Credit card reward strategies for summer vacation

Whether you’re planning a summer trip – or just trying to figure out how to fill those months when the kids are out of school – consider making credit cards part of your plans. By getting the right card, you can earn rewards on the activities you’d be doing anyway — and make some pricier experiences worth your while.

Read on for three easy ways to put your rewards cards to work over the summer.

1. Earn extra rewards on the fun stuff

Several cards on the market have permanent bonus categories that include travel and entertainment – and a lot of the eligible expenses within those categories fit nicely with summer activities. So whether you’re heading on a trip or having a staycation, there are plenty of ways to generate extra rewards.

Going camping or exploring the great outdoors? The Chase Sapphire Preferred, Barclaycard Arrival (no-fee version) and Citi’s ThankYou line (Preferred, Premier and Prestige) all give bonus rewards on campgrounds. Citi’s cards even include boat rentals in the travel category.

Taking in some sights? Whether you’re taking the family to another city or exploring your own to stave off your kids’ boredom, Citi’s entertainment category (which rewards double points) is broad – and includes live performances, sports events, amusement parks (that includes zoos and aquariums), and tourist attractions (including museums).

Just trying to avoid the heat –or boredom? Both movie theaters and video rentals count toward Citi’s entertainment category. U.S. Bank’s Cash+ card, meanwhile, allows you to select two 5 percent categories each quarter, one of which is movie theaters.

Hosting grill-outs and garden parties? Consider cards that give you a kick-back on the stores where you’ll be buying food and paper plates. Big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart have their own store-only and co-branded credit cards that offer extra rewards in their stores. You might need to bring out the bigger guns for large gatherings like graduation parties, though, so keep Sam’s Club and Costco credit cards in mind, especially if you’re already a member of those warehouse clubs. If you need greater flexibility, consider cards that have groceries as a permanent bonus category, like the Sallie Mae credit card (which gives you 5 percent cash back on the first $250 you spend per month on groceries) and the Blue Cash cards from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner).

2. Take advantage of access to special events

Warm evenings and outdoor concerts are a classic summertime combination. So are hot days and air-conditioned theaters. Luckily, issuers have special ticket portals that allow their cardholders presale access, preferred seating and even backstage passes to hundreds of events.

Membership Experiences from American Express: Credit, charge and prepaid American Express cards have access to this program, which can get you into member-only events and pre-sales. You may be even able to pay for your tickets with your reward points. The portal allows you to easily search for events by date and category. Here are some of the results from searching for “Family Fun” events between June and September:

Entertainment Search Results - American Express 2015-04-29 17-29-57

Citi Private Pass: Just pay with your valid Citi card to get access to VIP packages and pre-sale tickets. All Citi credit cards displaying a Visa, MasterCard or American Express logo (as well as debit cards) are eligible for the program. Here are some concert results for June:

Citi Private pass

Chase’s Exclusive cardmember events: The Chase Sapphire Preferred can get you into some pretty swanky card-member-only events this summer – if you’re willing to get away and drop some serious cash or reward points. For example, in July, you can get this 2-night culinary experience:

Chase exclusive events

While there are plenty of opportunities to milk your card’s rewards and perks during the summer, don’t forget about the rest of the year. Ideally, your summertime card combination will still serve you when the weather turns cold — and be just as lucrative during back-to-school shopping and the holidays.

How do you plan to rack up — or redeem — rewards this summer?

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