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Even before the coronavirus pandemic, travel rewards credit cards changed all the time. Sign-up offers went up and down, bonus earning categories shifted, perks came and went, and annual fees . . . well, they mostly just increased. Since COVID halted nearly all travel worldwide, though, consumers’ spending habits have changed dramatically.
In response, credit card issuers have added limited-time perks like bonus points on nontravel spending and new ways to redeem rewards. Some have even temporarily lowered their annual fees. Here’s a look at some of the new benefits offered by travel credit cards during the pandemic.
Earn points on groceries and put them toward travel
During normal times, most travel rewards cards offer bonus points on travel purchases. Little good that does when you’re stuck working from home day after day with no travel plans booked for the foreseeable future. Therefore, many of the major banks have tacked on temporary earning opportunities to specific cards in addition to travel and dining:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve®: now earn three points per dollar on up to $1,000 per month on supermarket spending through April 30, 2021. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: earn two points per dollar with the same conditions. The Citi Premier® Card: earn three points per dollar at supermarkets and restaurants.The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: earn five miles per dollar (instead of the normal two and 1.25, respectively) on Uber Eats orders through January 31, 2021.
When banks make these changes, they usually let their cardholders know via their chosen method of communication. So before you delete that next email from your issuer, check to see what improvements it’s advertising because you could be missing out on a points bonanza.
Stretching those statement credits
Several premium rewards cards include statement credits as part of their ongoing perks.
The Platinum Card® from American Express (terms apply) normally gives cardmembers up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year toward incidental fees—think checked bags or lounge passes with a qualifying U.S. airline, and up to $15 per month ($35 in December) in Uber Cash that can be used for rides and Uber Eats orders in the United States (enrollment required). Through December 31, 2020, folks with this card can also claim up to $20 per month in statement credits toward select U.S. streaming subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu, as well as up to $20 per month toward their U.S. wireless phone bill. That’s an extra $40 per month in value that can help offset this card’s $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).
The Citi Prestige® includes up to $250 each year in statement credits toward travel. Through the end of 2020, though, cardholders can also use the credits at supermarkets and restaurants. Anyone with the Chase Sapphire Reserve can use the card’s $300 annual travel credit at grocery stores and gas stations through June 30, 2021. Chase also just launched a new partnership with fitness chain Peloton, so Reserve cardholders can get up to $120 in statement credits now through the end of 2021 toward monthly Peloton Digital and All-Access memberships.
More affordable annual fees
Several higher-priced cards have also temporarily lowered their annual fees, or provided customers with some sort of credit to make up for them.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® costs $450 per year thanks to benefits like American Airlines Admirals Club membership. However, Citi effectively halved it by offering cardholders a one-time courtesy statement credit of $225 within two billing cycles of the fee, charged between June 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve charges a $550 annual fee. But this year, it has lowered it to $450 for most cardholders, or provided a $100 statement credit to folks whose fee came due before this policy went into effect.
The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card gave select cardholders a $50 statement credit toward groceries and dining this year, too, as a way of partially making up for its $95 annual fee.
Even if your card doesn’t proactively offer something similar, you could try calling your bank and asking if they can do something for you. Among the options they might consider are waiving the annual fee altogether, providing a statement credit against it, or sending you bonus points to help in your decision about whether to keep the card open, downgrade to a less-expensive product, or cancel it altogether.
More ways to use points
Not to get too technical, but unused points and miles are a liability for banks, so many of them want their customers to redeem their rewards. While travel is still severely curtailed, many credit card issuers have launched new options to get those points off their books.
Capital One Venture and VentureOne cardholders can usually count on a cent per mile in value when redeeming rewards for travel purchases, but just half that for statement credits toward other charges. Now through April 2021, though, they can enjoy the higher rate when using miles for takeout and food delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates, as well as streaming platforms including Disney+ and Spotify.
Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can redeem their points at a rate of 1.25 cents and 1.5 cents each, respectively, for travel bookings made through the Chase portal. If they wish to cash in their points for statement credits, they only get one cent apiece. However, back in May, Chase introduced a new feature called “Pay Yourself Back.” Now through April 30, 2021, those with the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve can use it to redeem points at the higher rates, usually exclusive to travel but now on things like groceries, dining (including takeout and delivery), home improvement stores, and charitable contributions to a dozen partner charities, such as the Equal Justice Initiative and Habitat for Humanity.
Finally, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Card carriers can now cash in points for dining, takeout, and groceries through December 31, in addition to travel. What’s more, they have the option for doing so against purchases made within the past 12 months, adding another layer of flexibility.
One simple question to ask
The rewards credit cards included here are just some, but by no means all, of the ones offering new and limited-time benefits that have been introduced since the onset of COVID. Be sure to check in on your own accounts to see what else might be available for your specific products.
While many of these one-off perks are flashy and well intentioned, there’s one simple question to ask yourself to determine whether it’s worth hanging onto your travel credit card: Are you still getting more value from its benefits than it costs to keep it? If you aren’t taking advantage of these statement credits and new earning and redemption opportunities, the answer is probably no. However, if these are the things you are spending money on anyway and your cards are now helping you offset some of these costs, it might be worthwhile to continue carrying your rewards cards . . . and hoarding those points for when you’re ready to use them to travel again.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.