With international travel seeming to largely be out of the picture, at least for the near future, but summer and fall vacation plans upon us, let’s talk about how to take a basically free road trip – or to plan one for next year.

Road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. There is something freeing about being on a highway, my destination way in the distance, watching the country go by. And, given the beauty of much of the country, the abundance of national parks, and the affordable rates of small town hotels, there are some great deals to be had.

A few weeks back, we talked about the amazing value that can be had by virtue of credit card sign-up bonuses. Today we are going to talk about one in particular, one that I have and have had for years, and how it can be used to take a basically free road trip. That card is the Chase IHG Premier card.

Right now, Chase is offering a card-best 140,000 IHG Rewards points when you are approved for the card and spend $3,000 on it within the first 90 days of the card account being open. That sounds like a lot, but let’s take a closer look at what it can get you as far as planning a road trip.

Let’s use Utah as an example of a place to go, since its national parks are exceptional pretty much any time of year. A night at the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, just outside the magnificent Zion National Park, is a mere 22,500 points per night. 30,000 points will get you a night at the Holiday Inn Express in Moab, right between Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Want to continue to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado? A night there in Cortez, again at a Holiday Inn Express – not flashy, but comfortable and with breakfast – is only 12,500 points per night. So your 140,000 points could get you two night apiece at each of these properties for an awesome six-night road trip!

That’s pretty amazing value for a single credit card sign-up bonus, and similar value can be found all over the USA outside of major cities. Want to go to the Great Smoky Mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina? A night in Gatlinburg, TN on one side is 17,500 points per night, and rooms on the NC side can be found as low as 12,500, even in Asheville. From there, continue into the beautiful West Virginia for a few days, where 12,500 points will get you a night in Charleston. And, if you spend four consecutive nights there, you get to take advantage of one of this card’s extra perks.

With the Chase IHG Premier card, if you book four consecutive nights using points at any IHG property, the fourth night is free, so those four nights in Charleston would only cost you 37,500 of your points, and you could see the whole state! (West Virginia is worth visiting, too, as I wrote about.) In addition, holding this card gives you platinum status in IHG’s rewards program, which means you’ll receive complimentary room upgrades when available – less useful at a Holiday Inn Express, but nifty nonetheless.

So what do you do with this card after you’ve spent your bonus points? It does, after all, have an $89 annual fee. Well, with that fee comes one free night per year (starting in year two) at any IHG property up to 40,000 points. I’ve routinely stayed in rooms that would have cost me $250 or more with that free night, well worth keeping the card and paying the fee. Plus the fourth night free keeps coming!

It’s important to note here that I am just a cheerleader of this card. I have no relationship with Chase or with IHG, and get nothing if you sign up. I just find it to be a great value and would like to pass that along to my readers, especially as planning more complicated dream vacations is on hold for the time being.

So if, like me, you are sad not to be able to travel exotically for a while, consider this simple step to a basically free road trip!

Note: if you have credit card debt, or ever plan on NOT paying off your card each month, do not sign up for a new card, as any benefits would be outweighed by interest accrual.

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5 thoughts on “How to Take a Free Road Trip

    1. Yep! It doesn’t match the destinations in the article but it’s such a good picture of a road that I had to use it

  1. Cool article! Very helpful tip for someone in a position to take advantage of this reward. But isn’t it a little misleading to call this a free trip? Gas, food, paid-time-off from work, and initial payments for the card etc. certainly aren’t free?

    1. Good points. I mentioned in a prior article that I linked to that the initial payments as you say (minimum spend to get the bonus) should be only expenses you would normally pay for anyway, just put on this card instead of whichever you’d normally use. But even with this, you’re right, there is gas and food, plus entrance fees at some sites. I was thinking, if I were offered a flight and hotel in Rome for a week, I would call that a free trip, even though I’d still have to pay for food, taxis, admission to museums, etc… Would you?

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