Are travel cards worth it 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!

Credit cards for travel rewards

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 approved vaccinations on their way, and 2021 just a few hopeful weeks ahead of us, it actually feels like the return to travel is somewhere on the horizon! Even if you don’t plan on traveling as soon as restrictions are lifted, the points you accrue now will have value whenever you are comfortable and ready to start traveling again—even if it isn’t until well into 2021 or 2022.

Travel card benefits: Choosing good travel credit cards

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, for example.

Planning to hit Hawaii for your post-pandemic getaway? The Hilton Honors American Express Card is a travel credit card with no annual fee that gets you 80,000 points as an introductory bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

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.

Expanded bonus categories for rewards on some cards allow you to earn up to 10x points per dollar spent—when in normal times, you’d only earn a single point per dollar in the same transaction.

For example, right now, you can earn 10x points on the American Airlines Aviator card on transactions over $1,000. Charge a new MacBook for $1,200 and you’ll earn enough points off a single transaction to get a one-way domestic saver ticket anywhere in the lower 48 states where American flies. Compare this to non-pandemic times when the same transaction would only get you 1,200 miles and it’s clear why shopping with your travel mileage credit card is smart now—even when you aren’t traveling.

See related: 5 of the best credit card deals for 2020

Bottom line: It’s a good time for travel mileage credit

When it comes to credit cards for travel rewards, the smartest move is for you to earn now for travel later. Whether you’re considering applying for a good travel credit card right now to begin your earning, or if you’re deciding if you’ll renew your travel card that you didn’t get much use out of in 2020—there’s no time for earning like the present. Prepare your points now and when travel fully reopens, you’ll be glad you did.

 

The information about the American Airlines Aviator card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.