Even before the pandemic, home booking sites like Airbnb
and Vrbo were becoming increasingly popular with travelers. The opportunity to have a homelike experience, complete with full kitchen, extra living space and local flavor, was more appealing than a standard hotel room for many.
Arlyce Melheim from Stillwater, Minnesota, likes to book homes for family trips rather than run-of-the-mill hotel rooms. “I like vacation rentals that feel more homey and are often in a neighborhood rather than on hotel row,” she says.
During COVID-19 times, home rentals became even more appealing. Travelers could enjoy a much-needed change of scenery but not be surrounded by other people in a crowded hotel. They could rent a home large enough to accommodate friends and family in their “bubble” and take part in a comfortable shared experience.
The problem? For many savvy travelers who like to use rewards points to cover the cost of lodging, most of the big vacation rental companies don’t have loyalty programs. That means when you book a trip, you can’t earn points that can be redeemed toward the next one. You can’t sign up for a co-branded credit card and earn rewards for your next home rental stay, either.
But booking a home with points isn’t impossible. And with fall around the corner, you might be looking to book a cozy getaway for a weekend of foliage-gazing and apple-picking. Here are some options to use your rewards from credit cards or hotels to help pay for your next vacation rental.
1. Use cash rewards
One simple option is to take rewards earned from a cash-back credit card and put that money toward your home rental. If you have good credit, there are a variety of credit cards available that offer as much as 5% cash back on certain purchases, often for no annual fee.
And as Winnie Sun, financial adviser and managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, notes, “Even if it’s not a cash-back credit card, you can often redeem your points for cash.” Many credit card points that are typically redeemed for travel can also be turned into cash, though you may not get the best value.
Plus, unlike some travel rewards, when you use cash, you won’t be bound by any blackout dates or fine-print restrictions.
2. ‘Erase’ your charges
Some travel credit cards offer the ability to book any travel you like and “erase” the purchase with a statement credit. Here’s how it works: Use the card to pay for your vacation home rental. Then, after the charge goes through, log in to your credit card account, select the purchase and redeem your rewards to cover the cost.
In some cases, there may be a limit on how long the charge is eligible to be erased with statement credit. Make sure you know the terms before you plan on this option.
3. Use flexible points
Large credit card issuers like Chase
have their own rewards points that cardholders can earn and use in a variety of ways. While most options you’ll find when redeeming points for travel are traditional hotels, it’s possible to find vacation rental bookings, too.
Melheim used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a vacation home rental for her family’s trip to Switzerland. The home was available to rent directly through several home rental sites, but when she also found it on the Chase travel portal, she jumped at the chance to redeem her points. “I knew Switzerland was an incredibly expensive country,” she says. “Saving the cash and booking with points instead was helpful because our on-the-ground costs like food and trains added up quickly.” Certain Chase cards give up to 50% more redemption value when you use points toward travel booked through the issuer’s portal.
4. Re-examine the big chains
While traditional hotel settings are still the bread and butter for most hotel chains, home rental options are quietly cropping up. Marriott
for instance, has a Homes & Villas offshoot that allows you to redeem Marriott points for home bookings. Wyndham
has a partnership with Vacasa, a large home rental platform.
Sun points out that it’s also possible to find homelike accommodations at some hotel properties. “If you’re looking for more space than standard hotel rooms offer, consider using your points to book a suite. Or, some hotels have options like casitas that are more private.” Certain hotel chains have brands that are fully apartment-style and offer extra space and amenities, too.
Booking a homelike accommodation through a hotel program can be smart, as there may be more flexible cancellation options. With many home booking platforms, the host can choose a cancellation policy that may not be fully refundable. Sun advises, “No matter what you book, make sure you read the cancellation policy carefully.”
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Erin Hurd writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]