Best Credit Card Points and Miles for Socially Distant Travel

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  • Chase, Amex, and Citi offer options to book socially distant travel through their online portals.
  • You can use Capital One miles to “erase” any travel purchase, including Airbnb rentals.
  • Some hotel rewards programs let you redeem your points for private vacation homes.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

The good old days of scoring extravagant vacations using credit card points are on pause, especially if you aren’t flying due to the pandemic.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t options out there for folks who want to save up credit card rewards for a pandemic-safe trip. From road trips to private vacation homes to outdoor excursions, there are still plenty of ways to redeem credit card points without breaking social distancing.

Here are the best credit card rewards programs for socially distant travel in 2021.

Chase Ultimate Rewards is beloved by jet-setters, and it’s easily my favorite travel rewards program thanks to its high-value points and redemption flexibility.

Apart from transferring Ultimate Rewards points to airline and hotel partners, you can also use them to book activities like tours and outdoor excursions, rental cars, and private vacation rentals (similar to Airbnb) through the Chase Travel Portal. I’ve used my points to book rental cars and homes for socially distant road trips.

Until September 30, 2021, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can also use the Pay Yourself Back feature to “erase” any grocery store, dining, home improvement store, or eligible charity purchases with Ultimate Rewards points. When you redeem points this way, you’ll get the same value as using them to book travel through the Chase portal (1.25 cents per point with the Preferred and 1.5 cents per point with the Reserve).

I’ve saved $597 on groceries and delivery in one month and even got a Nintendo Switch Lite with points using this redemption method.

While the Amex Travel Portal doesn’t offer the option to redeem points for activities, and American Express hasn’t come up with any temporary redemption options in light of the pandemic like Chase has, you can still use your Membership Rewards points for road trips and possibly vacation rentals.

When redeeming Amex points through Amex Travel, you’re given the option to book rental cars. While you can’t filter to private vacation rentals with the Amex travel portal like you can with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, and they don’t have many available, you can book prepaid hotels with your points. Look for hotels that have clearly outlined COVID-19 procedures such as frequent sanitization and contactless check-in. 

If you can hold onto your points until you’re fully traveling again, redeeming for flights or transferring them to one of Amex’s travel partners will get you more value.

The Capital One Rewards program is one of the most versatile on this list, as it allows you to redeem your Venture or Spark miles to “erase” any purchase on your statement from the last 90 days that codes as travel. Apart from flights and hotels, this also includes trains, buses, taxis, rental cars, ridesharing, Airbnb, and more.

Cardholders can redeem rewards toward travel at a fixed rate of 1 cent per mile, so you could erase a $100 purchase with 10,000 miles. While this presents a lower value than some other credit card points, the flexibility Capital One offers is handy, especially if you’re limiting travel.

You can also transfer Capital One miles to over a dozen airline and hotel partners, including Wyndham — which could be a good option if you want to book a vacation rental through the Wyndham Rewards program.

Similar to Chase and American Express, Citi lets you redeem ThankYou points through its own travel portal. In addition to offering flights and hotels, the portal also lets you use your points for rental cars and activities that range from attraction entrance fees to recreation options.

You’ll get 1 cent per point for redemptions through Citi’s travel portal, but Citi also has a long list of airline transfer partners that can offer more value if you’re willing to wait until your next flight to redeem your points. Keep in mind you can only access most Citi transfer partners if you have the Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card.

If you only have a no-annual-fee Citi ThankYou card, like the Citi Rewards+® Card or Citi® Double Cash Card, your transfer options are limited, but you can still redeem points for travel through the Citi portal.

Both Marriott Bonvoy and Wyndham Rewards offer the ability to redeem points for private vacation rentals. This means you can use both Marriott Bonvoy points and Wyndham Rewards points to book Airbnb-style homes and villas.

The Marriott Homes & Villas program includes over 2,000 homes in over 100 destinations, while Wyndham’s partnership with Vacasa offers access to tens of thousands of properties worldwide.

The value you get from these redemptions tends to vary greatly, as most hotel rewards programs don’t assign a set value to their points. If you plan to stay in hotels again in the future and can see yourself being loyal to either of these chains, getting a Wyndham or Marriott credit card is a good option right now.

Elizabeth Aldrich is a finance writer specializing in credit cards and loans, retirement planning, investing, economics, and small business. She’s an avid credit card points collector and perpetual traveler.