Key takeaways

  • Rewards credit cards that offer travel-related benefits often come with restrictions on what's considered a travel purchase.
  • In addition to issuer-specific rules, merchant category codes affect whether individual purchases code as travel transactions.
  • If an individual transaction does not code as travel, you won't earn travel-category rewards or trigger any annual credit offers associated with your cards.
  • Because you have no recourse in these situations, it's best to familiarize yourself with what’s considered travel for credit cards before planning your spending.

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While some credit card issuers offer the same rewards and benefits for every purchase you make, others offer bonus rewards for travel or statement credit offers that apply for travel-related spending.

That said, it’s important to note that there is some variability as to which types of purchases actually count as travel from one company to the next. For example, pretty much all card issuers count airfare and hotels booked directly with airlines and hotels as travel purchases. But things aren’t so cut and dry when you get into less obvious travel-related purchases like boat leases, parking garages, campgrounds and timeshares.

If you’re counting on your cards to deliver travel-related perks, you need to know how your issuers classify purchases so you can plan accordingly. Here, we’ll go over the definition of travel according to various card issuers, as well as the steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the rewards and perks you deserve when using your cards for travel purchases.

What are travel purchases?

Our chart offers general information for specific cards from each issuer, though it’s not a comprehensive list. Read over the terms and conditions of your specific credit cards to know which purchases will and will not register as travel.

Bank of America Capital One Chase Citi Discover
Airlines
Amusement parks
Art galleries
Aquariums and zoos
Boat rentals
Buses
Campgrounds
Car rental agencies
Carnivals and circuses
Cruise lines
Ferries
Gas stations
Hotels
Limousines
Motels
Motorhome and recreational vehicle rentals
Operators of passenger trains
Parking lots and garages
Restaurants
Taxis
Timeshares
Tolls and bridge fees
Tour operators and real estate/travel agents
Tourist attractions and exhibits
Trailer parks
Travel agencies (including OTAs)
Truck and trailer rental

Issuer-specific travel requirements

Bank of America

Bank of America is very transparent when it comes to purchases that code as travel with each of their cards.

With the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, for example, the following purchases count as travel and earn bonus rewards as a result: “airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, trailer parks, motorhome and recreational vehicle rentals, campgrounds, car rental agencies, truck and trailer rental, cruise lines, travel agencies, tour operators and real estate agents, operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, boat rentals, parking lots and garages, tolls and bridge fees, tourist attractions and exhibits like art galleries, amusement parks, carnivals, circuses, aquariums, zoos and the like.”

Capital One

Capital One doesn’t have any credit cards that offer bonus rewards on travel purchases booked anywhere, although it does have cards that offer bonus miles on eligible travel purchases booked through Capital One Travel.

That said, the card issuer still defines the following to count as travel: “airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine companies, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents, timeshares, campground fees, ferries, motorhome and RV rentals.”

Chase

Not only does Chase offer several cards that reward general travel spending, one of its cards — the Chase Sapphire Reserve® — offers a $300 annual credit. Knowing which purchases qualify for these perks will ensure you’re able to capitalize on their value.

Fortunately, Chase is also transparent when it comes to what each of its bonus rewards categories include. In particular, Chase defines the following purchases as travel for this purpose: “airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.”

Citi

Citi lists a range of travel purchases that count as travel for the purpose of earning rewards. With the Citi Custom Cash® Card, for example, the following purchases count as travel: “airline, hotel, cruise line and travel agency purchases.”

Discover

Finally, Discover also lays out clearly which purchases count as travel with its selection of rewards credit cards. With the Discover it® Miles card, for example, the following purchases qualify: “airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, commuter transportation, restaurants and gas stations.”

Using MCCs to confirm your travel spending

Networks decide which kinds of purchases code as travel — or any other category — through their merchant category codes (MCCs). MCCs are assigned by payment processors based on their typical products and services. Depending on the payment processor in question, merchants may also be able to request specific or secondary MCCs.

That said, MCCs that can code as travel aren’t always intuitive. A few MCCs that tend to baffle consumers include:

  • Lodging–Hotels, Motels, Resorts–not elsewhere classified (MCC 7011) — some card networks only list hotels as travel-related purchases, but motels also tend to count as travel the majority of the time.
  • Real estate agents (MCC 6513) — you may be surprised to see this MCC come up, but this category often includes popular vacation rental booking sites like Vacasa and VRBO.com
  • Travel agencies and tour operators (MCC 4722) — where travel agencies used to operate out of brick and mortar offices or individual homes, this category now includes online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia.com and Priceline.

The bottom line

Knowing which types of purchases count as travel with your rewards credit cards ensures you’re able to earn the highest possible rewards for your travel spend. It can also ensure eligible purchases you make trigger any statement credit offers associated with your accounts.

Unfortunately, you may occasionally encounter travel-related purchases that don’t code as travel, based on the merchant’s MCC. While not earning rewards is disappointing, there’s nothing you can do to change the situation after the fact. All you can do is count it as a lesson learned and make future rewards-based spending decisions accordingly.