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Are travel cards still useful even if you don’t travel much?

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Photo by Getty Images/Illustration by Bankrate
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Travel picked up this summer, as people all over the world regained confidence in travel since the start of the pandemic. And though COVID-19 continues to play a role in how we re-adjust our everyday lives, some individuals are still weighing whether or not they are ready to jump back into the groove of travel.

So how does this affect our travel credit cards? No need to give up on these valuable pieces of plastic quite yet. Travel credit cards tend to come with a hefty annual price tag that can be hard to justify if you aren’t traveling. However, these cards can be worth it if you are taking advantage of all the other benefits they have to offer.

Let’s take a look at how to get the best value out of your travel credit cards this year and if it is still worth earning points now if you likely won’t be using the rewards until 2023.

Decide if your high annual fee cards are still worth it

Before you set your focus on earning rewards for future travel, it would be smart to look in your wallet and decide which cards will serve you best for the rest of the year.

I, personally, have travel rewards cards that I keep solely for the travel benefits. The Platinum Card® from American Express grants me access to Amex Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass lounges, and the United℠ Explorer Card covers bag fees on United flights.

I also have cards that I keep because they’re great for earning flexible points towards travel, like my Chase Sapphire Reserve®. It earns 3X on general travel and restaurant purchases, 10X points on Lyft purchases (through March 2025), 10X points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards, 10X points on hotel stays and car rentals through Ultimate Rewards, 5X points on air travel through Ultimate Rewards (after you earn the $300 annual travel credit) and 1X points on all other purchases. The rewards transfer to many travel partners I like, and it gets me into Priority Pass lounges.

These are all valuable cards, but the annual fees add up. So if you’re not traveling for a while, you’ll need to ask yourself if you’re still getting enough value out of the card’s benefits and rewards to cover the cost of the annual fee. The Sapphire Reserve card alone charges a $550 annual fee. For someone who travels often and looks for ways to maximize their Ultimate Rewards, the annual fee can be more easily justified.

For example, if two years ago I knew I wouldn’t be traveling for another year, I’d likely cancel my Platinum card or request to downgrade it to a card with no annual fee that still earns Membership Rewards to save myself the $695 annual fee, because I wouldn’t really be able to take advantage of any of the card benefits that I care about. I might also cancel the United card since I wouldn’t care about free bags this year. I’d keep my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which would allow me to transfer any Ultimate Rewards points I’d earned to United miles when I’m ready to fly again.

Your goal is to keep the cards that serve you and help you build the reward points arsenal you’ll need when it comes time for planning travel again.

Saving up rewards for future travel

Every reward point earned today puts you one step closer to free future travel in a post pandemic world.

Once you’ve decided which cards you’re keeping, you can quickly get to work on maxing out the value from your spending. Since you’re not traveling and won’t be earning additional traditional points from staying in hotels or flying on planes, you’ll have to rely on savvy spending, stacking up deals to earn double or triple bonus points and making sure you’re taking advantage of all the perks travel cards have added in response to the pandemic.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® is a great starter travel card that only carries a $95 annual fee. It offers 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 5X points on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and Lyft Rides (through March 31, 2025), 2X points on other travel and 1X points on other purchases.

It wasn’t until recently that the Sapphire Preferred boosted its dining and grocery shopping rewards to 3X points. So, even if you aren’t traveling at this very moment, the Sapphire Preferred card is a well-rounded bonus category card that can make it easier to stockpile travel points for the future with every dining and grocery purchase.

Limited time travel card perks

While the last few years have thrown a curveball at travel lovers, added credit card travel perks are one of the small wins that we’ve had. Of course, I’d rather be traveling now — but knowing that I can earn 3X points on selected streaming and online grocery purchases on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card is at least something that makes me smile.

There are so many new special offers and limited-time promotions that issuers have added to different travel rewards credit cards that I certainly can’t list them all here. So take some time to look at the benefits on every card you own. Some limited time offers are particularly lucrative, such as sign-up bonuses and monthly statement credits.

Take advantage of these extra benefits like your future in travel depends on it. I personally try to max out that supermarket benefit each month. I’m single and don’t actually spend that much on groceries, but I’m also creative. Sometimes I offer to shop for my older neighbor who pays me back in cash. I keep the points and she stays out of the crowded supermarket, so we both win.

The bottom line

Even though it seems far away, the world will still be out there and ready to welcome visitors when the time comes for you — and all of us — to get back to traveling. For now, keep earning all the points you can!

*Information about the United Explorer Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This offer is no longer available on our site.

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.