Lots of credit cards have partnerships with airlines or hotel chains, and lots offer bonus points or cash back when you use your card on travel. Your card might be co-branded, like the Southwest Rapid Rewards card from Chase. Or you might have the option each month to redeem a certain number of points on qualifying expenses.
During the last year of cancelled vacations and weekends spent at home, credit card companies have made a lot of changes to their rewards packages. Some allowed cardholders to spend travel points on groceries and takeout instead. Others forgave annual fees or extended special offers.
With travel on the horizon again, lots of credit card companies are offering cardholders chances to get a ton of travel points. If you can take advantage of those offers now, it could result in big savings when you finally take your long-awaited vacation.
And until that happens, lots of credit card providers have extended their pandemic-era rewards changes for at least a little while longer.
- If you renew your American Express Platinum before the end of March, you’ll get a $200 credit that you can spend on travel until the end of 2021.
- If you sign up for a Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards card by March 10, you’ll get 30,000 miles, plus a free companion pass — which allows your designated companion to fly with you for free on an unlimited number of flights — that will be good until February 2022.
- The $300 travel credit on Chase Sapphire Reserve can be used on gas and groceries through the end of June.
This won’t be a totally comprehensive post because there are just too many examples to list. Start by researching the cards you already have to find out what pandemic-era perks will continue and what you can take advantage of when you finally take that vacation. Then, if there’s a specific need you want to meet, start searching for a new card to add to your wallet. We’ve found that The Points Guy does an excellent job of pointing out some amazing deals and knowing the best sign-on bonuses that are currently available.
Pay Down Your Debt First
Whenever I write about credit cards, I start with a disclaimer: If you have credit card debt or frequently carry a balance on any of your credit cards, then paying off debt and getting more disciplined in your spending should be your first priority.
Cards that offer great perks usually charge annual fees. Most have high interest rates too. Travel hacking and working your credit card rewards is only a good idea if you have a well-established habit of paying all your bills in full every month.
Even then, make sure you don’t use credit cards to buy things you wouldn’t have bought otherwise! You should be able to pay off your cards in full every month. The purpose of a credit card strategy is to help you earn points on your everyday spending that can save you money in the long run — not to spend more money on things you wouldn’t have otherwise bought.
Airfare, Hotel, And Other Travel Deals
Lots of points-oriented credit cards focus on rewards at specific airlines and hotel chains. When you build up enough points, you can earn free or heavily discounted nights at the Hilton or flights on Southwest.
As we begin planning trips again, lots of credit cards are highlighting their hotel and airfare deals or making limited-time offers.
- If you sign up for a Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards card by March 10, you’ll get 30,000 miles, plus a free companion pass — which allows your designated companion to fly with you for free on an unlimited number of flights until February 2022.
- If you fly American Airlines frequently, you might want to check out the Citi Aadvantage World Mastercard which is offering 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.
- If you spend up to $5,000 on your Hilton Honors American Express card before June 30, you can earn 10,000 additional points.
- If you spend $7,500 on your Marriott Bonvoy Chase card before Dec. 31, you can earn up to 7,500 additional points.
- Marriott Bonvoy is offering 75,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of account opening.
- The Hilton Honors rewards program is offering a 100% bonus on points that you buy on or before March 5. Points cost one cent each, so 50,000 points costs $500. The limit is 80,000 points.
- Raddison will offer a 100% bonus on points purchased between March 10 and March 18.
Using Travel Credits On Restaurants And Takeout
Lots of people have a general credit card that allows you to use points to cover travel charges on your credit card statement. Most of these cards define “travel” really broadly. For instance, the American Express Green card offers 3X points on travel, which includes plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, travel agencies, home shares like Airbnb, and a variety of transit services including Uber, Lyft, and public transit.
Most of us spend more on those things while we’re traveling, but there’s no reason you can’t apply those points to restaurant and transportation spending in your own city.
Some credit cards have rewards specifically linked to dining and restaurant spending. If you have one of these cards, make sure you’re using points to cover expenses on your statement each month:
- The American Express Gold Card offers 4X points on spending at restaurants and grocery stores and American Express Green offers 3X points at restaurants
- Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3X points and Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2X points on dining expenses
- Citi Prestige offers 5X points on dining and restaurant spending
- The Capitol One Savor Cash Rewards card offers 4% cash back on dining
The American Express Platinum, Gold, and Green Cards are offering a complimentary Uber Eats Pass membership lasting up to 12 months, and the Chase Sapphire series offers a free year of DoorDash. These memberships begin auto-billing one year after you sign up, so if you don’t use them, make sure you cancel them!
If you already have a Delta SkyMiles American Express card, check to see if your card is offering card statement credits on spending at restaurants. These include:
- Gold: Up to $10 back per month
- Platinum: Up to $15 back per month
- Reserve: Up to $20 back per month
The Hilton Honors American Express card is offering a similar deal. If you have a Surpass card, you can earn up to $10 back per month on restaurant spending. With the Aspire card, the limit jumps to $20 per month.
The same goes for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card: Cardholders can earn up to $10 back per month on spending at U.S. restaurants on the standard card and $20 back per month on the Brilliant card.
Review your credit card agreement for more details about what you can cover with points.
Grocery, Gas, And Lifestyle Credits
When people stopped traveling last spring, many credit card companies broadened their bonus categories to include more everyday spending. Cards that offered travel credits allowed users to spend those credits on all kinds of things, from groceries to gas to Lyft rides.
Most of Chase’s credit cards now allow cardholders to spend travel bonuses on other purchases instead. For instance, you can use the $300 travel credit on a Sapphire Reserve card on purchases at grocery stores and gas stations through June 30. This is automatically refunded to you as a statement credit so no action is needed on your part!
Some credit cards’ travel credits can also be used on gas and drugstore purchases, too. The $250 travel credit on the Citi Prestige card can be used at supermarkets and restaurants until the end of 2021.
Since travel looks a lot more likely in 2021 than it did in 2020, these bonuses may not be continued. Check with your credit card provider for details, and make sure to spend this credit if you have it!
Credit card companies continued to offer co-branded promotions during the pandemic, but some of those promotions focused on activities at home. Chase, for instance, is offering a credit on Peloton to Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cardholders for the rest of 2021. Customers will see statement credits that can cover Peloton Digital and All-Access subscriptions.
The Hilton Honors Business American Express card and Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express card are also offering cash back on U.S. wireless services — up to $10 per month on the Hilton card and up to $15 on the Marriott card.
Updating Your Credit Card Strategy
In general, now is a good time to review any of your credit cards that have annual fees to figure out which are still valuable to you. If you have airline credits from cancelled trips, for instance, you might benefit less from miles and more from hotel rewards or other more versatile rewards.
If you and your partner or spouse both have a travel-focused credit card like Chase Sapphire Reserve but aren’t planning to travel for a while, you could cancel or downgrade one of the two cards to avoid the annual fee.
If you’ve already renewed a credit card you don’t really need, you can usually reverse your renewal within 30 days. Your credit card company might mail you a refund or give you a credit to keep the card for another year. Last year, Amex offered appreciation credits to some customers to offset their renewal costs.
Remember, credit card companies want to keep their customers. Before you cancel, call and talk to someone in customer service. There’s a good chance they’ll make accommodations to keep their card in your wallet!
*Please note: I am not an affiliate for any of these cards nor do I make any commission off of these links. I am a fee-only financial planner, so I don’t make any money off of recommending credit cards. When we recommend cards to our clients, it’s usually just because we’ve used them and liked them.