7 reasons to make earning points your New Year’s resolution

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Of all times to exert effort to stockpile travel rewards, now may seem like the least appropriate. After all, travel is actively discouraged, and the economy is suffering — so why open a travel credit card that incurs an annual fee and earns travel points??

 Actually, now isn’t a bad time to earn travel rewards; it’s THE time. There are six reasons earning travel rewards should be at the top of your priority list in 2021 – and even before!

(Photo by Blue Planet Studio/Shutterstock)

Current welcome bonuses

There’s something unique going on behind the tall, heavy doors of bank headquarters all around the country. The unprecedented welcome bonuses we’ve seen with almost every popular travel credit card exhibit how desperately issuers want you to try their products. So entertain them!

The best travel credit cards have restrictive application rules. It’s very important to get the absolute highest bonus possible when opening each card. I’m not just saying this – we may never see bonuses this high again.

We’ve created a credit card Bonus Tracker to help you stay in the know concerning increased bonuses. Plenty of cards have already cycled in and out of our Bonus Tracker as fantastic bonuses come and go – but there are at least 10 increased offers on there at any given time.

Here are some of our favorites:

Ink Business Cash® Credit Card 

  • $750 (75,000 Chase points) after spending $7,500 in the first three months of account opening

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the card in the first six months of card membership.
  • $695 annual fee (see rates and fees)

It’s so easy to get $1,000+ in travel from any of these deals. Our guide to frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards programs is the holy grail of free travel instruction. If you want to learn how to get literally thousands of dollars in travel from the above cards, check it out.

As a quick example, my husband booked a 2021 stay at an all-inclusive Hyatt hotel, Alila Ventana Big Sur, which retails for $1,200+ per night. However, it’s possible to stay two nights there from the welcome bonus that comes with the no annual fee Ink Business Cash mentioned above (read our post on how to use Chase points for all the details). In other words, it’s easy to get $2,400+ from just one welcome bonus!

Travel cards have become more versatile

Due to the unnatural climate we’re going through, credit card issuers have pivoted their travel credit card benefits to become more useful for those with zero interest in travel! Even a homebody should be interested in travel credit cards right now.

Let’s look at a few examples of benefits banks have added to keep your interest in travel cards during this time of infrequent travel.

Chase Pay Yourself Back

 One decent way to use Chase points is for travel through the Chase Travel Portal. You can buy flights, hotel nights, rental cars, even cruises for a fixed rate per point, depending on which card you have:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 1.25 cents each
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® – 1.5 cents each
  • Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card – 1.25 cents each

Put another way, Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders could buy a $500 flight with 40,000 Chase points.

However, Chase has introduced a feature called Chase Pay Yourself Back, which you can access through the same Chase Portal. It allows you to redeem your points at these exact same rates for groceries, home improvement stores, and dining. This means you can use your stash of travel points for non-travel items, and still get a good value from them!

Flexible statement credits

Premium travel credit cards come with hundreds of dollars in statement credits annually to help you offset travel costs like baggage fees, seat selection, pet fees, etc. Because nobody’s really traveling at the moment, card issuers have expanded the ways you can use these credits to benefit those who prefer to stay at home. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – $300 travel credit will be triggered at gas stations and grocery stores through the end of 2021
  • The Platinum Card from American Express – Multiple bonus credits for 2020, like an up to $100 Dell credit for U.S. purchases when you use your enrolled Amex Platinum card to spend a minimum of $100 in one or more transactions by 1/31/2021, up to $20 per month in cell phone service rebates purchased directly from U.S. service providers, up to $20 per month in streaming service rebates purchased directly from U.S. service providers, up to $200 annual airline credit, etc. (Terms Apply). Who knows what credits will pop up for 2021?
  • Citi Prestige® Card – up to $250 travel credit will be triggered at supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout) through December 31, 2020

 The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets and has not been reviewed by the card issuer.

Now’s a great time to rack up rewards

The last quarter of the year is always the best time to open travel cards. Consumers develop flexor tendonitis from their mad credit card swiping in preparation for the holidays. If you’ve got a lot of spending on the horizon, like the vast majority of Americans, you may as well seize the opportunity to earn one or two massive welcome bonuses.

You should read our post on the 9 ways to save big on holiday shopping in 2020 for more details and strategy on how to save money on your shopping. You can achieve this through travel credit card benefits, and even use their welcome bonuses to offset hundreds (even thousands) of dollars of your shopping – depending on which cards you open.

Just note that you’ll always get the best value for your points when using them for travel, so we’d recommend you take this opportunity to accrue and save rewards for your future trips.

Take advantage of exceptional change/cancellation policies

Many travel deals going on now have fantastic change and cancellation policies. I estimate that I’ve changed or canceled about 12 flights in the past couple of months, as coronavirus restrictions and situations fluctuate in different locations.

With the airline change and cancellation policies of legacy U.S. airlines relaxing to the extreme, it’s okay to speculate! You’ll almost certainly be able to scrap your plans later if you decide to go another direction, if you find something better, or if you just don’t feel safe by the time your departure dates arrive. The rewards you’ll earn with travel credit cards will let you book for free, and the airlines will afford you the privilege of indecision. Book sooner than later, as lots of us in the miles and points hobby are making speculative bookings in hopes that the world will be back to normal-ish in a few months.

There’s no rush to use your rewards

Some airline miles and hotel points will expire if you don’t earn or redeem them within a certain window of time. For example, Alaska Airlines miles will disappear from your account if your account hasn’t seen any activity for 24 months.

Due to coronavirus, however, nearly all travel loyalty programs have pushed their rewards expiration at least mid-way into 2021 – and they’re playing the virus by ear as to whether they need to extend their expiration dates again!

All this to say, no matter what the future holds with coronavirus, you can be confident that your rewards won’t expire. You can read our post on airline miles expiration for more details, and to learn how easy it is to keep your miles from expiring in the first place.

Additional credit card perks

If you’re interested in diving maniacally back into travel the minute you feel safe again, now is a good opportunity to prepare yourself by leveraging card benefits that help you earn airline and hotel elite status without leaving your couch. When you return to the skies – or the hotel rooms – you’ll find yourself in the lap of luxury.

Here are a few examples of credit card benefits that let you earn status from home:

World of Hyatt Credit Card

The World of Hyatt Card gives you two elite night credits for every $5,000 you spend on the card. This pairs extremely well with the fact that you can achieve top-tier diamond status for as little as 30 nights in 2021!

Or, you could use Hyatt’s limited-time promotions to earn it much more easily – though it will require you to actually stay at Hyatt.

Amex Delta credit cards

 Select Amex Delta credit cards earn 25% more Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQMs) in 2021 for credit card spend:

  • The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card cards earn 12,500 MQMs for every $25,000 you spend
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card cards earn 18,750 MQMs for every $25,000 you spend

These Amex Delta MQM earnings look to be capped at 25,000 MQMs in 2021.

As you can see, if you spend a lot of money, it’s uniquely easy to earn elite status this year.

Bottom line

While travel is at an all-time low, travel flexibility, rewards-earning opportunities, and generous promotions are higher than any of us could ever have dreamed. That’s not hyperbole.

Make earning travel rewards your laser-focus in 2021, book speculative trips while they’re cheap, and leverage travel credit card perks to save money even while you’re not traveling.

Let us know your free-travel strategy for next year! And subscribe to our newsletter for more information like this delivered to your inbox once per year.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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