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The pandemic has changed so much about the way we travel, and some of the changes we’ve seen may be here to stay. For example, many countries have adopted vaccination requirements for COVID-19, and some (including our own) still have testing requirements for entry.
Many airlines and hotels were forced to broaden their cancellation and rebooking policies throughout 2020 and 2021, and some of those changes appear to be permanent. For example, American Airlines still has no more change fees for domestic, short-haul international and select long-haul international flights, and Delta Air Lines and United have similar policies.
Many airline and hotel loyalty programs have also made it easier to earn or maintain elite status, either through hotel stays or through spending with a rewards credit card.
All of this may make you wonder—what other changes could we see come down the pipeline in 2022? Here are some of the trends to expect:
Flexible travel credit cards will remain prominent
Travel credit cards with flexible redemption options will remain popular throughout 2022 as travel uncertainty continues and as consumers focus on rewards that can be redeemed in many ways. After all, one could easily skip over airline credit cards and sign up for a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® instead. These rewards credit cards let users avoid being locked into a single airline program and instead give them the chance to redeem their rewards for any flight, hotel stay, rental car, experience or cruise that’s available through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Also, remember that the Chase Ultimate Rewards program lets users transfer points 1:1 to airline and hotel partners like Southwest Rapid Rewards, British Airways, United MileagePlus and IHG Rewards. If none of those options work, Chase points can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, cash back and more.
Flexible redemption options could be here to stay
Remember the Chase “Pay Yourself Back” promotion? This feature lets consumers redeem their points for extra value in certain categories (which have changed over time). Chase has extended this feature through Dec. 31, 2022 for some of its card products.
For instance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you get 1.25 cents per point in value for these redemptions and the Chase Sapphire Reserve gets you 1.5 cents per point. Both of these options let you get the same points value as you would through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Still, other rewards changes have come about due to the pandemic (and could be permanent). For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card now have the option to redeem rewards for purchases made through PayPal.com or Amazon.com. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which was introduced in November 2021, also includes these flexible options.
Award availability is awful and prices are high
Most of us know that travel prices have surged so far in 2022. In fact, data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) found that the average price for a round-trip flight increased to $464 in February 2022, up from $409 in January. Meanwhile, The Washington Post recently reported that hotel prices are up 40 percent this year compared to last.
The increase in prices for travel, along with roaring consumer demand, have put those of us who travel with rewards points in a pickle. Available awards are limited due to the surge in demand so far, and programs with dynamic pricing are asking for a ridiculous amount of points or miles for each booking.
I have noticed this throughout this year, but I have been lucky that I booked many of my 2022 flights at the end of 2021. That said, I was recently looking at hotel bookings in Hawaii, and I almost couldn’t believe what I saw. A room at the famous Grand Wailea in Maui will run you more than 500,000 Hilton Honors points per night, and that’s if you can find any availability. There are basically no standard night awards available at this hotel and many others—only premium award rates for an exorbitant amount of points.
One of my friends asked me to help her find an award flight to Flagstaff, Arizona this summer and, I kid you not, the best I found was a round-trip economy flight on American for 73,000 miles plus taxes and fees.
If you’ve been searching for award travel lately, you have likely encountered similar situations. The price is high for almost everything, whether you want to pay in cash, flexible travel credit or rewards points.
Earning elite status will still be easier this year
Almost all hotel and airline programs extended elite status for members into 2022, and many are making it easier to earn elite status in 2022 for the remainder of this year (and 2023 as well). Some programs have just let their elite members keep their status throughout the entire pandemic.
For example, the Hilton Honors program extended elite status for members with status expiring in 2020 and 2021 until March 31, 2023. Marriott Bonvoy members have also seen their elite status extended through February 2023, whether they earned it in 2019 or 2020. Those who earned Marriott elite status in 2021 already have their status through February 2023.
Delta Air Lines is another loyalty program that has extended status for its loyal members. Delta Medallion members can maintain their level of status through Jan. 31, 2023.
Look out for new travel credit cards and better bonus offers
Finally, don’t forget that every year brings about new top travel credit cards as well as new bonus offers on existing cards. This year won’t be any different, so you should make sure you’re ready to strike while the iron is hot.
For example, we’ve recently been seeing higher welcome bonus offers on co-branded Delta Air Lines credit cards. The American Express® Gold Card—which finally made its popular rose gold color option permanent—also has a high-value offer right now. Specifically, you’ll earn 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 within six months of account opening. Additionally, the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is offering 60,000 points (worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards) for those who spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.
The bottom line
The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty when it comes to credit card rewards. While the credit cards mentioned above are some of the best rewards credit card offers right now, there’s one thing we know for sure—there are more offers on the way.