Is It Time to Start Using Your Travel Rewards Cards Again?

Illustration for article titled Is It Time to Start Using Your Travel Rewards Cards Again?

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With the end of pandemic travel restrictions seemingly in sight, you might be wondering if it’s once again a good time to sign up for a travel rewards credit card. Some companies are offering bigger-than-ever welcome bonuses, but safe travel may not be a realistic option until the end of 2021. Can you make do with the available perks until then, or is it worth holding off until there’s more certainty?

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Reasons to get a travel rewards card now

Since credit cards can be a risky debt trap, there’s really no need to get a travel card—that is, unless you’re sure that the balance can be paid off every month, the travel benefits are worthwhile, and earning them aligns with your anticipated spending habits. Typically, card shoppers look for:

  • An achievable welcome offer or bonus with a high cash value.
  • The value of the benefits outweigh the cost of the annual fee, which might be hundreds of dollars.
  • Cards that offer transferable, easy-to-redeem reward points.

Travel cards are perfect for people who already travel a lot, as they offer points based on travel, as well as other travel-only perks like travel insurance, priority boarding, lounge access, and free seating upgrades. Of course, without travel, most of these perks are useless, which is why credit card companies pivoted to rewards bonuses on dining, grocery, and online shopping during the pandemic.

In many cases, these perks are generous, but they can also affect how you use your cards—especially if you already have dedicated cards for groceries and online shopping. On the other hand, travel is picking up, and there are some really good deals on travel rewards cards right now, so it makes sense to at least consider shopping for a card again.

Is travel even a good idea?

Is it safe to travel right now? The short answer is “not really,” as the CDC only recommends essential travel at this time (check out this Lifehacker post on the topic). However, as the pace of vaccinations has picked up, it’s reasonable to assume that safe travel could be possible in the second half of 2021.

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Therefore, to know whether it’s the right time to get a travel rewards card or not, you must be realistic about how much you’re actually likely to travel, whether you’ll actually use the card’s non-travel perks, and whether those perks are worth the card’s annual fee.

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What cards are offering good travel deals right now?

As if sensing the renewed interest in travel, credit card companies are maxing out their welcome bonuses. Here are the most significant recent deals on general travel cards.

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Chase Sapphire 

Chase is currently offering all-time-high 80k and 60k-point welcome bonuses on their Reserve and Preferred cards, respectively, if you spend $4,000 within three months of opening the account. The Points Guy values the 80k-point bonus at $1,650, based on being able to maximize the points with hotel and airline transfer partners.

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The Preferred card comes with a $95 annual fee and includes:

  • A $50 statement credit on grocery store purchases.
  • 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2x points on travel and dining worldwide, and 1x points on all other purchases.
  • 25% more in redemption value for dining, grocery stores, and home improvement stores.

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The Reserve card comes with a $550 annual fee and includes:

  • $300 statement credit on gas station and grocery store purchases.
  • 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3x points on travel worldwide, 3x points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services and takeout, 1x on all other purchases.
  • $0 delivery fees when using DoorDash.
  • $120 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 2021.
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide.

American Express Platinum 

The AmEx Platinum card is a premium travel card that tends to be stingy with welcome bonuses. However, you can currently earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points, provided you spend $5,000 in the first six months from account opening. That works out to about $2,000 in value. The card has a $550 annual fee and includes:

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  • 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets (up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months), 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1x points on all other purchases.
  • Amex offers a wide array of credits, including: $200 statement credit for airline incidentals like checked bags, complimentary Uber Eats membership for one year, $100 statement credit for hotels, $100 statement credit on TSA or Global entry expenses, $100 Saks Fifth Avenue Credit.
  • Access to over 1,300 airport lounges and complimentary membership in premium car rental programs.

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Of course, these aren’t your only options. The Points Guy has a good breakdown of other current offers of 100,000 rewards points or more.

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