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How to Actually Take Advantage of Credit Card Points During a Pandemic
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Pre-pandemic: There was you, a boatload of credit card points and a laser-sharp strategy on the destinations, airlines and hotels that warranted cashing them in. (We see you, Park Hyatt Vendôme in Paris.) But now, with every swipe of your credit card, it’s hard to feel the same sense of gusto toward bonus incentives when the thought of exactly how and when you’ll use them draws a blank. But all travel aspirations—and the treasure trove of points you were planning to apply to them—are not lost. We checked in with Brian Kelly, the founder and CEO of The Points Guy, to find out how best to proceed in a pandemic.

1. First Things First, Remember That Flexibility Is a Forever Perk of Points

Think of it this way: If you buy an airline ticket in cash and want to change or cancel, unless the airline cancels your flight, best-case-scenario, you’ll receive a voucher. That’s not the case with credit card points, explains Kelly. “Airline and hotel points are very valuable right now because, in most cases, you get your points or miles back if you need to cancel or change your plans,” he says. “This means that miles and points give maximum flexibility, which is key for any traveler in 2021, especially since most travel insurance policies won’t cover anything pandemic-related.”

2. Prioritize Cards That Have Expanded How You Can Acquire Points

Per Kelly, now is a great time to earn lots of points for travel down the line. For example, a lot of cards are offering limited time bonus points on categories that you’ll be spending on close to home. Case in point: The Chase Sapphire Reserve, famous for its travel perks, pivoted to offer cardholders three times the points on up to $1,000 in monthly grocery store purchases through April 30, 2021. This means it’s a smart idea to pay attention to category shifts, then maximize them on an existing card you might already have in your wallet. “Credit card companies know you’re probably not spending much on travel right now, so there are incentives to use the cards for other things in your life,” Kelly says.

3. Do Your Homework to Sleuth Out the Best Incentives

It’s true that a lot of cards are rolling with the times, but Kelly still has a couple of recommendations for cards that are offering top-notch points pivots during the pandemic. “American Express has introduced a slew of new bonuses and benefits on both The Platinum Card and the Business Platinum Card,” he says. “On the personal Platinum, Amex unveiled an up to a $30 monthly PayPal credit through June 30, 2021. Additionally, at Home Depot and Best Buy, when you spend $50 or more, you will earn a $50 statement credit—an offer that’s valid up to two times before June 30, 2021. As for Amex Business, cardholders can earn five times the Membership Rewards points in the categories of shipping, wireless, advertising, gas and office supplies through June 30, 2021.”

Another card Kelly has his eye on for its value during a pandemic: The Chase Sapphire. He touts the fact that Chase Sapphire is offering cardholders statement credits to cover monthly Peloton Digital—$13—and All-Access—$39—memberships through December 21, 2021. (Preferred Holders will receive up to $60 in statement credits and Reserve holders will receive up to $120 in statement credits.) Another perk: Chase Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit can be used on purchases at grocery stores and gas stations through June 30, 2021.

4. …And If You’re Not Planning to Travel, There Are Still Ways to Cash In

It’s true: Wanderlusty travel may feel like a bit of a pipe dream until we have a better sense of how the vaccine will take effect, but that doesn’t mean credit card incentives aren’t worth your while. “If you don’t have plans to travel, you may want to consider a cash back card—like Citi’s Double Cash—because you can get value today versus waiting for an indetermined time when you want to travel,” Kelly says. In general, getting a cash back card is the best bang for your buck instead of accruing travel points or miles and then trying to redeem them for merchandise or cash, he adds.

It’s also smart to find choose a card that allows you to keep your options open. “While many consumers aren’t frequently traveling right now, it’s wise to accumulate points on credit cards that allow you to transfer points to a variety of partners,” Kelly says. “That way, if and when you are ready to book travel, you have flexibility for how and where to use your points whether that may be towards a flight or a hotel.”

RELATED: How to Pay for Your Entire Vacation in Credit Card Points

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