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There’s one silver lining to being grounded in 2020: Your 2021 miles and points balances are flusher than ever. With the new year comes a sliver of light at the end of the stay-at-home tunnel, making this a perfect time to take charge of your travel rewards. Follow our tips and not only will your balances benefit, you’ll more effectively be able to use your rewards when the time is ripe.
Take Stock of Your Annual Reward Nights
Banks and hotel chains deserve credit for extending both status and award nights past any 2020 expiration dates. Some chains just extended the dates while others, notably Hilton, made its certificates more flexible. Chances are if you haven’t paid attention, you might have a night or two you weren’t aware of just lingering in your account. Be sure to take advantage of those perks, if only for a staycation.
Take a Good Look at Your 2021 Travel Outlook
While many of us may be raring to get out into the world, the fact remains that our road to recovery is slow and fraught with uncertainty. Are the points you are currently earning a match for your future travel plans? Would picking up a new card that focuses more on domestic travel make sense?
For instance, if you usually fly internationally, you might not have thought about earning points in a program such as Southwest or JetBlue. If you see yourself staying closer to home, one of those cards might have more appeal. If you have become a road tripper, you might want to take a good look at Wyndham, which has properties at many highway exits.
In addition to the types of points, the new year is a good time to take a look at the bonus categories that most closely match your spending. A new RVer would be well served by a card that offers bonuses on gas purchases, while someone spending more time at home might look at a card that offers bonuses on streaming services.
As excited as travelers are to get back to normal, the travel companies are even more so. Many hotel chains and airlines have significantly relaxed their status level qualification requirements. Hyatt, most notably, has not only halved its night requirement, it has created a promotion offering double night credit for stays in January and February 2021. The two promotions together mean that Globalist status, which normally takes 60 nights, can be achieved in just 15.
Flexibility is King
Some of us are so deep in the weeds just trying to manage Zoom school, remote work and basic survival that it’s hard to visualize what future travel might look like. If this describes you, consider a two word mantra: Flexible Points. Instead of earning hotel or airline miles, you might do better in the long run moving your spending to cards that earn Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards or even cash back. Even if the rate isn’t the highest, your earnings will be easier to manage in the long run. Trading maximizing every point for leeway in redemption could well be worth the trade-off.
Don’t Leave Benefits for the Last Minute
Many of us have benefits that come with our credit cards, and especially since it’s not exactly clear yet when travel will return again, you should think about ways to use those benefits now. Amex, specifically, has a number of benefits that can be used throughout the year, and many of us are left scrambling at the end of the year to use the benefits up.
Don’t let that be you in 2021. Take stock of the benefits you have access to through your credit cards and make a plan to use them well before the deadline.
Miles and points buy not only travel, but freedom. Knowing what you have and paying attention to what you can earn will help you get where you want to go, whether your next trip is to Tangier or to Target.