June 21, 2021

Model Desac

It’s Time to Fly

What Do Issuers Count as Travel Purchases?

4 min read

Some issuers count anything travel related, while others are a bit stingier.

Travel is one of the most common credit card rewards categories you can find. In fact, most major issuers — and no small number of minor ones — offer at least one travel rewards credit card that earns bonus rewards on travel purchases. But what, exactly, counts as a travel purchase?

It all comes down to merchant codes. Each merchant that accepts credit cards has what’s called a merchant code, which is usually a four-digit number that tells the credit card networks and issuers what types of goods or services the merchant offers. Merchant codes can be fairly specific. For example, an airline will likely have a merchant code for “airline.”

The types of merchant codes that a credit card issuer counts as part of its travel category will vary. Some issuers may include any travel-related merchant code, while others are more limited. Here’s a look at which types of purchases count as “travel” for some of the major card issuers.

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American Express

The exact type of travel purchases that earn bonus rewards with Amex varies a lot by card. For example, an Amex credit card that earns bonus rewards on travel purchases will include:

  • Airfare
  • Hotel stays
  • Timeshare rentals (excluding timeshare purchases)
  • Vacation rentals
  • Car rentals (excluding trucks and moving vans)
  • Cruises
  • Tours
  • Travel purchases made through tour operators
  • Travel agency packages (including online)

On the other hand, Amex cards that earn bonus rewards on transit purchases will apply to:

  • Trains
  • Taxi cabs
  • Rideshare services
  • Ferries
  • Tolls
  • Parking
  • Buses
  • Subways

Some Amex cards offer bonus rewards only for flights and/or hotel stays. To earn these bonus rewards, flights must be booked directly with the airline or hotel company, or through amextravel.com. Third-party bookings generally will not earn bonus rewards for cards that specify hotel or airline purchases.

Bank of America

Bank of America has one of the most inclusive travel categories, offering bonus rewards on travel purchases from a wide array of merchant types. Eligible purchases can include:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Timeshares
  • Trailer parks, motorhome, and RV rentals
  • Campgrounds
  • Car rental agencies
  • Truck and trailer rental
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies, tour operators, and real estate agents
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Limousines
  • Ferries
  • Boat rentals
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Tolls and bridge fees

You can also earn bonus rewards for travel-related purchases made at tourist attractions and exhibits, such as art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums, and zoos. However, some purchases made during your travel will not qualify for bonus rewards, including in-flight purchases and duty-free airport purchases.

Capital One

Capital One credit cards don’t necessarily earn bonus rewards on travel, but some of their travel cards allow you to redeem miles to cover travel-related expenses. Qualifying purchases may include:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Rail lines
  • Car rental agencies
  • Limousine services
  • Bus lines
  • Cruise lines
  • Taxi cabs
  • Travel agents
  • Timeshares

Other travel-related expenses may qualify if the merchant is coded as a travel provider. In general, however, don’t expect to be able to redeem Capital One miles for things like museums or theme parks.

Chase

The travel rewards category for Chase credit cards is fairly broad, though not as inclusive as some other issuers. You can earn bonus rewards on travel purchases that include:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Timeshares
  • Car rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Discount travel sites
  • Campgrounds
  • Operators of passenger trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Limousines
  • Ferries
  • Toll bridges and highways
  • Parking lots and garages

Chase specifically excludes a number of travel-related purchases, such as:

  • Real estate agents
  • Educational merchants arranging travel
  • In-flight purchases
  • On-board cruise line purchases
  • Sightseeing activities, excursions, tourist attractions
  • RV and boat rentals
  • Merchants within hotels and airports
  • Moving trucks or vans

The issuer also states that gift-card purchases or purchases of points or miles are also ineligible for travel-category bonus rewards.

U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank has a few rewards credit cards that earn bonus rewards on travel, though the issuer has a somewhat limited travel category. U.S. Bank cards offering bonus rewards on travel will include purchases with:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Car rentals
  • Taxicabs
  • Limousines
  • Passenger trains
  • Cruise line companies

You’ll generally have the best luck having a travel-related purchase earn bonus rewards when you book directly with the merchant, rather than using a third-party site or company.

Travel purchases by any other name…

If a specific type of travel purchase isn’t listed by your issuer, then you’re unlikely to earn bonus rewards on those purchases. However, the examples posted by issuers aren’t always all-inclusive, and some purchases may end up scoring bonus rewards even if not explicitly stated. If you are concerned about whether a specific purchase will earn a bonus reward on your travel card, it could be worthwhile to reach out to your card issuer.

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