Chase Sapphire Cards: What Counts as Travel and What Doesn’t?

Not every purchase or reservation you make on your next trip may qualify as a travel expense.
Last updated Feb 20, 2020 | By Robin Kavanagh
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I love my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Even though I’ve only had it for five months, I’ve earned a ton of points, saved a lot of money, and used my benefits to book both business and personal travel for 2020. I’m also planning to add the Chase Sapphire Reserve to my wallet.

The Chase Sapphire cards are among the most popular travel credit cards on the market, and here’s why: With both cards, you can get extra points for your dining and travel purchases, plus several other perks. With the Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases. With the Reserve, you can earn 3X points; plus, you get a $300 annual travel credit.

All of these points can be used as statement credits, for booking travel, making purchases on Amazon, purchasing gift cards, and even transferring to airline and hotel partner programs. You can also combine all of your points from different Chase rewards cards into one account. With travel and car rental insurance coverage, purchase protection, and extended warranties, the Chase Sapphire cards can be powerful additions to your wallet.

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Earning extra points for dining out is pretty simple. Most places that serve food — even fast food chains and local pubs — show up on your Chase Sapphire statements as earning bonus points. Getting extra points for travel purchases can be a bit more complicated, though, as the travel category is broad. Here’s a look at what Chase counts in its travel spending category and how this measures up to other travel cards.

Chase Sapphire cards: What counts as travel?

When a business accepts Visa or Mastercard for payments, it’s assigned a code or category that corresponds to the majority of its products. Some get to choose their own merchant codes; others have their codes assigned by the service that processes their payments. When your credit card is swiped, the card issuer gets the purchase data from the merchant, including its specified code or category.

In general, Chase uses these merchant codes to determine which of your purchases qualify for points. It designates a range of merchant types for each rewards points category. For example, let’s say you purchase two tickets to Hawaii on American Airlines using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Your rewards statement will categorize that purchase in the eligible dining and travel category, and you will earn 2X points for each dollar spent.

Below are the types of merchants in the Chase Sapphire travel category:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels/motels
  • Airbnb
  • Timeshares
  • Car rentals
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Expedia, Travelocity, and other discount travel booking sites
  • Campgrounds
  • Passenger trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis
  • Ridesharing services
  • Limousine services
  • Ferries
  • Tolls
  • Parking lots and garages
  • VRBO and HomeAway purchases (may code as travel, though not consistently)

Chase Sapphire cards: 11 things that don’t count as travel

Although the list of what’s considered a travel expense seems long, some purchases you may make related to travel won’t earn you extra points. These include:

  • Real estate agent fees
  • Educational merchants that arrange travel, such as a school trip to Europe
  • In-flight goods and services
  • On-board cruise line goods and services
  • Tours and sightseeing activities
  • Excursions, such as scuba diving in the Carribean
  • Tourist attractions, such as admission to the London Eye
  • Boat rentals
  • Merchants within a hotel or airport, such as a duty-free store or gift shop
  • Vehicle rentals for hauling

Purchasing gift cards or extra points/miles won’t count as a travel expense unless the merchant categorizes these products as travel goods. This can also apply to some items on the list above.

For example, I booked a shore excursion through Expedia for a cruise I took a few months ago. Because it was paid for through a site on the travel category list, I got 2X points. When I pre-purchased a drink package and internet service for the same cruise, Chase read those charges as coming from the cruise line itself and gave me 2X points.

When in doubt, ask the merchant if they know what category the business is listed with the card processing company. You can also call and ask Chase customer service directly.

Other travel cards with benefits

Although the benefits that come with the Chase Sapphire cards card are great, they aren’t the only travel card on the market to consider. Capital One, Wells Fargo, and American Express also have travel rewards cards with competitive benefits.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards card is a popular travel rewards card. New cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, you’ll get 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

Both the Chase Sapphire and Capital One Venture Rewards cards offer no foreign transaction fees, travel/car rental insurance, and the ability to use points to book travel, get statement credits, and get gift cards. But the Venture Rewards card also gives you up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees, allows you to apply points to past charges through its Purchase Eraser tool, and gives you the option of cashing in points for a check. Similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this card also has a $95 annual fee.

Wells Fargo Propel

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card is another strong choice for a travel rewards card. Although the welcome offer comes with a smaller reward — new cardmembers can earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months — there is a $0 annual fee with this card. You’ll earn 3X points on eligible dining, transportation, travel, and streaming services. Other purchases earn 1X point per dollar.

This card comes with a 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers, though transfers don’t earn points. Wells Fargo offers the Go Far Rewards website for using your points to book travel, get gift cards, and purchase merchandise. You also have the option to redeem points for statement credits or cash. You’ll get most of the travel and purchase protections the other cards offer, as well as coverage on cell phone loss or damage.

American Express Platinum Card

The American Express Platinum card comes packed with premium travel rewards and benefits. However, it also carries a hefty $550 annual fee. With this card, you’ll earn 60,000 membership rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, which makes it the highest spend among these cards. You’ll also get 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

American Express gives you up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees, as well as a $200 credit to reimburse you for airline fees each year. Like Uber? You’ll receive up to $200 in Uber cash annually. If you want the premium travel experience, you can take advantage of up to $550 in upgrades and benefits through the Fine Hotels & Resorts Program and a $100 annual credit to use at resorts in The Hotel Collection. Cardmembers are given Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold Status. You can also access any of American Express’s 1,200 airport lounges worldwide.

Rounding out this card’s travel benefits are no foreign transaction fees, car rental insurance, a premium hotline for worldwide assistance, and membership for premium car rental programs.

The final word on Chase Sapphire travel benefits

The Chase Sapphire cards are among the top travel cards on the market for good reason. When you take into consideration all that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers for a $95 annual fee, it’s a smart choice when you’re looking to make the most out of your travel rewards.

While the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a higher annual fee of $550, you receive a $300 annual travel credit with this card. And if you travel often, perks like 3X on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and at restaurants, airport lounge access, and 10X on Lyft rides can offset the cost of annual fee.

Although there are other travel reward cards on the market, each has its benefits and drawbacks. Make sure to thoroughly read through all the offerings and choose the one that makes the most sense for your lifestyle.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 3X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) until September 30, 2020
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits