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Navigate your Loyalty-Fueled Summer Adventure

Navigate your Loyalty-Fueled Summer Adventure Article Featured Image

Grab your free Big Gulp (or perhaps a free Starbucks Venti iced coffee), thanks to your membership rewards, and buckle up! We’re back on the road for a cross-country fantasy road trip all over Loyalty Land. And with the growing price of gasoline, airline tickets, and almost everything else, let’s pinch every reward-program penny possible.

Because of the preplanning that road trips require—tuning up a vehicle (or renting one instead), booking hotel rooms, and much more—brands want to engage travelers long before they hit the road. Here are some of the best ways to access vacay deals by redeeming loyalty rewards.

There’s still a lot of summer left—let’s make the most of it!

Credit cards can really pay

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 remains a strong option. Chase has brought the introductory offer down a bit since last year, but it’s still rich: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That comes out to $750 in value for booking travel or hotels through Ultimate Rewards, or $600 cash back. Another great perk of this card is primary car rental insurance, meaning we can decline the collision insurance on the rental car and still be covered.

Another card option that’s particularly great for summer getaways is the Venture Rewards Card from Capital One, which offers a beefed-up 75,000 bonus miles if you spend $4,000 during the first three months after opening an account. Plus, card members earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capitol One Travel, as well as a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit to help keep us out of the crazy lines this summer.

Rental cars keep the miles rolling along

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. Regardless of our selected vehicle, it’s a great ride if we can redeem points for it.

Sliding into the driver’s seat is fast at Alamo. Members can sign up, free of charge, for its Skip the Counter service, offered at certain locations (some of which are currently experiencing lines longer than Route 66). If you rent often, Enterprise is a strong option: It offers a separate check-in desk for members plus generous bonus points and free upgrades.

Sun protection is a must

Whether we’re in a convertible or not, we’ll be soaking up the sun on our trip, so it’s time to slather on the sunblock. And don’t forget to apply that sunblock to the tops of your ears. (Let’s just say some of us have learned that important lesson the hard way!)

Let’s cash in our points for dollars-off deals on high-SPF products at a favorite beauty brand. Ulta and Sephora, for example, invite members to earn and redeem points on products and services. Loyalty programs at these beauty chains offer clear tier benefits and consistent rewards.

Food tastes better on a road trip

After an hour or two of driving, it’s time to grab a bite. Fortunately, most small eateries accept a variety of credit cards these days. That makes it easy to support local restaurants and keep earning for doing so. Even a global brand like American Express embraces shopping (and eating) local through its Shop Small Map, which helps traveling cardholders find local businesses.

Or sometimes we like the taste of something familiar on the road. We can earn and redeem using chain restaurant loyalty programs (e.g., Dunkin’, Chipotle, Panera) across the country.

Gas prices are eye-popping, but loyalty can help

Before we get back on the road, we should gas up. With average prices up almost $2 since the beginning of 2022, a gas station loyalty membership is now 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, which allows flexible earning and redemption. Other options include BP’s BPme Rewards, which integrates with the company’s app to deliver fuel savings. New members get 5 cents off per gallon for the first month, and they can keep that discount going any month they spend $100 or more. BP will even match nearby competitors’ prices—an optional feature available for 99 cents a month.

Sometimes it’s practical to leave the driving to someone else. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card will give us 5X back in points when we ride with Lyft. Especially with soaring gas prices, this can be a great option for short jaunts within a larger trip.

Don’t forget a place to rest

As the miles speed by, double-check the hotel or campsite reservations. If we’re camping, we’ve likely already stocked up on supplies at an outdoors store. Whether thriving in the outdoors or just dressing the part, we want to save on summer gear. Membership offerings at Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI help with that.

Dick’s loyalty program, ScoreCard, offers traditional, points-based earning and access to insider products and offers. And even though REI upped the price of its membership from $20 to $30 since last year, the one-time fee still welcomes a new member into its club for life. 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.

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 and stick to it, and the rewards add up fast. Travelers maximize earnings by taking full advantage of programs like Marriott Bonvoy. Look for extensions on point expiration and reduced spending thresholds that elevate members to elite status quicker than ever. Marriott Bonvoy allows members to sort offers by proximity, making it easy to find a deal whether they’re flying or driving.

Let’s get going—seriously!

No matter where the road leads this summer, there are plenty of ways to save. Those loyalty 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 at scale for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.