With hardly anyone traveling right now due to the pandemic, several major credit card issuers are rethinking their travel rewards credit card offerings in an attempt to evolve alongside cardholder’s spending habits. Further, many of the top rewards credit cards we know and love have added new redemption opportunities that can help consumers get more bang for their buck.
From added rewards categories to bonus point-earning opportunities and short-term perks, this guide goes over the biggest changes from each of the major travel credit card issuers, as well as what they mean for you and your rewards game.
American Express previously revealed changes to some of its top-tier travel rewards cards and co-branded hotel and airline card offerings. Here is a basic rundown of the new statement credit-earning opportunities broken down by card:
Now through June 20, 2021, owners of The Platinum Card® from American Express can earn $30 in statement credits per month (up to $180 in credits by the end of the promotional period) on eligible PayPal purchases.
Other cardholder features and benefits have largely remained the same.
Now, owners of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can get a complimentary night ($150+ property credit) after booking an eligible stay at participating Hotel Collection locations via Amex Travel, or another complimentary night ($250+ property credit) for booking via Amex Travel at a participating Fine Hotels + Resorts property (terms apply).
Amex has also added a “Recommended Flights” feature to the Business Platinum, which gets cardmembers up to 20 percent off publicly listed routes, flights and seat prices. To qualify, flights must be bookde between Jan. 10, 2021, and March 31, 2021, for travel between now Jan. 10, 2021, and May 31, 2021.
Additional American Express changes
Hilton co-branded card changes
There are more than a few changes to note concerning American Express’s co-branded Hilton Honors cards. Here are a few of the most notable additions:
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card*
With both of these Hilton credit cards, cardmembers’ bonus points (posted to their Hilton Honors accounts between May 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020) now count as base points toward elite status qualification, including lifetime Diamond status.
Unexpired free weekend night certificates and those who are issued these certificates through Dec. 31, 2020, can now use them any day of the week. Further, certificates issued from May 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020, are now usable for 24 months.
Bank of America
Bank of America has no coronavirus-specific card changes to note at this time.
Capital One has no coronavirus-specific card changes to note at this time.
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Capital One has no coronavirus-specific card changes to note at this time.
Chase shocked everyone with the introduction of a new cash back credit card in September, as well as vast improvements to the existing Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Chase cardholders will also find better reward redemption options when they go to cash in their rewards.
First off, Chase introduced the new Chase Freedom Flex on Sept. 14, 2020. This new cash back credit card comes with $200 in bonus cash when you spend $500 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn the traditional 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly activated bonus categories (then 1 percent) and 1 percent on all regular purchases made with your card. However, the Chase Freedom Flex also comes with 5 percent back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases.
This card will be offered in place of the old Chase Freedom card, which is no longer available to new applicants.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited will still offer at least 1.5 percent back on all purchases you make with your card, but you’ll also earn 5 percent back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases.
Both cards will still have no annual fee, and you can also enjoy 0 percent APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 23.74 percent.
- Sapphire Reserve cardmembers can earn 3X points on grocery store purchases (up to $1,000 per month, then 1X points) now through April 30, 2021
- Grocery store and gas station purchases qualify toward the $300 annual travel credit now through June 30, 2021
- Through April 30, 2021, get 50 percent more value for your points on statement credit redemptions against eligible grocery, dining and home improvement store purchases made within the last 90 days
- Also through April 30, 2021, get 25 percent more value for your points on statement credit redemptions against eligible grocery, dining and home improvement store purchases made within the last 90 days
Other Chase changes
As of April 1, 2021, new IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card owners can earn 125,000 bonus points plus a Reward Night after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
In April 2020, Citi first announced several changes to the Citi Premier® Card, as well as updates to the Citi Prestige® Card. Here’s a look at these changes:
Citi has updated the earning structure on the Citi Premier Card. This means all cardholders (new and existing) currently receive:
- 3X points for spending at supermarkets and restaurants
- A limited travel category that earns 3X points on air travel, hotels and gas stations
- 1X points on all other purchases
You may remember that the old Premier offerings included 2X points on restaurants and entertainment and 1X points on all other spending.
Additionally, Premier cardholders will now receive a $100 annual, renewable statement credit toward a single hotel stay of $500 or more (not including taxes and fees) booked through ThankYou.com.
Fortunately, this card continues to offer the same sign-up bonus as before, 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening. These points can be redeemed for travel through Citi, gift cards, payments to student loans or your mortgage, merchandise and more.
As previously reported, supermarket and restaurant purchases made between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021, count toward earning the card’s $250 travel credit.
Otherwise, the Citi Prestige® Card remains largely the same. New cardholders can earn 50,000 points when they spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. In terms of online earnings, you get the chance to rack up 5X points on restaurants and air travel, 3X points on hotels and cruises and 1X points on other purchases.
In addition to the $250 annual travel credit that is also good for supermarket and restaurant purchases through the end of 2021, you’ll also get a 4th night free complimentary hotel benefit, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and other valuable perks in exchange for the $495 annual fee.
Additional Citi changes
The 25 percent boost benefit to ThankYou points earned with Premier Card and booked toward airfare via ThankYou Travel Center will cease to exist on April 10, 2021.
Discover only has one travel credit card, yet this card is making it easier than ever to cash in your rewards during the pandemic.
The Discover it® Miles has expanded its redemption options from just travel. While you’ll still rack up the same 1.5 miles for each dollar you spend—and Discover will match all the miles you earn at the end of the first year—you can now pay your card’s monthly bill, as well as your minimum payment, using miles earned with the card.
Don’t forget, you can also use miles to shop on Amazon.com when you pay with PayPal.
What these card changes mean for you
While generous travel-centric rewards structures and benefits like airline elite status, a first checked bag free and airport lounge access can help justify the cost of owning a premium card, the current environment may reduce the usefulness of these perks for many cardholders.
If you’re worried about any changes being made to your premium credit cards, including whether or not they’re still worth the annual fee, note that these adjustments are most likely short-term.
Also, keep in mind that it’s possible you’ll be traveling in the near future and that you may miss out on important travel benefits if you cancel too soon.
Overlapping category offerings: Is my card still worth it?
It’s also important to gauge whether you’re able to maximize all the new bonus categories available to you.
“While some of the recent changes are likely temporary (like so many travel cards piling into the grocery category), there was already a fair amount of overlap in certain categories,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate.
Rossman points out that, even before the coronavirus pandemic, issuers have had competing rewards offerings in spaces like travel, dining and gas.
“It’s not just spending, either,” Rossman says. “You might have multiple cards that offer access to the same airport lounges, or a similar Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee waiver.”
High annual fee? Reach out to your issuer
Rossman stresses that if you’re in a pinch with a high annual fee card that you’re not receiving as much value out of as originally expected, consider reaching out to your issuer.
“Card issuers are worried about losing valuable customers,” says Rossman. “Besides the things that have already been announced … if you ask for an annual fee waiver or reduction, you might get lucky. Or maybe they can give you some bonus rewards points to offset it.”
Cardholders may see more annual fee-focused credit card relief going forward, particularly if travel remains stalled in the coming months, Rossman says.
You can also consider downgrading your travel credit card from one with an annual fee to a no-annual-fee option. It’s possible that, if travel gets back to normal later on, you could upgrade back to the card you had in the future.
The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, Chase Freedom card, Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card, Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card, and Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com.