As the miles speed by, it’s likely time to double-check any hotel or campsite reservation. If camping, we’ve likely already made a quick shopping trip to an outdoor store. But whether thriving in the outdoors or just dressing the part, we want to save on summer gear. Both Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI help with membership offerings. Dick’s loyalty program, ScoreRewards, offers traditional point-based earning and access to insider products and offers. Meanwhile, for just $20, REI welcomes a new member into its club for life. And while members might join for the 10% cash back on most purchases, they’ll likely stay for the lesser-known perks, including used gear trade-ins, up to 33% off gear rental, and even travel excursions. This one-time membership fee is a no-brainer.

Or are we headed to a hotel? (Even the happiest campers often like to end a trip with a hotel stay.) Pick a hotel loyalty program, stick to it, and the rewards add up fast. Travelers maximize earnings by taking full advantage of programs like Marriott Bonvoy—and their properties are eager to have them back. Look for extensions on point expiration and reduced spending thresholds that bump up members to elite status quicker than ever. Also, be sure to watch for opportunities to redeem points for hotel programs’ once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Wouldn’t it be nice to cap off a trip with a backstage pass at a concert or front-row tickets to the US Open Tennis Championships?

No matter where the road leads this summer, there are plenty of ways to save. Now let’s get going for real—these offers aren’t going to redeem themselves!

The Lacek Group is a Minneapolis-based, data-driven loyalty, experience and customer engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.