Staying current with travel rewards programs

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 10/22/2020, midnight
Right now since you’re more at home than flying the friendly skies and may not be heading to the airport ...
Travel card Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Right now since you’re more at home than flying the friendly skies and may not be heading to the airport any time soon, you’re likely wondering whether you should pack away your travel rewards credit card and let it collect dust like your suitcase?

Not necessarily. You have options not only for it, but other travel reward programs.

Here’s what you can do.

Cancel the card or not?

The points and miles typically don’t expire if your account is open and active. Focus on earning rewards for a future trip or redeem now to save money on current purchases.

Premium travel cards can have annual fees of $95-550, in exchange for lounge access, free checked bags and other perks. With “the pause” some cardholders aren’t sure they can justify the annual fees without reaping the rewards.

You don’t want to just chuck your card though. Remember your score can dip from doing so. “Closing a credit card will eventually reduce the average age of accounts and reduces total available credit, which can cause scores to lower,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group.

Are there program updates?

Call your credit card issuer. “Stay on top of the new bonus earnings categories. For example, some Chase cards have bonus points earning on gas stations, streaming services and Instacart purchases. American Express cards have wireless telephone and streaming credits. Same applies for co-brand cards, like Marriott cards for gas and restaurants,” says Chris Lopinto, president of ExpertFlyer.com.

Some credit cards are maximizing the ability to use points to pay your balance. Bank of America Premium Rewards cardholders can redeem rewards for cash back into checking or savings accounts, or credit to eligible investment accounts including 529s for college savings.

Keep the conversation going.

“It’s expensive for credit card companies to acquire customers. They don’t want to lose a customer. Representatives will often present options for customers like offering a statement credit up to the amount of the annual fee, points or miles to keep the card or downgrade options,” says Tayne.

Downgrading your card makes sense if you have no plans to travel for the foreseeable future. “Downgrading a high-annual-fee card for a no-fee version allows you to hold onto your points and save on the cost of holding the card,” says Sara Rathner, credit cards and travel expert with NerdWallet.com.

What about other travel rewards programs?

“Most elite statuses and honor programs have been extended into 2021 and won’t expire until early 2022, so there’s really no need to be concerned about anything now,” says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, a travel site.

Hertz, Enterprise, National and Avis have extended elite status and rewards for members. “Avis’ status extension only applies to members at their Preferred Plus or higher level,” says Tayne. Check your loyalty program’s website. You might be surprised. With United MileagePlus you can use points to buy products through MileagePlus Shopping. Members of Marriott Bonvoy, the travel program from Marriott International, can use points to access luxury vacation rental properties from Hosteeva and others worldwide.

Choice Hotels’ updated loyalty program includes a reduction in the number of nights required to reach elite status in 2020, pausing points expiration through year-end. All Choice Privileges members get a 10% rebate on gift card redemptions so they can use their points for groceries, restaurant deliveries and more.

Connor Brown, traveler and founder of After School Finance, carries two travel credit cards in his wallet: the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Hilton Amex Aspire. “While the near-term value of these cards has been eroded, both have offered perks superb one-time perks,” he says.

For example, Chase cut the annual fee and is allowing cardholders to redeem points for cash back at a bonus for grocery and restaurant purchases. “American Express did something similar, where I was able to redeem $250 of free food at restaurants. My biggest recommendation for folks is to check with their credit card company to see if their travel card is offering any perks to encourage people to retain the card. In many cases, the answer is yes, and some of the perks make keeping the card worthwhile.”