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

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.
Last updated Jul 30, 2020 | By Lee Huffman
Family of three at home

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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.

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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:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve earns five points per dollar on gas and the $300 travel credit can be used toward gas and grocery purchases.
  • New Chase Freedom Unlimited cardmembers earn 5% cash back on groceries (up to $12,000) for the first year.
  • American Express Platinum is offering a $20 monthly statement credit toward select streaming purchases and another $20 per month toward wireless phone charges.

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.

The best credit cards for earning points and miles

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

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • American Express Bonvoy Brilliant
  • American Express Platinum
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Card name Annual fee Welcome offer Rewards rate
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95 Earn 80,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 5X on Lyft rides, 2X points on eligible dining and travel, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases
Chase Sapphire Reserve $550 Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else
American Express Bonvoy Brilliant $450 Earn 75,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months 6X points on eligible purchases at participating Marriot Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points on all other eligible purchases
American Express Platinum $550 Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card $95 Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 12X points when spending directly with an eligible Hilton hotel or resort; 6X points on purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3X points on all other eligible purchases

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a solid flexible points card for consumers. It normally earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on eligible dining and travel. 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.

With these perks, you can bulk up your points balance or redeem for cash back, travel, and more. For a limited time, Chase Ultimate Rewards can also be used to Pay Yourself Back at a value of 1.25 cents apiece to cover grocery, home improvement, and dining 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 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.

American Express Bonvoy Brilliant

The Bonvoy Brilliant Card provides valuable benefits to loyal Marriott hotel guests. It comes with an annual $300 resort credit, one free night each year (worth up to 50,000 points), and complimentary Gold Elite Status.

Because many people aren't using the $300 resort credit right now, you can use that credit to offset dining costs at U.S. restaurants until August 31, 2020. This comes in handy if you’re ordering takeout often from your favorite local restaurants.

American Express Platinum

The American Express Platinum Card is designed for frequent travelers. It offers complimentary airport lounge access, automatic Marriott and Hilton Gold elite status, and a $200 airline fee credit. These perks can help make your future trips more enjoyable.

The Amex Platinum also comes with a $15 monthly Uber credit (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. Through the end of December, you'll also receive statement credits of up to $20 per month each for select streaming subscriptions and wireless phone charges.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

Hilton loyalists enjoy the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, which offers a free weekend night 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.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 5X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access