Don’t Overlook Cash Back Credit Cards (Even If You’re a Die-Hard Miles and Points Collector) – They’re an Essential Part of EVERY Traveler’s Wallet

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Don’t Overlook Cash Back Credit Cards (Even If You’re a Die-Hard Miles and Points Collector) – They’re an Essential Part of EVERY Traveler’s Wallet

Jasmin BaronDon’t Overlook Cash Back Credit Cards (Even If You’re a Die-Hard Miles and Points Collector) – They’re an Essential Part of EVERY Traveler’s WalletMillion Mile Secrets Team

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Many of us are obsessed with squeezing the most value from our hard earned miles and points by redeeming them for free travel.  Rewards earned from the best travel credit cards, particularly flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX Membership Rewards, can get you to destinations you never dreamed you could afford.

Some cards, like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, earn miles you can redeem for just about any travel purchase – even things like Airbnb, train tickets, or Uber.  But what about other trip expenses not directly related to travel?

Here’s where cash back credit cards are invaluable.  No matter where you’re going, you’ll need to eat, drink, and probably engage in activities that cost money.  And that’s when you can dip into your cash back rewards stash for a truly fee vacation.

You Still Gotta Eat When You Travel – That’s Where Cash Back Credit Card Rewards Can Come in Handy

Here’s why everyone should have at least one cash back credit card in their wallet.

Cash Back Credit Cards Can Take the Sting Out of Random Travel Expenses

Read our post on the best cash back credit cards

Being able to redeem airline miles, hotel points, or flexible rewards for major trip purchases (like airfare, accommodations, and rental cars) can take a huge chunk out of your travel expenses.  But what happens when you get to your dream destination?  You’ll still need to spend money on stuff like:

  • Meals, snacks, and drinks
  • Entertainment like tourist attractions, museums, theme parks, and concert tickets
  • Shopping and souvenirs
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Incidentals like toiletries or medication

While you can’t use miles and points to offset these costs in most instances (some exceptions would be meals taken inside a hotel or activities booked through a bank portal), you can use rewards from the best cash back credit cards for anything.

For example, you can redeem cash back from the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card by requesting a check or statement credit, any time, with no minimum redemption amount.

Here’s My 13-Year-Old About to Hit the Stores on Grafton Street in Dublin. You Can’t Redeem Airline Miles or Hotel Points for Teenage Shopping Sprees, but Cash Back Rewards Sure Work

Some might find it easiest to redeem cash back for a statement credit rather than request a check, but a statement credit can only erase purchases you’ve put on that particular card.  It’s really up to you, but keep in mind you might be paying for certain expenses with other cards to earn bonuses, like:

And to offset expenses where you have to pay cash (like tips or public markets), redeeming your cash back via check or transfer to your bank account is the simplest way to go, too.

I’ll be picking up the Capital One Savor later this spring (you can read about my 2019 card strategy, and why the Capital One Savor is the best cash back credit card for my family here).

My plan is to accumulate the cash back earned from the account until it’s time to go on our next trip – then use the card for dining while we’re away and redeem my cash back for statement credits afterward to knock out our food expenses.  It’s kind of like a savings account for trip incidentals, I suppose!

If you’re new to cash back credit cards or aren’t sure what the right pick is for you, check out our list of the best cash back credit cards.  Some even have bonus categories for everyday expenses like groceries and gas, so you can earn rewards quickly.

Bottom Line

Booking flights and hotels with rewards earned from top travel credit cards can get you trips worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.  That’s why we’re in this hobby after all, right?

While airfare and accommodations are normally the biggest part of anyone’s travel budget, there are still expenses to consider once you get to your destination.  Meals, drinks, snacks, shopping, and entertainment costs can add up quickly – but you won’t have to worry if you’re earning cold, hard cash from the best cash back credit cards.

You can redeem cash back for anything, not just travel, to offset these incidental expenses.  I’ll be applying for the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card this spring, and plan to save the rewards to use towards restaurant meals on my family’s next trip.

Have you redeemed cash back to knock out random trip-related costs like dining and shopping?  I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments.

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Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through May 2020.
  • Receive a monthly statement credit for a Postmates Unlimited monthly membership through Dec. 2019 with the Capital One Savor Card
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Capital One cardholders get access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that

More Info

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For cashback I max out the 6% annual cashback on groceries from Amex Blue Preferred (also gets 3% on gas), then use my USAA 2.5% cashback on all non-bonus spend. I always use CSR for dining unless I’m spending for a sign-up bonus. Also that 3X on dining could just as easily be 3% cashback on dining as Chase points can be redeemed for cash at 1 cent a piece, if you were so inclined to use the points for cash. I consider it every so often, but mainly I prefer to use UR points for travel.

Ooops, that was old info. Citi points are worth .5 cents a piece in cashback now.

According to another travel site “Citi actually just raised its cash back rate with the Prestige, which will now give you one cent per point.” So with that card you could be getting 5% cash back on dining all the time.

This quarter is all cash back cards. Discover 5% Grocery. Freedom 5% drug store and gas. Bank of america 3% dining. Hoarding the cash for a 2020 vegas trip


Hi Pointsmiser – That’s the way to do it! I’m loving those categories too – it’s a nice quarter for everyday expenses. 🙂


I pay two timeshare maintanace fees yearly with my CSR card. Both code as travel and give me triple points. Also, timeshare maintanace fees qualify for the CSR $300.00 credit.

Paul B,
If the timeshare maintenance fees code as travel, don’t those fees qualify on all the cards offering travel perks? Or is CSR somewhat different? It’s often hard to extract from a card exactly what codes it honors. I have 3 rental timeshares, so good timing, and thanks!


The CSR card specifically mentions timeshares. Not all cards with travel credits do. You need to read the fine print of each card to see if timeshares are included.


Hi Paul B – That’s great information, thanks for helping out!

Where did you get that fish and chips? It looks amazing!


Hi Joe – That was at the cafe-style restaurant at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin – it was outstanding! Highly recommend it.

Cool, thanks! I hope I can check it out one day.

Thinking about going for the AMEX Blue Cash Everyday, the one with no fee. Mainly because of the 3x on groceries. That’s the expense I need a good return on.

I cook only for one, and find the Blue Cash Preferred at 6% for groceries to be the better deal, even with the annual fee. For families who spend more, it’s even better.

I agree Maria. And to each their own


Hi Maria – That’s a solid card for US supermarkets – it’s a big expense for many of us so might as well earn rewards for it.

Getting 3X for restaurants and gas with the Chase Sapphire reserve is a better deal than Capital One Venture for the same. So $1,000 spend gets $20 with Capital One and with CSR, 3X nets us $45 with the 1.5 multiplier. I think I did that right.

But I love my Capital One Venture for paying maintenance fees for various timeshares that don’t give me 3X points with CSR. I would rather get 2% cash back with Venture than only 1X. Also, it works great for buying groceries and shopping WalMart and other places I shop that are 1X on CSR.

I will look into the Amex Blue Cash. Maybe I need that card.


Hi Cindy – The Chase Sapphire Reserve is excellent for the 3X on dining and travel! However it doesn’t earn 3X on gas (if you’ve had a different experience please let us know!)

Lots of people use the Venture exactly the way you do, it’s an excellent strategy, and a good way to earn miles for travel expenses that aren’t airfare and chain hotels.