COVID-19 Means Fewer Trips, But More Travel Rewards [2020]

CREDIT CARDS - TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
Traveling may not be foremost on your mind right now, but airlines, hotels, and banks are offering excellent incentives for you to earn and redeem rewards during coronavirus.
Updated Feb. 20, 2024
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While you're sitting at home with all travel plans on hold, earning additional miles and points may be the furthest thing on your mind. However, you'd be missing out on some excellent opportunities to boost your award balances and book trips while rates are low.

In this article, we'll share why you should still be earning airline and hotel points right now and how to maximize limited-time opportunities for bonus rewards.

In this article

5 reasons it makes sense to keep earning points and miles right now

There are many reasons why it makes sense to earn miles and points now for future vacations.

  • Booking up to two years in advance
  • Generous cancellation policies
  • Limited time perks
  • Current discounts and promotions
  • Most miles and points don’t expire

1. Booking up to two years in advance

Your next vacation may seem like a long way away, but you can actually book most flights 11 months in advance and some hotels up to two years in advance. With that in mind, it makes complete sense to earn miles and points in 2020 for vacations in 2021 and 2022.

2. Generous cancellation policies

Nobody knows when a coronavirus vaccine will be available, but most airlines and hotels are currently offering generous cancellation policies, which allow travelers to be confident in their reservations. Even without these policies, in most cases, hotel reservations using points can be canceled without penalty — as long as you cancel at least a few days in advance.

3. Limited-time perks

Hotels, airlines, and banks are adding incentives for customers to keep spending on their credit cards. Some credit cards offer bonus rewards when spending on travel, but because most of us aren't traveling right now, many issuers are introducing limited-time bonus categories.

Here are a few limited-time perks available for cardholders:

4. Current discounts and promotions

Airlines and hotels don't make money when people don't travel. So they're pulling out all the stops to encourage people to travel or book future reservations now. Airlines are holding regular sales and promotions you can take advantage of. With free cancellations, it makes sense to book at today's lower prices. You can always cancel in the future if you don't feel safe enough to travel.

5. Most miles and points don't expire

Some airline miles and hotel points never expire, so you can earn them now without fear of losing them. However, some rewards do expire if you don't earn or redeem them on a regular basis. Spending on your rewards credit cards today is a great way to continue earning miles and points while keeping your account active and in good standing.

Credit cards we recommend for earning points and miles

Let’s take a look at the travel credit cards you could be using right now to earn rewards and redeem valuable perks during the pandemic.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Card name Annual fee Welcome offer Rewards rate
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card $95 Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and online groceries; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Reserve® $550 Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card $650 (Terms apply) Earn 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after spending $6,000 in purchases in the first 6 months 6X points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3X points at worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points on all other eligible purchases
The Platinum Card® from American Express $695 (Terms apply) Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on purchases on your new card in the first 6 months 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card $150 Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 6 months 12X points on eligible purchases at participating Hilton hotels or resorts; 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; 4X points on U.S. online retail purchases; and 3X points on all other eligible purchases

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a solid flexible points card for consumers. It normally earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on other travel purchases. But because we're staying home a lot more right now, Chase is offering limited-time benefits in popular spending categories.

Through September 30, 2020, you can earn bonus points on gas, streaming, and Instacart purchases. You'll earn 3X points at gas stations and 5X on select streaming services, with a $1,500 limit in spending per category for these bonus points.

Additionally, you'll receive up to $50 in statement credits for an Instacart membership and 3X points on Instacart delivery and pickup orders. You can earn this bonus on a maximum of $3,000 in purchases.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Frequent travelers love the Chase Sapphire Reserve for the bonus points on travel and dining and the extra value when using points to book travel.

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Reserve card also has additional perks through September 30, 2020. During this period, you'll earn 5X points on gas and Instacart purchases and 10x points on select streaming services. Plus, you'll receive a $50 statement credit for an Instacart membership. Gas and streaming are limited to $1,500 each and Instacart is limited to $3,000 in purchases.

You can save your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for future travel or use the Pay Yourself Back feature. For Pay Yourself Back purchases, points are valued up to 1.5 cents apiece, which is the same value you’d get when booking trips through the Chase travel portal.

The Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit will automatically apply to grocery and gas purchases from June 1 through December 31. Plus, the annual fee is decreased from $550 to $450 for renewals through December 31.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card

The Bonvoy Brilliant Card provides valuable benefits to loyal Marriott hotel guests. It comes with an annual dining credit of up to $300 (up to $25 per month), one free night each year (worth up to 85,000 points), and complimentary Platinum Elite Status.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum Card is designed for frequent travelers. It offers complimentary airport lounge access and complimentary Marriot Bonvoy Gold Elite and Hilton Honors Gold status. These perks can help make your future trips more enjoyable. Select benefits do require enrollment.

The Amex Platinum also comes with a $15 monthly Uber Cash (plus an extra $20 in December) that can also be redeemed with Uber Eats. So even if you aren't traveling, you can still make use of this benefit. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton loyalists enjoy the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, which offers a free weekend night (editor's note: this applied to 2020, as of October 2022 this offer is a Free Night Reward) after spending $15,000 each year and automatic Gold elite status. Both of these benefits don't provide much value when you're not traveling, though.

To compensate for that, Hilton has loosened its restrictions on the free night benefits. Free weekend nights can now be used any night of the week through December 31, 2020. Plus, any free nights earned from May 1 through December 31 will now be valid for 24 months from the date of issue, instead of 12 months.

In addition, all the bonus points that you earn from May 1 through December 31 will count as base points towards elite tier qualification and Lifetime Diamond Status.

How to protect your points and miles from bankruptcies

If you’re concerned about your hard-earned rewards disappearing if an airline or hotel files bankruptcy, you’re not alone. Although larger domestic airlines may receive lifelines from the U.S. government, several international airlines have filed for bankruptcy, including:

  • Flybe (Britain)
  • Trans States Airlines (U.S.)
  • Compass Airlines (U.S.)
  • Virgin Australia (Australia)
  • Avianca (Colombia)
  • LATAM (Chile)

So what should you do to protect yourself?

Instead of earning airline- and hotel-specific rewards, it may be better to focus on earning flexible points. For instance, points from American Express credit cards, Capital One credit cards, and Chase credit cards can be used in multiple ways — and with several partners. You can redeem rewards for cash, to book travel, or transfer to airline and hotel partners when you're ready to book an award flight or hotel stay.

What happens to my rewards if a company goes bankrupt?

The possibility of losing your rewards due to a company going bankrupt is truly a scary scenario. After all, you’ve worked hard to earn them.

As gloom and doom as the term bankruptcy is, it doesn't mean the company is gone forever. Many companies file for bankruptcy and remain in business. Bankruptcy is often used when a company needs to restructure debt or when it needs to hold off creditors from seizing assets.

Several U.S. airlines have filed for bankruptcy without any major impact to travelers and loyalty program members. These airlines include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. Yet, we all continue to earn and redeem miles with these airlines on a regular basis.

If the company stays in business, then your travel rewards will continue to operate as normal. The same rule applies if an airline or hotel is bought by or merged with another.

If the airline or hotel goes out of business and is not absorbed by a competitor, your miles and points could truly become worthless. But this is a worst-case scenario, and there are many variables at play that could prevent it from happening.

The bottom line

Although most of us aren't traveling right now, we will be able to travel again in the future. You can book flights and hotels up to two years in advance, so now is the time to earn rewards for 2021 and 2022 travel plans. Credit cards have adjusted their rewards programs to reflect how we're spending our money while sheltering in place. This means you can earn more rewards on your daily purchases than ever before.

With that in mind, review the credit cards you have in your wallet to see whether they are offering additional perks. If not, maybe it is time to find a new travel credit card that matches how you're spending money today.

Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards

Benefits

Card Details

  • Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Longer intro APR on qualifying purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Apply Now
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire as long as your account remains open.
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the Intro APR offer ends, a Variable APR that’s currently 18.24% - 28.24% will apply. A 3% Intro balance transfer fee will apply for the first 60 days your account is open. After the Intro balance transfer fee offer ends, the fee for future balance transfers is 4%.
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards® member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Bank of <span class='whitespace-nowrap'>America<sup>®</sup></span> Travel Rewards credit card
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Intro Offer

Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual Fee

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Why we like it

Author Details

Lee Huffman Lee Huffman is a former financial planner and corporate finance manager who now writes about early retirement, credit cards, travel, insurance, and other personal finance topics. He enjoys showing people how to travel more, spend less, and live better. When Lee is not getting his passport stamped around the world, he's researching methods to earn more miles and points toward his next vacation.

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