Should I get a travel credit card if I’m not traveling right now?

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Dear Cashing In, 

I was preapproved for a travel credit card, but is it a good idea to get one right now? I’d like to travel again once the pandemic ends, but I don’t know when things will get back to normal. How would I even use a travel card if I don’t plan to travel any time soon? – Matt

Dear Matt,

The short answer is an emphatic “yes!” Credit cards for travel rewards are still worth taking up a space in your wallet and spending strategy. If you’re in a place financially to bank travel rewards (rather than needing cash back rewards to offset expenses), there is no better time than right now to use a travel credit card to earn points for your post-pandemic adventures.

Have a rewards question for Stephanie? Drop her a line at the Ask Bankrate Experts page!

Travel is on the rise – get those rewards ready

Are travel credit cards worth it right now? You betcha. We’re all looking forward to the days ahead when travel will once again be an important part of our lives.

With a million+ people being vaccinated each day, interstate travel restrictions already loosening, and projections that the U.S. could ease travel restrictions as soon as May, the desire to travel is on the rise. In fact, it actually feels like the return of travel is somewhere on the horizon! Even if you don’t plan on traveling as soon as government restrictions are lifted, the points you accrue now will have value whenever you are comfortable and ready to start traveling again—no matter if that’s this summer or well into 2022.

Choosing the right credit card for post-pandemic travel

Good travel credit cards offer a whole smorgasbord of benefits—from free flights and hotel stays to airline and hotel elite benefits (like free checked bags, complimentary hotel breakfast and late checkout).

There are plenty of great credit cards for travel rewards to choose from if you’re picking your first card. The most important thing right now is to match the benefits of the card with what you think you want for your future travel.

If you plan to travel as soon as possible, you should consider a credit card that is going to help you take the trip that you’ve spent months of quarantine dreaming about—like a travel card that is co-branded with an airline or hotel chain. This type of card can help you to earn a large number of points quickly towards a specific redemption.

Planning to hit Hawaii for your post-pandemic getaway? The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card* is a travel credit card with a low $95 annual fee. You can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of card membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first 6 months. The bonus alone is enough points to cover your room for two nights at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki (currently 60,000 points per night).

If you aren’t sure where or when you’re going to travel, the best options are flexible travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the American Express® Gold Card. Cards like these that earn travel points directly in a bank program like Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards let you earn tons of rewards points now while letting you decide later where you want to spend them. You can either transfer them to an airline or hotel partner or redeem them directly through the respective program’s travel portal.

How to utilize travel cards when not traveling

The best way to use travel mileage credit cards when you aren’t traveling is simple: earn, earn, earn. Right now—while we aren’t on the go—is actually the perfect time to bank as many rewards points as possible.

Because of COVID-19, and the struggles faced by the credit card and travel industries this year, travel rewards cards offerings are better than ever. Hotels, airlines and banks have made it easier than it has been in a very long time to reward you with points and other travel benefits for your continued business. By spending now when earning is at an all-time high, you can position yourself well for post-pandemic travel – no matter when you decide the time is right for you.

Book now for rewards travel later

If you’re one of the 67.8% of Americans surveyed by Destination Analytics who are eager to get back to leisure travel this year, it is also a reasonable time to start thinking about redeeming the reward points you’re earning for future flights and hotel bookings. Being optimistic for summer travel and beyond can’t hurt, as long as the travel deals you’re chasing are fully refundable in case travel restrictions don’t fit your travel timeline.

See related: Best travel cards

Bottom line: It’s a good time for travel rewards

Earning travel rewards on a credit card is a smart move no matter when you’re planning to return to the road. There’s no time for earning like the present. So whether you’re considering applying for a new travel card or deciding whether to renew an existing card that didn’t get you much use in 2020, start planning your points strategy now. When travel fully reopens, you’ll be glad you did.


*The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has been collected independently by The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Written by
Stephanie Zito
Travel Rewards Expert Contributor
Stephanie Zito is a professional traveler, self-employed humanitarian consultant and collector of credit card points. She shares savvy travel tips that she’s learned firsthand circling the globe for more than 25 years. She’s a backpacker, expect and premium traveler who’s visited more than 130 countries and all seven continents. Her life motto is “See the world, change the world, have fun doing it!”, and her mission is to inspire others along the journey.