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How to use your credit card points to book vacation rentals like Airbnb

CNBC Select offers four tips to redeeming your credit card rewards for a home away from home.

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With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to put many Americans' vacations and hotel stays on hold, road trips to a nearby Airbnb are becoming more popular.

Vacation rental marketplaces, like Airbnb, have gained traction as a home away from home for large group sizes, and even more so now as a covid-friendly option.

Airbnbs offer more room to social distance, and guests tend to have their own kitchen and dining areas. In light of the pandemic, Airbnb has also enhanced its cleaning protocols between stays and asks that hosts provide a no-contact check-in whenever possible.

If you're looking for some time off this upcoming holiday season, a vacation rental may be the best choice. And the good news is that all those credit card rewards you've been stockpiling in quarantine this year can help cover the cost of your next stay.

Before diving in, you'll first need to find out how your credit card issuer codes Airbnb transactions. Purchases that fall under the "travel' category most often include timeshares and hotels. But there are also categories like homeshares, homestays and rentals.

Both Chase and Wells Fargo classify Airbnb as travel under the homeshare category, but not all card issuers will.

Here's what falls under the travel category for five major issuers:

  • American Express: Hotel stays, timeshare rentals and vacation rentals (American Express® Green Card only); excludes purchases of timeshare properties
  • Bank of America: Hotels, motels, resorts, timeshares
  • Capital One: Hotel and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel
  • Chase: Hotels, motels, timeshares
  • Citi: Hotels, timeshares

Learn more: How credit card issuers classify purchases for bonus rewards

Now that you know where you stand, let's take a look at the many ways you can apply your points and miles to cover vacation rentals and Airbnbs.

1. Use your travel credit card wisely

If you have a premium travel rewards credit cards, there's a good likelihood that you can redeem your points on vacation rental purchases.

Note that you usually can't book an Airbnb through your card issuer's online rewards portal, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal or Amex Travel. But you might see an option to book vacation rentals, like lodges, condominiums, and entire homes.

Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card can earn 25% more value (1.25 cents per point) when they redeem their points for travel inside the Chase Ultimate Rewards® (CUR) portal, which offers a selection of vacation rental properties. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, points are 50% more valuable (1.50 cents per point).

But Chase isn't the only issuer offering this option. Cardholders of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card earn miles on their purchases that can be redeemed for a 1:1 value to cover travel purchases, including vacation rentals.

2. Look for a travel statement credit

Though most of the best travel credit cards come with annual fees, these costs can usually be offset when you take advantage of the card's annual travel credits.

Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card offer travel credits, $300 and up to $325 respectively, that can be applied to a wide variety of travel costs including vacation rentals.

If you have a credit card from one of the above five issuers, see how your card issuer classifies these types of travel purchases.

3. Redeem your credit card rewards for an Airbnb gift card

Many credit card issuers allow you to redeem your rewards on gift card purchases for hotels, rentals, timeshares, including Hotels.com, Four Seasons, Marriott and Hilton.

Chase cardholders, for example, can redeem their points through the CUR portal for a gift card at a select number of merchants, including Airbnb. The minimum redemption amount starts at 2,500 points, or $25.

Read about Chase's limited-time offer on gift cards: Save 10% on gift cards via Chase Ultimate Rewards

You will want to make sure you are redeeming your points for a 1:1 value (where one point or mile is worth 1 cent). At this redemption rate, for example, a $100 Airbnb gift card would cost 10,000 points.

Note that with many credit cards, redeeming your points for a gift card may not be the highest redemption value available. You'll want to weigh this option against others that can get you more value. (For instance, with Chase's limited-time Pay Yourself Back tool, you can get 1.25% to 1.5% more value on other types of purchases.)

Keep in mind that Airbnb has its own limitations when it comes to gift cards, such as not being used to pay for long-term stays, payment plans or changes to existing reservations.

4. Cash in on a cash-back card

You don't need a travel credit card to help earn a free stay at a vacation rental like Airbnb.

If you use a standard cash-back credit card, you can redeem your cash back for a statement credit. This helps offset the cost of your bill. So, you can book the vacation rental or Airbnb upfront and then use your credits to pay for some (or all) of the cost.

This is one of the simplest ways to cover the cost of a vacation rental since you are using credit applied to your balance without linking to a specific transaction.

For example, cardholders of the Citi® Double Cash Card can earn 1% cash back on purchases and 1% when they pay off their bill. The easy-to-use rewards program has no limit to how much cash back you can earn. Cardholders can redeem cash back for checks or statement credits once they've earned $25, so once you book your vacation rental or Airbnb, cash in to recoup the money you spent.

Bottom line

Whether you carry a travel credit card or a cash-back credit card, there's a way you can use your earned rewards to book vacation rentals.

While most of the travel credit cards have rewards programs where you can use your points to book lodging, check with yours first to see if vacation rentals fall under that category.

And for those that offer gift card redemption options, see if Airbnb is one of the merchants and what the redemption value would be if you used your points toward purchasing a gift card.

Information about the U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.

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.
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