When flying isn’t frequent: What to do with travel rewards during coronavirus

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No matter if you’re a bonafide jetsetter or casual vacationer, chances are you haven’t gotten much use out of your travel credit card in the past couple weeks.

Travel rewards cards are a great way to earn points and miles toward things like flights and hotel stays, but what happens to the status of your rewards when trips are put on hold for weeks or even months?

First things first: Check your program’s expiration policy

In the case of points or miles earned by a standard travel credit card, it’s likely your rewards aren’t going to expire. Most major credit card issuers don’t expire rewards as long as the account is open, active and in good standing (meaning you’re paying at least the minimum amount due each month, for example).

Here are the expiration policies of a few top issuers. Rules can vary from card to card, so be sure to check your online account for policy specifics.

Issuer Expiration policy Exceptions
American Express Rewards won’t expire as long as you have one Amex card open N/A
Chase Rewards won’t expire as long as your account remains open N/A
Discover No rewards expiration N/A
Bank of America Bank of America Travel Cash Back cards (including their student versions) don’t expire rewards WorldPoints have an expiration of 5 years after the month they were earned
Capital One Rewards won’t expire as long as your account remains open N/A
Citi Rewards won’t expire as long as your account remains open. If closed, you have 60 days to utilize your rewards Rewards earned with the Citi® Double Cash Card expire if you don’t make a purchase or bill payment within 12 months
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards expire 5 years after the first month they posted to your online account Points don’t expire as long as you have an open account with the following cards:

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

What about co-branded credit cards?

Miles and hotel rewards earned with a co-branded travel credit card typically follow the same expiration policy as the airline or hotel chain they’re associated with, rather than the credit card issuer’s policy.

In the past couple of years, many major U.S. airlines have gone to a no-expiration policy, including Delta, JetBlue, United and Southwest Airlines. And in the midst of the coronavirus, airlines who still hold expiration policies are temporarily halting mile expiration or extending the deadline, such as Frontier and Spirit Airlines.

For more information on your co-branded card’s policy, review its terms in your online account. Any details on changes to expiration policies can most likely be found within your issuer or travel company’s COVID-19 information hub.

Alternative uses for travel rewards

If your rewards aren’t set to expire, there’s no harm in holding onto them — they can be put toward future travel that’s sure to be well worth the wait.

Yet if a lack of account activity is threatening your stockpile, redeeming a portion of your rewards or using your card to make a purchase — no matter how big or small — is a simple way to keep the threat of expiration at bay.

Redeem for statement credit

Though a lot of travel cards offer heightened rewards potential when you redeem for flights, hotel stays, rental cars or anything else travel-related, consider redeeming a chunk of rewards for statement credit to prove account activity.

In many cases, you’ll get more value out of your rewards by redeeming for statement credit over gift cards or shopping with points.

Donate your rewards

Many issuers allow you to donate your rewards as a redemption option. Typically, the issuer has a list of partner charities you can choose from and outlines donation tiers with U.S. dollar equivalents.

If you’re working toward elite status…

You may have gotten your travel credit card for the sole purpose of accelerating your journey toward airline or hotel elite status. And in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, that journey may seem all but impossible (at least for the next couple months).

Thankfully, many airlines and hotels are offering elite status extensions, meaning whichever status you currently hold is extended, as well as the timeframe in which you have to achieve the next status.

If you haven’t been contacted about elite status extensions, look for details on your carrier’s COVID-19 information page or within your online account.

The bottom line

Travel plans may be on hold for a while, but that doesn’t mean all the work you’ve put into earning your travel rewards has gone to waste. Keep your account active and hold out for the future.