2020 has been a tough year for getting out of town. With pandemic-related travel restrictions cramping plans, your version of “going away” this year might have been pitching a tent in your backyard or taking a virtual vacation by ogling images of your would-be destination online.
We get it, we’ve all had to make adjustments to our expectations this year! And if your plans have been pushed out, reshuffled, or just called off completely, know that you’re in good company.
A survey conducted by travel app TripScout, found that 77% of travelers surveyed said they’ve had to cancel or reschedule trips as a result of Covid-19.
Given the travel slowdown, you may be wondering if it’s worth holding on to any travel rewards credit cards you might have – ones that earn you points or miles on travel, non-travel purchases, or with specific airlines or hotels – now that you’re not, well, getting out of town much.
The good news is that some of these cards may still be worth it, depending on your card’s terms and how you use it.
Let’s take a look at how you could make the most of your travel rewards credit cards even if your plans are on hold.
If you’re not traveling, how do you know if a travel rewards credit card is still worth it these days? Basically, it boils down to how you earn rewards.
Some travel cards only give you points or miles for travel-related purchases or reward you more for them. Cards that put a premium on getting away may feel a little pointless right now, especially if you’re not charging anything travel-related. (If you’re wondering about whether you should close the card you’re not using, you can read up on that here).
With that in mind, right now it might be worth continuing to swipe a travel rewards credit card if it gives you points or miles for every single purchase rather than just travel-related expenses.
That way, you can keep racking up rewards to use for your next trip or to cover other shopping categories, which we’ll get into next!
Even if your travel credit card gives you a flat rate of miles or points on every purchase, your options for how to use them might still be a bit limited.
Some top travel rewards cards give you the best redemption rate when you use your rewards to book future trips, or to cover past travel-related expenses.
For example, you might be able to redeem your miles at a 1:1 rate (where 1 point or mile equals 1 cent) when they’re applied toward flights, hotels, or car rentals, but for all other redemptions, it might be a much smaller rate.
However, in light of Covid-19, some major credit card issuers have expanded their redemption options, so you can use your rewards for a larger variety of purchases – in some cases without giving up that 1:1 redemption rate – on things like groceries, takeout and dining out.
While these extended redemption options may not be permanent, they are a great way to continue using your travel rewards even while you’re not getting out of town.
A few credit card issuers have also recently made changes to how much you can earn on select purchases. For example, certain airline credit cards have upped the earnings rate on groceries from 1-2 miles per dollar to 4 miles per dollar, while some branded hotel travel cards have increased it to as much as 12 points per dollar, up from 0 to 6 points per dollar.
This change means you can continue earning points, dollars, or miles (and in some cases many more of them) without having to make specific travel purchases. Check with your credit card issuer about the specifics and any changes.
Signup bonuses make for pretty good incentives when you’re considering adding a new travel rewards credit card to your wallet.
Some cards offer a signup bonus of additional miles or points once you meet a spending requirement in your first few months of using it.
The catch with signup bonuses: you’ll only earn them once you meet the minimum spending amount within a certain window (typically 3 months from account opening).
Fortunately, some major credit card issuers have extended the window, tacking on an additional three months for select cards.
This bigger window can be helpful if you’ve been trying to cut back on your spending the last few months but still want to snag that nice bonus; now you can have more time to rack up these extra points or miles to use whenever you are ready to travel again!
Some top airlines and hotel chains have rewards programs you can sign up for even if you don’t have their respective credit card.
You’ll earn rewards for your hotel stays or flights and if you get enough of them, you'll also qualify for loyalty status which may get you flight or hotel room upgrades, access to airport lounges and more.
However, if your travel plans have come to standstill, you may be worried about losing rewards you’ve racked up, or losing your loyalty status.
Also, if your account goes inactive (because you’re not earning or using rewards for an extended period of time), you could lose your loyalty status and all of the benefits that go along with it.
Luckily, depending on what rewards program you’re a part of, you may be able to keep your accounts active with a few easy steps.
One way could be by ordering food from participating restaurants through your hotel or airline’s dining rewards program. This can help you in still earning rewards with your program, and helping to ensure you don’t lose your loyalty status.
Additionally, you can redeem your rewards through any shopping portals offered by the airline or hotel rewards program. That way even if you’re not traveling right now, you can still use your rewards before they expire.
One other way you may be able to keep your travel rewards accounts active so you don’t lose your status is by donating rewards you’ve accumulated.
Some hotels and airlines have an option to donate your rewards to various charities of your choice. If you’re more concerned about losing your loyalty status than your rewards expiring, this might be a good option for you.
Just because you might not be getting out of town as much right now doesn’t mean your travel credit card is worthless, or that you’re guaranteed to lose your airline or hotel loyalty status.
There are still ways you can use your rewards (and even continue earning them!). It’s always a good idea to check with your specific issuer or loyalty program to get the exact details and find out what options are available.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.