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Credit Cards

Rental cars are hard to come by these days—how your credit card may be able to help you save on the cost

If you're planning a summer vacation, consider opening a travel card to help you offset the cost of renting a car.

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Ever since the pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry and car companies like Hertz and Avis sold off their fleets to avoid bankruptcy, rental cars are harder to come by than ever.

That's not great news if you, like many Americans, are looking to take a summer vacation. Gone are promotions advertising $9.99-per-day economy rentals. Currently, a Kayak.com search for car rentals in Denver for the first week of June start at $149 per day, turning what you may have hoped would be an easy, week-long joy ride into a $1,000+ expense.

Unfortunately, there's not much that having a credit card with car rental insurance can do to lower rental car costs, other than help pay if the car gets damaged. However, you can use travel rewards and/or cash back to make your vacation more affordable.

Below are some of our top-rated travel cards that let you redeem your rewards for car rentals. We pulled these selections from our best travel credit cards list. With each of the cards ahead, you can earn hundreds in travel rewards within your first year of account opening that you can then use to offset the cost of renting a vehicle. Depending on your spending habits, some of these cards can help you earn up to $2,000 over the next five years according to our methodology.

Before you sign up for a new card, it's important to make sure you can pay off your balance on time and in full each month, since many of these cards have high interest rates.

Credit cards that can save you money on car rentals

Best for earning rewards on rentals

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    16.24%, 21.24% or 24.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every 4 years

Cons

  • No introductory APR
  • There’s a $95 annual fee

Best welcome bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    16.24% - 23.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to leading frequent travel programs at a 1:1 rate, including: IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™ and World of Hyatt®
  • Travel protections include: auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No introductory 0% APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,506
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,528

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Best for luxury travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases plus, 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2025

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.24% - 24.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,469
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $3,346

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Best for earning cash back

TD First Class℠ Visa Signature® Credit Card

Information about the TD First Class℠ Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X miles earned on every $1 spent on travel and dining, plus 1X mile earned on every $1 spent on everything else

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 6 billing cycles

  • Annual fee

    $89, waived for the first year

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    $5 or 3% of transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply

Pros

  • 3X miles on every $1 spent on travel and dining
  • 25,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 6 billing cycles
  • 0% APR during the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No additional travel credits, like TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application credit
  • Points aren’t worth more if you book travel through a special portal
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $752
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,403

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, Select evaluated 35 popular travel credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

We then estimated how much the average consumer would redeem over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee and assume that you are paying your credit card balance on time and in full each month so as not to incur interest charges.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.