Gen Z racks up credit card points and rewards to fuel travel   

  • 75% of Gen Z credit card holders have at least one rewards credit card in their wallet
  • Nearly half of Gen Z respondents (49%) say they use credit card “hacks” to maximize their points and rewards
  • 54% of Gen Z rewards card holders rely on credit card points and rewards to pay for travel expenses 

Gen Z is racking up credit card debt at a faster rate than previous generations, with balances increasing 4.23% from January to March 2023. This comes at a time when American credit card balances hit a record $1 trillion, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. While some young folks are spending out of necessity, others are using credit cards to rack up points and rewards – and it’s fueling their travel plans. 

According to a study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of Intuit Credit Karma, 89% of Gen Z have at least one credit card. Of those, 75% have a rewards card, which many see as a symbol of their status (43%), giving them access to discounted travel and hotel stays, as well as gym memberships and ridesharing apps. To achieve status, 59% of Gen Z respondents with rewards cards pay an annual fee with the majority paying as much as $300 a year for their card (71%). 

And they’re not letting their rewards go to waste 

More than half of Gen Z (54%) rely on credit card points and rewards to pay for travel expenses. In fact, these rewards fueled summer travel for more than half of Gen Z rewards card holders. According to the study, 56% of Gen Z say they were able to travel this summer because of the points and rewards earned from their credit cards. This isn’t an isolated event, either. 45% of Gen Z respondents with rewards cards plan to rely on credit card rewards and points to pay for the upcoming holiday travel season and another 35% say they wouldn’t be able to travel in the next year without using their points and rewards. 

In addition to travel, Gen Z respondents who have at least one rewards card say they’ve been able to get hotel or lodging (40%), restaurant tabs (32%), gym memberships (30%) and airport entry services (22%) for free or at a discount thanks to the rewards and points earned from their credit cards.

They must do research…

More than three quarters of Gen Z card holders (77%) say they do research before applying for a new credit card and many turn to online platforms, including social media to do so. According to the study, one-third of Gen Z respondents use financial apps and websites, like Credit Karma, to learn about rewards cards. Another 30% say they learn about rewards credit cards on TikTok – the highest of any other generation. Offline, Gen Z looks to their friends and family (33%) for information on the best rewards cards. 

When researching, 55% of Gen Z say rewards are their top priority when considering which credit card to sign up for. Rewards are so important to Gen Z that 68% would switch credit cards if another card offered better rewards, such as airline miles, sign up bonus or cash back. When shopping for a new rewards card Gen Z prioritizes cards that offer cash back on necessities, like groceries (60%) and gas (40%). 

Beyond general research, Gen Z are seeking out credit card “hacks”

Gen Z respondents are not just using rewards cards for everyday purchases, they’re using credit card “hacks” to maximize the benefits of their rewards cards. Nearly half of Gen Z respondents (49%) say they use “hacks” to maximize their points and rewards and 51% of rewards card holders say they use multiple rewards cards to maximize the points and rewards earned. Of Gen Z respondents who have a rewards card, 41% use their rewards card for all or most of their purchases while another 45% use their rewards card more sparingly for specific purchases.   

To learn how to optimize their credit card points and rewards Gen Z rewards card holders turn to YouTube (45%) or other social media sites like Instagram, Facebook or X (28%) and TikTok (27%). 

And still, they have regrets 

Despite the benefits associated with rewards cards, Gen Z was one of the generations most likely to express feelings of regret after taking out a rewards card (28%), second only to millennials (31%). This could have something to do with mismanagement of their rewards card. According to the study, Gen Z was two times more likely than Gen X and Boomers+ to admit to having put more charges on their credit card than they could afford just to get the rewards (40% compared to 19% of Gen X and 11% of boomers+). 

“Rewards cards can be a great tool for consumers to optimize their spending, but it can be easy to get carried away,” said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “Rewards cards provide everything from cash back to premium discounts and luxury experiences. However, in order to get the most value out of rewards cards, they need to be used responsibly. This is especially important for Gen Z who are earlier in their financial journey and likely still working to establish and build credit. Make sure you’re not spending money on things you don’t truly need, just for the thrill of earning more rewards. And at the end of the day, if you’re not paying your credit card bill in full and on time, the rewards you’re earning come at a cost – whatever interest is accrued on your outstanding balance or fees paid. If you find yourself spending more than you can afford to pay back, consider switching back to cash or debit until your credit card balances are in check.”   


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Qualtrics on behalf of Intuit Credit Karma between August 18, 2023 and August 23, 2023  among 1,003 adults ages 18 and older.