With travel just now starting to pick up after being waylaid during the pandemic, you may be wondering about the best way to earn and use your rewards. Fortunately, many major credit card issuers have changed up their travel rewards credit card offerings in an attempt to evolve alongside cardholder’s spending habits. Further, some top rewards credit cards 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 since the pandemic began, 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 earning and redemption option opportunities broken down by card:
On July 1, 2021, Amex announced a slew of new Platinum card benefits and an elevated welcome bonus. You can now earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points by spending $6,000 in your first six months of card membership. Amex also added up to $200 in hotel credits, up to $179 in fee credits for Clear, a $240 digital entertainment credit, a $300 credit for eligible Equinox memberships and other new benefits. Amex also raised the annual fee for the Platinum card from $550 to $695.
New cardholders can also earn 10X points on up to $25,000 in combined spending at restaurants worldwide and when they Shop Small in the U.S. during the first six months of account opening.
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).
Eligible cardmembers can also earn up to $200 in Dell credits per year, and they qualify for a $179 credit toward Clear membership. That’s on top of other benefits offered, including up to $200 in airline incidental credits with a chosen airline, a generous airport lounge membership benefit, a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership and more.
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.
Free weekend night certificates issued prior to January 31, 2022, can now be used any day of the week. New, unexpired free night certificates issued in 2021 don’t expire until December 31, 2022.
Capital One has largely kept the same roster of rewards and travel credit cards during the pandemic, with only a few notable changes.
Both the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card quietly added a new redemption option in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. As of fall 2020, both cards let you redeem your rewards for purchases made through PayPal.com in addition to other redemption options like point transfers, statement credits for travel or purchases made through Amazon.com.
Chase shocked everyone with the introduction of a new cash back credit card in September of 2020, 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 points.
First, 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 is now 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.
Interestingly, new cardholders on both of the Chase Freedom offerings also receive 5 percent back on up to $12,000 spent at grocery stores during the first year after account opening. Both cards will still have no annual fee, and you can also enjoy 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 23.74 percent.
Starting on July 1, 2021, both cards will also let you use an updated Pay Yourself Back promotion to redeem rewards at a rate of 1.1 cents per point toward dining purchases (up to $250). This promotion will remain in place through September 30, 2021.
Through Sept. 30, 2021, cardholders with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® get 50 percent more value for points on statement credit redemptions against eligible grocery, dining and home improvement store purchases made within the last 90 days.
Further, the $300 annual travel credit this card offers will be automatically applied to additional categories like gas stations and grocery stores through the end of 2021.
Cardholders with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can receive 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. This offer has been extended through September 30, 2021.
Through September 30, 2021, cardholders with the Chase Ink Business Preferred® can redeem rewards through Pay Yourself Back for 25 percent more value in select categories. These include shipping, home improvement purchases and internet, cable and phone services.
Cardholders with either of these cards will get 10 percent more value when they redeem rewards for internet, cable and phone services through September 30, 2021.
Other Chase changes
New IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card owners can earn 150,000 bonus points 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: 80,000 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.
Citi is no longer accepting new applications for the Citi Prestige Card. For existing cardholders, supermarket and restaurant purchases made between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021 count toward earning the card’s $250 travel credit.
Otherwise, the Citi Prestige® Card remains largely the same. 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.
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 use your rewards for purchases made on Amazon.com when you pay with PayPal. You can also redeem your miles for expanded travel redemption options like dining and gas stations.
Maximizing credit card bonus categories and redemptions
While the changes above can help you earn more rewards or access better redemption options, keep in mind that many of them seem to be temporary. Since you may only have a few months or the rest of the year to take advantage, you should make sure you’re utilizing the most important perks when you can.
One step you can take to maximize your rewards includes taking special care to utilize any extra bonus categories available to you right now. For example, the fact that the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited® are offering 5 percent back on up to $12,000 spent at grocery stores your first year means you should use these cards exclusively when you stock up on food and supplies at supermarkets for the first 12 months after you apply.
You can also consider redeeming your rewards for increased redemption offers if you want to, but make sure you do so judiciously. With travel on the rebound, you may want to save your most valuable points for airfare or hotel redemptions you’ll want to make in the future.
For example, redeeming rewards earned with the Chase Ink Business Preferred for 25 percent more value toward home improvement purchases through September 30, 2021, may seem like a good idea, but it might be worth saving those points for a high value airfare redemption you want to make later.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make the most of your rewards when you earn and redeem. For the most part, this means making sure you’re earning as many points as you can when you make a purchase, then using your rewards wisely and for optimal value.
The pandemic has made this task challenging on both fronts, but some of the card issuer changes we highlighted can make the process easier.
*The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.